Jon was sitting at the large French antique desk in his office reviewing the google alerts when the buzz of the intercom alerted him to his visitor's presence. He grabbed his cigarettes from the desk and had one in his mouth even before he had risen from his chair. As he opened the white framed French doors and stepped out onto the driveway, he pulled a silver lighter from his pocket and lit up, inhaling deeply of the calming drug that was nicotine. He then admonished himself for doing so. He knew he had the discipline and conviction to give up the habit, but the fact was he didn't need to smoke…he just enjoyed it. On days like today though…well on days like today, it was also a welcome relief to the stress.
Sitting in the back seat of the town car, a stonily silent Frankie by her side, Beth took in the expanse of meticulously manicured gardens that surrounded Jon's French Provincial style mansion. It was all very tastefully presented, not overdone or gaudy as many homes of the rich and famous were. This was elegant, yet simplistic. The estate was set over a number of acres, the large mansion taking pride of place in the middle overlooking the mighty Navesink River. The late morning sun glittered of its surface, creating dazzling points of light. As they progressed up the cobblestone driveway, she noted a number of outbuildings on the fringes of the property. He had told her a little of this place, so she knew that one served as a recording studio, and another had been decked out in the fashion of an old English pub "The Shoe Inn" he had called it. A tribute to the time he had spent in London while filming The Leading Man, and recording his second solo album Destination Anywhere. Beyond that she knew very little.
As the car pulled to a stop before the front door Beth noticed a figure leaning against the wall beside a set of French doors off to the right. He stood feet crossed at the ankle, arms crossed across a broad expanse of chest, shying away from the late October chill, wearing only a pair of faded jeans and a fitted light weight brown cable knit sweater. He had a cigarette dangling from his lower lip. It was the first time Beth had seen him smoking. As the driver came around to open the car door, Jon moved off the wall and came towards them. An old dog trotted over to see what the commotion was, and Jon bent down to give him an affectionate scratch on the ears. "Hey Copper. How you doing boy?" she heard him say. Frankie hadn't waited for the driver to open her door. She was already standing on the other side of the car as Beth straightened up. She watched as her daughter walked stiffly around the car to join her.
Jon was before them now. "Hi," he said a little too formally. "Welcome to High Point. I just wish your first time here could have been under better circumstances."
Beth sensed Jon's discomfort if front of their daughter and leaned forward to give him a brief kiss on the cheek, as was their usual greeting. Frankie, as was expected, made no such gesture. Her only greeting for her father was an icy stare. She did, however, greet Copper with affection, squatting down before him to give him a good rub around the neck and ears.
"Hey boy" she cooed softly.
"His name is Copper," Jon offered.
"I know. I heard." She snapped in response.
Jon was a little taken aback by the viciousness in her tone, "Umm…how about we head in and see if we can't work this mess out." he suggested, discarding his cigarette but by flicking it off into the grass. The women followed him promptly. There was a chill rolling off the river that hadn't been quite so evident in the city, and both were unconsciously rubbing their arms as they stepped over the threshold and into the shelter of Jon's home.
He led them through the house to the hub of all activity – the kitchen - where he indicated they should sit down at a granite topped island. "Coffee?" he asked as he moved over to the pot on the counter.
"Thank you" and "No" came the simultaneous response from Beth and Frankie respectively.
"Actually Jon would you mind if I had a tea?" Beth asked.
"Sure. No problem." He answered amenably.
"Can we just get on with this?" Frankie said shortly. "I have places I'd rather be."
"Frances," Beth admonished.
"What? You know I don't want to be here. You made me come? I told you it wasn't a good idea, but you insisted." Her posture took on a conceited air, she turned to Jon. "I guess at least now that I'm here I can say I told you so. I wasn't the only one to see what was going on last night. Now look what you've done…all because you couldn't keep your hands off her. I bet your wife is really pleased about this one." She watched Jon flinch and grinned with sadistic pleasure. "Thought so."
"Frances…ENOUGH!" Beth yelled, startling both Frankie and Jon. It was so rare that she ever raised her voice. Even at her most annoyed, Beth's voice was usually calm and controlled, her words measured.
Oh shit…almost forgot about her. Frankie thought. Damn!
Beth glowered at her daughter. "I have had more than enough of that smart mouth of yours of late young lady." She added sternly.
Shaking her head, Beth rose from the kitchen counter and crossed to stand before one of the French doors facing out over the river. She stood stoically, her left arm crossing her torso. She ran her shaky right hand through her hair and then bought it to rest loosely fisted against her mouth, her right elbow supported on her left palm. She closed her eyes and shook her head minutely. Jon had risen and moved to her side. He raised his arm to place a comforting hand on her, then thought better of it and let it drop idly to his side.
Beth opened her eyes slowly and shot him a side long glance, before returning her gaze to the safer sight of the river. She expelled a deep sigh before she spoke. "Jon, how did this all go so damned wrong?...It was supposed to be about honoring Branson and its turned into this...this circus."
"Beth I'm so sorry. I didn't…" Jon began
Beth held up her hand to silence him. "I don't want your apologies Jon. Just tell me how you're going to fix it."
Out of the corner of his eye Jon could see Frankie sitting by, a smug self satisfied smile now curling the corners of her mouth. It was obvious that she could not have been happier about this current turn of events. That was until Jon spoke.
"I want to have my publicist issue a statement to the press." His simple statement wiping the grin right off his daughters face.
"And tell them what?" Frankie asked in alarm.
"The truth…of course."
"No…no way." Frankie rose from the table and headed for the door. "I've heard enough. I'll be in the car when you're ready. And in case you didn't get what I just said…I do not give you permission to bring my name into this."
"Frances get back here," Beth ordered. "You are not helping matters."
Frankie came to a stop at the door to the kitchen and turned around, but made no effort to re-enter the room.
"Frankie please… be reasonable…" He tried to reason.
"No! I don't want to hear it. I don't care how you fix this, but I do not want any part of it. You got yourself into this mess. You can get yourself out of it." She looked toward her mother, "I'm sorry you got caught up in this Mom, really I am. But I tried to warn you. Maybe if you stay away from him now it will all blow over. And just for the record that suits me just fine."
Jon placed his palms flat on cold stone surface of the kitchen island in a conscious effort not to strike out at something. Frankie watched the play of the muscles in his jaw as he fought to control his emotions.
He measured his words very carefully before he spoke. "Have you stopped to consider Frankie that how I handle this will affect more than just yourself and your mother? I have a family to consider. A pissed off wife, and more importantly four very confused kids, who unfortunately, will bear the brunt of the media backlash from their friends when they return to school. Now, I know you are insistent on seeing things in my relationship with your mother that aren't there, but I also know that if you are honest with yourself, you understand that the allegations in that tabloid article are more about you than they are about your mother and me."
"If you were smart enough to read between the lines of that article," he continued, "and I believe you are, then you know they are alluding to me having another child. They're baiting me Frankie. Someone at that party heard something they shouldn't have. The paper won't come out and report what they heard for fear of being sued, on the off chance they got it wrong, so they are trying to get me to react on the basis of my relationship with Beth. But let me assure you of one thing Frankie, they will not stop until one of two things happen…a)" he pointed of the options on his fingers, "I release a statement and tell them what they want to know…or b) they harass both you and your mother, and everyone else you know until they reveal the truth themselves. I hope you can see how the former is to your advantage."
"I can't see how any of this is to my advantage, least of all me being your daughter. And now you want me to stand by and be supportive while you announce it to the world," she shook her head, "I don't think so."
"Jesus Frankie…can you please help me out here. If you're not concerned about me or even your mother, can you think about your brothers and sister?" He asked exasperated.
"I'm sure they've heard worse. You're certainly no angel Jon…never were according to Gina."
"What?"He looked at her in surprise. "What are you…" then the realization swept over him, "oh…the diaries." It shouldn't have come as a shock to him that she would be tempted by their contents eventually. He had just hoped they would be in a better place when she was so he could rationalize anything she had written.
Beth's head shot up at the word. "You're reading Gina's diaries Frankie?" She had been doing her best to remain neutral in Frankie and Jon's argument. It seemed to her, that her involvement never really helped matters and she figured it was time to let them sort through this for themselves. She would have her say when they were done. But this was news… even to her.
Frankie shot a brief bashful glance at her mother. This was after all something they would have normally shared. "Not all…just bits here and there. I was trying to understand what she saw in him. See if there was some redeeming quality that would make me want to know him." She looked to Jon then. "From what Gina wrote you were quite the Casanova back then, even when you were with Dot…doesn't look like much has changed to me."
"Christ Frankie, can we please get past this?" his voice was raised he trembled with anger, "I am not interested in your mother like that. Why the hell would I be? One woman breaking my balls is one too many. I sure as hell don't want, or need another." As the words left his mouth he shot a look in Beth's direction. He could have sworn he saw her flinch. "And besides," he sighed, his tone now flat and calm…resigned, the pain was visible in the depths of his crystal eyes, "why would I do something that would make you hate me more than you already do?"
It was Frankie's turn to flinch. "I…I don't… hate you. I don't really know you…and I don't like what you did to Gina…in fact, that I do hate…but I don't hate you."
"You could have fooled me kid." He turned away from her to hide the pain that clouded his eyes.
"Can I interrupt?" Beth spoke quietly. Things were getting off track, and at that moment all she wanted to do was resolve the matter at hand. "What's it going to take to make this go away?"
"I don't know that it will 'go away'," Jon indicated quote marks with his fingers, "Beth. I'm sorry. But the quickest way to resolve it will be a statement to the press."
"Will that be enough?"
"Honestly," he moved back to her side, "I don't know. I mean, it will give them the story they need, but I think the paps will be out in force until they get the shot they want."
"If you read the statement at a press conference with us by your side…would that do it?"
"Mom!" Frankie cried in shock.
"Shush now Frankie," Beth silenced her, "We have to do what's right for everyone here. Not just us. Jon is right. He has a family to consider as well. This is no easier on him than it is on us. I think it's time you grew up a little and realized that not everything can revolve around you. Besides, I think we all know how dangerous the paparazzi can be when they are desperate. I don't want you exposed to them as you try to make your way around the city…it wouldn't be safe."
"I think you know Frankie that Jon has always done right by his family where the press is concerned. There is very little exposure of them out there. This is something we had touched on in our conversations because I feared this day would come. I know he will shield us from it as much as possible," she watched Jon nod in agreement and continued, "Honey…if he says we need to do this…we need to do this."
"But Mom I…"
"Frankie…please!" Beth turned to look at Jon who's gaze was fixed on Frankie. "Jon, you didn't answer my question. Would that do it?"
"If you're asking me if it will make it all go away…Beth, I'm sorry the answer is no. If you're asking me if it will prevent a horde of reporters from camping on your front step…then the answer is most likely yes…but Beth…I'm really not comfortable with exposing both of you like that. I've always done everything I can to keep my family out of the spotlight. To do this would be to go against everything I have tried to achieve." He said apprehensively.
"I don't see how we have a choice Jon. I mean really…give me a better idea and we'll go with it."
"Well it's settled then."
At that point Frankie, who had still been in the doorway returned to her seat at the island. She said nothing but her sullen demeanor, indicated very clearly what she thought of the plan.
"Well if that's the decision I have some phone calls to make, one of which I am seriously dreading." Jon suddenly looked very tired. Beth could see the toll the mornings events had taken on him and she knew that it wasn't going to get better in the near future.
"And which one is that?" Frankie's curiosity got the better of her.
Jon's mother hadn't been clued in on the situation yet. She could be a difficult woman, and Jon hadn't wanted to inflict that on Frankie. His relationship with her was still too fragile. But now with this, he could no longer avoid telling her that she had another grandchild. He was dreading the conversation.
"I have to tell Mom." His words were simple, but his expression spoke volumes.
"Hey Jon…have to tell your mom what?" Jon, Frankie and Beth all turned to face the man who had entered the room.
"Beth, Frankie…this is Paul Korzilus…he's on my management staff," he turned to face Paul, "Paul I'd like you to meet my daughter Frankie and her mother Beth."
"You're what?" Paul asked his jaw slack with surprise.
"Long story man…the short of it is this…Do you remember Gina?" Paul nodded mutely…Jon continued, "Frankie is Gina's daughter. Gina is…"he still found himself stumbling over the words, "Gina died giving birth to her. Beth and her husband Branson adopted her as an infant. Branson passed away just under a year ago - that was the benefit I played last night." Again Paul nodded. "And I only discovered Frankie's existence a few weeks ago. There that's in a nutshell. Oh," he added as an afterthought, "Dot and the kids know, have for weeks. So does Rich. The other boys…no not yet. And…" he sighed deeply, "I am about to go ring Mom to tell her. Wish me luck." He said as he headed for the door.
Jon stopped and turned back to Beth, "I really am sorry you got dragged into this Bethie." His expression was sincere, and she though just a little bit tortured.
"I know Jon…I know. Go make your call. Paul here can keep us entertained."
"Make yourselves at home. Paul can show you where everything is. This may take a little while." And then he was gone, his parting look that of one who was being sent in to face the lions.
It was a little over an hour later that he finally returned. Paul had taken Beth and Frankie on a mini tour of the estate, and they were now settled back in the kitchen making small talk over coffee. Beth seemed a little more relaxed now that the decision had been made. Frankie however sat stiffly at the counter and refused to make eye contact. He suddenly remembered the text message he had shot off to Paul before bed the night before.
"Did you get that text I sent last night?" Jon asked.
"You mean the one for the …"
Jon cut him off with a meaningful glance at Frankie, "Yeah that one."
"All taken care of. Should be in my hands this afternoon."
"Thanks man…I knew you'd come through for me." At least something was going right. The thought bought a little smile to his lips. "Um ladies…there is something you should know. I have asked my wi…" he choked over the word "I've asked Dorothea to be present at the press conference…you know unified front and all that. I was an uphill battle convincing her but she has agreed to do it for the kids' sake."
"When is this gonna happen? I do have a life you know." Frankie asked sourly.
"As soon as Paul here can set it up. Hopefully this afternoon. Can you get on that?" he asked Paul.
Paul nodded and left the room, leaving the three alone.
"That soon," Beth asked alarmed.
"The sooner we do this the sooner we get the press of your backs."
"I um...I need to go home and prepare…change…something." Beth said flustered.
Jon moved to stand before her, taking her fidgeting hands in his to still them. "Beth…look at me. You look fine...beautiful in fact."
"Oh Christ, someone fetch me a bucket." Frankie muttered.
Both Jon and Beth ignored her. In fact, with Jon being so close Beth was having trouble focusing on anything but him.
"There is nothing to be done. Just relax and when it's time, it will be a simple stroll out into the front yard for a few pictures. There is nothing to be worried about."
"Hmph…easy for you to say. This is your life Jon…your career. It's what you do. I hate being in front of the camera." Beth said pulling away from him so she could concentrate. "What about Dorothea?"
"Dot will be here as soon as she can arrange a sitter for the kids. I actually called her first. I can't imagine that she will be too far away now."
"No she isn't." A cool female voice echoed from beyond the kitchen before its owner made her appearance.
Frankie eyed the woman critically. She had only had that one very short interaction with her the night she had met Jon. She was an attractive woman. Not as attractive as her own mother but still - long dark silky hair, expressive brown eyes. Frankie remembered that she had had a pretty smile, but at the moment her mouth was set in a grim line.
"Nice to see you again Frankie," she held out a hand to the younger woman, her step daughter in effect.
"You too Mrs Bongiovi," Frankie replied formerly. She was nothing if not polite…usually.
"Oh I think we can dispense with the formalities Frankie. We are all family. Dorothea is fine." Dot then turned to face Beth. "And you must be the women that is trying to steal my husband."
"Excuse me?" Beth said, "Dot!" Jon exclaimed in unison.
Dot gave a flippant little giggle and offered a hand to the other woman, "Just playing with you. Hello Beth. It's nice to finally meet you. Don't worry about the paper. If I believed even half of what was written Jon would have been a single man a long time ago." She said. Her tone was light, but there was an underlying tension as she spoke. "I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you to you Beth."
"Whatever for?" Beth asked.
"For taking such good care of Jon's daughter of course." She shot a contrived smile in Frankie's direction. "Now if you'll please excuse me I have a few things to take care of while I'm here." She turned to Jon her tone once again icy, "I'll be upstairs when you need me."
When Dots back was turned, Beth and Frankie exchanged a meaningful glance. Frankie shrugged her shoulders, Beth raised one eyebrow.
"Sorry about that," Jon said as soon as Dot was out of earshot.
"There's nothing to be sorry about Jon. I think I over reacted earlier. I know you didn't want this anymore than I did." Beth said softly.
"No..you're right I didn't. I have thought of a hundred ways I wanted this to go down and this was never one of them.
Paul walked back into the room, "Conference is set for three this afternoon out the front. They were surprised we called. I think they all expected us to ignore it like we usually do. You know what this means though right?"
"Yep… I know?"
"Well I don't" Frankie who had been sitting morosely at the counter injected.
"It means Frankie," Jon explained, "that there will most likely be a very large turnout. The fact that I am holding a press conference in its self is unusual. The fact that I am doing it in response to a gossip column is unheard of. They will most likely be falling over themselves to get here."
"Well let's hope that most don't get back up." Frankie responded dryly.
Jon couldn't help but chuckle at that. It was going to be an interesting afternoon.