By the time Jon got home after dropping Frankie off, it was late. The house was quiet as he let himself in and wandered through to the kitchen. He pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and chugged half of it down as he continued up the short hallway to Jake and Romeo's bedrooms. He looked in on each of them in turn, kissing them gently on the cheek and fixing their covers before moving to the other end of the apartment to check on the older kids. He found Jesse tangled in his sheets, but sleeping soundly. He eased the linens from beneath him and covered him over before going to check on Stephanie.
His daughter's room was usually off limits to him, along with the rest of the males in the house. She was a young woman now, she constantly reminded him, and needed her privacy. Stephanie was snuggled deep within her duvet. Her iPod was on the bed beside her, her headphones still in her ears. He plucked them out carefully so as not to wake her, she stirred a little but rolled over, her breathing still deep and even. Jon brushed the hair from her face, and bent down to kiss her on the forehead. He left her room closing the door quietly behind him.
He knew he was stalling. He just couldn't bring himself to go and climb into bed with his wife. Instead Jon climbed the narrow staircase that led to the top floor of the penthouse. It served as his office and a formal entertaining area. He pulled a blanket from the closet and lay down on the couch in his office to close his eyes but sleep would not come. He laid there awake for a long time reliving the evening, pleased at how well things had gone with Frankie and analyzing the reactions that Beth had provoked in him. Eventually he found sleep with thoughts of Beth's soft body pressed against his in their goodbye embrace and a smile on his lips.
Waking early the next morning, his back stiff, Jon headed back downstairs to shower and change. He could have accomplished the same upstairs but for the fact that all of his clothes were in the bedroom he shared with Dot, a situation he was beginning to believe was overdue for a change. The house was still quiet. It was too early for the kids to be up, especially on summer break. He padded down through the apartment to his bedroom, making as little noise as possible as he entered his bedroom. He was trying to avoid waking Dot at all costs, but she wasn't even in the room - she was probably in the gym – so he managed to slip into the bathroom unnoticed.
He turned on the shower and stripped out of his sleep rumpled clothes. Standing before the mirror as he waited for the water to run hot he ran his hands over his face. It looked tired and drawn, almost as bad as it did a month or so before, when he came off tour. How had it come to this?
He stepped into the shower, and stood there head lolled back, letting the hot spray ease away some of the week's tension, his hand tracing lazy circles across the taut muscles of his abdomen and kneading the knotted muscles in his neck. When he completed his morning ablutions he dried himself and ambled naked through to the wardrobe. He donned a pair of khaki cargos and a black fitted T-shirt and was leaning down into one of the lower draws to retrieve a pair of socks.
"Where have you been Jon?" Dot's voice from the doorway startled him, it was soft but she wasn't successful in concealing the accusatory tone.
"I slept upstairs on the couch. I'm sure it's still warm if you want to go check." He added bitingly. He tensed ready for the next onslaught.
"I…I'm sorry Jon. I was out of line. What I said about Gina…it was…inexcusable." Dot walked over to where he stood and placed a hand on his tense bicep. "I knew she loved you even back then…I really shouldn't have been surprised. It was just…well when you admitted you loved her too…that hurt Jon."
"I'm sorry Dottie," his demeanor softened, and his shoulders relaxed, "that wasn't my intent. I just needed you to know that I am serious about getting to know my daughter, and her getting to know us…all of us. Now if you don't want, or feel that you can't be a part of that, I'll understand. I know this can't be easy for you. But Frankie will be a part of my family and that includes our kids."
"I won't see them hurt Jon."
Jon let out a deep sigh, "Well Dot, as long as you don't turn this into some kind of tug of war they won't be."
"What are you saying Jon?" An edge of panic tainted Dots voice as she contemplated what situation would initiate a 'tug of war'. She could think of only one – divorce.
Jon shook his head a little. It was even a little amusing – the anxious tone of her voice. She had been giving him such a hard time of late. He wondered what she expected would come of it. But now wasn't the time for that. "Just that I want them to know Frankie, and as long as you are supportive of that and don't try to influence their opinions of her, there is no way they can get hurt in this. What has happened here hasn't changed my relationship with them - or with you for that matter, as long as you don't let it. And I'm not going to push the kids into anything they or Frankie aren't ready for." He explained.
"But Jon I…." Dot was cut off by the trill ring of Jon's phone. She waited while he took the call.
Jon grabbed his phone off the dresser in the large wardrobe, "Hello."
Beth's sweet voice was on the other end of the line, "Hello… Jon?"
Dot watched as her husband face filled with pleasure, "Hey…it sure is. I wasn't expecting a call so soon." Dot watched as his pleasure shift to concern, "Is everything ok?"
"Umm…not the best." Now that Jon was really listening he could detect some shakiness in Beth's voice. "I ah…I had a little car accident."
Panic gripped his gut at the thought of her hurt, "Are you alright? Where are you? I'll be right there." Jon was already gathering his things together – his shoes and his keys that had been sitting beside his phone.
"I'm fine Jon…really, just a little shaken. It's just a fender bender. You don't need to come out. I just didn't know who to call…and well your card was in my purse. I just need a tow truck. I was hoping you could arrange it for me."
"Give me a second to get a pen." He said, already out the door of the bedroom. "Where are you?"
Dot watched him rush out of the room and head to the kitchen. She followed in time to see him scrawl an address across a notepad.
"I'll be there in ten. I'll call the truck on the way. If he gets there before me, wait. I'll give you a lift home." He tore the top page off the note pad and sat on one of the kitchen stools as he pulled on his socks and shoes, the phone propped up on his shoulder.
"Jon really… please don't leave your family, just send the truck." Beth pleaded. She felt stupid now for calling him.
"Don't be silly. My family is fine, you however, are not. Wait for me ok!" It wasn't a question.
"Don't worry…I'm going anywhere." Beth sighed, acquiescent.
Jon snapped his phone shut.
"Frankie?" Dot guessed, unable to think of anyone else close by that would have him so alarmed.
"Um…no actually. It was her Mom." Jon realized that they hadn't had that discussion, the moment the words were out of his mouth.
"You said Gina was dead." Dot's voice raised an octave.
"For fucks sake Dot…I don't have time for this. Gina is dead. Frankie was adopted." He rolled his eyes, as if it wasn't obvious.
"Well why is she calling you? Where is her husband?" Dot asked immediately suspicious.
"Dead. Branson died last year. Look Dot I have to go. Beth's been in a car accident. I need to get down there." He rushed.
Dot was a little taken aback by the news, but not enough to silence her.
"Oh yeah," she said, her tone sarcastic, "we are apparently fine. Go Jon. Something coming before your family is nothing new to us."
"Nothing comes before my kids Dot… nothing!" He watched as she flinched at her occlusion from the sentiment. "But nobody here is hurt right now, and Beth may be so this discussion will have to be continued later." He grabbed his keys and started for the door. "Kiss the kids for me and tell them I'll see them this afternoon. See ya later." He shot over his shoulder as he walked out the door, leaving Dot stunned, hurt and once again, angry.
Jon almost ran to where his car was parked. Beth had seemed coherent enough, but that did not ease the concern he felt. Mingled with that concern was something he hadn't felt in a very long time. He felt needed. A warm glow of pleasure surged through him at the realization, he was needed…Beth needed him. It had been so long since he had been needed in that way – trusted to take care of something other than work or his own needs. Dot was fiercely independent and begrudged calling on him for anything anymore. More often than not, she thought of herself as a single mother and was not hesitant in sharing that view with anyone.
When Jon got to the scene of the accident the tow truck was just pulling up. Beth stood off to the side on the pavement, her arms wrapped around her body as if to still the trembling. A pimply faced teen, that Jon assumed was the driver of the other car since he looked just as shaken as Beth, stood with her. Jon looked to the road where the cars had been moved to the curb. Beth's car had been hit up the rear, the bumper bar and trunk, were both badly damaged. The kids' car, a shiny new truck with a thick nudge bar was barely touched.
The second he reached Beth, Jon drew her into his arms, pressing a long relieved kiss to the top of her head as he cradled it to his chest and stroked her hair soothingly. Beth melted into him, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, crushing him fiercely to her. She hated to admit it, but she was glad of the strength and support he offered – the accident had shaken her more than she would have him believe. And then there were the other benefits...like his warmth, his delicious clean spicy scent, his soft lips pressed into her hair, and the sound of his thudding heart racing – was it only out of concern for her?
He tried to pull back to look at her more closely but she only held on to him more firmly. "It's ok, Beth...I'm here now. I won't let you go." He placed his hands on the top of her arms and rubbed them up and down, soothing her further. "Shhh." He could still feel her tremble. He took a step back from her but she kept her hands on him, resting them lightly on his hips, reluctant to lose even the smallest amount of contact with him.
He searched her face and body for some sign of damage, "Thank God Bethie…" he sighed. "Are you sure you're ok?" He asked as he brushed a stray lock of hair from her eye.
"Yes Jon. Really, like I said on the phone, I'm just a little shaken. You didn't need to come down here." As soon as she confirmed she was ok, Jon was looking past her to the boy.
"What were you thinking man? Typical teenager! Let me guess you were on the phone, right?" He glared at the boy angrily.
"I…umm...I was…" the boy stuttered. If not for the shock of the accident, he would have been stuttering from the shock of who was standing there berating him. Jon Bon Jovi…his mom was obsessed with this guy. She had been to countless shows on the last tour…even dragging him to a couple when no one else would go – he'd even enjoyed them.
"Shhh Jon, it wasn't his fault. The car in front of me braked suddenly…I stopped, Ben didn't. No one's hurt. No harm, no foul. Please don't make a scene. People are already staring." Beth soothed.
He realized she was right. His attendance had drawn a larger crowd than the accident. As if to emphasize the point the kid looked at him and said, "I was at Central Park. Dude…you kicked ass!"
Jon smiled a tight smile at the kid, "Thanks!" he said before turning back to Beth and muttering under his breath, "Shit!" He dropped his hands from her, the last thing he needed now was for someone to snap a photo of them together. "Let's get you out of here. Did you exchange details already?"
"Uh huh…all taken care of." She smiled gently at the boy who wore an anxious expression as he watched his father approach, sure that he would have his truck confiscated.
"Ok…the green BMW is mine," he pointed up the street and handed her the keys, "go get in. I'll just have a quick word to the truck driver and we'll get you home."
Jon joined Beth in the car just a few minutes later. "I think we should take you to the hospital and get you checked out Beth. That was a pretty hard hit there." He watched her carefully as she spoke.
"Honestly Jon…I'm fine. I just want to go home have a cup of tea and forget all about this." She insisted.
"If you're sure," he wasn't, he couldn't draw his eyes away from her for fear he'd missed some injury…somewhere.
"I am Jon…really. You've already gone to too much trouble. You should be at home with your family. I imagine you get precious little time with them as it is." Beth fidgeted with the strap of her handbag. She suddenly felt very self conscious, here in this confined space under his intense scrutiny, where she could feel the heat radiate from his body…his very tight masculine body, and where his scent was overwhelming. Beth felt the blood rise to her cheeks and turned to look out the window. "Can we please just go home?"
The short drive home was spent in silence. The radio was on, playing softly in the background. Jon sensed something was wrong with Beth, but had no idea what it was or how to fix it. Every now and again he would shoot a surreptitious glance in her direction, she had not moved once since they left the scene of the accident – she stared blankly out of the window and he wondered if she was reliving the memories of Branson's death…he knew at that moment it was forefront in his mind. Frankie wouldn't cope if she lost another parent. Hell, who was he trying to kid...he wasn't sure if he could cope with losing her either. And that made him wonder…how was it that in a matter of a few short days she had so completely infiltrated his life. He told himself it was Frankie. That was it...it was only her importance in his daughters life, that had caused this protective urge in him. It was nothing more than that. He was married…she was a grieving widow, as he had reminded Richie only a couple of days before. It's just because of Frankie, he reiterated in his mind, just
Beth sat in the passenger seat trying to come to grips with the emotions coursing through her. She was so grateful to Jon for dropping everything to come and help her, but that same action was causing her some distress, for in doing so he had ingratiated himself to her further and that was dangerous. She didn't even understand what had compelled her to call him in the first place. There were plenty of old friends or family who could have help just as easy…Branson's brother was just a few minutes up the road. But she had opened her purse to dig out her phone and there was his card, sitting right at the top where she had thrown it in the night before, never expecting to pull it out again. And then his words came back to her, as if he were there whispering them into her brain, 'If you need anything at all…anything…please call me,' and she had just picked up the phone and dialed. It wasn't until she heard his husky voice on the other end of the line, sounding so happy to hear from her, that she realized it probably wasn't a wise thing to do. Jon was married with a young family and she was dragging him away from them, and she was a recent widow. What on earth had possessed her, she wondered.
When he pulled up to the curb just a few hundred yards from Beth's building, Jon jumped out of the car and darted around to her side of the car to help her out. Her hand trembled as she placed it in his. He put a steadying arm around her waist and walked with her like that all the way home, ignoring the curious stare of the doorman as they entered her building. Beth did not speak until they were in her apartment and he had deposited her safely on the couch.
"Jon," she said her voice almost inaudible.
"Yes Beth?" He was just about to head into the kitchen to fix her that cup of tea.
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention what happened today to Frankie. She'll just worry about me, and she already has so much on her mind. It will be coming up on a year since Branson...since the accident and she doesn't need to be reminded of that earlier than necessary." A tear came to Beth's eye as the reality of what transpired hit her. She could have joined her husband today…she wasn't ready for that. She moved to get up and winced. Her abdomen was tender now where the belt had tightened across it and her neck was starting to stiffen. She braced her hands on the edge of the couch for a second attempt.
"What do you think you're doing?" Jon scolded, resting a hand on her shoulder to keep her down.
"I think I could use that cup of tea now…I'm just going to go make it." Beth explained. She patted his hand. "I'm fine Jon, just a little tender, it'll pass. You go back to your family, I've already corrupted too much of your time this morning."
"Listen to me. I'm not going anywhere unless there is someone here to take care of you," Jon said. "Now, we can do one of two things…the first I already know you are opposed to and that is calling Frankie. The other is me staying here with you to make sure you don't try to do anything stupid."
"No Jon! I won't have that," Beth disagreed vehemently, shaking her head. "I'm fine. You said last night you'd be spending today with your kids. I don't even know what possessed me to call you like that. Now you need to go. I'm just going to go and lay down for a little while. I didn't sleep very well last night and this morning is starting to take its toll."
"All the more reason I should stay. I'll help you your room and camp out here in the lounge for the day. You won't even know that I'm here unless you need something." He reasoned.
There was no way she would be able to relax with him in the house. Every cell in her body was conscious of his presence, and every glance at him bought her dream from the night before rushing to the forefront of her mind. Beth could see she was going to have to be firm with him. "Look Jon…I appreciate your help this morning. I really do. But I don't need a virtual stranger camping in my living room while I'm trying to sleep. So if you don't mind, I'd really rather if you just left. I'll be fine here by myself."
"Oh…ok… sorry. I didn't realize you felt that way. Ok Beth…no problem. If you need me you know where to find me." Jon pulled his keys out of his pocket; the sting of her words was clear in his eyes as he met hers for one last time before he turned for the door.
"Jon I…" Beth started. He turned towards her with an expression of hope. She had been about to say she didn't mean it, that she'd love for him to stay, needed him to even, but she knew it wasn't appropriate and that his family needed him more."… Thank you again." She said instead.
She watched his face fall for the second time. "No problem. Bye Beth." He said, and he was gone.
Beth rolled over onto her side on the couch and pulled her knees up to her chest. She was in the same position an hour later when the tears were finally exhausted and she fell to sleep.