The mood of the house varied between morose and an almost desperate happiness as they tried to put on a good show for the kids, especially with Christmas fast approaching. As much as Tori tried, she just couldn’t seem to summon up any enthusiasm for the holiday. While it was understandable, she knew it wasn’t fair to the kids.
“Come on T-Mom, no time to sit.” Ava breezed into the living room, her hands full of grocery bags. “We’ve got to get the Christmas baking done.” She held up a hand to forestall any protest. “No excuses. Rosa’s got your recipes out, the grandmothers and Aunt Dot are going to help. We’ll have it done in no time.” She eyed her stepmother with an understanding gaze that belied her years. “Besides, you’ll be glad to have it done when Zachary gets home and you don’t have the time anymore.”
Appreciative of Ava’s faith and knowing she was beaten, Tori did the only thing she could do: gave in gracefully. She stood and led the way to the kitchen. Behind her back, Richie gave his eldest a grateful thumbs up.
“Oh angel, since you’re baking......”
“I know, I know.” She was only surprised he hadn’t asked sooner. They’d run out the day before.
“Cookies please!” The words came from every male throat in the house, from age three to eight-three.
The women shook their heads and rolled their eyes.
It turned out that an afternoon of tasks to keep her hands occupied and female companionship to keep her mind occupied was just the distraction Tori needed to help her get through the day.
The next morning the private investigator came by with a folder in his hand. He set it on the coffee table in front of him, but left closed while he looked first at Tori, then Richie. “Does the name Jasmine Yamoda mean anything to you?”
Richie frowned in thought. “No. Should it?”
“Her name came up in response to the message Matt posted on the fan club website. Apparently she’s a very....devoted...fan from Japan. She’s told people she’s actually met you.” He glanced at Tori. “Both of you actually, as well as the rest of the band, and Dorothea.”
Tori’s eyes widened as a memory surfaced. “That crazy bitch? Did she take our son?” Jumping to her feet she started to pace the room. “I should have taken her out when she told me she was out to take Richie away from me.”
“Oh her!” Dorothea exclaimed. “I knew she was delusional, but I thought it was just a harmless fantasy.”
“Wait.” Richie was confused. “So you two do know her?”
“So do you.” His wife assured him.
“Mmmhmm. She was the one who gave you the idea of buying the condo in Philly....indirectly. She was also the cause of our first real major fight. It was after your dealings with her that you asked me to move in with you.”
“Aaah.” Richie nodded. “Now I remember.”
“I don’t.” Jon frowned.
“It was...what...five years ago? She showed up at the after parties in Japan and Australia.” Richie explained.
“And after the show in Philly on your birthday.” Dorothea added.
“Oh! I remember that!” David looked at his band mates. “That was the night Bela and Dot looked like they were going to tag team that chick. The night Bela went into tough guy bodyguard mode and only the fans she allowed got to get near Chuck.”
“Oh yeah.” Jon nodded. “I remember now.” He turned to Mike. “What did you find out?”
Having been engrossed in their stories, it took Mike a minute to gather his thoughts. “Um. Well, several people mentioned having been friends with her – at least online. Most of them had ended that when they realized that her talk of marrying Richie wasn’t just a fan’s wishful thinking.” He glanced at Richie and Jon, his lips twisting wryly. “Luckily for you, most of your fans may have fantasies with you as the central figure, but they realize that it’s not reality.”
“Thank God for small mercies.” Jon commented dryly.
“Anyway, we found a couple people who stayed in contact with her. She’s been hinting for the last six months that there were big changes coming in her life, that all her dreams were about to come true.”
Tori snorted. Richie reached out and tugged her down onto his lap. Holding her close, he rubbed her back with one hand.
“We got an address from them,” Mike continued, “but she’d moved. The girls promised to try and contact her and see if they can find out where she is. And now that we have her real name, it should be easier to find her.” He glanced at Richie. “She keeps saying in the notes that she’s waiting for you to join them. Like you would know where they are. Do you remember anything she said to you that would give you any clue to her hiding spot?”
Richie thought for a few minutes, but finally had to shake his head. “Nothing. I honestly don’t remember what we even talked about. She was just a fan I talked to for a few minutes.”
“Are we sure it’s her though?” Bill asked. “I mean, we don’t want to be going off on a wild goose chase.”
Mike nodded. “Pretty sure.” He pulled two photographs from the folder. “The fans sent some pictures they had of Jasmine.” Holding it up for them all to see, he raised a brow at Tori and Richie.
“That’s her.” Tori confirmed.
“But is it the nurse?” John Sr. frowned. “I thought you said the nurse was blonde. That girl is dark.”
“We did a little photo shopping on this.” Mike explained. “Gave her blonde hair, rounded her eyes a little...and came up with this.” He held up the other picture.
Tori studied it for a long moment before nodding. “That’s her.”
“Are you sure?” Her mother asked.
“Trust me Mom. That is one face I will never forget.”
“Are you going to share this with the police?” Jon questioned his friend.
Mike hesitated, glancing at Tori and Richie. “What do you think?”
“Tell them.” Was Tori’s opinion. “The more people we have looking, the better.” She paused. “But when you find her, and get my baby back......the bitch is mine.”
“I understand how you feel sweetheart, but don’t do anything rash that’s going to get you into trouble.” Bill warned her.
“Do you really think there’s a jury in this country that would blame me for inflicting a little pain on the women who stole my baby?”
“Just don’t kill her.” Jon advised. “There’s too much media attention to the abduction to be able to dispose of the body quietly.”
While the rest of the gathered family laughed, Jon met his sister’s gaze and merely smiled slightly.
“Okay, so I’ll go fill in the cops and see where we’re at. I’ll keep you updated.” Mike gathered up the photos and his folder.
Richie slid Tori off his lap so that he could stand and walk the investigator to the door. Reaching out, he shook his hand. “Thanks man, for everything.”
“No problem. We’re close Richie. We’ll find him.”
“So what now?” Karin asked after Tori had finished bringing her up to speed.
“Well, between the police and Mike’s people, they’re searching L.A. and the surrounding area for any sign of Jasmine.” Tori shook her head. “I still can’t believe it was her.”
“You didn’t recognize anything about her? She didn’t give any indication that she’d met you before?”
“I thought there was something vaguely familiar about her, but not enough to twig my memory. And she never gave anything away other than that she was obviously a fan of Richie’s. For a nutjob, she’s a smart one.”
“And how are you holding up?”
“You mean after Richie and I blew up at each other?” Tori asked dryly. “Or are you going to try and convince me that Shirley didn’t tell you all about that?”
“What would be the point? Of course he did. Tori, we’re all worried about you. Both of you. I can’t imagine what you must be going through.” Tears choked her to silence.
“I know. And we appreciate everyone’s support and concern. We’re.....okay. Better now actually, after the guilt squad forced a time out on us.” Tori sighed. “I didn’t mean to lock Richie out. I shouldn’t have done that. I just wish people understood why I’m holding everything in so tightly.”
“Your emotions are strong and will overwhelm you if you let them loose. That won’t help anyone, least of all the two small children you have there that need you.”
“Thank you! Now will you explain it to your husband?”
“I’ve tried. Not sure he totally gets it though. Is he giving you a hard time? Do I have to have another talk with him?”
“No. In fact he’s treating me like I’m made of glass and the wrong word will make me shatter. They all are –well, except Jon. It’s driving me nuts! And these people are related to me! You’d think they’d know how to deal with me by now!” Tori growled in frustration.
“What’s Jon doing?”
“He watches me, but basically leaves me alone. He and Shirley spend most of their time keeping Richie occupied....and playing with the kids. I don’t know if anything they’re writing is any good, but it keeps him busy and out of trouble.”
“Has there been any more....trouble?”
“Not that I’m aware of. And I think he’d think twice before picking up a bottle again. I made my opinion on the subject very clear.”
“I’d say you did. Did the wall get damaged?”
“No, just the glass – which I made Richie clean up by the way.”
“Have you heard from Tico?”
“Yeah. He calls every day. Says he’ll come if we need him, but figures we have a houseful right now – which is true.”
“Well, I’m sure it won’t be for much longer. They’ll find Zack and bring him home and life will calm down for a bit for you.”
“I hope you’re right.” The sound of a young baby crying made Tori’s chest tighten. “Sounds like Josh is hungry.”
“Yeah. I’d better go feed him. I’ll talk to you later.” Karin paused. “At the risk of quoting our other halves, keep the faith Tori. They’ll find him.”
“Thanks. I’m trying. Talk to you later.”