Beth stood at the French doors of Jon's office, hidden to the world outside by the curtains that hung there, nervously fidgeting with her fingers. She studied with some measure of apprehension the hoard of press that was gathering in Jon's driveway and seemed to be multiplying exponentially with each passing minute. A cool female voice interrupted her thoughts.
"You'll be fine you know. It will be over before you know it." Dorothea said.
"I uh…I've never done anything like this before. How do you deal with this," Beth indicated to the doors and the press beyond, "they're like vultures out there."
"Comes with the territory; this is what it means to be part of his life. You sure you don't want to reconsider?" Dot studied Beth speculatively.
"Do I have a choice? I mean this has never been about me. Frankie is his daughter. I can't change that…no matter how much I may want to."
That surprised Dot. "Why would you want to?" she asked a little defensively.
"Oh shoot…that came out wrong. Jon is a wonderful man" Dot picked up on the affection in Beth's tone and the glint in her eyes when she spoke of him, "and from what I can see a wonderful father…it's just…well…I guess it's just that perhaps this would have all been easier if he was just your regular run of the mill citizen…you know… not so well known."
"I do understand that Beth…but to me that's exactly what he is. I mean all of this," Dot now indicated towards the waiting press hoard, "this is just his job. It's not who he is. And please, believe me when I say he does his best not to bring work home with him. Once it all settles down there should be very little impact on you and Frankie." As Dot spoke, she contemplated the future and what Beth didn't know – that very soon another statement would be made to the press about her separation from Jon, and that likely that would lead to more speculation about him and Beth. She would keep that quiet for now. It wasn't her place to say anything and she was certainly not yet emotionally stable enough to do so. The very thought of moving on in life without her husband had her stomach roiling, and bile catching in her throat.
"I hope you're right." Beth said softly.
The sound of someone clearing their throat behind them had both Dot and Beth turning around. "Everything ok in here?" Jon asked hesitantly, worry and curiosity evident in the strain of his voice.
"Fine," Dot smiled stiffly.
Beth watched the couple intently and wondered what it was that she was sensing between them. Dots tone had been icy when she had requested, no demanded Jon's presence upstairs, but when they had returned to the group a little while later, holding hands, a cool sense of calm had seemed to descend over them both. Dot had busied herself tidying up in the kitchen, Beth thought more to keep her hands busy than out of necessity – they had staff that could take care of that – and Jon had retreated to the yard once more, his brow furrowed if possible even more so than it had been before.
"Dorothea was just giving me some press pointers," Beth replied. Her lips curled up at the edges in an attempt to smile but it turned out as more of a grimace.
"You'll be fine," Jon assured her, but his manner was now cool and detached, not warm and comforting as it had been outside and he could no longer meet her eyes. "It's time," he added simply.
Everyone was waiting in the foyer when the three of them emerged from the study. Beth watched as Frankie's eyes flittered from her to Jon to Dot. God, what must this all look like to her? Beth wondered. But there was no time to analyze the thought further, for just at that moment, Jon nodded, the front door opened and Paul stepped outside to greet the press.
Paul's amplified words filtered into the house. "Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming. Mr. Bon Jovi has called this conference in response to recent allegations made in the press. He will make his statement, during which photographs and video may be taken. There will be no questions at this time. We request that you leave the premises at the completion of his statement. Thank you." Paul said and stepped aside.
"That's our cue," Jon said. He took Dorothea by the hand and headed for the door. Beth and Frankie followed dutifully behind.
A small podium had been erected to formalize things and keep the press from crowding too close. Jon stepped up to the lectern, Dorothea stood to his right, her hand still clutched in his. Frankie stood to his left, gripping her mother's right hand tightly. Before Jon had even begun to speak, flashbulbs were blinding them. When he began moments later his voice was calm and confident.
"I think all of you already know the woman to my right, my wife of nearly 20 years, Dorothea. I'm here to introduce you to the women on my left, and to respond to recent allegations that have appeared in the press. This is Frances Gina Carol McKenzie, affectionately known as Frankie. Frankie is my biological daughter." An excited murmur erupted in the crowd of press. Jon waited for it to still before continuing. "She has just turned nineteen years of age and she was conceived prior to my marriage to Dorothea. Her birth mother was Gina Belle, a longtime friend and fellow musician, one whom I had great love, respect and admiration for. I was never aware of Frankie's existence because I was on tour and Gina, for her own reasons, did not inform me of her condition during her pregnancy and tragically died in childbirth before she had a chance. Frankie was adopted by Branson and Beth McKenzie. Tragically, Branson was taken from Beth and Frankie in an auto accident just this past year.
"Frankie's mother, Beth" He looked to her, where she stood holding her daughters hand and smiled at her encouragingly, "invited me to play at a benefit she hosted last night in Branson's honor to raise money for a Scholarship in his name. I only recently met Frankie and her mother, but wanted to support their efforts for this worthy cause, as a debt of gratitude for the wonderful job Beth and Branson did raising my daughter.
"Obviously, there were some allegations made in the press regarding both this event and my involvement with Beth. I am here to set the record straight. I have always made every effort to keep my private life private but I will not have rumors and innuendo surrounding these two innocent women. Yes, Frankie is my daughter and I consider her, and in turn her mother Beth, to be part of my family now. Dorothea is here with me today as a gesture of support," he gave her hand a squeeze and she smiled at him kindly, "and my children and the rest of my family and close friends are fully aware of this situation. I urge you to please respect my daughter's privacy and her mother's as well. They certainly are not as accustomed to this lifestyle as my family and I are, and that's why I have decided to respond to these allegations myself, rather than allowing the speculation of gossip columnists and paparazzi to disrupt their lives.
"I hope that in doing this, your employers will realize that there really isn't any news here. I have explained the context of our relationships with each other and I want this to end now. If I learn that paparazzi are hounding Beth or Frankie or in any way endangering their safety, you can rest assured that I will deal with it swiftly and thoroughly by whatever means necessary.
"I appreciate the fact that you have always given my family space and privacy. I am asking you to kindly do the same thing now, because these two women are as much a part of my family as Dorothea and my other children. I thank you for the time you have taken to come here today. No further statements will be issued on this matter."
Jon indicated to Beth and Frankie that they should make their way back indoors. Dorothea followed close behind them, her hand clasped firmly in Jon's, most likely for the very last time in public.
As soon as the press had departed, Paul, and a few members of Jon's staff that had arrived earlier to assist in setting up, swiftly pulled down the equipment and left. Dot announced that she would be heading back into the city to be with the children when the news broke formally. Beth waited for Jon to confirm that he would be following his wife but he made no move to do so. Instead he headed directly for the liquor cabinet. He pulled out a full bottle of Jack Daniels and settled himself into a stool at the counter. He poured the amber liquid into a tall glass and downed it in one swallow.
By the time Dot was ready to leave a short time later, he had repeated the process several times. The bottle was dwindling rapidly and Beth was becoming more and more concerned as she watched him.
"Ok...I'm outta here." Dot announced walking back into the tidy kitchen.
"Bye babe," Jon lifted a hand as if in salute and once again raised his glass to his lips.
Beth pulled Dot aside, "Is he going to be ok?"
"Eventually," Dot replied. She hated that she sounded so matter of fact, but truth be known, at that point in time all she was feeling herself was numb. If it weren't for the four kids at home depending on her she would probably be joining him. At Beth's obvious look of distress she added, "He'll be fine Beth. He just needs a little time to adjust." She spoke in hushed tones but doubted he would be paying attention to her even if she shouted.
"I don't think it's wise to leave him like this," Beth said. This was a side of Jon she hadn't seen and it was one that concerned her greatly.
"Maybe not, but I can't stay. I have to get back to the city and the kids. I can't leave them to deal with the fallout from this alone. He created this mess. I'm afraid he'll just have to deal." She knew she was being cruel but the day's events were catching up.
Beth was momentarily stunned by the callousness Dot was showing, but considered the situation and decided it was her right. "I might see if I can get some coffee into him before I go. We have to wait for the car service anyway."
"Good luck with that." Dot offered. "Well, I wish I could say it's been fun, but frankly I'd rather spend the afternoon in the dentist's chair than relive this day."
Beth stared openly at the other woman and couldn't help but feel like an intruder. "Dorothea, I'm really sorry about all of this. If I hadn't asked Jon to do that benefit, none of this would have happened."
"Don't be silly…of course it would have. A different time, a different place perhaps but it was inevitable. Welcome to our world." She thought briefly about giving Beth a comforting pat on the shoulder but couldn't bring herself to do it. "I have to go. I'll see you soon I'm sure."
Beth opened her mouth to respond but Dot was already walking away from her.
"Jon I'm leaving," Dot said to him. She crossed to stand beside him, "And I think you've had enough of that," she said sliding the bottle out of his reach. "I'll give you tonight, but I think you should come home tomorrow and talk to the kids. Despite what we've already told them, they're gonna need you."
"'Of course," Jon murmured as he tilted another shot back, his forehead creased as he considered the ramifications of the day. As Dot passed, he caught her by the shoulders and pressed a quick kiss to her forehead, mindful of the fact that Beth was watching from the other side of the counter. "Thanks babe."
"Yeah, whatever. You may not be thanking me in a few weeks Jon."
He smiled but there was little humor in his eyes, certain she was referring to the inevitable settlement she would be seeking. "You know I'll always take care of you."
"I know that," she responded. "Gotta go, though. I guess I'll see you in the morning in the city?"
"Yep, I'll call and let you know when," he murmured, heading for the bathroom for some time alone. He instinctively knew he needed to get his head together before dealing with Beth.
Dot crossed the room to stand before Frankie. The young woman had been sitting quietly at the table taking in the whole scene with interest. "I'm heading back now. The kids have been very curious about you. When you're ready, speak to your father and we'll arrange a meeting."
"He's not my father," Frankie replied. Was this something she would forever have to distinguish?
Dorothea chuckled as she caught Frankie's eye roll, familiar with the expression of bored indifference that was a mirror image of her own children. "Listen Frankie, you're a smart girl, probably smarter than everyone around you is giving you credit for," Dot said. "Know this…your father, yes that's right I said your father, is a good and decent man. Sometimes that may not seem so clear. But I've known him for nearly thirty years. You don't respect him now, but one day you will. Try not to make this too hard on yourself." Dot smiled sadly at her husband's daughter and left.
Frankie's eyebrows inched up her forehead in surprise. She sought out her mother to see if she had witnessed the exchange. Beth was on the other side of the room busying herself making coffee, but Frankie was sure she had heard every word. She did not however make any effort to comment.
Frankie was heading for the lounge when Jon re-entered the room a few minutes later to find a steaming cup of strong black coffee where his glass had been. The bottle of Jack had also disappeared.
"Hey…where's my drink?" he asked indignantly.
"In front of you." Beth replied coolly.
"What are you trying to say honey?"
"I'm saying I think you need some black coffee more than you need some Jack honey."
He chuckled. "Looks like the tame little kitten has claws. But lucky for me, you're in my house." He ducked into a pantry and pulled out another bottle of Jack Daniels.
"That's just lovely, Rock Star. But don't expect me to sit here and watch you drink yourself stupid."
"What, you don't wanna join me?" He offered her a cheeky suggestive grin.
"I don't do self pity all that well thanks." Beth remarked pointedly.
"Ouch that hurts honey." Jon clutched a hand over his heart. "But I can almost forget it looking into your eyes." He flashed his million watt smile, waiting for the inevitable look of adoration that usually followed.
"That kind of charm will get you absolutely no where with me. You're drunk, Jon."
"And your problem is?" he asked, cognizant of the fact that he was far from drunk, but interested in seeing how far he could push Beth's buttons.
Beth sighed deeply, "After the day I've had I'm not interested in dealing with your shit. The car should be here soon. I think I'll find Frankie and wait outside."
"No Beth…wait. I'm sorry… I'm acting like an ass."
"Yeah you are."
Jon sighed and chewed on his bottom lip as he considered his next words, "I know this has been hard on you and Frankie, and I'm sorry for that…but… I just…"Fuck this was hard, "this whole thing with Dot has really thrown me for a loop."
"What thing with Dot?"
"I just never imagined me and Dot... well…fuck…it's probably obvious that things between me and Dorothea are just....done. But part of me just can't even bear to think of that."
"What are you saying here Jon?"
"Jesus, Beth, what does it sound like I'm fucking saying?"
Beth felt a sinking in the pit of her stomach as she searched his eyes for an answer. "You're not making any sense."
He stared at her, seeing the confusion and the dawning of pity in her eyes, unwilling to admit to Beth what he didn't even want to admit to himself.
"Jon I think you need to drink this...you're barely coherent."
He grimaced. He was absolutely coherent. A few shots of Jack weren't going to put him under. It was his life that no longer made sense. "Whatever Beth," he murmured, suddenly feeling dejected and wanting nothing more than to drown his sorrows in peace.
"Drink the coffee Jon," Beth said sternly
"Jesus Christ you're stubborn. I'm not fucking drunk."
Beth raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow, "I'll see you in a few days when you're feeling a little better," she said lightly, his cool tone upsetting her even more than his coarse language. She scooped her purse off the counter and was almost at the door when Jon edged in front of her. He was so close she could smell the liquor on his breath.
"Bethie stop!" Jon's voice was raw with frustration and anger with himself for talking that way to her. None of this was her fault and she was only trying to help him. "I'm sorry. I keep fucking this up."
Beth took a step backwards to put some distance between them and asked, "Fucking what up Jon?"
"This…thing with you…hell…everything is so fucked up right now. But I didn't mean to speak to you that way. It's not right…Frankie is my daughter and you're my…" Jon stopped unable to finish the sentence. What was she? Friend just didn't seem to cut it anymore. She was so much more to him than that now…but he had no term of reference for what she meant to him…there had only ever been Dorothea.
"I'm your what Jon? Your pain in the ass? The little inconvenience you need to dispose of? Or is it that I'm an asset to you? …the way to get into Frankie's good graces." Beth finished for him.
"Oh God Beth no…none of those. It's just… I just… I can't define what you are to me anymore. The lines have all blurred. But I do know that I need you here right now. Will you please stay? Just for a while? I can't be alone yet." He pleaded.
Beth stood silent for a moment trying to absorb what Jon was saying. All she could really comprehend was that he wanted her to stay. "I don't know Jon."
"Fine," she said and moved around him to lay her purse back on the counter. "But you need to stop the drinking and start on the coffee."
"Done!" He agreed, and let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding.
"We're gonna need to eat." Beth said. "I'm sure Frankie is famished…she barely picked at her lunch. Do you have something here I can fix for us?"
"You can look but I doubt it. The house isn't too well stocked at the moment because we've been in the city." He explained.
"Well can I borrow a car and I'll head to the store for some supplies?"
"Sure, take the Chevelle" he said as he pulled the keys from his pocket and handed them to her.
The keys were warm from being pressed tight against the heat of his body, and for the briefest of seconds she wondered what it would be like to be pressed against him the same way. She shook her head to clear the thought from her mind.
"You don't want to take it? It's just a car Beth…it won't bite." The corner of his lip lifted in a half smile.
"No, no…it wasn't that," she said, her cheeks gaining color as she scanned his physique.
"Care to let me in on the joke?" he asked quizzically, planting himself firmly between her and the counter where her purse sat, waiting for an answer.
"No joke… I'll ah… I'll be back soon." Beth said as she moved forward and reached around him, causing her hips to involuntarily brush up against his as she grabbed her purse. A small moan escaped her lips, and she jumped away from him and rushed out the door, calling behind her, "I'll be back soon."
"Oh fuck," he muttered on an inaudible sigh as he watched her walk out the door. Had he just imagined that response in her? The very same response he had managed to suppress with great control.
Frankie rushed into the room, "Where's Mom gone?" she asked accusingly, "What did you do to her now?"
"God damn it Frankie, can't you cut me some slack?" Jon turned to glare at his daughter. "Your mother has gone to pick up something for dinner. She thought you might be hungry."
"Why did she leave in such a rush? What did you do to her before she left?"
"Jesus Frankie, what do you think I did to her? Tied her up and spanked her? It's getting late…I guess she just wants to get dinner started," he said exasperated.
Frankie raised a skeptical eyebrow and said, "I guess we know what you've had on your mind Rockstar. I wouldn't have taken you for that type. Do you have the whips somewhere too?"
Jon rolled his eyes. "I am so not having that conversation with you young lady. I can't believe you would even take it there."
"It seems like bluntness is a genetic fault, so if I take after you, it probably comes naturally."
Jon shook his head with an ironic grin. Hell, at least she was referring to a genetic connection between them, and at this point, he would take what he could get. "Whatever, Frances. Oh I almost forgot, I have something for you," Jon moved to his coat that was slug over the back of one of the kitchen chairs and pulled out two concert tickets, holding them up face forward to show her. He watched with amusement as realization dawned on his daughter's face.
The second Frankie realized what was in her father's hands her thoughts began to spin out of control. Oh. My. God. What will I wear? I need a dress. I need shoes. Who will I take?
Just as her hand reached out to grab them, he pulled them back from her grasp. "Uh uh uh young lady, not so fast. There's a catch…these can only be used by me…so if you want 'em, you've gotta go with your old man." His smug smile was almost enough to have her throwing the fruit bowl that sat on the table before her through the fancy French doors. Her face was a twisted mask of fury and frustration.
"You know it's not a gift if there are strings attached Jon," she pointed out through gritted teeth.
"I never said it was a gift Frances," Jon reminded her gently. "Honey you remind me so much of me when I was your age, always take take taking and nothing to give. Lemme tell you something little girl, that will get you nowhere in the long run."
"Fine…you can come with me," Frankie conceded quietly, crossing her arms across her chest in a defensive stance.
Jon continued as if she hadn't spoken, "but if you don't want 'em that's fine. I think Steph might like to go. Of course, she's not a big fan like you are, that's why I offered them to you first. But I'm sure she'd enjoy it. She's been going to shows like this all her life, getting backstage, getting to meet the band, she's pretty used to it but she still enjoys it."
"I said fine," she spat, "I'll go with you."
"Oh how interesting…" he smirked.
"Suddenly you want the tickets…but you haven't told me what you plan to offer in return." He said smugly.
"I'm going with you aren't I...isn't that enough?" she asked.
"No," he shook his head as he rubbed his thumb over the tickets, flaunting them before her, a self satisfied grin on his face, "it's not."
"Well what do you want then?" Frankie asked impatiently.
"I want you to stop putting insane ideas into your mom's head," he began, "she's still very…fragile. I don't want your psychotic bullshit getting in the way of her trusting me."
Frankie shook her head disbelievingly, "You know they aren't insane Jon."
"Honey, please," he pleaded, "don't misunderstand; I think your loyalty to your mom is a wonderful thing. I just think you're very misguided if you think I'm doing anything other than trying to be her friend and trying to learn as much as I can about you so I can be a father figure to you."
"Look, you say what you like…I know what I'm seeing" Frankie said forcefully, "and nothing you say will convince me otherwise but…I won't cause any more trouble…I know it hurts mom too much."
Jon sighed deeply, "you know kid…you have the most insane ability to make me feel guilty when there is nothing for me to feel guilty about. Would you please just trust me…if you can't trust me about anything else, at least trust me on this, I like your mom, I really, really like her in fact, I'd even say that even if you weren't around I'd still like her. But as a friend Frankie. She's a wonderful woman, she's smart and she's funny and she's sweet and caring and I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. So why is it that you find it so unbelievable that I just like her and I want to be her friend?
"It's just something I know Jon… and I think if things were different she might even feel the same." Oh shit did I really just say that? But hang on…if I play this right it could work. The look of complete surprise that graced Jon's face at that moment led her to see the possibilities of her faux pas.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Are you telling me you don't see it? Or feel it?" Hell…I've already come this far...
"Ummm" Jon shook his head to clear it, certain he hadn't heard right. Was she saying what he hoped she was saying? "No, I'm not sure what you're talking about."
"Ok if that's how you want to play it." Frankie turned and walked back to the family room.
Jon was immediately on her heals. "No, no, no, I want to hear what you have to say… I'm just not sure I ...understand exactly."
Frankie settled into a corner of one of the couches, her feet curled beneath her. "If you play on anything that I am about to tell you, I swear I will never speak to you again."
Jon was pleased to see his daughter looking so comfortable and at home in his space. "Well, no," he flashed her that killer smile of his that usually brought women to their knees "of course, not Frankie. I'm not sure what I would play on any way. I've laid all my cards out on the table with you honestly."
"That's debatable," Frankie uttered, "but despite that I will be honest with you."
"What would I have to gain by lying to you?" he asked her as he settled onto the far end of the same couch, turning his body towards her.
"I haven't figured that out yet. I haven't been able to figure out if you are lying or if you just can't admit the truth to yourself," she said. And much as she hated to admit it, she was beginning to think the latter was the more likely scenario. He almost looked…hopeful when she mentioned her Mom might feel the same way.
Jon drew back from her a little, a look of intense concentration on his face. "I don't know about that Frankie, but let me tell you this one thing…right now…there is nothing that's more important to me than getting to know you better and figuring out how we can fit into each other's lives. Believe me when I say nothing is more important to me than that. I see this blossoming friendship with your mom as just…well, kind of like the cherry on top of the sundae."
"You know in your heart it's more than that Jon...you just have to admit it to yourself."
"No…no," he shook his head adamantly, his denial a little more strenuous than required, "trust me I know myself better than you know me. But back to what we were talking about before…"
"You said if I played on something you were about to tell me you'd never speak to me again?" he prompted.
"Oh yeah that…never mind..." Frankie evaded and turned her attention to the TV screen that spanned almost the entire width of the room.
"No wait, I need to know what you were thinking," Jon insisted.
"Well, if you're only seeing mom as a friend it really doesn't matter…does it?" Frankie offered him a self-satisfied little smile…she so had him where she wanted him now. At this point in time she was quite confident she could get him to tell her almost anything.
"'But hey…if you think she feels something more…I mean I didn't misunderstand that did I?" he asked. "You did say that if things were different then she might...?"
"Never mind what I said. It's not my place to say anything at all. Besides you evidently don't feel anything more than friendship and you are married so it doesn't matter....right?" That's it reel him in…if I can just get him to admit the truth, I can take it to Mom.
"Well, yes and no," Jon watched his daughter carefully and wondered about the calculation he could see behind those bright eyes of hers. He knew she was up to something…had some kind of grand plan...yet despite that he had to move forward with the conversation…God damn her but she had picked the only bait he would fall for…he was desperate to know if the connection he was beginning to feel for Beth was real or just some surrogate crush. "I mean, if you think your mom...might...feel a certain way about me, then I should know that, right? Because the last thing I'd want is for her to be getting the wrong idea or something."
"Mom's pretty astute Jon, I really don't think that's necessary. Besides if all you intend to be is a friend to her...how could she get the wrong impression from that?"
Fuck…what did that mean? What was Beth already thinking? "Damn it Frankie…would you tell me what you meant and stop being so God damn stubborn. Just for me…just for my edification. Just so that I have a clear picture of what's going on here." Jon was getting beyond frustrated now. His gut was clenching as he waited for his daughters response…he couldn't help himself…he knew there were games afoot yet he needed the answer.
Frankie smiled indulgently, "How about this…you be honest with me...and I'll be honest with you."
"Fine," Jon spat. And here it was…her game revealed and damn him if he wasn't going to play it with her too.
"Fine what?" she asked sweetly. I so have him now. A small smile played on her lips, but internally she was grinning wider than the Cheshire Cat.
"Tell me what you want to know?" he asked dryly.
And this was where the game would end she surmised…no way was he going to answer this one. "How do you feel about my mother?...honestly feel?"
Jon swore a soft curse under his breath, so soft it was barely more than a sigh. "Look, remember you said earlier that if I used something against you you'd never forgive me?"
Holy shit…he's gonna keep his word…fuck. Do I really even want to know? "Yep…I remember."
Jon stared off in the direction of the oversized TV screen, unable to meet her gaze. "Alright Frankie here goes," he took a deep breath, "I'm trusting you here, do you understand that?"
The words were out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying, a knee jerk reaction if you will. "Get on with it Jon." Apparently she really did want to know.
"If things were different…and that's a huge if…but if things were different…and they're not but if they were," he bit of a curse…damn it he was rambling…he hated that. "Look your Mom is…well you know she is a very special lady and you know I've been with the same woman for a really long time, and that that's all I've ever known…well…you know what I mean… and Dot is, well, she's an amazing woman as I'm sure you saw today but…" he let the sentence trail off unable to finish.
"That's a pretty big 'but' there Jon?" When he didn't respond she asked, "Are you in love with my mother, Jon?"
"NO," his tone was forceful, perhaps a little too forceful. "Jesus Christ, Frankie I've known her for what? A few weeks?"
"And your point is?"
"I guess…well look, the thing is Dot and I, we really haven't been doing so well lately. We've been spending most of our time fighting…when we aren't fighting we are doing our best to avoid each other...and well, some of the stuff that's happened lately hasn't helped matters any." He tried to explain awkwardly.
Frankie was quiet for a while before she asked "You mean me?"
"No, not just you honey. I think your mom…well Gina…she was the only woman that Dorothea ever really felt…threatened by, I guess is the best way to put it."
"Was she a threat? Did you love her...or was she just a rock star fling?" Frankie asked, getting off track but unable to stop herself asking for the answer she had so desperately wanted to know. It seemed that her self value had become wrapped up in the answer to this very question. Had her conception been the result of a rockstar's untethered hormones or the product of a loving, if somewhat dysfunctional, relationship?
"Gina is the only woman I would ever have even contemplated leaving Dorothea for. Of course I loved her Frankie…I still love her. The memories of her have haunted me…wondering where she was…what she was doing…who she was with…who was loving her as I should have been, I mean you saw my reaction to her death…that wasn't an act for your benefit Frankie. Those emotions were real…I hate to admit it but I'm just not that good of an actor." He tried to use humor to deflect from the seriousness of the situation, but Frankie didn't even crack a smile.
"Then what happened Jon? Why was she left alone ...left to die alone" A solitary tear escaped Frankie's eye.
"Frankie you've got to believe me…I have gone over it all in my mind a thousand times since you came into my life…I just don't know…I don't know why I didn't know…why she didn't come to me when she found out…hell maybe she didn't feel about me the way she had said she did. Maybe she didn't want the commitment…maybe it was easier for her…less complicated for her to walk away like she did." Jon raked his fingers through his hair, as tears of his own began to fall. When he spoke again his voice cracked, raw with emotion, "You know it kills me to think of her going through that alone. I could have been there. I should have been there. I could have helped her, I could have…I…" he broke off as emotions clearly overtook him…
Frankie reached out as if to touch his shoulder then drew back. She didn't know what had changed, but she believed every word he had said. "You know…I think I actually believe you this time."
Jon stiffened his shoulders and brushed the tears from his cheeks. "Thank you. And that is why I'd be an idiot to betray that trust now. I know you're no fool Frankie, and I know I'd be a fucking idiot to deny my attraction to your mother, I mean hell, is there a straight man on the planet who wouldn't be? And you were right…I have tried to deny it…even to myself but…" he paused as he gathered his thoughts, "How I feel can in no way influence my actions at this point. It wouldn't be fair to any of us. I'm still reeling over Gina's death and while it may seem strange to you… I'm in mourning for her. Dot and I need to sort through so much…a divorce, the kids. And just as important as dealing with the kids is getting to know you. I just don't have room in my life for anything other than a friendship with your Mom right now, or anyone else for that matter." Jon's jaw clenched at the internal struggle, while he knew that what he was saying was right, all he wanted to do at that moment was blow it all off and… His attention was drawn to Frankie who was studying him intently. "Do you believe me Frankie?"
"Time will tell," Frankie said. While she desperately wanted to believe what he was saying, she could plainly see the internal struggle he was suffering through…knew how easy it could be to blow off the hard stuff and take solace in something new and good. "I'd like to believe you. She likes you Jon. She's happy when she's with you. I haven't seen that since…well since you know…since Daddy…" the sentence trailed off and there was a moment's silence as she remembered. She shook the memory off, "but I swear Jon, if you make a move on her…"
"Shit Frankie…define move? Is having dinner with her making a move? Is dancing with her making a move? Is me just being nice to her making a move? Because, at the moment, where your Mom is concerned, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells around you. Can't you see honey that the last thing I would ever want to do is hurt Bethie?"
He shrugged, "Sorry, just a silly nickname I guess…but you know what I mean."
"I don't believe you would hurt her intentionally...but you said it yourself Jon...she's fragile and look at what's already gone down with the press and all." Frankie pointed out
"I think your mom is stronger than you or I give her credit for."
"Probably, but this last year has been hell on her…on both of us. But even with all that, I doubt she saw having to deal with paparazzi as part of her future."
"You're only seeing her as your Mom. Where she is concerned I think you're wearing blinders Frankie, you don't see what I see… that strong, confident, amazing woman that walked out in front of the press holding your hand today with her held high deserves a lot more credit that you afford her."
Frankie considered Jon's words for a long tense moment. She was about to open her mouth in response when she heard the click of the latch in the front door.
Beth bustled into the family room carrying two large brown paper bags of groceries. "Hey guys, I got us the fixings for a great dinner here." The second she paused Beth felt the tension in the room. "Oh for Christ's sake, what's going on between you two now? Frankie are you being sassy to your father again?"
Jon surprised both of the women by speaking in Frankie's defense, "No Bethie…it's all good. We were just getting to know each other."
Beth nodded and began to move towards the kitchen, Jon snagged the bags from her before she could get too far and Frankie followed behind, agreeing with Jon as she walked.
"That's right Mom…Jon and I have a date. He got tickets for that concert I missed out on…we are going together."
"Ummm yeah about that Frankie…" Jon said, "look, I really would love to go with you but I'm sure I could arrange it so that I don't have to be there. You can take a friend along instead if you like." Her immediate excitement was overwhelming and his face dropped just a little…he had hoped that she would still choose to take him.
Frankie watched her father's face fall. Damn it, he was actually disappointed that she didn't want to go with him. She knew she would live to regret the words that were about to flow from her mouth, but she couldn't seem to stem the verbal diarrhea. "Jon…I'd still like it if you would come with me. I just appreciate the fact that you gave me the option to choose you rather than you forcing yourself on me. Thank you."
Jon beamed then, "Geez thanks kid. That means a lot."
"That's sweet of you honey. Thank you." Beth said.
It wasn't until sometime later, when Frankie was helping her mother clear up after a very surreal and very pleasant family dinner that she realized that for the very first time she had referred to Jon, albeit internally, in her own frame of reference as her father. God he was sucking her in too…