Jon's cell phone was in his hand as he pressed the button for the elevator. It was waiting on her floor, so he stepped inside and keyed in Richie's number.
He held the phone to his ear and waited for it to connect but got the no service signal. "Fuck," he muttered in frustration as the doors slid open on the fifth floor. He quickly hid his eyes with his dark sunglasses.
An attractive woman in her thirties stepped in and eyed him curiously, recognition rapidly lighting her face.
"Hi," she said shyly.
He attempted a brief smile, but his temper was barely controlled and grief was strangling him.
The woman turned away to give him some privacy. Now was not the time to make herself known to him as a fan. She had seen footage of him in moods like this and it was never good. She hoped silently that she would get another opportunity and wondered what had brought him to her building in the first place.
Jon tapped his foot impatiently on the second floor when the elevator stopped again for another tenant to enter. This time he didn't even look up, instead pretending to busy himself with his phone. The second the doors slid open, Jon was out of the lift. He signaled the doorman to fetch his car and hit the call button on his phone.
It seemed to ring for an interminably long time before he heard Richie's cheery voice on the other end of the line. "Hey bro, how they hanging?"
A lump formed in Jon's throat, preventing him from speaking.
"Jon?" Richie asked.
"Jon, you there? What's happening?" A hint of concern tainted Richie's voice now; he could hear the noise of the city in the background but Jon still hadn't spoken.
"She's dead man." Jon managed to croak out.
Richie's gut clenched and he felt the bile rise in his throat as he considered the possibilities – Dorothea, Stephanie, Carol… each as sickeningly unbelievable as the next.
It was a name Richie had barely heard over the last twenty years, and yet the news struck him with all the force of a Mack truck. He collapsed rather than sat, onto a kitchen stool – he had just been fixing himself lunch.
When Gina had dropped off the face of the earth, all those years before, he had found it too painful to think of her. It had felt like a piece of him had gone missing. She had been the closest thing to a sister he had and he couldn't believe that she would just disappear without a trace, without so much as a goodbye. He had silently blamed Jon for it at the time. Unbeknownst to anyone else, it was the main cause of friction between the two on the New Jersey Tour.
"Rich…did you hear me man? Gina is dead!"
Jon's urgent tone snapped Richie from his reverie.
"I'll be there as soon as I can get someone to fly me out." He said and snapped his phone shut, immediately flicking it back open and dialing the number for the charter company they frequently used. He made the necessary arrangements and ran upstairs to pack. All going well he would be on the east coast before midnight.
Jon was still trembling with anger ten minutes later as he stood on the sidewalk waiting for the doorman to fetch his car. He had considered walking the short distance home, but that would mean a return visit tomorrow to fetch the car and he had no intention of running into Frankie again anytime soon. The girl was impossible…totally unreasonable…and stubborn - she made a mule seem easy going.
When the doorman got out of Jon's BMW, Jon was already there at the door waiting to get in – another generous tip in his hand. He slid in behind the wheel and peeled off from the curb at alarming speed. He couldn't go home yet, at least not to the cold sterile apartment his family now called home. He drove for the sake of driving and found himself heading towards Red Bank…heading towards comfort, heading towards home, heading to High Point.
High Point was Jon's French Chateau-inspired mansion on the banks of the Navesink River. It was the place he and his wife had raised their children, the place where his recording studio was located. It held more happy memories for him than almost any other place in the world…unless the spotlight was included in that sentiment – the spotlight always won out…it was his favorite place to be.
Once in the driveway, Jon hit the remote and the large wrought iron gates swung open noiselessly. He drove down the long driveway and parked the car near the front door, but instead of going into the house he headed out to the Shoe Inn – the guest house that had been converted into an English style pub. He grabbed two bottles of red from the cellar, a bottle opener from the bar – didn't bother to get a glass – and strolled down to the river bank where he sat propped against one of the large trees that lined the shore.
From a hidden pocket in his wallet Jon pulled out a tattered old photo strip, smiling at him through the creases and stains was himself and Gina – so much younger and happier than now. It was taken just before Runaway hit big, down the shore. They were so happy then…so carefree. He wondered what had gone so tragically wrong with that picture. Looking at it now the adoration in her eyes was obvious, how had he been so blind back then?
Opening the first bottle of wine, Jon took a long swig and once again the tears came, silent now - no longer the harsh sobs that had consumed him at the cemetery – but persistent nonetheless. He stared out blindly over the river towards the city; at least some small part of Gina had survived. He wanted so badly to remain angry at Frankie for the stunt she had pulled but found that he couldn't – she was the only link to Gina he had now. He would have to find a way to make it work… somehow. He took another long draw on the bottle and considered just how much his daughter looked like her mother. His daughter…now that was going to take some getting used to.
Jon lost all track of time, his only indication the setting sun yet still he sat and drank. Sometime - he wasn't sure when – long after the sun had set, he stumbled up to the house and let himself in. Maggie, the housekeeper, it appeared had already retired for the night and the house was deadly still. Somewhere in his brain a coherent thought niggled at his conscious mind – he had to let Rich know where he was. He hit redial on the phone but it went straight to voicemail. He left a message to let him know to come to Jersey then took up residence on the couch, yet another bottle in his hand – Jack this time…the wine had barely taken the edge off.
When Richie arrived two hours later he found Jon passed out on the couch, the bottle of Jack more than half gone. He dropped his duffle behind the couch and knelt beside his brother – that's what they were in every sense but the biological.
Even in slumber Richie could see the deep lines of pain etched into Jon's face, and realized as bad as this was for him, it was far worse for Jon. He remembered what it had been like when Gina had failed to return from Europe. Jon had been devastated then, God only knew what this would do to him. He knew Jon had spent countless dollars searching Europe for her throughout the years, something must have finally showed up…perhaps her parents had finally contacted him.
Initially when Jon had managed to contact them, they wouldn't even discuss Gina. They had told him not to bother them anymore; that they had no interest in speaking to him about 'her' or anything else. Eventually he had to comply with their wishes, bothering them was doing no good for anyone.
Richie needed answers – he gave Jon a gentle shake…nothing. He shook a little harder and got some incoherent mumbling. He went to the kitchen, the coffee pot sat ready on the bench, God Bless Maggie he thought. He poured a large mug and headed back to Jon.
This time, Richie lifted Jon into a sitting position before shaking him awake.
"C'mon man, wake up!" He slapped Jon's cheek probably a little harder than required – it seemed a little of that old resentment was still hidden there somewhere.
Jon came around with a start. "Richie…man…good to see ya. What you doin' here?" he slurred.
Oh great! This is gonna be harder than I thought. "You called me Jon."
"I did?" Jon was weaving where he sat.
"Yes Jon, you did. Don't you remember?"
"Hmm… 'member." Richie's face blurred before Jon's eyes. He couldn't hold focus. "Ohh..."
"That's it… come on think." Richie coached.
"I have a daughter man."
"Yes you do bro, but Steph isn't why you called," Richie was getting frustrated now.
"NO!" Jon said shaking his head vehemently. "Not Steph…'s another one."
"What are you talking about? How much have you had to drink?" Richie picked up the bottle of jack to examine what was left. He must have had a good go at something before this, he thought.
"Name's Frankie" Jon slurred again.
"Drink this," Richie held the mug to Jon's lips and waited for him to drink. "I think this conversation will have to wait 'til the morning, you're not making any sense at all."
"I'm making plenty of sense." Jon said indignantly. At least his words were getting clearer. "I have a daughter man. Her name's Frankie. She's ours…mine and Gina's." That stopped him in his tracks. "Oh… Gina." And the tears were there again, weren't they wasted yet? He felt like he had cried a river. "She's… dead man…Gina's dead!"
"I know Jonny. That's why I'm here. What happened? Who told you?"
"Frankie told me. Frankie…happened."
"What? What are you saying?" Confusion clear on Richie's concerned face.
"Christ man… she died having our kid!"
Richie eyed Jon suspiciously, "When did you find out about Frankie?"
"She found me…at the benefit on Saturday."
"You mean yesterday?" It was five minutes before midnight.
"Umm...yeah… I guess…yesterday…"
"Gina found you yesterday…" Richie began.
Jon interrupted, "No man. For fucks sakes keep up. Frankie found me yesterday. She took me to see Gina today."
"She took you to see Gina today?"
"And she's dead?"
"Yep" Jon nodded morosely. "She's dead." This started the tears again in earnest.
"Jon…bro…you're confused man. Go to bed. This will all look better in the morning."
"I…I can't believe she's gone man. It's my fault…if only…if…" Tears streamed down Jon's face. Richie placed a strong arm around his shoulders to comfort him and Jon soon buried his face in his brother's shoulder, his body shaking with grief.
Richie knew he would get no more sense from Jon in his present state. He feared he was suffering from some kind of breakdown. Maybe he was even suffering from hallucinations – he had been under a lot of pressure on the last tour. He should be in the Hamptons right now with his family…not here in Jersey alone. If things weren't clearer in the light of day, Richie decided, he would ring Dot and get the details from her. Now that was a conversation he wasn't looking forward to. But for now he would put his own grief for Gina aside until the story was straight.
Jon awoke the next morning disoriented and wincing at the bright light that was streaming through the large windows in the living room. He was stiff and sore from having spent the night on the couch. He sat up gingerly noting the thudding pain behind his eyes and the coating on his tongue. It had been a long time since he had drank like that – now he remembered why.
Heeding the persistent call of his overtaxed bladder Jon headed to the bathroom, cringing as every step he took vibrated in his head. When natures call had been answered he stood before the mirror and examined his reflection. He ran a hand through his short brown tousled hair, then across the day old stubble on his chin. Bloodshot eyes and the dark shadows beneath them were evidence of a rough night. He felt as though he had aged ten years overnight, he knew it wouldn't last but that made it no easier to deal with. He shook his head in disgust at the old man in the mirror before turning his back on him and heading to the kitchen for some strong black coffee.
Walking into the room, Jon was surprised to find Richie sitting at the kitchen bench already nursing a steaming cup of coffee.
"Hey" Richie nodded. "Coffee's just brewed."
Jon held a finger to his lips to indicate quiet. When he spoke it was barely above a whisper, "Hey man. Thanks. When did you get in?" Jon went straight to the pot and poured himself a cup.
"I guess that means you don't remember last night then." Richie said trying unsuccessfully to hide a smirk.
"Should I?" Jon asked as he sat on the next stool along the bench, propping his head up on one hand.
"After what you managed to drink I guess not." He laughed once. "What do you remember?"
"Don't know really… I guess arriving here and heading out to the pub." Then something occurred to him "Hey how did you know I was here? I was supposed to be in the city."
"You left a message on my cell while I was in the air."
"I did, huh?" Jon was impressed that, even in his state of inebriation, he had still had enough sense to let Richie know where he'd be.
"Yep you did. I got here just before midnight…you were pretty out of it." Richie shook his head at the memory. "It's been a long time since I've seen you that fucked up man. I think the last time would be ten years ago when Dot walked out…" No one usually mentioned that…it was a very touchy subject.
"Yeah I know." Jon said sheepishly. "Sorry man... Ah…what did I say?"
"You weren't making much sense bro. I was almost gonna call Dot."
"Fuck man…don't do that. I'm already in the shit with her." He replied in alarm.
"What's going on dude? You were a total mess last night. The only sensible thing I got out of you was that Gina was dead. Nothing else made sense."
"It still doesn't make much sense to me… but, ok this is the story. You know the Darfur benefit on Saturday, the one Dot and I went to." Jon started.
Richie nodded in assent – he had signed a guitar to donate.
"Well, I'm there with Dot and she notices this young girl eying me from across the room. She made some flip comment – you know how she is. Any way I look in this girl's direction and she strikes a familiar chord, just something about her, ya know?"
Again Richie nodded.
"So anyway I ditched Dot – she was in one of her moods – and moved a bit closer and watched her for a while, but still couldn't place it. The curiosity was killing me, so I decided to go talk to her to find out where I knew her from. Well you can imagine how that went down – 'Excuse me but do I know you?' – she thought it was a line but while I'm standing there staring at her, I realize who she reminds me of…Gina." Jon focused his attention on his coffee cup.
"Frankie…" Richie uttered softly.
"I told you this?" He looked up in surprise.
"No not really…go on."
"So that's when it got weird. She's standing there dumbstruck but when she speaks she tells me…how did she put it again…oh yeah she says that" He signed exclamation marks in the air with his fingers "I've been the object of her dreams and she's wondering if I'll live up to the fantasy.."
"Exactly…so immediately I think…well you know what I think, so I tell her 'Sorry honey I don't do teens' and she says" Exclamation marks again, "that's ok I won't do my father.'"
"And is she?"
"Apparently so… mine and Gina's." It was still hard to say her name.
"And Gina…?" Or hear it.
"Died in childbirth." Jon's voice was very soft
Richie uttered one word "FUCK!"
Jon sat silent while his brother digested the information, he had loved Gina too.
"Are you sure man? What about the tests?"
"I don't need 'm Rich. I'm sure…she mine. Not a doubt in my mind."
"How!? I mean I thought it was only the once. Surely…"
"It was only once, but Frankie reminded me that all it takes. She's mine man. I can feel it. Besides it all fits…the dates, the story, all of it. She has my eyes man…and it would seem the Bongiovi temper." A small smile touched his lips at the thought but quickly disappeared. "She's all I have left of Gina, Rich and she hates me…I mean really hates me and I don't know how to fix this."
"What does Dot think about everything?" Richie always had to play the devil's advocate.
"She guessed about Frankie…but I denied it. She doesn't know about Gina though – being dead I mean."
"Where does she think you are now?"
"In the city. I told her I had some shit to take care of for the Soul. But I'm guessing she suspects I'm here for Gina."
"Something you said last night is still bothering me. You said Frankie took you to see Gina." Puzzlement was evident in Richie's voice.
"She did…we visited her grave. That's how she told…well, showed me really. I asked to see Gina, she told me she would take me to her, and that's where we ended up."
"That's harsh man."
"I thought so too at first, now I'm not so sure…after what I put her through, Gina I mean, I probably deserve that and a lot worse."
"Don't be so hard on yourself man."
"Why not? You were at the time, …and there wasn't even a kid involved then."
"You didn't know." Richie paused then, thoughtful. "Please Jon, tell me you didn't know."
"Of course I didn't." Jon said indignant. "What kind of asshole do you take me for?"
"A fuckin' big one but that's beside the point." Richie said smiling, and then sobered. "What are you gonna tell the kids?"
"To be honest man, I haven't given it a thought. I suppose they need to know. Especially if she's gonna be part of my life." He said contemplative. "I mean it's not like Frankie was the result of an affair – not that that would make a difference really – but we weren't married yet when…"He trailed off.
Richie was quiet for a long time while he mulled over everything he had been told.
"Jon?" he finally said.
"She never went to Europe did she? That's why we never found her there."
Jon shook his head. "No." He said quietly, "No man, she didn't. It was just the story to get away from me. She never left you Rich – it was me she was running from. I'm… sorry."
A silent tear slipped down Richie's cheek, it was no different than if she had died the day before. "Take me to her?"
"Of course man…of course. But then I have to try to see Frankie…I need to fix what I've fucked up. I'll tell you about that on the way. Let me go clean up and we'll head out."
"K bro.. I'll be here."
Jon didn't need to be told that. He always was.