Cheers filled the air as Tico could be seen climbing onto his drum kit, then David stepped up onto his riser. They waited and strained to see, but the area around Richie’s mic remained empty. Then the spotlight came on and all – or almost all – eyes were drawn to the centre of the stage and Jon walked out.
Jon smiled at the audience and waited for the screams to subside, finally having to wave them to silence. “Hi. We’re going to be delayed a few minutes. Richie had to go clean up and change his shirt. Lauren just threw up on him.” As the crowd laughed he turned to look back down the tunnel behind him. “Nice going Tori.”
“What the....?” Tori handed Lauren to Ava and stormed up the stairs to join her brother at the white mic stand. She had to wait for the roar of the crowd to die down before she could speak. “Don’t blame me, I warned him she’d just eaten and not to bounce her around. It’s not my fault he didn’t listen.”
“Mama!” Stevie climbed the stairs to follow his mother.
“Stevie no!” Ava made a grab for him, but with Lauren fidgeting in her arms she couldn’t get a grip on him.
The murmurs of the crowd warned Tori just before she felt small hands clutch her leg. Looking down, she smiled and bent to pick her son up. “Hey Peanut. What are you doing out here?”
“Okay.” Like father like son I guess. She glanced at Jon and nodded at his raised brow.
“In case you haven’t figured it out, this is Steven Sambora.” Jon explained to the audience. “Stevie can you say hi to everyone?” He held out the microphone.
“Hi.” Stevie waved shyly and laid his head on his mother’s shoulder.
Tori smiled as the crowd waved back.
“I think you have a birthday coming up soon don’t you?” Stevie nodded. “And how old will you be?”
Tori whispered in her son’s ear, prompting him to hold up three fingers. “Free!”
Jon grinned. “And who’s your favourite uncle?”
David stepped to the front of his riser, hands raised in victory. “Yes!” Approaching them he high fived Stevie before returning to his position.
“Hey!” Jon frowned. “Where’s my love?” He turned to the tunnel behind him once again. “Bean come out here and bring your sister with you.”
When Ava appeared with Lauren, the crowd murmured again. Ava leaned up to kiss Jon’s cheek. “Don’t worry Uncle Jon. We still love you.”
Lauren held her arms out to her uncle, and squealed when he didn’t take her immediately. Loudly.
Jon blinked. “Okay, okay Sweetpea. Don’t scream. Jeez.” Lifting her from Ava’s arms he eyed her warily. “You’re not going to throw up on me too are you?”
Lauren just giggled and patted his face.
“You all know Ava. This is Lauren, the cause of our delay tonight.” He kissed her head. “Wave at the people.”
Tori smiled as she looked into the crowd. A woman in the front mouthed ‘they’re beautiful’. Her smile widened and she mouthed back. ‘Thank you.’
“So Tori, you’ve got Bean, Peanut and Sweetpea.” He motioned to each one in turn. “What are you going to call this next one?”
The crowd went silent, all eyes on Tori.
Tori shot her brother an exasperated glance. “Surprise.” Seeing the looks of confusion and disbelief, she confirmed Jon’s blurted announcement. “Richie and I are expecting again around Christmas.”
The roar of the crowd around her went unheard. Her mind and heart had frozen at Tori’s words. No no no no no no! This wasn’t supposed to happen! He was supposed to leave her, not keep fucking her! That bitch! He’s mine! I was supposed to be the mother of his children! That’s supposed to be my family! Just because she’s Jon’s sister she thinks she’s something special. I’ll show her. I’ll show them all! I will have what I deserve!
Richie stepped onto the stage almost unnoticed. Taking his guitar from Takumi he approached his family at centre stage.
Once again Jon had to wait until the cheers from the audience quieted before he could speak. “Nice of you to join us Sambora.”
“Sorry.” He hugged Ava and Stevie and caught Lauren’s hands as she reached for him. “Sorry sweetpea, Daddy doesn’t have time to change again if you throw up on me.” He kissed her cheek. Straightening, he looked around. “So what’s been going on out here?”
“Just introducing your family to everyone, killing time, waiting for you.” Jon answered.
The absurdity of the situation hit Tori and she chuckled, motioning for Ava to take Lauren. “Come on guys, let’s get off the stage so Daddy and the uncles can get to work.” She raised a brow at the Duo. “Or were you guys just going to stand here and chat?”
“Brat.” Jon scowled at her as the crowd laughed. “I love you all, now get the f.....get off my stage.” A few boos reached the stage. “Don’t worry, Tori’ll be back later.”
When Tori rejoined them on the stage awhile later, she was surprised at how comfortable it felt and how quickly she fell back into the give and take chemistry of a show. It felt like coming home. She even surprised herself by remembering how to play Prayer as they’d worked out four years earlier.
She practically bounced off the stage, adrenaline lighting up her nerve endings. Catching the towel Takumi tossed her way she wiped the sweat off her face. “Thanks.”
“T-Mom that was great!” Ava gushed. “They should have you at all the shows.”
Tori laughed. “No, my place is at home with you guys. It’s fun to do this every now and then though.”
“And are you happy with that?” Paul spoke from behind her.
Looking at her children, she smiled. “For the most part, yes. I have a very full life – especially with another one on the way. And Richie – and Jon for that matter – have made it clear that anytime I feel the need to perform, they’ll find a way for me to do that. I have no complaints and no regrets.”
Paul shook his head in wonder. “That’s amazing. There are hundreds if not thousands of kids out there who would kill for a talent like yours and the opportunity to be on stage and show it off. But you are genuinely content to sit on the sidelines. Amazing.”
Tori shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong. There was a time when I would have fought tooth and nail to be in that spotlight. But I’m older now and my priorities and goals in my life have changed. I have everything I could ever want or need. I know how rare that is and I feel truly blessed and wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Hey sis!” Tony called as he approached and gave her a hug. “Great job! You know I hate you right?”
She snorted. “Right. You wouldn’t give up what you do behind the camera to be in front of it for all the money in the world, and you know it.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not envious of Jon’s and your talent and the way you can relax and have fun out there. I’d be shitting bricks.”
“And I wish I had your eye with a camera lens, so there ya go.” Tori smiled. “We all have our jobs in life. Mine apparently is to raise rock stars, yours is to film them. Speaking of which, would you bring your camera to Stevie’s birthday party please? I’d like a video for Richie since he’ll be in Europe.”
“Of course. I was planning to anyway. I bring it everywhere. You never know when I might see something I can blackmail Jon with.”
“What is it with my siblings wanting to blackmail me all of a sudden?” Jon growled as he passed them on his way to change for the encore.
“It’s the only way to get your attention sometimes!” Tori called after him.
“And it’s fun!” Tony added.
“Kids are sleeping in your dressing room!” Tori warned Richie as he flew by. He waved in acknowledgment.
“Brat!” Jon threw at Tori on his way back to the stage. He glared at Tony. “I’ll deal with you later.”
“Yeah, yeah...shaking in my boots here!” Tony flipped him off.
As the band stood together at the front of the stage to take their bows, her gaze locked on Richie. He’s mine! I had him before and I’ll have him again. We’ll be a family if it’s the last thing I do!