Well I went and did it again. I got involved in yet another interactive fan fiction story. This time, my character was paired with Richie (much more to my liking). That story wrapped in early November 2008, and I had been asked to assemble the "story posts", that is, the posts that tell Richie and Jen's story, in one place for people to read.

So I'm doing it.

I'm having to add some filler as I go, as there were lengthy pauses between the verbose posts I made, but I'm trying to keep the flow of the story going.

The Richie/Jen story is only half of the fan fic project. The other half was a Jon/T story. That is not explored here at all. In fact, very little mention is made. Just enough so it isn't a surprise when T shows up at various points.

If anything is confusing, please let me know. I've been living this character for the better part of the last eight months, and her memories are mine. I forget, sometimes, that you all can't see into my head.

I hope you enjoy the story. It starts here.

~ Hath

The End

Monday, May 24, 2010
No, gentle reader, this is not where I’m ending the story. I thought about it, just to be mean, to let you draw your own conclusions, but decided that I’m not quite done with you or this story yet.

No, I have a treat for you…. Well for some of you.

You see, this story has two possible outcomes, as you may surmise; one good, one not so much. I’ve explored both.

I’m trusting you, gentle reader, to do the noble thing; to read BOTH endings. After all, I toiled over each and every word in the original ending as well as in the alternate one, and they BOTH deserve to be read.

I warn you right now, I liked the original ending SO much that I considered not writing the second one. But, you see, my devoted, many of you begged me to please give Richie his Happily Ever After, and I couldn’t ignore you.

Oh dear.

I have said too much ~ I may have given too much away.

Ah well, you can’t un-ring a bell, as my Mama likes to say.

Please, do me a favor, read both endings.

And do me one more, and tell me honestly, which one you think was better written. Not which one you liked better, but which one you thought moved you more.

I know which one did it for me.

And now, gentle reader:

The End (Original Ending) The End (Alternate Ending)


Monday, May 17, 2010
Jennifer sat on the plane, iPod turned on, and her eyes closed. She had listened diligently to the emergency procedure spiel the flight attendant gave, and studied the card in the seat pocket in front of her. Now she sat, her knee bouncing slightly, and her hands washing each other in her lap. They were second in line for takeoff, and now all she could do was wait.

She did without the Xanax that usually accompanied her on airline trips, because she wanted to be all there when she got to LA. She still couldn’t believe she was moving in with Richie! And, if the hints he was leaving were right, he was going to ask her to marry him. She couldn’t wait to land.

The revving of the engines permeated through Richie’s voice singing Stranger, and she dialed up the iPod’s volume. The plane picked up speed, and Jennifer was thrown back against her seat. She made a small moan in her throat when she felt the plane lurch into the air, and gripped the hand rests like they were her lifeline. Her eyes squeezed firmly shut, and a tear trickled from the corner of one of them. She made a decision then. She wasn’t flying anymore. This was it. If she had to go back to Boston, she’d drive or take a cross-country train. No more planes. Her heart couldn’t take it.

Jennifer waited for the ear popping to tell her they had ascended high enough to level off. She frowned when it didn’t come. Suddenly, she felt the plane shudder. She opened her eyes, popped out her ear buds, and turned to the man sitting next to her. He had his eyes glued out the window, and she could see the reflection of his face and the look of terror etched there.

“The engines,” the man whispered. “Oh my God, the engines are smoking.”

Without conscious thought, Jennifer took out her blackberry, and dialed Richie’s cell. It went to voicemail, as it was only three in the morning where he was. “Baby, it’s me,” she said, trying to keep her voice as calm as possible. “We’ll probably laugh about this later, but something seems to be wrong with the engines, and I just wanted to tell you that I love you and whatever you wanted to ask me when you see me, the answer is a big ol’ YES!” She chuckled. “I’m gonna get yelled at by the stewardess if she sees me, so I gotta go. I love you more than my own life, Rich, and I can’t wait to see you. Bye!” She hurriedly turned off the device and put it back in her purse.

A loud bang sounded from outside the plane. Jennifer sobbed and tried to resist, but ultimately she couldn’t help it; she leaned over to look out the window. One of the engines on her wing was gone, and with it, a good chunk of the wing itself. The other engine was engulfed in flames. She stifled a scream, but didn’t do a good job of it, because the people on the other side of the plane started to panic.

The flight attendant made an announcement in a shaky voice. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing some trouble with the aircraft. As a precaution, please put on your oxygen masks, stay in your seats, and try to stay calm.”

On cue, oxygen masks fell from the ceiling. With a frantic rustle of clothes, and loud, scared voices, the passengers began putting on their masks. One woman across the aisle and three seats up couldn’t get her mask on, and her voice was getting very shrill as she begged someone to help her. Jennifer’s hands were shaking when she pulled her own mask on over her nose and mouth, and she breathed the cool, sterile air deep into her lungs. The conversation on the plane was getting louder and louder, and the snatches of dialogue Jennifer heard made her wish she was deaf. The man next to her commented, “What the hell was she thinking? Stay calm. Doesn’t she know the worst thing you can do in an emergency is tell people to stay calm!” His voice rose with each word, so by the end he was shouting.

The plane took a sharp turn to starboard, and Jennifer screamed. Others did too. Children began crying, and the woman behind her started praying.

The man next to her tried to talk himself out of his fear. "It's okay,” he said; his voice muffled by the mask he wore. “I’m sure they can land the plane on just two engines."

Jennifer gave him a sickly smile, but still felt dread in the pit of her stomach. The plane continued to shudder, and the pilot couldn’t seem to get it to straighten out. Jennifer felt the plane start to roll. With tears streaming down her face, she watched out the window as the ground drew ever closer.

In what seemed to take an hour but was really only seconds, Jennifer’s life with Richie flashed before her eyes. She saw their meeting in Southampton, the first time they made love, taking day trips with Ava; being a real family. She also remembered the last time they made love, and cried harder when she realized it would truly be the last time. There would be no more quiet, seductive laughter in her ear. No more caresses from those long, strong fingers. No more magic kisses.

What hurt the most is that she wouldn’t ever know the joy of carrying Richie’s baby inside her. She would never feel his big hand over her distended abdomen, reveling in the joy of a tiny kick. The tears flowed more relentlessly when she reflected that she would never get motherhood advice from her own mother.

Her thoughts were jarred back to the present the instant the jagged edge of the wing hit the grass. The plane levered up and flipped upside down, hitting the ground with a crash that was heard for miles. That was the last thing Jennifer heard.

Taking Care of Business

Monday, May 10, 2010
The next several weeks went by in a whirlwind of activity. Jennifer gave her notice at work in early November, citing her last day as December first. She worked with her boss to find a suitable replacement, and had Margot trained on everything she could think of within a couple of weeks. Margot had been in the business for more than a decade, and was a quick study. She made Jennifer feel much more relaxed about her decision to leave.

Evenings and weekends, her family and friends helped her pack up the house. She had decided not to sell her house. She loved it too much, and she and Richie would have a second home – not a condo – on the East coast for when they came to visit her family. Her cadre of packers worked from room to room, closing up vents, pulling blinds and shades, and draping furniture with sheets.

Richie called every day, asking if she was sure if she didn’t want him to fly out to help her.

“Rich,” she had told him each time, “I need this time to say good bye. I need to be around my family and friends, and they need to help me with this. It’s not that I don’t want you here, it’s that I need to do this my way, to say my goodbyes and close the door on this chapter of my life.”

“I know, I just miss you.”

“I miss you too. Make a list of all the ways you can show me just how much, and we’ll get started on it as soon as I land.”

“Oh really?” Richie laughed.

“Yes, really,” Jen answered.

The last week before her flight to LA, she was done with work, and spent time with her parents. They told her that as long as she was happy, they were happy for her, it didn’t matter where she lived.

“You’ll just have to come back to visit,” Ma said, “because you know your father and airplanes.”

“Flying is unnatural for people,” John groused.

Jennifer laughed. “I know, Daddy,” she said, kissing his cheek. “We’ll come back and visit often. I’m not selling the house, so we’ll always have someplace to come.” She hugged her mom. “And Ma, you can always come out without Daddy, you know. We’ll have a room for you, no problem.”

“Far away from yours I hope,” Ma answered with a twinkle in her eye. “There are some things a mother does not want to know about her daughter.”

“Ma!” Jennifer complained. “ I can’t believe you just said that!” She was blushing furiously.

“What, I’m old, not dead. I remember a thing or two about being young and in love. So, when are you getting married?”

Jennifer laughed. “I don’t know. Richie’s been hinting about it, asking me what kinds of flowers I like, and even Ava’s asked me what my dream wedding would be like. I think he’s got something planned, but I’m just taking one day at a time. If it happens, it happens.”

“It’ll happen,” Ma said. “Mark my words. You sure you don’t need a ride to the airport?”

“I’m sure,” Jen answered. “Cheryl, Steph, and Gail are coming in to help with the final few boxes for the van, and they’ll take me. It’s hard enough saying goodbye here, I don’t want to be wreck at the airport.”

“If you change your mind,” John said, “you know you can always call us.” His gaze told her volumes more than the words he spoke.

“I know, Daddy,” Jennifer said softly. “But I think that this is for keeps. Rich and I really love each other and want this to work.”

“Just know that I will get on a plane with your mother to come and collect you if you need us to. I love you, my girl.”

“Love you too, Daddy.”

The three Petruzzos shared a hug, then Jennifer had to go and collect her friends from the airport.

The last two days before her flight, Jennifer had packed nearly everything she wanted to take, and her and her girlfriends had the van packed full. Her brother had come to take the Caddy, and the Harley was going with her to LA.

“I think that’s it,” Jennifer said, dusting off her palms. “I still can’t believe I’m moving to LA.”

“I think it’s wonderful, honey,” Gail said, hugging her friend. “You and Richie are going to be deliriously happy.”

“I hope so,” Jen answered.

Cheryl cuffed her on the back of her head. “Not ‘hope so’, ‘know so’. Come on, Jen, be honest.”

“Okay,” Jen said, smiling, “yeah, we’ll be happy. I can’t imagine what I’m going to do with myself out there though.”

“Gee,” Steph said, “a leggy blonde with big boobs in LA. You could always become an actress.”

That had the girls laughing hysterically. “Yeah, like I’d be good for anything other than porn. No thanks. I’m a lousy actress, and other than writing it, porn has no appeal to me.”

“Not when you have your own Hairy Longfellow at home,” Gail snorted.

Cheryl, “I’m sure you’ll find something to do. If I were in your shoes, I’d spend all my time with Richie.”

“Yeah, but what about when they go back out on the road? I can’t follow them all over the world.” Jen worried her bottom lip with her teeth.

“Why not?” Steph asked. “You have money; why not use some of it on yourself?”

“Yeah,” Gail said. “Spend a little coin on your own happiness. Unless you think that it would be boring.”

“Touring the world with Rich? Boring? Never,” Jen said with a wink. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Remind me: what time is your flight on Saturday?” Steph said.

“5:45 AM. Don’t give me grief, I wanted to get out there as early as possible, and this was the earliest flight. Besides, the early morning flights to the West coast are the safest, and the least crowded.”

In deference to the early flight, the girls elected to go out and celebrate Jen’s new life on Thursday night, gathering for ribs-n-ritas a day later than usual. Over pitchers of margaritas, racks of ribs, and over the sound of the local blues band in the background, the girls all toasted Jen’s new life, and demanded to be invited to the wedding.

“Of course you’re all invited,” Jennifer promised. “Hell, you’ll all be bridesmaids if I have my way.”

Krissy snorted. “When have you ever not gotten your way?”

Jen laughed. “Well, you do have a point.”

Friday night, Jennifer sent the van off on its cross-country journey. Once it had cleared the gates, she went back inside and spied the stack of suitcases by the front door. “This is really happening,” she said to herself.

Her house phone rang, and Jennifer snatched the receiver off the hall table before one of the girls could get it. “Hello?”

“Darlin’, you aren’t answering your cell,” Richie said. “How come?”

Jen laughed. “Baby, it’s up on the nightstand, charging. I wanted to make sure it had full battery for the flight tomorrow. I can’t believe that at this time tomorrow, I’ll be with you.”

“Sooner than that, love. By this time tomorrow, I hope to have you naked in my bed.”

“Well, I do believe that can be arranged, sir,” Jennifer said, strolling into the living room and settling on the couch. She and the girls had laid a fire earlier, and Jen blushed, remembering the last time a fire was lit in the fireplace. “So, I’m sitting in the living room, in front of the fire.”

“In front of, or inside of?”

“No,” Jennifer laughed, “it isn’t quite that cold yet, that I have to take refuge inside the fireplace.”

“Here in LA, it never gets that cold.”

“Baby, you don’t have to sell me on coming out there; the truck just left with all my stuff. It should be there sometime Saturday night. Like we arranged, they’ll leave the truck, and come back when you call after we get it emptied out.”

“Excellent,” Richie said. “I can’t wait to have your things mingled in with my things.” He chuckled dirtily.

“Rich, you have a knack of making the most innocent of statements sound raunchy.”

Richie sighed dramatically. “It is both a blessing and a curse.” He laughed. “So what are you girls doing tonight?”

“Well, we got all our carousing out of our systems last night; I think we’re just going to hang out and watch movies. I know I’m not going to sleep, I’m too damned excited. I can’t wait to see you.”

“I can’t wait to see you either. I’ll be at the airport waiting.”

“I love you, Rich.”

“Love you too.”

They spoke for a while longer, long enough for the fire to dwindle to embers, then Jennifer and the girls retired to the movie room. After long hours laughing at brat-pack80’s flicks, they went to bed to catch a few hours’ sleep.

Saturday would be a long day.

Richie and Ava

Monday, May 3, 2010
Richie wasn’t stupid. OK, sure, he’d done some stupid things, but he knew a good thing when he saw it. Watching Jennifer with Ava on Saturday, and their surprise “family outing” to San Francisco yesterday, just solidified it in his head. He wanted Jennifer to be a permanent part of their lives. Sunday, when he was taking Ava back to her mother’s he found that she wanted it, too.

“I think it’s cool that Jennifer can stay another week,” Ava had said.

“Yeah,” Richie agreed. “It’s great. She didn’t want you to be sad that you didn’t get to do that Universal thing.”

Ava just gave him a look that was pure grown-up and had his stomach in knots. “Daddy, that’s not really why she’s staying.”

Richie just raised an eyebrow at his precocious daughter. “Oh really?” he asked. “And in your infinite wisdom why, pray tell, exactly is she staying another week?”

Ava laughed. “Because she loves us, silly. She loves us and she WANTS to stay longer.”

Richie thought on that for a moment and chuckled. Out of the mouths of babes... “You may just be right, baby girl. How do you feel about that?”

Ava was quiet for several long moments. “I think it’s great that she wants to stay for a while longer,” she finally said. “She’s nice and I like her a lot, and you’re much smilier when she’s here, and I REALLY like that.”

Richie grinned. “I feel a whole lot smilier when she’s here,” he said. “Ava, baby, I need to ask you something,” he started. “Something serious.” He pulled the car over to the side of the road and turned to face his daughter.

“Daddy, I’m always serious,” Ava answered.

Richie smiled. “I know, sweetheart. I know you’re happy that Jennifer is staying a little longer; how would you feel if I asked Jennifer to live out here all the time?”

“You mean move in with us? In our house?”

“Yeah,” Richie said.

“Are you going to marry her?”

Richie shook his head. “I don’t know if we’re going to get married or not,” he said. “She’s been married before and her husband was, well, not too nice. I don’t know if she wants to do that all again.”

Ava frowned. “But Daddy, YOU’RE nice,” she said.

“Well thank you very much,” Richie answered, smiling. “But first things first, okay? Let’ s see if she wants to move out here.”

Ava nodded and looked out the window. “What if she says ‘no’?” she said softly.

Richie put his hand on Ava’s shoulder. “Then I guess she and I will keep flying back and forth across the country to see each other.”

Ava turned back to her father. “Would you move to Boston?”

Richie thought about that. He purchased the condo in Philly to have a home base when he was on the east coast. He never intended to live out there full time. He couldn’t leave Ava like that on a permanent basis. It was difficult enough when he was on the road, he didn’t want to make a conscious decision to put distance between himself and his daughter.

“No,” he said finally, “I wouldn’t. Not unless your Mom was relocating back east.”

“But what if Jennifer makes you?”

“She’s not going to do that,” Richie said firmly.

“But what if she does?” Ava was more adamant.

Richie sighed. “Then I guess she isn’t the woman I thought she was,” he said, “and that would make me really sad.”

“But what would you do?”

Richie looked at his daughter. “What’s going on here?” he asked. “I can tell there’s more to this question, but let me answer yours first. Nothing in this world is more important to me than you. Not Jennifer, not your mother, not Uncle Jon or the other guys, nothing. You are the most important thing there is to me, and I would move Heaven and Earth to make you happy. If Jennifer made me choose between living with her in Boston or staying here with you, then it’s a no-brainer. I choose you. Always you.”

Ava launched herself across the seat into her father’s arms. “I knew it,” she said triumphantly. “I heard Jack telling Mommy that now that you had Jennifer, you were probably going to move away and they wouldn’t have to talk to you about stuff, and I would hardly see you anymore.”

Richie was livid, but tried to keep it to himself. “Really,” he said as evenly as possible. “What did Mommy say about that?”

Ava laughed. “She told him: if you think that he would move across the country for THAT woman, you need your head examined.” Her mimicry of her mother’s tone was impeccable, and Richie’s blood ran cold.

“Well,” he said, “she’s right that I wouldn’t move away from you forever like that. When you’re older and have your own life, well, that’s different. Right now, you’re stuck with me, I’m afraid.”

“I’m so glad,” she said, hugging her father tight. “Then if you want to ask her to move here, that’s okay with me.”

“I’m so happy you think that. Listen, if we’re going to ask her to be part of our lives out here, she needs more reason that it makes me happy. I, we, have to think about what makes her happy, too.”

Ava nodded. “Yeah, I know. We have to think about each others’ feelings – that’s what families do.”

They spent some minutes in silence as Richie digested Ava’s words. Family. She thought of them as a family. Sure, they were dysfunctional and a little unconventional, but hell, by LA standards, they were practically the Cleavers. Family. He sure did like the sound of that...

When they got to Heather’s house, Ava ran upstairs to her room, and Richie stayed for a couple minutes to talk to his ex-wife. He told her what Ava had overheard, and told her that he was asking Jennifer to move to California to be with him. Richie also told her that he didn’t think Ava should overhear conversations like that again, and turned to leave without another word. Heather stopped him, and wished him luck. He searched her face, but didn’t see any malice or sarcasm there. He muttered thanks, and left.

Monday morning, Jennifer was up early, still not used to the time change. She and Richie had stayed up until the wee hours making love, so she should be exhausted and sleeping soundly, like the man next to her. He was sleeping too soundly. She poked at his ribs, and all he did was snort and turn his head, and the snoring continued. She sighed and got up, padded to the desk in the corner, and got onto the boards.

Things had been quiet for some time – guess that’s what happened when the board you’re on is connected to a group that isn’t presently touring. She saw that Stephanie was on, and chatted with her a little. Soon, though, Richie noticed she was up and came to find her.

“Why are you up so early?” he asked. “Are you working already?”

“No,” Jennifer said, tilting her head back for a mind-numbing kiss. “Just checking in with the girls. The few who are still around.”

“Come back to bed,” he said. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

“I’m sure you will,” Jennifer said, closing her laptop. She let Richie lead her back to the edge of the bed. He scooped her up into his arms and placed her gently near the center of the bed. He crawled up after her and slid up between her legs and into her. He smiled when her legs went up of their own accord, spreading wider to take him deeper. She wrapped one around his hips, and the other wouldn’t quite cooperate, so she left it raised. Richie kissed her then, a deep lingering kiss that spoke of unspoken promises of love and devotion.

When they crested it was together, each crying out the name of the other. When Richie slipped from Jennifer’s body, spent and sated, she whined. He chuckled and gathered her to him, cradling her against his chest. Soon, they were drifting off together.
Later that morning, Jennifer woke again, and again Richie was snoring. She chuckled to herself. She took a quick shower and brought her laptop with her when she went down to the kitchen, where she snagged a diet coke before heading into the office. She called in to work and made sure that there wasn’t anything that she needed to deal with personally. Even though she was on unpaid leave, she knew it wasn’t smart to leave them hanging too long, at least until she had made her final decision about what she wanted to do.

Around lunchtime, Richie came downstairs, clean shaven, and dry-haired.

“Whatcha been doing?” Jennifer asked.

Richie crossed the room to give her a kiss that left her breathless. “I took a shower and fucked around with my guitar for a while,” he answered. How ‘bout you?”

“Played around on the computer for a bit, read for a while; I was just going to come and wake your ass up!”

“Ha ha, beat ya to it. How’s work?”

“It’s work,” she said, closing her laptop. “What’s on the agenda for today?”

“What do you want to do? Ava’s in school; we’ll see her tonight if you want.” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “We have all day to play if you want.”

Jennifer laughed. “Of course I want,” she said, “but we’ve gotta do more than spend all our time together in bed.”

Richie grinned. “Spoil-sport. Fine, then you have to plan the agenda.”

“Fine. I wanna go swim in the ocean.”

“That can be arranged. Let’s get a move on, then.”

They spent the day frolicking in the waves and sunning themselves on the beach. Quite a few people recognized Richie and approached for autographs or to take a picture with him. More than one gave Jennifer the hairy eyeball as she sat on their blanket and waited patiently. They had a seaside dinner and picked up Ava from Heather’s. When the girl saw Jennifer with her father, she grinned widely.

“Did you ask her to stay?” Ava said excitedly as they walked to the car. “Is she gonna?”

Jennifer looked over Ava’s head at Richie, and raised an eyebrow. Richie groaned. “No, baby girl, I hadn’t asked her yet. I think you just did.” He looked at Jen. “We can talk about it later,” he said.

‘Later’ couldn’t come fast enough. Jennifer was distracted all evening, though she tried really hard not to let Ava notice. When they finally dropped her back at her mother’s and were on the way back, Richie pulled in to a mostly-deserted parking lot and shut the car off.

“Listen, about what Ava said,” Richie started.

Jennifer interrupted. “She was asking if I was going to move here, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Richie sighed. “Sorry about putting you on the spot like that.”

“She did take me by surprise,” Jennifer admitted. “Especially since you haven’t even hinted at the possibility. Is this something that SHE wants, or that YOU want?” Jennifer held her breath, waiting for the answer.

“I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think you’d want to,” Richie said softly. “I mean you have your job and your family and friends and I didn’t want you to feel like you HAD to.” He took Jennifer’s hands. “But I would love it if you would consider it. If you’d consider coming to live with me. And Ava when she’s at my house. I would really, really love it.”

Jennifer sucked in deep breath and let it out slowly. “I would love it too.”

Meeting Denise and Lucia

Monday, April 26, 2010
Saturday morning, Jennifer and Richie were woken by Ava storming into their room. “Daddy! Jennifer! It’s Saturday!”

Richie rolled over and groaned. “Baby girl, it is way too early to be up.” He covered his head with a pillow. Jennifer laughed and poked his ribs.

“C’mere, Sundrop,” Jennifer said, raising the covers to let Ava come in. The little girl climbed in and crawled across Jennifer to lie between the two adults. She started chattering to Jennifer about the things she wanted to do this weekend, knowing that Jennifer was flying home on Friday.

A few minutes into her recitation, she started to giggle. “Daddy’s snoring,” she whispered loudly, making Jennifer chuckle.

Putting a finger to her lips, Jennifer slid out of bed. Ava followed. The two girls grabbed pillows and circled around to Richie’s side of the bed. Jennifer held up three fingers and started a countdown. When she got to one, they attacked, Ava going for the face, Jennifer for the stomach.

“OOF!” Richie grunted, then counter-attacked. He grabbed his daughter and flung her onto the bed, shrieking and giggling the whole way. Jennifer took a step backwards.

“Don’t you DARE,” she said, holding up her hands in front of her.

“Don’t make me chase you, woman,” Richie growled.

“No! Don’t chase me,” Jennifer said, gasping with laughter. “I can’t run.”

“Not my problem,” Richie said, and leapt from the bed. Jennifer did the best she could, but her hobbling was no match for Richie’s stride. He scooped her up and dropped her on the bed next to Ava. He grabbed the covers and brought them up over the girls’ heads.

“DADDY! NO!” Ava yelled. “Block your nose,” she said to Jennifer.

Richie burst out laughing. “Young lady, I am not going to fart on you,” he said.

Jennifer laughed so hard, tears streamed down her face. “Oh God, you don’t do that to your own daughter, do you?” She turned to Ava. “Does he?”

She nodded solemnly. “Yep, he does when he thinks he’s being funny.” She wrinkled her nose. “It really stinks.”

“ENOUGH!” Richie bellowed, sending Ava and Jen into a fit of giggles. “Why are you up so early, young lady?”

Jennifer answered. “Because your daughter woke me up.”

“Not you,” Richie said, exasperated.

“Are you calling me old?” Jennifer said, putting on a pout.

Richie rolled his eyes. “Cut the crap, you’re younger than me.”

Ava was laughing and wiping tears from her eyes. “You’re funny, Jen; you make daddy crazy.”

“Of course I do,” Jennifer agreed. “It’s fun.”

Richie looked at Jen with eyes that darkened briefly with lust. “You sure do drive me crazy,” he said with a rumble that went straight to Jennifer’s core. He slapped Jennifer’s butt and she squeaked. “C’mon, girls,” he said. “As long as we’re up, we may as well have breakfast.”


Around noon, they plugged Denise’s address into the GPS, and saw she was only about twenty minutes away. The route the GPS selected brought them by Universal Studios. “Can we go to Universal tonight?” Ava asked as they passed the theme park.

Richie groaned. “Really? Tonight?”

Ava nodded enthusiastically. “They have this horror thing where the backlot is set up like a haunted house kind of thing. There’s this burned looking guy with knives on his hands, and a guy with a leather mask, and some hockey mask guy…”

Jennifer laughed. “Freddy, Michael, and Jason,” she said. “The three bad boys of horror. Really, though, you like that kind of thing?”

Ava nodded. “I love horror movies and scary books and stuff like that.” She turned her eyes on her father. “Pleeeease, Daddy?”

Richie looked at Jennifer, who just shrugged. “We’ll see if we can get tickets,” Richie said shaking his head. “Her mother is gonna kill me,” he muttered under his breath.

They pulled up in front of a typical San Fernando Valley one-story home in Studio City. As they were parking, the front door opened, and a woman came out, smiling hugely. “Hath, darlin’, you made it!” she called as she came down the steps.

“Who’s ‘Hath’?” Ava asked as they walked up to the house.

“I am,” Jennifer said. “It’s the fake name I use when I go online. Denise!” she called as they approached. The two women embraced. “Denise, this is Richie and Ava Sambora. Rich, Ava, my friend, Denise.”

Richie took Denise’s hand and leaned in to kiss her cheek. With a sidelong glance to make sure Ava wasn’t paying attention, he nuzzled her neck. “Nice to finally meet you,” he said, his eyes crinkling when he smiled.

“Likewise,” Denise said. “Come on in. Steve’s out back, and Lucia and Jeff should be here any minute.”

Denise led them through the house and out back. They had a large yard with a lush grassy area on one side and a sparkling pool on the other. The clear water looked very inviting, and the grass felt soft enough to run barefoot in.

“Hey there!” a masculine voice called from a lounge chair. Denise’s husband unfolded himself from the chair and approached, a warm smile splitting his face.

“You must be Steve,” Jennifer said, as he came to stand next to his wife. “Thanks for having us,” Jennifer said as he shook hands with her and Richie.

“Any friend of Denise’s is welcome.” He looked at Ava. “Well hello,” he said. “I’m Steve.” He held out his hand for Ava to take. “I have students about your age,” he said. “Are you crazy into sports like they are?”

Ava smiled. “Only if they’re highly competitive.”

The five of them settled down with plates of fruit and cheese and cold lemonade and got to know each other. After a short while, a voice called out across the yard. “Hell-o-o-o-o-o…”

“LUCIA!” Denise called. “BACK HERE!”

“Well of course you’re back here. Is that their car?” she asked, then stopped dead at the sight of Richie sitting there. Jeff crashed into her.

“Keep moving, babe,” he said, “and for God’s sake, pick up your tongue.” He rolled his eyes at her and shouldered past her.

Jennifer did a double-take. Lucia’s friend Jeff was almost a dead-ringer for Jon. Jeff was a bit taller, and more barrel-chested, but he had the These Days hair and the same piercing blue eyes and chiseled jaw. Jennifer looked at Denise and winked. “Wow,” she mouthed, making Denise laugh and Richie scowl. More introductions were made, more lemonade poured, and soon, Ava got bored with the adult conversation and began casting longing glances at the pool.

“Honey,” Denise said. “As long as you can swim, you’re welcome to the pool.”

Ava looked pleadingly at her father, who laughed. “Go,” he said.

“Daddy, come swim with me,” she said.

Richie looked apologetically at the others. “Go on,” Jennifer said. “We’ll be fine.” Richie dropped a slightly lingering kiss on Jen’s lips before running off after his daughter.

“Go away,” Denise said to her husband after Richie had left, leaving Jennifer touching her lips and watching him go. “We girls need to dish.”

Steve sighed and clapped a hand on Jeff’s back. “Come on, man, let’s grab a couple of beers.”

When they were gone, Denise took Jennifer’s hand. “Well how’d the meeting go yesterday?”

“Much better than I expected,” Jennifer said, knowing exactly what Denise was talking about. “Heather really was quite nice. I like her.”

A loud splash followed by joyous laughter drew the women’s attention to the pool. “Hey,” Ava called. “Jennifer, are you gonna swim with us?”

Denise smiled. “Go ahead, Jennifer. Go swim with your family.” Jen shot a surprised look at Denise, who just nodded knowingly, then went to join Richie and Ava.

After an afternoon of sun, swimming, and laughter, the men gathered around the barbecue to get dinner going. The women and Ava shucked countless ears of corn and wrapped potatoes with pats of butter in little foil pouches. Ava was the runner, bringing things to the men when they called for them, and helped Denise make a huge salad while Jennifer and Lucia mixed a giant pitcher of Sangria with a good, local red wine and slices of oranges, lemons, and peaches floating in it.

After dinner and cleanup, Steve lit a fire in the outdoor fireplace, and they sat around in comfortable patio furniture sipping their respective drinks and talking comfortably with each other. All too soon, Ava, who was laying on a thickly padded wicker sofa, started to drift off. Jennifer crossed the patio and scooped the little girl into her arms then settled with her on her lap. “Sundrop, you wanna go?” Jennifer whispered in her ear.

Ava nodded. “I wanna go to Universal before you go home though,” she said. “I wanna show you a lot of things before you have to go.” Her voice was getting fainter. “Maybe if there are enough things you like here, you’ll stay…”

Jennifer’s heart caught in her throat, and a sheen of tears sprang to her eyes. “Baby, there are plenty of things here I love,” she said, kissing Ava’s forehead. Richie saw the motion and the tears, and came to sit next to them. He wrapped an arm around Jennifer’s shoulder and kissed her forehead.

“You alright?” he whispered.

“More than,” Jennifer answered. “I think we should get her home though; she’s exhausted.”

“She’ll be really disappointed she couldn’t go to the horror show with you this weekend.”

Jennifer shrugged. “So, I’ll stay another week,” she said. “As long as I can clear it with my boss.” Her boss was going to kill her. It was only a matter of time before he stopped being so flexible with her working arrangements and she had to give up so much of her time with Richie. Either that, or she’d have to give up her job. Shocked at how palatable it was to think about giving up her job, she missed most of the rest of what Richie was saying. She caught the end though, the most important part.

Richie tightened his arm around her. “I love you,” he said.

“I love you too,” Jennifer answered, her mind whirring already with the phone calls she’d have to make. And deciding what she wanted to say.

Settling In

Monday, April 19, 2010
Richie led her through the downstairs, showing off his chef’s kitchen and butler’s pantry that made her mouth water. Next came the formal dining room with acres of mahogany in the table, chairs, sideboard, dry sink, and hutch. She chuckled at the chandelier that hung over the table. “A bit opulent, no?” she said, indicating the light fixture.

“Baby, it isn’t a formal dining room without a little bling.”

She saw the formal sitting room, complete with grand piano, and the family room, the media room, library, two bathrooms, and a guest suite. “Ready for the upstairs?” Richie asked her.

She nodded, and he led her to and up the grand staircase in the entry hall. “There are four guest bedroom suites along this hallway,” he said, indicating a hall that led over the living and family rooms. “My and Ava’s suites are down this way,” he said, leading her toward the back of the house. The first door he stopped at was shocking pink.

Jen laughed, “This has got to be your daughter’s room.”

Richie chuckled. “What gave it away?” He pushed open the door and Jen choked back a gasp. It looked like a queen’s rooms. The windows were treated with heavy fabrics in cream and rose, with swags and valances and heavy tie-backs. The queen-sized bed was lost under a veritable mountain of pillows in the same colors, and the rug was thick and luxurious. Ornate mirrors, an antique dressing table, and elaborate scrollwork on the dressers completed the regal look.

“Wow, not at all what I expected.”

“No?” Richie’s eyes were twinkling.

“Nope, I was expecting it to look like a Pepto factory exploded in here. Did she choose all this?” Jen ventured over to the mirror and ran a finger down the side of the frame.

“She did. My little girl’s got an old soul.”

“You can say that again,” Jen said. “This is absolutely gorgeous!”

“Her bathroom and dressing rooms are through there,” he said, indicating a door at the back of the room. “I’m sure she will want to show you everything this weekend. Are you ready to see your rooms now?” Richie asked, anxious to have this woman in his bedroom finally.

“Lead the way,” Jen answered, anxious to see if Richie’s bedroom reflected the gypsy in his soul, or the practical side of his masculinity. He led the way down the hall a bit, and opened a wide door set with brass fittings. “Oh, Rich! It’s absolutely gorgeous! And the view!”

Richie’s bedroom was in the back of the house. The entire rear wall of the room was glass, offering a panoramic vista that literally took Jen’s breath away. She noticed that most of the glass was sliding doors, and they would let in the sounds and scents of the ocean view beyond. To one side of the room’s door, against the wall, was an oversized four-poster king bed. The headboard and footboard were heavy, dark cherry wood, and the spread and pillows dressed the bed in royal blue and deep purple. The same colors were captured in the swirls of the area rugs that were scattered across the polished hardwood floors.

Against the other side of the door was a sitting area; a few over-stuffed chairs around a low cherry table. Several doors led off the main bedroom, all of them slightly ajar. Jen wandered around, touching everything. She gently pushed open the doors as she came to them, revealing a huge bathroom, study, a music room filled with guitars and a second piano, and two closets.

“It’s amazing,” Jen said.

“Glad you like it.” Richie checked his watch. “We have a little under an hour until Ava comes home. Not nearly enough time to do anything naked.” He laughed at Jen’s expression. “I know. Listen, are you hungry?”

Jen gazed longingly at the bed, then back at Richie. “I guess I could eat,” she said. The pair made their way downstairs and into the kitchen, where Richie made them a light pasta dish. They had just cleaned up the dishes when Richie heard his daughter’s footsteps running toward them.

“Is she here?” Ava shouted before skidding to a stop in the kitchen. “You came!” She flung herself into Jen’s arms.

“Yes, I came to visit,” Jen said, hugging Ava close. “Your daddy took me on a tour of the house; your bedroom is absolutely beautiful! Are you sure you don’t want to be a designer when you grow up?”

“Maybe; I haven’t decided yet.”

“Well, you have wonderful taste.” She hugged the little girl again. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again!”

“You too, Jen! How long are you staying?”

“I’m flying home next Saturday; I can stay the whole week. Listen, your dad and I are going to visit a friend of mine this Saturday, do you want to come? I think they have a pool.”

“That sounds like fun,” a voice said from the doorway.

“Mom!” Ava said, scrambling over to her mother. “This is daddy’s girlfriend, Jennifer.”

Jen crossed the room and extended a hand to Heather. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said.

“Hmmm,” Heather answered, noncommittally; looking Jen up and down with a critical eye.

“Ava honey, why don’t you go get started on your homework,” Richie said. “Give Jen and your mom a chance to talk. Mom’ll come get you when it’s time to go.”

“Okay,” Ava answered happily, and after kissing all the adults in the room, skipped off to do her homework.

“She’s a wonderful little girl,” Jen said to Heather. “You must be so proud.”

“Yes, I am,” she said, not smiling. She cast a glance at her ex-husband, raising an eyebrow at him. Turning her gaze back to Jen, she said, “We should get more acquainted. I would stay and chat now, but I am running late for an appointment. Perhaps we can meet over lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure, whatever you think is best,” Jennifer answered, feeling quite intimidated by the other woman.

Heather looked at Richie. “Why don’t you two meet Jack and I at that restaurant we used to go to all the time.”

“Sure,” Richie said, distracted by Jen’s discomfort. “It’ll be good to see Jack again.”

“See you tomorrow,” Heather said to the room in general, then turned to collect her daughter.

“Damn,” Jen said, sinking back into her chair. “Does she do the intimidating ex-wife thing to everyone? Or am I special?”

Richie chuckled. “She does have the diva thing down pat, doesn’t she? Don’t worry about her,” he said. “I’m sure lunch will be just fine tomorrow, and we’ll have Ava for the whole evening. Are you sure you’re ready for that?”

“The Ava thing, sure why not? Though will she sleep with us or in her own room?”

“Her own room, thank God. What about the other?”

“I’ll let you know after lunch.”

On Friday, Jennifer was more nervous that she’d ever been in her whole life. Flying nonstop to Australia would have been more preferable. Even if the woman wasn’t Richie’s ex-wife, Jennifer would have been nervous meeting the celebrity. She was a huge fan of Melrose Place, and she had loved the evil, scheming Amanda, and was saddened when she turned nice in the end. But she was absolutely terrified to sit down for a heart-to-heart with the gorgeous woman who was Ava’s mother and Richie’s ex.

Richie and Jennifer had arrived at the restaurant to find that Heather and Jack were already there. “You ready for this?” Richie asked, squeezing Jen’s hand.

“If I’m not,” she answered, “it’s way too late now.”

After awkward handshakes and cheek-kisses, the four sat down for lunch. Actually, they sat down with food, but only the men ate. “Ava has told me a lot about you,” Heather said softly. “She really likes you.”

“I’m glad; I really like her, too,” Jennifer answered. “She’s a wonderfully smart, delightful little girl with exquisite taste and a wicked sense of humor.”

Heather smiled. “She does have her father’s sense of humor.”

Richie laughed. “And her mother’s sense of style.”

After that exchange the conversation flowed a little freer, with Heather asking Jennifer questions that any mother would ask of the woman in her child’s father’s life. Jen answered everything honestly and was relieved when Heather seemed to relax. “You know,” Heather said. “I was prepared to hate you.”

“Heather...” Richie started, but Jen put her hand on his arm.

“She’s allowed, Rich,” she said, and he covered her hand with his and backed down.

“But I can see,” Heather continued, “that you genuinely love Rich and I can tell from what Ava has told me that you really care about her. The little care packages and emails you’ve been sending her – she really enjoys getting them, and they don’t smack of someone trying to get on her good side. They feel honest.” She toyed with her water glass and considered the woman across from her. “You seem like a very nice, normal woman. Rich is lucky to have found you.”

Jennifer smiled. “I’m the lucky one, but thank you.”

That night, Richie and his girls ordered in Chinese and sprawled in the sitting area of his bedroom, watching ESPN and talking. He and Jen were curled up on the couch, with Ava sitting on the floor in front of them, leaning against the sofa. It felt so right, having Jennifer there with him and his daughter. He watched as Jen idly combed her fingers through Ava’s hair, twisting it around her fingers, and his daughter relaxed into her touch. He turned his gaze to Jen’s and stared at her for a moment, then leaned over to kiss her.

“What was that for?” Jen asked, smiling.

“I’m just so damned happy right now,” Richie answered. “I’ve got my girls with me, we’re watching sports on TV and neither of you care, and we just had the best damned chow mein in the state.” He let out a robust belch. “Yep, happy as a pig in shit.”

“Pig is right,” Jen said, frowning comically at him.

“Get used it it,” Ava piped up. “Daddy makes all sorts of gross noises.”

“Ah, it’s alright,” Jen said. “I guess I can put up with the gross noises from your dad. He’s pretty special.”

Ava tilted her head back to smile at Jen. “Yeah, he’s one of a kind alright.”

Getting to LA

Monday, April 12, 2010
After several days of utterly slothful relaxation, Jon and Tiff were on their way back to Texas. They had gotten word that they were letting people back into their homes, and Tiffany wanted to go back and assess the damage. When they were gone, Richie was reluctantly packing his belongings. “I wish I didn’t have to go, but...”

“I know,” Jennifer said, hugging him. “You have Ava to think about. I completely understand.”

“This has just been so perfect, these last days. Things have been so good between us. I guess I hate to break the spell, ya know?” He looked like he was going to ask something else, but just turned back to his bag.

“What, Rich? You looked like you were going to say something there. What is it?”

“Nothing, I was just going to ask if you wanted to come back with me, but I know you’ve taken an insane amount of time off from work and...”

“Let me worry about that,” Jen said. “I would love to come home with you.”

“Really?” He put his arms around Jen’s waist.

“Absolutely. Let me make a few calls.”

After making the necessary arrangements, which took longer than she had hoped, Jen packed a bag. “How long should I pack for?”

“How long can you stay?”

She didn’t want to get into the work arrangement with Richie; she basically had to take a leave of absence to make this trip, and didn’t want him to feel guilty. “I can stay for a week, maybe a little longer. I’ll pack for that.”

While Jen did that, Richie was on the phone to the airlines, adding Jen to his reservation. There wasn’t an adjacent first-class seat on his flight, so he changed his flight to a later time, and arranged for the car he had hired to come a few hours later as well. They spent the afternoon cuddled together, watching old movies on TV, until it was time to leave for the airport.

“Did you take your Xanax?” Richie asked, as he and the driver packed the bags into his rental.

“I’m going without today,” Jen answered as she opened her door.

“Really?” Richie asked. They got settled in the car Richie tucked Jennifer under his arm.

“Yeah; I figure if we’re going to make this work, I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on planes.” Jen smiled warily. “I’d rather not have that mean that I spend a lot of time doped up. I don’t like feeling all loopy.”

“I like you loopy,” Richie said, leaning over to give her a smacking kiss. “You let me take care of you when you’re loopy. You’re too damned independent sober.”

Jen laughed and patted Richie’s knee. “Poor baby.”

They made it to the airport in record time, and were dropped off right in front of the terminal. They were checked in and ensconced in the first-class lounge in less than half an hour.

“There is something to be said for traveling first class,” she said, raising her glass of Diet Coke in salute.

Richie clinked his bottle of water against her glass. “You’re telling me.”

When their flight was finally called, they handed their boarding passes to the flight attendant and made their way down the jetway. The closer to the plane’s door they got, the tighter Jennifer’s grip got on Richie’s hand.

As the plane’s door came into view, Richie gently disengaged her hand from his and tucked it under his arm, so she was squeezing his bicep instead. “Just a few more minutes and we’ll be sitting down. Do you want aisle or window?”

“Aisle. Definitely aisle.”

Richie took Jen’s duffel from her and put it in the overhead compartment. Then he settled into his seat and leaned forward so he was blocking the window. When Jennifer sat, Richie raised the arm rest between their seats and cuddled Jen close to him, and she buried her face in his chest.

“I’m sorry for being such a big baby,” she said. “I know this fear is irrational, but I can’t seem to get over it.”

“Don’t even worry about it,” Richie answered. “Maybe in time this won’t be too bad. If it is, we’ll figure something else out.”

The flight attendants made their final sweep of the cabin, instructed everyone to fasten their seatbelts, and went through their takeoff spiel. The plane taxied to the runway, and Jen took a deep breath. As it started down the runway, gathering speed as it went, she held her breath and closed her eyes.

“Breathe, baby,” Richie crooned in her ear. He took her hand in his, and stroked the back of it with his thumb.

When the plane took off soaring over the airport buildings, a curse slipped out from between Jen’s clenched teeth. “Damn, I hate this part.” By the time they leveled off, Richie had lost most of the feeling in his left hand.

“Baby, as much as I want to comfort you right now, I really need my hand for work,” Richie said softly. “Please don’t break it.”

“God, I’m sorry,” Jen answered. “Guess I should have taken a pill. I’m such a wimp when it comes to flying.”

“Lots of people hate to fly,” Richie countered. He leaned in close to whisper in her ear. “I know something you can do that would take your mind off of the fact that you’re in a plane.”

Jen met his eyes and saw the twinkle of mischief in them. She frowned for a moment before the light bulb flipped on. “Rich!” she hissed. “I am NOT joining the mile-high club with you!”

“Who said anything about that? I just meant the hostess cart will be along soon, and you can have a drink. Glad to know where your mind is, though, you dirty girl.”

Blushing furiously, Jennifer buried her head in her hands. “Oh God,” she moaned.

“Are you sure you don’t want to rethink your aversion to sex on a plane?” Richie asked, chuckling at the horrified expression on Jen’s face.

“Quite sure, thank you,” she said. “I don’t even want to think about getting out of this chair and trying to navigate the aisle while the plane is in the air, never mind the acrobatics needed to – no. You’ll just have to wait.” She stuck her tongue out at Richie who quickly captured it in his mouth. He pulled her closer to him, turning the playful nip into a full-fledged kiss.

Long minutes later, Jen broke the kiss with a smile. “Mmmmm,” she said. “Can we do that for the rest of the flight?” she asked.

“Sure thing, darlin’,” Richie answered. “Whatever you want.”

The flight passed blessedly fast and uneventful. When the announcement came over the PA system for everyone to put their seatbacks and tray tables in the upright and locked position, Jennifer heaved a sigh of relief. “That wasn’t too bad. Now all we have to do is not crash.”

Richie chuckled softly. “Darlin’ you’re perfectly safe. I promise.”

When the captain turned off the seatbelt sign, Jennifer needed a minute to get herself together before opening her belt. “Damn,” she said. “I sure am glad that’s over. How long until we get to your place?”

“Not long; there should be a car waiting outside the terminal.”

Indeed, a black Expedition was waiting for them when they emerged. Their bags were stowed in the cargo area, and they climbed into the back seat. Richie handed Jen a bottle of water from a cooler stowed on the floor between their seats, and she drank it greedily, needing only a few swallows. Sighing happily, she snuggled into his side, and watched as California passed by her window. She texted Denise to let her know that she had accompanied Richie home and her friend invited the two of them to her place over the weekend. “Rather than just having lunch with your guy, I’d love to meet you, too,” she had said. “Richie’s daughter is more than welcome, too, if it’s his weekend.”

When they arrived at Richie’s house, Jennifer whistled. “Wow, this is some place. You do alright, Rock Star.” The estate was sandstone and glass, and absolutely perfect for the bluff on which it stood. The massive oak double front doors opened into a huge entry way. A full-sized mummy lurked in one corner of the hall, and faux cobwebs were stretched across the antique mirror over an ancient mahogany table. “Ready for Halloween, are you?” Jen asked, touching the mummy’s arm.

“Nearly,” Richie said, “though I don’t get too many trick-or-treaters.”

“Gee, I can’t imagine why, what with the imposing gates and everything.”

“Look who’s talking! At least my gates won’t shear your car in half if you’re too slow getting through.”

Across the other side of the entryway, giant floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked a beautiful verandah. Beyond that rolled acres of green lawns. In the distance, Jen could see the ocean.

“What a beautiful view,” Jen said, crossing to the windows. She opened one of the sliders and ventured out onto the verandah. The grass looked satiny soft, and she was tempted to take off her shoes and see if it felt as good as it looked. “Does anyone actually use the lawn? It looks too good to be true.”

“I’ll have you know, that is the finest Bermuda grass money can buy, and it is used all the time. My landscapers just do a good job at keeping it up.” He closed and locked the front door behind him and came to stand behind Jennifer. “Want the tour?”


Casa de Hath

Monday, April 5, 2010
Richie and Jennifer were at the airport Wednesday morning, as promised. Jennifer held a sign that said “Bill” and tried hard to keep a straight face when she saw Jon and Tiffany come through their gate. Tiff ran across the open space and wrapped her arms around Jennifer.

“I’m so glad to see you again!” she said. “Thanks so much for having us. I don’t mind telling you that the photographers were just about gettin’ on my very last nerve.”

“You are very welcome. Now, gimme that hand,” Jennifer said, grabbing for Tiffany’s left hand. “Oh, T, it’s gorgeous,” she said. “Jon done good.”

“Yeah, he did alright,” Tiff said, positively beaming.

“Seriously, how has the press been?”

Tiff rolled her eyes. “I swear to God, Jen, any time we stepped out of the damned apartment, someone was there to take our picture. And you,” she gave a stern look to Jennifer that was ruined by the mirth in her eyes. “You had to go on the board and post about the pictures those damned photographers published yesterday.”

“Hey, I stood up for you!” Jennifer said indignantly. Then she ruined it by laughing. “If you read it all, I said that you guys looked good together and Jon looked happy.” She snuck a look at the man in question. “He does, you know.”

Tiffany looked over at Jon, who was deep in conversation with Richie. “Richie does too. I’m glad you guys worked it out.”

“Me too, girlfriend.” Jennifer was thoughtful for a minute. “So spill, what WAS Jon laughing at in those pictures?”

Tiffany chuckled. “This cab was driving real slow down the street, which was odd because, well, this WAS New York City, and there wasn’t much traffic. Anyway, the cabbie toots his horn, and we look over, and a big hairy ass is pressed against the window.

Jennifer laughed. “No way!”

Tiffany nodded. “Yes way. Jon said if he didn’t know for a fact that Richie was here in Boston, he woulda sworn it was him.”

Jennifer groaned. “I don’t even want to know how he knows what Rich’s ass looks like pressed against a window.”

The women linked arms and went with the men to baggage claim. Richie was horrified at the amount of luggage that came down the chute. “How the hell long are you staying?” he asked.

Jennifer elbowed him roughly. “Shut up, Rich, it’s my house, they can stay as long as they want.”

“Thank you, doll,” Jon said, kissing Jennifer’s cheek. Tiffany had stretched up on tip-toe to kiss Richie’s. “We’re not sure about our departure,” Jon said warily. “We saw on the news that they’re letting people back into Galveston, but it’s a long drive to get in; the airports are still closed.”

“And I told you,” Tiffany said, “that I don’t care how long it takes, I wanna get back and assess the damage.”

“I know, baby,” Jon said, wrapping an arm around Tiffany’s shoulders and kissing her temple.

“Well, whatever you wanna do,” Jennifer said, “is fine with me.”

The foursome went out to the short-term lot and piled suitcases, a guitar case, and themselves into the Tahoe. Jennifer climbed up behind the wheel, her awkward ascent to the running board and stiff-legged entry to the vehicle looking resignedly natural if not comical.

“Hobbling around pretty good I see,” Jon said, laughing.

“I know you aren’t laughing at me, Midge,” Jennifer said, purposefully using the nickname Richie used when he wanted to push Jon’s buttons.

“Oh, I know you just didn’t call me ‘Midge’, Hath,” Jon said, emphasizing her pen name.

She blushed and started the car, and Richie immediately turned on the XM radio. Prayer was on, and the guys groaned. Tiffany and Jennifer laughed, and started singing at the top of their lungs – very much off key. The boys begged them to stop, but the girls sang every last note, including the talk box wah-wahs, until they were all laughing so hard they nearly pissed themselves.

“Dayum, Jennifer,” Tiffany said, “your voice is terrible!” She was laughing hysterically.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but I’ve gotta tell you, Rich doesn’t mind it,” Jennifer answered. She cleared her throat and did her very best impression of a phone sex operator. “Ain’t that right, lover?”

“Jen,” Richie warned. “Stop it.”

“Aw baby,” Jennifer crooned, making Tiffany chuckle. “You weren’t saying that a couple hours ago. In fact I believe your exact words were ‘fuck ‘em, let them take a cab’.”

Jon punched Richie’s shoulder. “You bastard!” he said, laughing. “You’d make us take a cab just so you could get laid?”

“Hell yeah,” Richie agreed. “Wouldn’t you?”

Tiffany turned around and raised an eyebrow at Jon. “Uh, I’d try, but T wouldn’t let me.”

“You’re damned right I wouldn’t,” she said. “You are an excellent lay, fantastic in fact, but manners are manners.”

“Yes ma’am,” Jon drawled, and leaned forward to tug on Tiffany’s braid.

The joking and banter made the hour-long drive back to Jennifer’s house seem to fly by. As they passed through the gates, Tiffany whistled. “Damn, girl, you do alright.”

“Thank God for pre-nups,” Jennifer quipped, then noticed Jon’s frown in the back seat. “Uh-oh, did I light up a touchy subject there?”

Jon shook his head. “Naw,” he said. “She thinks we should have one, I don’t happen to agree.”

“Jon, that’s our business,” Tiffany admonished, as they poured out of the car.

“Sorry, honey,” Jon said.

“So!” Richie said. “T, you gonna try out Jen’s stripper pole? Damned thing’s been lonely with her all laid up like that.” He wagged his eyebrows at her.

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “If I do, Sambora, it won’t be in front of you.”

“Oh, c’mon,” Richie wheedled. “I have a whole fistful of dollar bills.”

Tiffany punched him in the stomach, hard enough to make him say OOOF! “Richie,” she said, “you don’t have enough money for me to dance for you.”

He pouted, which made Jennifer laugh. “Oh, you big baby,” she scolded.

And so it continued all through lunch. After they cleaned up, Jennifer hopped online to answer a few emails and PMs from the girls, and laughed at Denise’s.

“Rich, baby, you’re outed,” she said. “Denise and Lucia want to meet you now, next time you’re home.”

“Sure thing,” Richie said. “Are they gonna wear their hair up for me?”

Jon laughed. “T wrote ME as the vampire, asshole,” he said, smiling at Tiffany, who blushed.

“Watch it, baby,” Tiffany warned. “I haven’t completely written off writing slash.”

Jennifer laughed. “I can collaborate with you! I know Rich’s lines and moves, and could accurately describe his technique...”

Tiffany burst out laughing at the looks on their men’s faces. “Would he be throwing or catching?”

“Stop!” the men said together. “Shut up!” Jon protested.

The girls ignored them. “Oh I think they should wrestle for throwing rights.”

“Oh, but Richie’s bigger,” Tiff said.

“How do you know?” Jennifer asked, then blushed. One of the guys said ‘fuck’. “Oh, that’s not what you meant. Uh, well, yeah he is bigger, but Jon’s more ripped, I think they’d battle honorably for dominance.”

Jon and Richie looked at each other. They knew a sure-fire way to get their girls to shut up. They stalked across the room and each took his woman into his arms. Richie cradled the back of Jennifer’s head with a big hand. Jon framed Tiffany’s delicate face with his hands. The two men leaned in and kissed the ever-loving shit out of their women. They kissed their girls long and hard and after a few minutes, felt the girls go limp in their arms. When they broke apart, the girls looked at each other.

“What were we talking about?” Jennifer asked her friend.

“I have no earthly idea,” Tiffany answered, fanning her face.

The two men exchanged a high-five.

Jennifer suggested her friend’s barbecue place for dinner, but warned them about ribs and ‘ritas night. Tiffany was looking forward to trying Georgia barbecue. She was a little leery about it, because after all, you want barbecue, there’s not a better place then Texas to get it, but she was game. Jon thought it would be fun.

When they arrived at the restaurant, Jennifer went in by herself. Krissy looked up from the table. “Damn, Jen, I thought Richie was with you this week.”

“He is,” Jennifer answered. “I had friends fly in today, they’re here too.”

“Well where are they?” Krissy asked.

Jennifer looked out the window. “Here they come. Be nice.”

When Richie came in, Tiffany was next to him. Jon was behind Richie and not visible right away. When Richie leaned down to kiss Krissy’s cheek, and the other ladies saw who was behind him, the whole table, all eight of the women, said, “Fuck me” at the same time.

Jon chuckled. “Ladies, as tempting as that is,” he said, smiling that smile, “I think my fiancée would have something to say about that.”

“Nah,” Tiffany said, flipping her wrist. “They’d just get you warmed up. ‘Salright.” The women all laughed. “Hey, I’m T,” she said. After the introductions, and a few minutes of gushing and general star-struck fan behavior, they settled in to eat. Matt brought out big piles of ribs and cole slaw, dirty rice, corn on the cob and garlic smashed potatoes. Cornbread and sweet tea rounded out the meal, and they laughed and talked and stuffed their faces until they couldn’t swallow another bite.

Toward the end of the meal, Matt approached them. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, after kissing Jennifer’s cheek. “But would you guys mind if I took a photo for the brag wall?”

Richie looked affronted. “How come you didn’t want my picture last time I was here?”

Matt looked sheepish and glanced at his wife. “My wife’s a fan, but uh…” he trailed off.

Jon saved him. “But she’s got the hots for me, not the wingman.” He nodded. “I understand. Happens all the time” Krissy buried her face in Veronica’s shoulder.

“Fuck you,” Richie said.

“No thanks,” Jon replied.

They posed for pictures at the bar and back in the kitchen, and took one with Matt for the brag wall, then posed with each of the ladies.

“Thanks,” Matt said. “Thanks a lot.”

Krissy pulled Jennifer aside, into the vestibule where the bathrooms were.

“OH MY GOD!” she said, trying for sotto voce, but failing miserably. “I can’t believe JON FUCKING BON JOVI is in my restaurant!”

“Krissy, calm down!” Jennifer said, giggling.

Richie stalked over. “How come you didn’t go all ape shit when I first came into your restaurant?”

“PUSSY!” Jon yelled at Richie, making Krissy laugh.

“DICKWAD!” Richie yelled back. He looped his arms around Jennifer and Krissy, and led them back to the table. They all declined dessert, but hung around for a little while to listen to the local blues band that was playing. Eventually, Jon, Richie, and their girls made their way back to Jennifer’s house.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Monday, March 29, 2010
Richie took Jen into his arms and held her close to his body. He trailed kisses from her jaw to the spot just under her ear that made her whimper. Pressed against his body, Jennifer could feel the hardness of his erection. Richie eased away slightly, afraid that having her rubbing against him would make him cum in his jeans. He kissed his way down her neck, taking time to lick and suck every inch thoroughly. By the time he got to her shoulder, she was quivering.

Richie cupped Jennifer’s face with his hands and sipped from her lips. She kissed him back eagerly, wrapping her arms around his neck. He slid his hands down to the buttons of her blouse, and opened them slowly. When the garment wouldn’t fall from her arms, he gently pulled them from around his neck. He quickly divested her of her bra as well, while never taking his mouth from hers.

He scooped her up and brought her into the living room, where she finally noticed the fire burning. Spread out in front of the fire was a sea of duvets and blankets, all covered with soft, cotton sheets. As Richie laid her down gently, their mouths parted, and Jennifer chuckled. “Did you find every blanket in the house?”

“Just about,” he answered, stripping off his own shirt and shoes. “I left our bed made for later.”

He stretched out by Jennifer’s side and leaned over to take one pebbled nipple into his mouth. He moaned with pleasure. “Damn, I missed you,” he said.

Jennifer threaded her fingers through Richie’s hair and gasped as he sucked hard on the tiny peak. “God, I missed you too.”

While his mouth worked, his hands were busy unzipping her slacks and pulling them and her panties down and off her legs. “How’s your knee?” he asked.

“It’s fine,” she said, pulling his head down for another mind-numbing kiss. “Practically good as new.”

“Good,” Richie said. “Because I want to feel both of your legs pulling me in tighter to you when I’m making love to you.”

He grazed a hand down Jen’s side to the top of her thighs, tickling the little patch of hair there. When her legs parted, seemingly of their own accord, Richie didn’t hesitate, and dipped his fingers in between to find Jen already damp. He skimmed his fingertips along her sensitive lips, parting them slightly to dip one finger inside. Lubed up, he slid it around her clit before pressing the tiny ball into her, making her shiver.

Jennifer half-sat and pulled at Richie’s belt, unbuckling it quickly. She fought with the button on his jeans and struggled with the zipper, as it was pulled taut across his bulging erection. “Help me,” she grunted.

Richie rolled onto his back and finished unfastening his jeans, and pulled them off, kicking them away. Rolling back to her, poking her leg with his cock, he asked, “better?”

“Mmmm,” Jennifer answered, taking his long shaft in her hand. “Much. I want you inside me, Rich. I need you.”

Richie didn’t need for her to ask a second time. He rolled so he was cradled between Jen’s legs and pushed gently into her, filling and stretching her. Jen’s neck arched and her head lolled to one side as the sensation of being filled as only this man could fill her, body and soul, overtook her. When he started stroking in and out of her slowly, she raised her legs and looped them together around his back.

“I just want to feel you inside me for a minute,” Jen said, pulling at his shoulders. “Please, just let me feel you.”

Richie obliged, laying atop Jennifer, feeling her heartbeat with his. When the two beats matched, he pushed up, his hands on either side of Jen’s face, and started rolling his hips again. Slowly.

Jen’s legs dropped back to the floor, and she bent her knees, planting her feet wide. Richie knelt up and took Jennifer’s calves and draped them over his arms. He pushed at her thighs with his hands, opening her more to him, and the change in angle had him pressing just so slightly upward within her.

“God, Rich,” Jen said, her voice a strangled whisper.

He picked up the pace, the crackling of the fire and the steady slap of their bodies the only noises in the room. He felt her start to tense, and he stopped, waiting for her eyes to open. When she slitted then just enough to make out his face, he smiled. “I want to watch your eyes,” he said. “They turn colors when you cum.”

Jen groaned and opened her eyes as best as she could. Richie let Jen’s legs down, then dropped his hands to either side of her head. He leaned down to kiss her, then pressed his forehead to hers as his hips continued to piston. He could feel her squeezing him, tighter and tighter, and knew she was getting close. He felt the tell-tale tingle at the base of his balls that told him he was getting close, too.

They locked eyes for the last few strokes and when oblivion came, it took them swiftly, washing over them in wave after wave of heart-stopping pleasure. Richie watched as Jen’s eyes darkened through several shades before finally rolling back in her head. He continued to pump in and out of her until he started to go limp, and only then pulled out of her. When Jen whimpered, he quickly started to stroke her clit, tight, quick circles that brought her to orgasm again. She cried out and thrashed on the blankets as the buzzing that started at her core quickly worked its way through her. Richie kept up the gentle pressure on her bud for long minutes, rubbing it until she begged him to stop. Only then did he slip between her thighs again and slide home.

He bent down to kiss her deeply, his tongue matching the thrusts of his hips. Jennifer, still buzzing from the assault on her clit, clamped down almost immediately with wave after wave of pure bliss. Her head got fuzzy as all the blood slowly drained from her brain. She didn’t know where it went, and didn’t care. She had her Richie back, that was all that mattered.

Much later, when they were sated and sleepy, and the fire had burned down to nearly nothing, Richie spoke. Jen’s head was pillowed on Richie’s chest, and he was tracing lazy circles on her shoulder.

“Are you awake, darlin’?”

Jen chuckled, shifting her leg so it was twined more firmly around his. “Sure am, baby, what’s up?” Her hand snaked down to between his legs. “Not you.”

“Damn woman, I’m not a young man anymore. Give me a little time to rest, and we can pick up where we left off.” He caressed her head, and pulled her hair out from under it so he could sift it through his fingers. “I brought you something.”

Jennifer pushed up onto one elbow. “A present? You bought me a present?”

“Not bought, brought. Wanna see it?”

“Oh absolutely.” She scooted over so Richie could get up.

She watched as he sauntered across the room, his thigh and ass muscles flexing as he walked. He bent over to flip up the lid of his suitcase, and Jennifer groaned when his balls pushed between his legs.

“Oh NO! My eyes! My eyes! Not a good look, there sweet cheeks.”

Richie laughed and spread his legs a little so his cock hung down between his thighs. “Better?”

“Oh yes, much,” Jen agreed.

Shaking his head, Richie dug through his suitcase and came up with an inch-thick large flat package wrapped in silver paper. He sauntered back to the bed, and stopped just short, holding the package just out of Jen’s reach. “I just want you to know how very, very important you are to me.” He handed her the package and sat facing her on the pallet.

Jennifer locked eyes with Richie for a minute, seeing the truth to his words there. She swallowed back the lump in her throat and carefully slit the tape on the paper.

Richie chuckled. “One of these days, I’m going to get you to rip the paper.”

“Never,” Jen answered. “I’m too set in my ways.” She smiled as Richie leaned forward to kiss her lips, and giggled when she parted the sides of the elegant wrapping. “Bubble wrap?” she said. “Ooh, what is this a picture of?”

“I’ll never tell,” Richie answered. “You’ll have to see for yourself.”

Jennifer tore away the tape holding the bubble wrap over its precious cargo. She gasped at what she saw. “Oh Rich,” she whispered. “How in the world...”

In an antique silver frame was a black and white photo of a very young Jennifer being kissed on the cheek by a very young Richie.

“Tony owed me a favor or six,” he quipped. Then he explained how Tony had photographed much of Richie’s solo endeavors back in the 90’s, when Jon didn’t have anything for him to do. “I just called him and asked him to dig through the stuff he had from San Diego back in the day.”

“And he found it?” Jennifer was incredulous, but couldn’t tear her eyes away from the photograph. “That was more than a decade ago!” She traced a finger over Richie’s image, at the slight crinkling of his eyes, over the long dark hair that she now knew to be soft as sable.

“It’s our first kiss,” Richie said. “Preserved for all posterity.”

“It’s beautiful,” Jennifer said, finally raising her gaze to meet his.

Much later, after she showed Richie just how happy the gift made her, they hung the photograph in Jennifer’s bedroom next to the door, so it would be the first thing she saw in the morning, and the last thing she saw before going to sleep.

Richie and Jen spent the remainder of the weekend together, separating only when absolutely necessary. They talked and cried together, made love and laughed together. They walked a thousand miles around the lake on her property, telling each other everything they hadn’t told each other yet. By the end of the weekend, they knew each other as well as two people possibly could.

Monday, Jennifer called in sick to work. She and Richie went to visit her parents, who were tolerant but wary. They had seen the pain in Jen’s eyes, heard it in her voice, and weren’t quite so quick to forgive Richie as their daughter. But, when they saw how positively serene, how purely happy and content their baby girl was, they relented, and welcomed Richie back into their hearts.

“We don’t know what happened,” Jennifer’s father said, “and we don’t want to know. Just know that we only forgive you because she forgives you.”

“And,” Ma added, “if you ever hurt her like that again, it will be the last thing you do.”

Later that night, as Richie and Jen were clearing up dinner in her kitchen, Jen’s phone rang. “Can you get that?” Jen asked, wet up to her elbows at the sink.

“You got it, darlin’,” Richie said. He hit the speakerphone button. “Yes, can we help you?”

“Rich, man is that you?” Jon’s voice came through the tiny speaker.

“Who else is it gonna be, asshole? What’s up?”

“Is Jen there?”

“Right here, Jon,” Jennifer called. “I’m doing the dishes, or I would have answered myself. How’s the weather in Galveston?”

“We’re actually in New York,” Jon said. “The hurricanes were fierce, and we had to evacuate. T’s fairly pissed off, but it was JUST TOO DANGEROUS!” He yelled the last few words, and Jen and Richie could hear a faint “No it wasn’t!” in the background. Jon laughed and continued. “We were wondering if you could stand our company for a few days.”

Jen and Richie exchanged a glance. “Sure,” she said. “What’s wrong?”

Jon chuckled. “Nothing much, just the damned paparazzi are practically stalking T, and she isn’t really thrilled with it. We could go to Philly or out to Jersey, but T said...” he trailed off, and the woman in question took the phone.

“T said,” Tiffany continued where Jon left off, her soft drawl filling the kitchen, “that if I’m gonna be thrown out of my home, and be stalked like a damned deer just because I’m wearin’ this lil bit of sparkle on my hand...”

“WHAT?” Jennifer shouted excitedly. “You’re getting married? Oh, T, that’s wonderful! Congratulations!”

“Yeah,” Tiffany answered, laughing softly, “he made me an offer I couldn’t possibly refuse. Anyway, I wanna come out there to visit. Maybe stay a few days?”

“As long as you need,” Jen said. “When are you coming?”

“Day after tomorrow okay by you?”

“Absolutely,” Jen said. “I’ll have Rich help get a room ready for you.”

“Alright, we’ll see you Wednesday then. Thanks, Jen.”

Richie's Arrival

Monday, March 22, 2010
When the plane finally finished taxiing to the gate in Boston late Friday afternoon, Richie stood and stretched. He had left as early as he could on Friday. He wanted to leave right after seeing Cheryl back to her hotel, but had dinner plans with his daughter. He was distracted all night, which wasn’t lost on Ava, and he wondered what she’d tell her mother when he dropped her back home. He was packed and ready to leave by nine Friday morning when his own words from lunch the previous day came back to him. He owed Jennifer something special.

He knew she wouldn’t appreciate jewelry or flowers; she’d like them of course, but she wasn’t a ‘buy me off’ kind of girl. Besides, he wanted to give her something personal; something that showed her how much she meant to him; something that showed her that he was serious about them, and wanted to put the last days behind them once and for all and move forward; together.

As he was pacing the house trying to think, he discarded dozens of ideas as too trite. He thought about writing her a song, but thought that was way too clichéd. But, he reasoned, he always poured his heart and soul into the pieces he’d written for Ava, why not for Jen? As he walked purposefully toward the small studio he had set up in the back of his house, he stopped. The hallway, his “brag wall” was lined with photographs and promotional posters from his solo work from the 90’s. Seeing them made him smile.

He knew just what to do for Jennifer.

He pulled his phone from his pocket and pressed a few buttons. After a minute, he said, “Tony? Rich. I need a favor.”

Now that he was on the plane, and it was nearly to Boston, Richie was practically crawling out of his skin. He’d been antsy and fidgety the entire flight. Even the flight attendants, who were usually charming and attentive, were giving him a wide berth and leery glances.

The cross-country flight seemed to take more time than ever this time around, and with every minute that passed, he had gotten more and more agitated. When the plane finally came to a halt, he grabbed his oversized duffel from the overhead, and his guitar from the captain’s closet. He stopped a moment to apologize to the flight attendant for his attitude, then turned and strode purposefully down the jet way. Ava had wanted to come to Boston to see Jen, too, but Richie knew that he needed some alone time with his girl to really make sure everything was alright. And he wanted to be alone with her when he gave her the gift Tony helped him put together.

Checking his watch, he cursed. He’d be able to get to Jen’s before she got home, but just barely. And if there was traffic getting out of Logan, he’d miss being able to surprise her.

Jennifer checked her watch for the thousandth time. Then she checked her phone. Richie had said he’d call with his flight arrangements, but when the phone rang, she was in a meeting, and let it go to voicemail. He didn’t leave a message, which surprised her, but called him back as soon as she got back to her desk. No answer.

Her cell rang an hour later when she was on a conference call, and again, no message. “What the hell?” she said to herself, when she got Richie’s voicemail again.

By the end of the day, they still hadn’t connected, and she lost service when she got on the train. She wasn’t worried; she figured Richie would either be on the first flight out on Saturday or a late flight later tonight. She was nervous about it being awkward between them, however, and wanted to know when he was coming so she could have time to prepare for his arrival.

She spent the drive home from the train station wondering what they’d do over the weekend, and by the time she keyed in the code at her gate, she had calmed herself down. She’d pour herself a glass of wine, call Richie one more time, and settle in for a quiet evening at home.

As the house came into view, Jennifer frowned. The soft glow from the front windows distracted her, and she didn’t notice the smoke rising lazily from the chimney. “I don’t remember leaving any lights on,” she said to herself. She was meticulous about shutting off the lights before she left for the day. Her frown turned to fear when she saw a shadow pass in front of the window.

Standing on the brakes, she brought the car to a halt. She threw the gearshift into reverse and backed down the driveway, dialing her cell as she went. “Patriot Security, how can I help you?”

“This is Jennifer Petruzzo, account 3287154; I want to check on the status of my alarm, please.”

She heard a few key clicks on the other end, and the voice said, “It was disarmed this afternoon at 6:12pm Eastern time. Is there a problem?”

Much of Jennifer’s fear dissipated. She had set it that morning; someone who knew the codes had unset it. Most of her family and close friends had the gate and house codes, and before she brought the police in, she wanted to be sure of who was in the house.

“There may be, but I don’t know yet. Can I keep you on the line for a few minutes?”

“Of course.”

She put the Tahoe into ‘drive’ and crept up the driveway. When she turned off the SUV and climbed out of the car, her front door opened. Standing there, filling her doorway was Richie.

“Rich!” Jennifer exclaimed. “You should have told me you were coming early!”

“Sorry, darlin’,” Richie said softly. “I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, you certainly succeeded,” she chuckled. She put the phone up to her ear and said, “Thanks, everything’s fine. Sorry to have bothered you.”

“No trouble at all, Ms. Petruzzo. You have a good evening.”

“Thanks, same to you.” She clicked off and dropped her arm to her side. “It’s really good to see you,” she said to Richie.

“It’s so good to see you too,” he replied, coming down off the porch to stand in front of her.

After an awkward silent moment, Richie opened her arms, and Jennifer stepped into the circle of his embrace, nestling against his chest. He kissed the top of her head, then laid his cheek against her hair and squeezed her tightly. “I love you,” he said simply.

Jennifer leaned back to look at Richie, tears glittering in her eyes. “Oh, Rich, I love you too.”

He lowered his mouth to hers, and sipped naturally, gently from her lips. When Jennifer sighed, Richie tilted his head a little more, slanting his mouth so his tongue could fully explore her mouth. She met him stroke for stroke, and they stood there for long minutes, mouths locked together, their bodies pressed tightly against each other. When they finally broke apart, Jennifer smiled and caressed the side of Richie’s face. He closed his eyes against the sweetness of the gesture and sighed.

“I missed you,” he said to her, gently grasping her hand and kissing her palm. “And I’m so damned sorry.”

“I’m sorry too,” Jennifer answered, “more than you know. And I missed you something awful. But you’re here now, and everything’s going to be alright. Help me with my stuff? I’ll make you dinner.”

Richie nodded, tucked Jennifer under his arm, and led her back to the Tahoe. He grabbed her briefcase and laptop bag, she grabbed her purse, and they slowly made their way into the house.

Richie dumped Jen’s bags on the entry hall table, and pulled her into his arms again. “On second thought, I’m not very hungry right now,” he said. “Not for food anyway.”

Lunch with Cheryl

Monday, March 15, 2010
Thanks, Willow, for writing most of this one

Late Thursday morning, Richie pulled the Aston Martin into the parking garage at The Grove, a trendy LA shopping and dining area. He had suggested that Cheryl meet him here because he wanted her to see one of the hidden jewels of LA while she was here. It wasn’t the mid to high end shops that he felt were so special, but the old-fashioned flea-market type area with about a dozen food stands that were practically hidden within this trendy LA-chic place.

He had told her to meet him outside in the courtyard, hoping that due to the fact that it was Thursday and an earlier hour, the crowds would be sparse and the exposure minimal. Not wanting to take any chances of a repeat performance of his lunch with Stephanie, he pulled on a ball cap, tucking his long hair back and underneath it as he adjusted his glasses and stepped from the car.

Having only met her once before, Richie hoped he would remember what she looked like. As he walked up toward the fountain in the plaza, he recognized her reddish-blonde hair even though her back was to him and he chuckled when he realized that she had indeed worn her hair up like they had teased about on the board a lifetime ago.

Not being the type to turn down the opportunity to cause a woman to swoon, Richie walked up behind Cheryl and, placing his hands on her shoulders, leaned in to kiss the side of her neck just below her ear. This closeness made Cheryl spin around, a shocked look on her face that melted as soon as she saw the shit-eating grin on his face.

“Hey darlin’,” he said, removing his glasses and then taking her into a deep embrace. “It’s good to see you again. How are ya likin’ LA so far?”

“Hey Richie. It’s good to see you too. ” She hugged him back as he picked her up off the ground given that she was nearly a foot shorter than he. “I haven’t been here long enough yet to decide, but this place is really gorgeous. It’s a little public though, dontcha think?”

“What’s wrong? No desire to end up on TMZ with me?” he quipped, making them both laugh as they thought back to the ridiculous story from a few weeks ago.

“Hell no, I could care less who sees us. Jennifer knows we’re having lunch and I even got her blessing to wear my hair up like this, so to hell with the stupid media. I’m just glad to see ya again.” She stepped back to take a long look at him. He looked fantastic in tight black jeans, well-worn leather boots and a deep purple shirt unbuttoned so far down he shouldn’t have bothered. Looking into his face, she saw the smile lines and little eye crinkles, but his smile didn’t quite light his eyes; she could see a hint of worry there.

“Let me show you around, although I see you’ve already found at least a couple of stores,” he said, eying the two small shopping bags that were sitting on the edge of the fountain next to her pocketbook.

“Yea, I got here a little early so I did a little shopping. I’m a sucker for all things bling-y, so I picked up a few things. I’ll show you later if you are interested. I even saw some things I bet Jen would love,” she winked at him knowingly, but cringed inwardly when he saw a flash of sadness cross Richie’s face.

As they walked along, Cheryl said, “You know, I’m really glad I didn’t have to come out here and serve you up your balls for lunch.” She turned and looked him straight in the eye. “I haven’t seen someone that messed up in a really long time. Jennifer loves you so much that it’s making her crazy. I don’t know what happened between you two Rich, and I don’t really want to know unless you want to tell me, but I’m glad you two are working it out”. She leaned up on tippy-toes to place a kiss on his cheek.

“I’m trying, but I don’t know that she can really forgive me,” he admitted softly. “I was such a bastard to her. She said she forgave me, and was willing to forget, but I’m not so sure. I’m worried that it’s gonna be awkward with her this weekend.” He put his sunglasses back on to hide the emotion in his eyes.

Cheryl put her hand on his arm. “I’m sure it’ll be okay. In the months I’ve known Jen, she hasn’t said anything she hadn’t meant; at least with important stuff. Can I give you some advice?” Richie nodded. Cheryl said, “Just tell her you love her, pull her into your arms, and hold on. I’ll bet you anything she’ll cry a little, but she’ll hug you back. Then she’ll be ready to move on.”

Richie nodded. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ll do that.”

He led her around what looked like the back of a couple of the shops, almost as if he were leading her into a back alley. She trusted him, of course, and didn’t ask where they were going as he continued to walk, her hand placed tightly in his. When they ducked their heads low under a natural awning in the narrow walkway, they walked into what seemed like a whole different world. Cheryl gasped! It was the most quaint place she had ever seen. Everywhere she looked there were vendors and tables and shops… no, booths really, all selling a variety of foods from prepared items to cold cuts and meats to breads and candies. The smells all mingled into one another and it was just wonderful.

“Come on, I have the perfect place for us to eat,” he said with just a hint of teasing in his voice which Cheryl might have missed had she not be keen to his sense of humor from talking to him on the board. She wondered what the hell he was going to do. Walking about halfway through the market they came up to a counter and Richie grabbed two menus, handing one to Cheryl before opening his own. “We order here at the counter and then sit down and they will bring out the food.”

Cheryl opened the menu, although she already knew what type of food was here and she smiled. “How did you know that I love French food?” she inquired.

He just looked at her over the top of his sunglasses, and raised his eyebrows, smiling mischievously.

“Oh no you didn’t?! Richie! Please tell me you haven’t been reading my Paris story.” He could see a slight bit of color rise in her face.

“Guilty as charged,” he said, grinning widely. “Jennifer shares everything with me, darlin’.”

A shadow of dread came over her just then. “Oh no, please tell me that Da….”

He stopped her then with a finger to her lips. “No, I didn’t tell him about it. He does know, thanks to one soon-to-be-dead Cubano, that Jennifer has an alter ego in ‘Hath’, though he hasn’t found her site, but that’s not to say he won’t, especially now that his show is off the ground, and he’s got some time to breathe.” Richie winked at her. “And if THAT ever happens, I will never hear the end of it, because of that stupid Joker story. He’d comment for sure on your story, and there’d be a new male member on the board, because he wouldn’t let that shit go.” Richie didn’t mention that the other male member, “Billy the Kid”, was actually Jon because he wasn’t sure if Cheryl knew that or not. “So nope, he doesn’t know. Yet.”

She exhaled audibly. She was new to the fan fiction writing world, “We’ll Always Have Paris” being the only story she had ever written in earnest, and she was still really unsure of it, let alone of the idea that he, or any member of the band for that matter, would actually read the thing.

Richie could see the look of uncertainty lingering on her face, and laughed. “It’s a good story and you shouldn’t worry about it so much,” he said reassuringly. “I promise you, we see the all the things you girls write as flattery.” He thought for a minute, pursing his lips and tapping them with a thoughtful finger. “Well, all except the gay shit,” Richie said, shivering and making Cheryl laugh.

They ordered their lunches and settled at a table in the courtyard to eat and talk. “Let me see what you bought. I’m a bling guy myself, as if you didn’t already know that. Plus, I love getting ideas from you girls about things I can do and get for Jennifer. Besides,” he finished softly. “I owe her something special.”

Cheryl pulled out the bags, one from Breiton and the other from Lucky Brand. She opened the second one first. Prefacing by saying that this item was strictly for the fan in her, she pulled out a necklace that was so a crazy homage to Richie that even he was taken aback by it. It was a silver chain with a couple of dangling stars on one end, but what made it unique was the black and white fender guitar that was attached to one part of the chain and the guitar pick that said “Lucky” on the other side of the chain.

“You know, you need to replace that pick with the real thing, right?” he said, grinning.

“Well, of course, but I don’t have the real thing. I guess I was never good at getting your attention at a show,” she smirked at him.

Richie reached in his pocket, pulling out a couple of picks. He always carried them with him just as he always had a guitar close by, because he never knew what situations would present themselves. He held out his hand to her and she grinned.

“Pick one,” he said.

She looked at him quizzically. He nodded. She chose an older pearlized pick that she recognized from several tours back. It had his signature on one side and the inscription “Wielding the Axe of Love” on the other. She pointed to it and, in true Richie Sambora fashion, he took the pick and flicked it at her lightly, landing it squarely inside her dress, right between her breasts.

“I never miss,” he said, full on smirk wide on his face.

The rest of the afternoon went quickly, too quickly for her liking. They talked about Cheryl’s husband and children, and about Jennifer and Ava, and Richie told her that he never ever thought he would love someone as much as he did Jen. He told her that he wanted nothing more than for Jennifer to come out to LA with him forever. Cheryl almost chuckled at the wistful tone of his voice until she saw he had the face to match. He was serious. She didn’t ask him if he was going to propose but she could see the wheels turning behind those eyes. She told him that if there was ever anything she could do, to please just call.

When Richie dropped Cheryl off at the hotel, she called her friend.

“Jen, I just had the best lunch with your man,” she said.

“Oh really?” Jen laughed. “Did you get the full swoon-worthy treatment?”

“I sure did,” Cheryl answered. She told her friend all about her lunch date, and the two women were laughing. “Jen, seriously, are you two okay? He was looking pretty ragged under the smile.”

“We’re okay,” Jen said. “Or at least getting there. He’s coming out this weekend to see me, and I’m going to see if I can really put the last week behind me. I’m sorry, I don’t really want to talk about it because it hurts too much, but just know that if I couldn’t have handled it myself, I would have come to you.”

“I do know that, sweetie, but you shouldn’t have had to handle whatever it is alone. I would have been there for you, no matter what.”

“I know, Cher, and I love you for that. This was just something I had to handle myself. I promise,” she laughed, “I’ll have other things to whine to you about. You know me.”

“That I do. Well look, I gotta go, but I just wanted to touch base, and tell you I’m glad you worked stuff out with Rich, and hope you have a good weekend.”

“Thanks, babe. It’ll be okay. And if it isn’t I’ll call you.”

“That’s a deal. Bye, sweetie. Love ya.”

“Love ya too, Cher. Bye.”

(c) 2008 by TheGoddessHathor

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