“What’s the matter T-Mom?” Ava sailed into the room and dropped onto the couch.
“The babysitter I had lined up for tonight just cancelled on me. She’s sick.” And the chances of finding someone else at this late date – especially on New Year’s Eve – were slim to none. Joan had gone back to New Jersey and she refused to ask either Rosa or Cathy to give up their holiday.
“Which party are you going to?”
“Down at the Hilton. They’re doing a silent auction for Stand Up for a Cure and your dad gave them a signed guitar.” With a mental shrug and internal sigh, she silently accepted that she’d be staying home – alone – this year. Richie needed to be there. This sucks! She’d been looking forward to getting dressed up and spending some time with adult company for a few hours.
She picked up the book she’d been reading to Lauren and tried to refocus on Cinderella’s predicament. They were having a little girl time while the boys were down the hall in the studio having a guitar lesson.
“I can babysit.” Ava offered.
“Don’t you have plans with Tyler?” From what Tori gathered, Ava and Tyler had managed to work through their last tiff and were getting along well.
Ava shrugged. “We were just going out for dinner and a movie. We can order in food and watch a movie here. Can’t we?”
“Sure, but...I don’t want you to change your plans for me. You deserve to go out and have some fun.”
“So do you. It’s fine. Besides,” she grinned at her stepmother, “Who’s going to convince Zachary to take the bottle if I’m not here? You know my siblings won’t take it from anyone else but me – at least at this age.”
Tori smiled, but a shadow darkened her eyes at the thought of the one person he’d taken a bottle for. Forcing the memory aside, she considered the teenager beside her. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s fine. You go out and have fun with Dad – or at least go out with Dad. I’ll call Tyler to come here and we’ll stay with the squirts.” At her stepmother’s probing look, she shrugged. “Tyler’s an only child. He’s never been around squirts.”
“Ah, I see.” And she did. Suddenly, small hands pushed against her, and a loud screech announced displeasure.
“Okay, okay Sweetpea, calm down. We’ll get back to the story.” Tori picked up the book again. Princesses and evil sisters indeed!
“Jesus Christ Tori!” Richie stepped into the dressing room and just about choked.
“What?” Tori adjusted the neckline of her gown.
“That’s not helping.”
“Why do I have the feeling that we’ve had this conversation before?”
“Because you keep wearing dresses like that when we go out.”
Tori shrugged, but a smirk tugged at her lips. “Just trying to fit in at a Hollywood party.”
“You’re barely fitting into that dress!”
“Do you think it’s too tight?” She surveyed her reflection in the mirror. The pink silk set off her creamy skin perfectly and the loose fitting sheath hid her still rounded belly. Of course the low neckline that revealed the tops of her swollen breasts tended to draw the eye away from such minor imperfections anyway.
“Nothing there to be tight.”
His grumble made her grin and confirmed her suspicion of what he objected to. She walked closer to smooth the lapels of his jacket and straighten the collar of his shirt. Fighting to keep her expression neutral, she trailed a fingernail down his chest, revealed tonight since he wasn’t wearing a tie. “Don’t you like the way I look?”
Aware of the minefield surrounding that question, he chose his words carefully. “I love the way you look.” He lifted a hand and let a calloused fingertip roam the exposed flesh he couldn’t take his eyes off of, smirking in satisfaction when her nipples hardened at his touch. Apparently she was feeling the effects of their enforced drought too. “And so will every other man who sees these tonight.”
“But you’re the only one who gets to touch them. Well, you and Zachary.”
Richie chuckled and dropped a kiss on her lips. “Come on you big tease, or we’re going to be late.”
Tori stepped back and turned towards the door, tossing a smouldering glance at him over her shoulder. “Not teasing. Promising. Later. If you play your cards right.”
He groaned, but his body reacted to her taunt. “Brat.”
“Honey, I swear half the room hated to see you walk in the door...and the other half thanked God you did.”
Tori turned at the distinctive voice and laughed. “I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or bad.”
“I’ll let you know when I decide which half I’m in.” Cher turned to Richie. “Damn baby, if I’d known that was the result of having your babies, I would have kept you around.”
“Don’t let him snow you. It’s the Bongiovi genes.” Tony informed her as he joined the group. “Hi sis.” He leaned down to kiss her cheek, then shook Richie’s hand. “You let her out looking like that?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No.” Tori and Cher answered in unison.
Richie sighed, but nodded his understanding. “There ya go.”
Cher glanced around and sobered. “I heard about what happened. Everybody doing okay?”
“I’ll be better when they catch the crazy bitch, but yeah, we’re okay. Thanks.” Tori assured her.
“What’s this world coming to? I mean, there’s so much hate and insanity out there.” Cher shook her head sadly.
“But there are still some bright spots.” Tori pointed out. “I saw Chaz on Dancing With the Stars. He did a great job.”
“And despite what my parents tried to tell me, ballroom dancing ain’t easy.” Richie added.
“You actually tried it?” Tony grinned.
“Like I had a choice?” Richie grimaced.
Cher patted his shoulder consolingly. “Well Chaz says he had a blast. I just wish people would just accept and not judge.”
They all nodded in agreement.
A little while later, they ran into Heather and Jack.
“I’m so glad you found the baby.” Heather gave Tori a hug.
“Ava says Lauren’s having jealousy issues.”
“Yeah. She doesn’t like sharing Daddy’s attention.” Tori grimaced.
“Speaking of Daddy’s girls’ how did you get Ava to change her plans and agree to stay home and babysit?”
“I didn’t. She offered.” She paused. “Tyler has never been around children.”
“Oh.” Heather’s eyes widened, then she squeezed them shut. “I’m not ready for this! She’s only fifteen!!”
Jack and Richie exchanged glances and shrugged.
“Um...one of you want to fill her father in?” Richie looked at his wife. “Or do I not really want to know?”
Tori hestitated, then shrugged. “She’s testing Tyler.....as potential father material.”
“But...but.....she’s only FIFTEEN!!” Richie looked like he wanted to throw up.
“Honey, relax.” Tori rubbed his back. “She’s not thinking about starting a family right away. But she’s growing up. She’s starting to think about the future and what qualities are important for the man in her life to have.”
“It’ll be okay. She’s got a good head on her shoulders.” Tori glanced back and forth between Heather and Richie. “Both of you...relax! She’s a smart girl!” She nudged Richie. “Trust me.”
Belatedly, he remembered the conversation he’d overheard between his wife and his oldest daughter regarding this exact subject. As Ava’s questions and Tori’s answers replayed in his head, he calmed – a little – and knew he could do just that – trust his wife to help guide his daughter - both of them - through the minefields of learning about men and relationships.
As much as she was enjoying an evening out, Tori was glad when midnight arrived. She was tired and ready to go home.