And all because she’d been able to pass on some information about a crazy woman who’d stolen a baby. She hadn’t done it because it was Richie – she would have done it for anyone in that position. She had children herself and could imagine what it would feel like to have your baby taken away. Standing by when she could help hadn’t been an option. She was just glad it had all worked out okay.
The car came to a stop and the driver held her door for her. As she stepped out, the front door opened, revealing Ava dressed in purple Capri pants and a multicoloured a la Jackson Pollack shirt. Holy crap! She looks even more like her mother up close.
“Hi, you must be Melanie. I’m Ava.”
“Hi Ava. Nice to meet you.”
“Come on in. Dad, T-Mom and the squirts are out back by the pool.”
T-Mom? That’s what she calls Tori? She filed that little piece of trivia away for future reference. Glancing around, she tried to take in as much as she could of the rooms they passed as she followed Ava through the house.
As they neared the door that led out to the back yard, she could see Richie checking over the grill, shaking his head, while a small dark haired boy danced around him. Her heart sped up even more at the sight of him in beige chinos and a black T-shirt tight enough to display his well muscled chest and biceps. As they got closer, a toddler in pink jogging pants and a shirt similar to the one Ava wore darted past him, headed for the pool and he rushed to catch her. The shrieking giggles that followed his tossing her in the air could be heard easily through the glass.
Ava shook her head, but smiled indulgently as she reached for the doorknob. “That’s my sister Lauren. She’s a little tornado – or a natural disaster, depending whether you’re talking to Dad or T-Mom.”
As they stepped outside, movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention to their right and she saw Tori sitting with her legs straddling a chaise lounge putting a clean diaper on a baby. A golden retriever lay on the ground beside her.
Seeing them, Tori looked up and smiled. “Melanie? Hi. Welcome.”
“Thank you so much for inviting me. You have a beautiful home.” Melanie was proud that she was able to get out her prepared little speech in a mostly steady voice.
“It was the least we could do after what you did for us.” Richie argued as he approached them, Lauren in his arms. He reached out to shake her hand, struggling not to drop the squirming toddler. “This wriggling worm is Lauren.”
Lauren giggled and patted her father’s face. “Da!”
A hand on his leg had Richie looking down. “Who dat Daddy?”
“This is Melanie.” He glanced at her. “This is Stevie. Can you say hi Peanut?”
“Hi.” Stevie smiled shyly and with her first sight of the dimple in his left cheek, Melanie knew that he was going to be a heart breaker when he got older. “I go simming Daddy? Puhleeeeaaase!”
Richie shook his head. “I told you, it’s too cold.” It might be a warm sunny day – and a welcome one after the cold spell they’d had, but it was only April and not that warm.
“Mama?” Stevie tried a different tactic.
“Sorry, my little tadpole. You heard Daddy. It’s too cold.” Tori stood and joined them, ruffling her son’s hair. She shifted the baby to her left arm so that she could shake Melanie’s hand. The four month old turned his head to look at Melanie, one small hand clutching his mother’s hair. Seeing Melanie’s eyes drop to the baby, Tori smiled. “And this is Zachary.” She studied the other woman’s face for a moment. “Do you want to hold him?”
“Sure. After all, if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have him with us.” Tori blinked away the tears the thought still brought to them.
As Melanie gathered the infant into her arms she couldn’t help but smile down into the cherubic little face. Dark eyes gazed up at her solemnly for a moment, then a smile curved the perfect bow mouth with its full bottom lip. She couldn’t resist stroking the cleft in the tiny chin with a finger tip. She glanced back and forth between Richie and his youngest son. “Wow.”
Tori smiled knowingly. “Yeah. He’s a real mini me.”
A blur of caramel and red streaked past them, setting Lauren off into angry shrieks until Richie set her down and she could chase after the dog.
“Taffy tooked ‘Mo again.” Stevie observed.
Catching Melanie’s gaze she rolled her eyes. “We just hope Zack gets Richie’s temperament too.”
Grinning, Melanie looked down at the child in her arms again and stroked his cheek. “So it looks like you and Jake are going to be the next generation DD.” Her eyes widened when she realized what she’d said – or rather who she said it to. She grimaced at Tori. “Sorry.”
Tori just chuckled and waved aside the apology. “You’re right. Jake is Jon all over again.”
“Much to Dot’s chagrin.” Richie added, then gestured towards the chairs nearby. “Let’s sit down. Melanie, can I get you a drink?”
As they sat and talked, Melanie’s nervousness faded and she began to see them, not as celebrities, but as normal people....a husband and wife and their children, and she found herself relaxing and even sharing some information about herself and her family and stories from her own life. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, she noted that it was a rare moment that Richie didn’t have at least one of his children on his lap. Even Ava stayed close by. The love and affection between Richie and Tori was palpable....in the way they looked at each other and the small touches they exchanged so casually it was obvious it was done out of instinct and not conscious thought.
“We really can’t thank you enough for your help in finding where Jasmine had taken Zachary.” Richie said as he reached for a carrot stick on the tray in the middle of the table.
“I’m just glad I could help and it all worked out okay.” Melanie assured him, smiling at the infant currently in his arms. “He’s beautiful. They all are.”
Tori saw a look pass over the other woman’s face and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Melanie sighed. “I just wish I could have done something to prevent it from happening in the first place. I knew she was obsessed with Richie, but I thought it was just normal fan lust. I never dreamed she was so far gone.” She shook her head in dismay.
“Hey.” Tori reached over to squeeze her hand. “Don’t beat yourself up. We all met her and none of us saw it coming. We’ve got him back safe and sound and she’s gone. That’s all that matters.”
“What do you think happened to her?”
“I really don’t know.” Tori answered honestly. “She just....disappeared.”
“Hmmm. Well, I hope that she’s someplace where she can’t hurt anyone and can get the help she needs.”
Richie and Tori exchanged glances, but didn’t comment.
After dinner, Ava took some pictures of Melanie with Richie and Tori - and a couple with Zachary – and Melanie prepared to leave.
“Thank you again, so much for this. It really was a dream come true for me.” Melanie held out a hand, which Richie promptly ignored, pulling her in for a hug instead.
“Thank you for helping us get our son back.”
As the car pulled away, Melanie took one last look at the family standing in front of the house, waving goodbye. She knew her friends would be clamouring for details of her visit, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to share everything. Some memories were for her and her alone. And it was going to take a bit to process the experience. She would relay general impressions of the house and grounds as well as of Richie, Tori and the kids and what they talked about. But if anyone pushed for details, she’d just tell them no.
It was a family matter.
And there it is. The latest chapter in the lives of Richie and Tori - and their children. I would like to thank everyone for joining me on this journey and I hope you enjoyed the ride.
Until next time