Jon knew the exact second when Frankie realized he was comforting her. He felt her frame stiffen beneath his fingers just seconds before she flinched away from him. He reluctantly dropped his hand to his side. He knew exactly where he stood with her but the rejection still stung. She was his family, and by extension so was Beth, but they were also a family unit of their own. He wondered if he would ever be accepted into it. Rejection was not something he was accustomed to, and truth be told he really didn't know how he should deal with it.
"I'm proud of you honey. You did a great job out there…you did your Daddy proud." He said softly.
She turned to face him, and he waited for the tirade…it didn't come.
"Thanks, and thank you for what you said about daddy out there too, I appreciate it." She tried for a smile but he could tell she was fighting off another wave of tears. He supposed his presence wasn't helping…he would forever be a reminder of the father she had lost.
Frankie turned towards Beth who was looking upon her with an approving smile, "I think I might go for a walk."
"I'll come with you," Jon offered.
"NO," Frankie said…it came out a little more abruptly than she intended, "Sorry …I just need a little fresh air. I'll be fine in a few."
Beth pulled her daughter in for a brief hug whispering in her ear as she did. "Thank you."
Frankie smiled weakly at her mother, nodded towards Jon and walked away.
"I should follow..." Jon's eyes followed his daughter.
He had taken no more than a step in her direction when he felt Beth's hand on his sleeve.
"Jon, I know our daughter better than you do, she needs this time alone and if you interrupt her now it will only make her angry."
Jon let out a frustrated huff, "How am I ever going to get her to accept me?"
"It's only been a few weeks, you always knew that this wasn't something that was going to happen overnight." she reminded him gently. She took in his defeated expression, "I can see you need some distracting…and this is one of my favorite songs. Would you please dance with me? It's been a long time since I've been this dressed up and I'd love to have a proper dance with you."
Jon's face broke into a breathtaking smile, how could it not with the thought of her in his arms, despite the discord he felt in regards to Frankie. "It would be my pleasure."
Beth linked her arm through the one that he offered and followed him out to the dance floor. Only a few couples swayed in time as the orchestra played a long introduction to the Etta James classic 'At Last'. Jon led her to the centre of the floor and spun her out with a flourish before pulling her back into the warmth of his embrace, his right arm circling her waist, holding her at a close yet respectable distance. His thumb traced small circles in the flesh of her back, where the fabric of her gown draped artfully low to her waist. Chills ran through her at his touch, and he felt goose flesh rise under his fingertips.
As the music flowed from the speakers and the gentle tempo soothed them, they melted slowly into each other, her delicate right hand entwined in his left and held loosely against his heart. He hoped she could not feel the thudding of his heart that her proximity had caused. She leaned into him then and rested her head on her shoulder as they swayed, the other couples circling the floor around them. And then he began to sing, for only her to hear, his voice a whisper in her ear, his breath a warm caress on her skin.
In Jon's arms Beth forgot the pressures of her life. For the first time in she didn't know how long, she could just be. It had been so long since she had been able to let her guard down and relax, to get back to the person she was before… But she couldn't even think about that now…it seemed like a lifetime ago, now that she was here wrapped securely in this beautiful mans protective, nurturing arms.
Jon inhaled deeply, her scent infiltrated his senses, as he sang to her softly. He was sure she could hear his heart pounding now – even as he sang – with her ear pressed to his chest. This delicate flower in his arms was such a contradiction, so fragile… yet strong and as fierce as a lioness when it came to their daughter. As they danced he had an epiphany – he wanted to spend the rest of his life holding her just like this…protecting her. But that was not the half of it. The true epiphany was in that he realized that he would have wanted to do this even if she not been his daughter's mother. It was becoming fast apparent, much to his surprise, that this unusual captivating creature was fast capturing his heart.
As they danced, both lost in their own thoughts and each other, Jon and Beth failed to recognize the attention they had unconsciously garnered. Nearby a photographer snapped off a rapid fire round of photos. If he could just get the right shot he would be set for life. The money shot came for him as the music faded. He couldn't believe his luck, when in a moment so tender…so personal, the rock star pressed his lips to the woman's forehead, and left them there just a second longer that propriety allowed for a married man and a grieving widow. That photo, coupled with the information he had overheard earlier, should guarantee him that staff position he had been vying for.
Not so close, but potentially more dangerous was another spectator. Frankie watched in horror as her mother succumbed to the letch's charms, as she seemed to meld herself to him until they were practically one being. She couldn't believe her mother was that gullible, so susceptible to his charms? She had always thought her to be an intelligent woman…surely she could see his intent.
Above the dismay she felt in regards to her mother's situation, was the annoyance she felt at herself. For a little while earlier in the evening, when he had spoken of her father so respectfully, she had actually begun to…well not like him exactly…but she had begun to empathize with his situation. That empathy had dissipated the second he had taken her mother in his manipulating arms. She would show him that the way to her heart was not through her mother's bed.
"Thank you for the dance Jon," Beth smiled at him warmly as she drew back from his embrace, nervously fixing her hair. The kiss he had just placed on her forehead had left her tingling in places that had no right to tingle. "It was nice to let go for a while."
Despite her best efforts, Jon sensed Beth's sudden discomfort at the lack of distance between them, and took a step back. "It was my pleasure Bethie. It's been a long time since I enjoyed something so much."
"Thank you. That's kind of you to say," he certainly is a charmer, she thought. "Now if you'll excuse me I see a few of the guests are leaving, and I have to say my goodbyes and thank yous. I guess I should make you my first though. No need for you to hang around now that work is over with. So thank you for your support and your kind words about Branson, it meant a great deal to me, and I'll see you next week for our usual dinner." She pressed a brief kiss to his cheek and was gone before he even had an opportunity to respond.
Jon moved off to the side of the room, but did not leave. He watched as Beth worked the room, saying her goodbyes and courting the big donors. He was hoping to get the opportunity to talk to her again before leaving, perhaps even drive her home.
While Jon watched Beth, Frankie watched him. She was astounded at the audacity of this man who would come to her father's memorial only to flirt with her mother. In only a few long strides she was at his side. He was so enthralled in watching her mother he didn't notice her presence until she spoke.
Frankie's words were barely above a whisper. "I know what you're up to."
Jon chose to ignore his daughter's veiled accusation. He turned towards her,"Frankie, you were really amazing tonight. I am so proud of you sweetheart, that couldn't have been easy for you."
"Did you hear what I said?" she asked through gritted teeth.
"Uh, what am I up to?"
"I see how you look at mom."
Jon did not speak but a single brow inched high on his forehead.
"You're not going to get away with it you know."
"Be careful that you don't say something here that you will eventually regret Frankie," he cautioned her. "Besides, I really have no idea what you're talking about."
"I am talking about…" Frankie surveyed the room and lowered her voice, "I am talking about you taking advantage of my mother."
Jon's eyes widened in shock, a grin spread across his face and he burst into laughter.
She crossed her arms defensively and her brow furrowed, "Don't laugh at me," she said, with so much petulance he almost expected her to stamp her foot.
Jon suppressed a chuckle to speak. "How exactly do you think I'm taking advantage of your mom?"
"You are using her venerability to manipulate her into helping you get what you want."
"And what is it that I want?" he asked still smirking, he couldn't help it…she was quite cute when she was like this.
"Me for one thing!" She stated matter-of-factly. "As for what else you want from her…well those motives aren't quite clear yet but may I remind you that you are a married man."
"You know something Frankie? I find it amazing that you've turned into such an egocentric princess given how grounded your mother is," he chided, "You should be ashamed of yourself. Just because I'm a married man doesn't mean I can't have female friends, besides…did it ever occur to you that your mother and I may share some interests other than YOU?"
"That makes it even worse," she sulked.
"What makes it even worse? Does your mother not deserve to have a life now that your father is gone?" Jon rationalized, his amusement of the situation rapidly waning.
"Well you haven't been looking at her like a friend tonight…" she was right about this. She knew she was.
"Frankie honey, why don't you get a little life experience before you start saying shit like this? I'm not going to have some nineteen year old kid tell me how I'm looking at a woman. My relationship with your mother started because I wanted to learn more about you and you're such a stubborn little brat I figured it would be easier to go through her. Now we have forged a friendship and to be honest I really don't care what you think about that." He wondered why he was rationalizing this to her, could it be because he was trying to justify his behavior to himself.
"I'm old enough to know what that look means Jon...I'm not some innocent little kid."
"Oh c'mon Frankie…give me a fucking break. Are you telling me I'm not allowed to look at her now?" He asked exasperated.
"Not like that you're not!"
"Like what Frankie? Please enlighten me because as far as I'm concerned we were just sharing a lovely evening honoring your late father. Jesus kid…give me credit for having a little decency would you?" He could see this conversation deteriorating fast.
"Maybe when you show me a reason why I should…" She trailed off.
Jon let out a sigh of exasperation "Seriously Frankie…please tell me when I was supposedly giving her this 'look'. Describe it for me?"
"Oh I'm sure you don't really need me to do that for you, but since you asked, it's the look that says you want to slam her up against a wall with her legs around your waist...believe me I know that look well…I get it all the time."
Fuck but she enjoyed pushing his buttons. "Ok, seriously, Frankie that is so uncalled for. First of all, I really don't care to hear about you receiving those looks because like it or not I am your father, at least by birth, and the thought of anyone giving you looks like that really makes me want to rip someone's head off."
That elicited a smirk from her.
"Secondly," he continued, "and this is the one that really pisses me off young lady… what you just said is not only disrespectful to me, it is disrespectful to your mother, and I don't allow any of my children to be disrespectful of their mother. I can assure you that the last thing in the world I was thinking of tonight was…"he paused momentarily, "well…that. Do you want to know what I was thinking when I looked at your mom?"
"I'd rather not"
He spoke over her, "I was thinking what an amazing woman she is to organize all of this in your father's name. And you will listen to what I have to say because it's time somebody started telling you the shit that you don't want to hear. You are a fucking spoiled brat who doesn't have her head screwed on straight and I'm just thankful you have a mom as strong as Beth is to deal with you because lord knows if I was having to, I wouldn't be quite as patient as she is."
Frankie flinched at his harsh assessment of her, and then retaliated the only way she knew how. "Yeah well I'm sorry Mr. Bon Jovi but despite what you say, tonight your eyes and body were telling another story."
"My body??" He shook his head incredulous. "What the fuck were you looking at?"
"You wrapped around her on the dance floor...could you have gotten any fucking closer??" she spat.
"Frankie!!!!" Beth approached from the direction of the exit. She had said goodnight to the last of her major donors, now only a few stragglers remained. Both Frankie and Jon tuned towards the sound of her voice. "Francesca Gina Carol McKenzie…"
"It's ok Beth…I have this" Jon stood erect, his shoulders squared.
Beth glared at up at him, "No you most certainly do not have this, but I'll deal with you in a moment." She spun on Frankie so fast the girl didn't see what was coming. She was too busy being amused by her mother's treatment of him. "Frankie, what on earth were you just saying to him?"
"Nothing!" Oh fuck!
"Don't give me that attitude young lady." Here it comes.
"It was nothing. Don't worry about it."
"You're damned right I'm going to worry about it. Now tell me what you just said because I want to make sure I heard it clearly."
"But I didn't say anything wrong Mama," Frankie replied sweetly.
Beth flashed a glance at Jon, who was standing by with a stern paternal look on his face.
"Don't think you can play that Mama card with me right now, Francesca. Tell me what you said…Now young lady."
"I don't like that he's manipulating you to get to me." Frankie blurted quickly.
There was a sharp intake of breath from Beth. Jon just stood by silently and shook his head, he was enjoying watching Frankie wedge her foot further into her mouth.
"Ok…but I know that's not what you were saying when I walked up…and I want to know how exactly you think he is manipulating me?"
"By being all adoring and flirty."
"I am ashamed of you Frankie," Beth said, with an apologetic glance in Jon's direction.
"Why? What did I do wrong? He started this."
"First of all, did it ever occur to you that Jon and I might be friends? That perhaps I enjoy his company. And I would hardly classify the way he behaves around me as adoring and flirty and even if it were, don't you think I have enough sense to know the difference?"
"Really Mom…I don't think you do at the moment. Look at what just happened on the dance floor." Frankie reasoned.
"We were dancing Frankie. I asked him to dance. It's what friends do in settings like this where there is music." Beth explained indulgently, as if she was speaking to a small child.
"But Mom you're still grieving for daddy." As the words were spoken aloud, Frankie realized they now held little truth. Of course her mother loved her father, and missed him dearly but she was no longer actively grieving him, not like she did in the beginning. She was finally getting back to living…to being happy. She wondered how much of that could be attributed to Jon. Beth had started coming back to herself when he had come into their lives. A moment of doubt gripped her. Maybe he was good for her. No! I can't think like that…I'm right about this, she thought.
"You leave your father out of this conversation right now. I can't believe I'm even having this discussion on this night when we are supposed to be honoring him."
"Tell me about it. You might have been dancing Mama but he," Frankie thumbed in Jon's direction, "was wishing it was more."
Off to the side Jon shifted uncomfortably, the movement was infinitesimal, but it was there.
Beth stared down her daughter incredulously, "You are being ridiculous Frankie. I appreciate the fact that you feel you have to be protective of me but really I'm a big gi…"
"Beth I…" Jon interrupted, but stopped the second Beth turned to him, glaring sternly.
"You," she pointed in his direction, "You need to be quiet for a moment please."
Jon took a step backwards, making a quick sweep of the room to see how much attention the altercation had attracted. Thankfully, from what he could see, those remaining were all engaged in their own conversations.
Beth shot another quick glance at Jon, who was looking more than a little uncomfortable now as he scanned the room, before turning her attention back to her daughter. "Frankie I'm assuming I'm not going to need you to take care of me for at least another fifty years or so. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you could give me the respect that is due your mother. I have always tried to treat you like an adult except when you act like a child and right now you're acting like a six year old."
"Mama...you know I respect you." Frankie replied abashed, she hated that she made her mother feel disrespected. "I just don't trust him," she defended.
"You don't trust him because of your own personal feelings about his relationship with your birth mother, but that has nothing to do with me." Beth rationalized. "I am a forty two year old woman, Frankie, I can assure you that I know how to judge whether someone is trustworthy or not. Jon has been nothing but a good friend to me. Aren't I allowed to have good friends in my life again? Was I supposed to stop living as well when your father died Frankie?"
"Mama I didn't mean..."
Beth put a hand up to stop her daughter "I am sure you didn't. But as far as I'm concerned this conversation is closed and if you ever bring it up again…and most importantly, if I ever hear you being rude to my friend Jon again, I will take you straight to the bathroom and wash your mouth out with soap just like I did when you were six."
"I'm sorry Mama." Guess I just have to make sure you don't hear me then, she thought to herself as she dropped her eyes to the floor, shooting a sideways scowl in Jon's direction.
Beth turned her attention back to Jon, "You and I need to have a private conversation Jon." How could he have been so thoughtless as to engage their daughter in that conversation…and here of all places?
"Beth I'm sorry I was just..." This time the hand was directed at him, and he had the exact same reaction as his daughter…he paused mid sentence.
"Stop, right now, this instant," Beth said firmly. "I am too angry to think clearly and I still have more guests to thank. I would appreciate it if you would stay put until I finish that because there is something I need to say to you."
Despite the threat of confrontation in her words, Jon couldn't help the little thrill that ran through him at the thought of getting to spend more time with her.
"Frankie, it has been a long night and you need to get home."
"Yes Mama," she said quietly.
Once again Beth turned to Jon, "would you please call a car for her?"
"It's ok Beth...I'll take her myself." Jon immediately offered. He wasn't looking forward to driving with the sullen teen, but he had to do something to get back into her mother's good graces.
"I can get myself home," Frankie protested, but one piercing glare from her mother stopped her dead. "Fine!" she glowered.
Jon continued as if Frankie hadn't spoken, "By the time I get her home you should be done. I'll come straight back for you. We can talk then."
"Thank you Jon that will be fine." She offered him what had the promise of a smile before turning to her daughter for the last time that evening. "Frankie, I will consider excusing you for your rudeness this evening if you can manage to show him the young lady I raised you to be on your trip home."
Beth reached for Frankie and pulled her into a warm hug, taking the opportunity to whisper in her ear. "Honey I know you're just trying to look out for me, and really, I appreciate the fact that you want to protect me, but you're all wrong about this. So please, don't be rude to Jon any more, ok? At least not on my behalf, what happens between you and him is between you and him but I will not tolerate rudeness from you."
"Yes Mama...but I am right...there is something there…at least there is for him."
"Stop! You're being ridiculous. Jon is a married man with a family. We are just friends. Stop reading things into the situation that aren't there." Beth replied. The strength of her conviction surprised her. Especially given that she had caught a glimpse of what her daughter was so vehemently promoting.
"If you say so Mom."
"Now go, and be nice!" Beth said.
"Of course Mama," Frankie pulled away and kissed her mother on the cheek.
Beth smiled a small tight smile at Jon, and nodded as she turned back to her guests.
Jon stared after Beth with a bemused expression. Without looking at his daughter he addressed her, "I didn't realize your mother had such a temper."
"That was nothing. You just wait. We had an audience for my dressing down, you won't be so lucky." Frankie replied smugly.
"Great!" was all he could muster. "Did you bring a coat or a wrap or anything?"
"It's in the cloak room."
"Give me the ticket and wait here."
Frankie handed him the ticket begrudgingly, but she thought it was best to play nice. She watched him walk away and followed.
Jon heard the click of her heals behind him, but the time he turned she was at his shoulder. "Didn't I tell you wait? Don't you ever do as you're told?"
"Not often...and certainly not by you," she grinned sardonically.
Jon let out an exasperated sigh, "Let's get you home. I don't want to be late in getting back for your Mom."