After dinner Frankie returned to her movie in the family room and Jon and Beth retired to his office to wait for the car.
"Will you share a bottle of wine with me while we wait?" he asked. "I promise no more hard stuff."
"Maybe just one glass. Thank you. It's kinda been a tough day all round." Beth rubbed her hands over her face and moved to take a seat on the sumptuous leather sofa that sat opposite his desk.
Jon popped the cork on a bottle of red, poured two generous glasses and handed one to her. She watched as he sniffed the bouquet and nodded - apparently satisfied - and took a sip. Lounging casually on the front edge of his desk, his feet crossed at the ankles, swirling the ruby liquid around his glass, he was a picture of self-assuredness. Not to mention stunningly beautiful, so much so, he made her mouth water. She took a large gulp from her wine glass.
It was good, rich and satisfying, just as she imagined him to be. Christ, she was thinking like that after only five minutes alone with the man, how was she going to get through the next hour. Apparently it had been far too long since she had had any physical contact with a man and it appeared her hormones were writing checks her brain just wasn't ready to cash. She was damn sure her body was though…it was reacting in ways she didn't even remember.
"You can say that again." He said, watching the stress play across her face. But there was something else there as well. He studied her a little more closely, noticed the shallowness of her breathing and the nervous way she was toying with her wine glass, running her fingers constantly up and down the stem. It was out of place for the woman who was usually so calm and collected. He bit back a curse as his groin tightened involuntarily. He adjusted his stance accordingly.
Unaware of his discomfort Beth blurted out the question she had been worried about for hours. "Jon, can I ask you something?" Beth asked cautiously, still a little upset over his demeanor earlier.
"I guess…" he wasn't sure if he was in the mood for twenty questions…not even from her.
"Have I caused problems between you and Dot? I feel just awful about what happened outside this afternoon."
Jon sighed heavily…he had so hoped not to go into this tonight. All he wanted was to forget…forget the divorce…forget it all, but he certainly couldn't have Beth feeling that she, or particularly Frankie, were responsible for what was about to go down. It would be better if he could discuss it with her here and now rather than her hearing it second hand later.
He closed the distance between them in two strides and perched on the coffee table before her, leaning forward so that his elbows rested on his knees, his hands clutching the wine glass between them. The posture had his face so close to hers she could clearly see the minute imperfections the camera usually missed… the small freckle just to the left of his nose, the fine lines at the corners of his eyes that were now a permanent feature even when he wasn't smiling, it made him seem so much more real to her… not the celebrity, not the rock star… just Jon.
Jon noticed that she seemed to squirm uncomfortably in her seat and wondered if it was his nearness that caused it. He was unsure how much of what Frankie had told him he should take at face value. Nevertheless, Beth certainly seemed to have a heightened awareness of his proximity…hmmmm….
"I'm not going to tell you everything is ok, Beth. I can't lie to you, but what is happening between Dorothea and myself has been a long time in the making. This thing with Frankie is just the latest in a very long line of problems that we have been dealing with," he explained. He paused for a long moment, lost in thought, intently focused on some small imperfection in the flooring, then he blurted, "She asked for a divorce today Beth." Shit, he hadn't meant to say that.
"Oh…I'm sorry Jon…" Beth lowered her eyes to the ground, the hurt in his was just too real…too raw. "Is there any way you can work it out?"
"No," he shook his head, "There's no going back from this. Things have been bad for so long now that I barely remember them being right. But fuck Beth…that's why I expected this to be easy and it's…it's so….it's just not."
Beth leaned forward and hesitantly placed her palm on his face, and stroked her thumb across his cheekbone, "Oh sweetie, I'm so sorry."
He wanted to melt into that touch…wanted to do so much more but recognized that this was not the time to be doing that. God but he wanted to though…he wanted the comfort she offered and he wanted that offer to extend to more than her hand. He wanted to be wrapped around her…wrapped up in her. But of course that wasn't right, so instead he dropped his eyes to focus again on the spot on the carpet and simply said, "Don't be."
"So what does this mean for you now? What about the kids?" she asked, as he refilled their glasses.
Again he shook his head. This time it was a little slower, "I don't know Beth…I just don't know. Dot and I will have to talk it all through. I know this is the right thing to do…at least my head knows it, but damn it I wish my fucking heart would catch up."
As Beth sat there before him her heart bled for his pain. She had only ever known love from Branson. Sure there had been arguments but just like in a sitcom they had usually been solved before nightfall. In fact it was their resolution to never fall asleep angry. It had worked for them for over twenty years. She was grateful that she had never known the pain that Jon was suffering now, but it left her at a loss as to how to console him.
"I wish I could do something for you," she whispered.
"Just being here is enough." He sighed deeply shook his head and wondered aloud, "where is that god damned car?"
Just as the words left his mouth the shrill ring of the phone on the desk had both him and Beth startled in their seats. "God damn it," he uttered as he rose to stop the offending noise. "Yeah?" he said brusquely into the receiver. "You have got to be fucking kidding me. Just send another one…hell send a limousine or one of those God damned Hummers…just get me something here within the hour…do you understand me?" There was a pause as the person on the other end of the phone explained something to Jon. He turned his back on her and cursed into the phone, "Give me a minute…" He turned back to Beth, "The car they had sent has broken down. He's saying he can't get another here until sometime in the early hours…they're all booked. I can't drive you 'cause I've had a little too much to drink, but he says he can organize a cab or of course…" he trailed off.
"Of course what?" She asked.
This is what he had been trying to avoid. Presently, in his vulnerable state Jon was having more than a little control issue, in fact even now he was picturing her upstairs and naked in his bed. And that was most definitely not the way to treat a woman like Elizabeth McKenzie. Well not under these circumstances anyway…he was sure under others she could be quite pleased with the results…after all his song did guarantee satisfaction.
He suppressed a grin at his wit and kept his eyes focused on the floor, "Well…you could both stay here," he suggested.
"Oh no," she said adamantly, "I don't think that would be a good idea."
Jon was surprised at the disappointment he felt, "And why the hell not?" He asked. "Look at the size of the house Beth…. We could have a room each and never see each other…besides it's only for the night."
"I just don't think it would be appropriate. Especially with all that has gone on today. I mean… what would Dorothea think of it? I am sure she wouldn't approve of our little sleep over. No," she reiterated firmly, "just get them to send the cab…its best if we go home."
Jon did not respond to her but instead spoke into the receiver, "I'll get back to you in a few." And then he hung up the phone.
"Now that didn't sound like you ordering a cab," Beth observed eying him shrewdly as she rose to her feet.
"Hear me out here…ok?" Jon said as he moved to stand before her.
He was close again…too close. Beth was rapidly learning that when this man got this close…trouble soon followed.
"I'm listening," she said reluctantly.
"It just doesn't make sense to have a cab come all the way out here. I have to be back in the city in the morning anyway to see the kids, I can drop you both home then."
"I don't know Jon," Beth murmured, the strength of her conviction waning. She took a couple of steps towards the French Doors and peered out into the night, putting some much need distance between them. There seemed to be a distinct correlation between her ability to think coherently and his proximity.
"Bethie, you're not worried I'm going to take advantage of you… are you?" He joked playfully, "I mean …we do have Frankie as a chaperone."
He was propped against the desk again. He had loosened the top few buttons of the white button down he had changed into for the press conference, and a sprinkling of silver fur could be seen in the deep V. Oh. My. God. Look at his eyes, only his eyes. Beth drew her gaze back up to his face. Yeah right like that helped… he was wearing that stupid cocky smirk of his, the one that enhanced the little lines at the corners of his eyes, and made those cornflower blue irises sparkle with mischief.
"That is sooo not funny Jon." Beth said exasperated, trying to quell the tinge of excitement she had felt at the thought. "Christ, after what we have gone through today…please don't be tempting fate like that."
Hmmm, I'd rather be tempting something else, he thought. Damn, where had that come from? You dumb fuck you're supposed to be mourning the death of your marriage.
"I'm sorry Beth. I was just trying to lighten the mood a little…I know I need it," he said, "but seriously though…I don't see anything untoward about my daughter spending the night here."
Beth sighed deeply, and took a long draw from her glass. "I know you're probably right Jon. I guess I'm just being a little oversensitive after everything that's happened."
"That's understandable," he agreed.
"And Frankie is so worn out right now," Beth continued, thinking aloud, "She hates to show any weakness but I can see that the day has taken a huge toll on her."
"Yeah, I agree, she hasn't been her usual sassy self with me at all today." Now that the transportation and accommodation details had been sorted, or so he thought, Jon took it upon himself to refill Beth's wine glass.
"Thank you," she said bringing the glass to her lips as she looked up to the starry night sky. "Wow the stars are so pretty out here. Not at all like home, everything there is washed out by the city lights."
"Would you like to go for a walk? I can grab your coat." He offered.
"Hmmm…maybe some other time. I had better get in there and tell Frankie she'll be sleeping in someone else's bed tonight." Beth smiled gently, "She won't be happy. Even as a baby the only place she would truly settle was in her own crib."
"Funny Stephy was a bit like that too," he reminisced, "with me touring she didn't always have that option though. That was one of the things that keep Dot from touring so much. We decided it was better to give them a stable home than a full time father. I often wonder if we made the right choice. I mean don't get me wrong….all of my kids are turning out great…but…I don't know… sometimes I feel like Steph and Jes just missed out on a little too much of my time."
Beth turned to look at him and saw the shadows that plagued the depths of his eyes; the same ones that only moments before had been full of laughter and fun. He was a rollercoaster of emotion tonight. "Don't beat yourself up Jon. You were doing what you thought was right at the time," she said. "Even Branson was an absentee father a lot of the time, what with the gallery and all of his charities…"
The faraway look on Beth's face in conjunction with the small smile that played at the corner of her mouth told Jon that she was remembering both the good and the bad times with Branson. "This past year has been really rough on you huh?"
Beth just shrugged. Rough just didn't seem to cut it…the last year had been hell. The anniversary of Branson's death was in a couple of weeks and it seemed to be speeding for her like a speed train. She knew that it would dredge up all those emotions she was trying so hard to put behind her.
"I'm sorry I've added to that Beth…I really am. Perhaps it would have been better if I'd never pursued this whole thing with Frankie…better for you at least." He said as he topped up both of their wine glasses once again. Damn but the woman could drink….she was keeping up with him just fine.
"Don't even think that way Jon. Everything happens for a reason. Frankie needs a man in her life…a father, and while I don't think for one second you will ever be able to take Branson's place, I do believe that you are beginning to notch out your own," Beth offered him a winsome smile. "I mean look at this whole concert thing… a couple of weeks ago do you think she would have even accepted the tickets, let alone asked you to go with her?"
Jon smiled and her heart skipped a beat. She loved to see that smile…loved to see him happy. "Yeah…that was somethin' huh? I can't believe she wants her old man there with her. I know she doesn't think of me that way…but she knows I do."
"And believe me when I say she is coming around to that way of thinking too." Beth said.
"What am I coming around to?" Frankie asked as she appeared in the doorway. "And where is this damned car?"
Beth turned to her daughter's voice, "Oh, I was just coming out too see you. The car isn't coming Frankie. It broke down, so Jon very kindly offered us the use of his guest rooms. We'll be staying here tonight."
"And you actually believe that load of bullshit?" Frankie retorted. She stepped further into the room and observed the two empty wine bottles and raised an eyebrow, "So that's how he did it huh…plied you with wine so you'd agree to stay. We know how much you love your Pinot Noir…Mom." She said, heavily accenting the last word disrespectfully.
Beth rose from the sofa her fame quivering with anger. Jon watched with his breath stuck in his throat as she stalked across the room and came to a stop just inches before her daughter, her nostrils flaring and her cheeks tinting a deeper shade of pink preparing to give Frankie the set down she richly deserved. Oh man, he thought, this will not be pretty.
"Young lady, I am going to tell you this once and only once, if you ever speak to me in that disrespectful manner again I will beat your bottom like I did when you were five…and don't think for one second that I won't." she fumed.
Jon watched in amused silence from the sidelines, waiting for Frankie to find her voice. He'd never known to be at a loss for words. When she looked in his direction, clearly seeking assistance, he merely shrugged…no way was he getting in the middle of this. He'd had far too much experience with Stephy and Dot…and after years of trying to referee a cat fight he knew better than to stick his nose where it wasn't welcome.
After a long moment of silence, where Frankie and Beth continued to stare each other down, Jon thought better of it and finally spoke up, "Ladies…I think this is all just a misunderstanding."
In unison the women replied, "Fuck off Jon."
"Oh kay then" he drew out the words "I think I'll just go wait in the kitchen…should I have the first aid kit ready?" The cold stares that he received had him retreat from the room…his office…his domain…without another word.
Beth turned her attention back to her daughter, "Young lady, I did not raise you to behave this way. How many times do we have to have this conversation? It is not acceptable for you to speak to me or anyone else in this disrespectful manner."
Frankie glared at her Mom. If only you knew what I know, she thought. But looking into her mother's eyes, and seeing the pain she'd inflicted…the pain that was compounded by all they had been through together over the last year, she couldn't bear to stay angry at her over something so trivial. "Sorry Mom."
"Enough is enough Frankie…do you understand? No more!"
"Yes Mam," Frankie said obediently.
"Good. Now let's go find Jon…I'm ready for bed."
As Beth and Frankie stepped from the office they found Jon loitering in the foyer as close to the office as he could discretely be. "You ladies ready for bed?"
As Beth walked on ahead Frankie muttered softly for his ears only, "Bet you've said that a few hundred times."
He looked at her and wiggled his eyebrows…a mischievous smile playing on his lips. Frankie simply rolled her eyes in return.
"What was that?" Beth asked.
"Nothing," came Jon's reply in his daughter's defense as he suppressed an amused chuckle.
Jon showed the ladies to the two guest rooms upstairs that were made up. He showed Frankie into the first room at the top of the stairs. It was all pink and frills and so far removed from what she was accustomed to, she wondered how she would ever be able to settle.
The room he showed Beth to was the polar opposite in all respects. It was at the far end of the upstairs hallway, and the décor was sleek, masculine and modern. A king size bed adorned with an expensive looking red duvet she seemed to recall was a limited edition Frette creation – she had admired it when shopping for her own new linen after Branson had passed - dominated the room, which was decorated in hues of slate grey, steel blue and cream. Her eyes flickered to an old acoustic guitar that sat propped in the corner of the room.
"I'm not stealing your bed am I?" Beth asked softly, feeling like an intruder. The room was so inherently his…she didn't need the fact to be confirmed. Damn it…it even smelled like him.
"No ...it's just one of the guest rooms." He replied. "Dot's and my bedroom is next door," he added without thinking.
Beth looked away, uncomfortable, "Um… well…thank you. Is it ok if I use the shower? I hate going to bed without one."
"Sure…bathroom's through that door. There should be fresh towels on the rack and toiletries in the vanity. If you need anything else I'm across the hall…in there." He pointed to a doorway that faced hers.
"Didn't you say your bedroom was next door?" she asked.
"Yeah…it was," he said quietly and left, shutting the door gently behind him.