Christmas Eve - 11:30am

Tessa stood in front of her three way mirror.  The door to their bedroom was barely a buffer to the laughter downstairs.  Stella gave another happy bark and she tried not to smirk at Carol’s sharp shout of dismay.  Smoothing the high waist of her black skirt over her blouse, she lifted her new necklace out of its case.  The twinkling gemstones gleamed off the snowy white leaving the platinum chain and matching settings into a seamless chain of family.  Her birthstone flashed a soft topaz along the center of the shorter chain and Jon’s light blue complimented it on each side.  The longer chain was a mix of all those people important to her--Jon’s life, her life, and the mix of the two.

They had definitely gone for the smushy gifts this year.

Maybe they had needed them.

She pressed her hand against her belly.  “You can do this.  She is just a woman.  Carol is not a monster.”

“No, she’s not.”

Tessa whirled, a blush hot on her face as Steph stood in the doorway.  “Oh, hell.”

“I knocked, but you didn’t hear me.”

Willing the embarrassment to fade from her cheeks, she waved her in. “Come in, honey.”

Stephanie smiled wide, her dad’s smirk lingering in her blue eyes as she closed the door behind her. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”  She gave her a once over.  “Really nice outfit though.” She stopped beside her.  “Man, I want those boots.”

It was her turn to smirk. “Aren’t they fabulous?” She kicked up her foot and admired the calf skin black leather knee-high boot.  They felt like a cloud.  Running after a dog did not equal heels today.

Steph hooked an arm around her hip until the two of them filled the mirror.  Her dark tones and lanky body to Tessa’s Irish cream—it was quite the contrast.  “Bling from Dad?”

Tessa ran her finger under the chain that fell to her midsection.  “Yeah, and the puppy of course.”

“I’m in love with Stella.  Copper’s not too much fun these days—he just likes to sleep.”

“Well, you know you guys can come over anytime.”

Steph dropped her head on Tessa’s shoulder.  She was a few inches taller than Tessa’s own 5’5.  “I know.” She sighed.   “It’s so weird this year.  Mom’s got Sam which is making Nana all twisted.  I thinks she figured Dad and Mom would get back together eventually.”

Tessa stilled.  Is that what the kids wanted? Still?  “I’m not letting him go,” she said quietly.

“Oh God, no!” Steph linked their fingers. “Dad’s so much happier with you and Mom’s like a new person since she met Sam.  This is the way things are supposed to work out.”

“You are one of those wise beyond your years people, you know that right?”

“Yep.”

“And just as modest as your dad.” 

The both of them dissolved into laughter.  

“Don’t let Nana get to you, Tessa.  She doesn’t mean to be so bi..uh, snotty.” Her father’s sparkling blue eyes danced in the mirror.  “She just likes to have things go her way and when they don’t…”

Tessa sighed.  This is what Carol reduced her to—getting advice from a teenager.  It was time to grow a backbone.  Just like Jon said, Carol was a control freak like him.  Maybe not in those words, but that was the truth of it.  She stood up taller, lifting her chin.

“There she is,” Steph teased.  “That’s the face you get when Dad’s doing something stupid and you need to drop him down a peg.”

Tessa’s eyebrow rose.  “Observant little thing.”

“I’m an artiste.” Steph hugged her.  “Let’s go downstairs and face the masses.”

“Do I have to?”

“Don’t make me play parent, Tessa Bongiovi.”

“All right, all right.” Steph skipped down the stairs, her streaky blonde ponytail swaying over her shoulder.  Stella galloped out of the living room, spinning out on the marble front foyer.   She tried to gain purchase, but her oafy big paws skidded out from under her.  

Steph crouched down and scratched her ears. “You’re such a dork.”  Stella didn’t seem to find that an insult, she was too busy licking every patch of skin she could find.  When she fell back with a lapful of dog, they both laughed.  

“That dog is a menace!”

Tessa gritted her teeth and put on her best customer service smile.  The white pant suit Carol wore was dotted with familiar paw prints and a nice slash of doggie drool.  She pressed her lips together against a laugh.  That would not be a good idea.  “I see you’ve met our Stella.”  She stepped forward and Carol grudgingly gave her a cheek for a kiss, pulling away before Tessa could actually connect.  “Merry Christmas, Carol.”

“It was until that dog ruined my suit.”

“C’mon into the kitchen, I’ve got some club soda that’ll take care of that.” 

Steph met her gaze and after an imperceptible nod from Tessa, she coaxed the puppy back into the living room.  “How was the trip up from Florida?” Maybe a little small talk would ease Carol’s ruffled feathers.

“Horrendous.  Jon flew us in first class, but that airlines definition of first class and mine are quite different.  He should have just sent the jet.”

Tessa willed herself not to roll her eyes.  Yeah, let Jon get right on that jet fuel expense.  “Captain Jack was given some much needed time off to be with his new little girl.  I’m sure you understand.”

“When you work for someone as important as my son, you should be on call at all times.”

And of course because Jon was a celebrity, that made her one too, right?  It amazed her just how much Carol didn’t know her son.  Sure, he liked his creature comforts, but not to the exclusivity of practicality.  Did he do outrageous things sometimes? Absolutely, that’s what made him fun and unpredictable.  Living a life so structured when on tour, he liked to be spontaneous on the off times.  Would he ruin his staff’s Christmas for something so trivial?  A thousand times no.  “I’m sure we can make arrangements for your return trip home to be on another airline, Carol.”

“Oh, he will.”

Tessa snapped out an old linen napkin from the drawer and poured a healthy amount of club soda on it.  “Here,” she handed the cloth over.  “I’ll take your jacket and work on that one.”

Carol shrugged out of her jacket and hooked it on the chair.  When it slithered to the floor, her cool blue eyes zeroed in on her.  “As if it’s not dirty enough?”

“We’ll make sure to get it dry cleaned for you.” Swallowing the acid that threatened to eat her damn tongue, she smiled.  “It’s lovely.  Chanel?”

Carol waved a hand as if it didn’t matter enough to answer her. “It’s last season anyway.  I’ll just donate it.”

The perfectly classic suit could have been worn for years, but as usual, Carol looked at everything as disposable.   Dabbing a little harder than necessary, she tried to reign in her temper.  Carol had been living off of Jon’s generosity for so long, she didn’t even think twice about it.

“I need to wear that for the rest of the day, Tessa.”

She blinked up at her, her fingers clenched around the cloth.  “What?” 

Carol took the jacket away.  “No need to put a hole in it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Considering your department store clothing, it doesn’t surprise me that you don’t know how to treat quality clothing.”

Unable to keep her jaw from dropping, she tried to cover it up by twisting the cap back onto the club soda and heading for the fridge.    Was she fucking wearing rags?  Just because clothes didn’t matter to her enough to buy an entirely new wardrobe every season, didn’t make her any less.  Her practical side was what made her a great business-woman, dammit.

She slammed the fridge shut and turned around, the smug set of Carol’s mouth and icy gaze was enough to have her temper snap.

“Tessa, can I have some juice please?”  The sweetest eyes peered up at her with a wide fringe of perfect lashes.  Romeo held up a plastic Christmas cup decorated with his name. She’d found the plain cups and a cool crafty little kit to make personalized cups.  It was one of the projects she’d done with the kids when they’d been stuck in the house with the miserable winter that had been gripping NY.

Her anger melted away.  She ruffled the silky fall of hair that was in his eyes more often than not.  “You need a trim again, pal.”

He scrunched up his face.  “I don’t like it when the girls at Mom’s hair place fuss over me.”

“They can’t help it.” She swung open the fridge again, cupping his hands around his cup before she poured a half glass of apple juice.  “You’re just as cute as your dad.”

“Ick, girls are gross.”

“I bet you’ll be signing a different tune in a few years. Now, careful, your mom’ll kill me if you get juice on your new sweater.”

He rolled his eyes.  “Oxy-Clean!” he shouted and ran out of the room, the juice sloshing just under the cup’s lip.  

She winced. Oxy-Clean was definitely her friend when it came to having kids around.  With three boys in their house whenever Jon was home, it was a bit crazy sometimes.  Romeo and a bottle of Hershey’s had lost a war around Thanksgiving, and now he thought Oxy-Clean ruled the world.

When she faced Carol again, the smugness was gone from her face, leaving a frown that was quickly masked by the same blank face she usually wore.  Without a word, she left her jacket behind and walked out of the room.

Deflated, Tessa sunk into one of the chairs at the eat-in kitchen.  She let her head tip back, shutting her eyes against the blast of pressure that wanted to dislodge them.  Mercy, she didn’t want to go into that living room.  She wanted to crawl up the stairs and into her bed until Christmas Day.

If she could just blink her way to Mary’s house and her peppermint cocoa, the world would be right again.  

The soft brush of lips on hers made her smile.  She brought her hand up to Jon’s cheek holding him there for a minute longer, until the kiss warmed her from the inside out.

“Better?”

She nipped at his chin.  “Yeah, actually.”

“You and my mom were missing at the same time.  I was in the middle of Mario Olympics or I’d have been in here sooner.”

“Who won?”

“Who do you think?” 

“Jake?”

“Yep.” He crouched down next to her, threading his fingers into her hair. “You okay?”

She moaned as his magic fingers found the base of her skull.  “Oh yeah, right there.”

He continued to knead for a minute before drawing his fingers out, to toy with the ends of her hair.  “I wouldn’t blame you for telling her to go to hell, you know.”

Part of her wanted to.  Part of her wanted Jon to intercede and tell the woman to take a flying leap, but he’d already done that too many times to count.  Now, it was a point of pride for her.  “I shouldn’t have to.  I have to be able to find some common ground with that woman.” She leaned in and pressed her forehead to his.  “How did you come from her?”

“I’m half my dad.”

She laughed.  “Good answer.”  She stood up, letting him drag her into a tight hug.  She’d take all the support she could get to survive the rest of the afternoon.

Christmas Eve - 11am

Three hours later, he was exactly right.  The usual bedlam that followed Christmas gifts was in high swing.  Richie, Ava and Stephanie were trying to herd the younger boys into the living room, but they were too interested in torturing Stella.  

Thankfully Stella was as good natured as the breeder had promised.  Instead of being annoyed by the attention, she basked in the petting and wrestling.  Tessa had run upstairs to get a shower in while the dog was occupied.

The gong of the front door echoed ominously.  The day was just about to move from crazy to suicidal.  He loved his mother, it was ingrained to do so even if she treated him more like a status symbol than a son.  He just wished that Tessa didn’t have to feel the brunt of her dismay all the time.

Here we go, holidays 2009 part one.  He opened the door.  “Merry Christmas, Ma!” Jon leaned in with a warm smile. 

“There’s my angel!” Carol Bongiovi came in on a wave of White Shoulders, powder and twinkling gold and diamonds.  She pressed air kisses to his cheeks, thrusting her cashmere wrap—new of course—at him.  “Don’t you have hired help?  Or did that woman talk you out of that too?”

His molars sang as he bit down.  “Lottie is with her family, it’s Christmas, Mom.”

“It’s her job, Christmas or not.”

“Call me old fashioned, I just wanted family with me today.  Why don’t you go in and see the boys and Steph.  They’re in the living room.”

“And your…wife?” Carol asked over her shoulder.

She nearly had to swallow her tongue on that one, he thought sourly.  “Tessa is getting a shower in while our newest addition is being entertained.”

Her eyes sharpened.  “New addition?”

Jon smiled at his dad, accepting his coat.  “You’ll see.” He clasped his dad into a tight hug and stepped back.  “Welcome to Bedlam.”

John Sr. lifted the bottle of Johnny Walker Blue label from one of the two bags he carried.  “I’ve got my meds.”

“Care to share?”

His father clasped a hand on his shoulder.  “I could be persuaded.” 

“I bribe well.”

“So I’ve heard.”  The squealing laugh followed directly by a bark had his father’s eyebrow raise.

“Oh yeah, we might have to crack that bottle before dinner.”

Christmas Eve - 7am

“Shh, Ava!”

The stage whisper was the only warning he had before fifteen pounds of scrabbling puppy skidded across hardwood.  As if in a mighty dog commercial, the newest addition to their family soared through the air and landed directly on the corner of the bed, thudding indelicately to the floor. 

Tessa, used to flying children, jolted up and hoisted the sheet up around her breasts.  Richie waggled his eyebrows and shut the door quickly.  

“But Dad, I wanna see!”  Ava complained from the other side of the door. 

“You had all night with the puppy.”  Richie answered, shuffling her down the hallway.

Jon snagged a pair of sweats off the chair near the fireplace and hoisted the dog up and into his arms.  Her wriggling body and equally wriggling tongue managed to cover his chest and face by the time he got back onto the bed.  “Merry Christmas, babe.”

The dog went right for her neck.  She had good taste.  

He’d heard about this crazy breed of yellow lab and poodle from a few of the roadies, then from friends both in the music circles and some of his Philly connections.  After a little research while he’d been trapped in the airport, he’d learned that both dogs were off the charts intelligence wise.  Things had snowballed from there.

 Tessa was alone more than he was comfortable with.  Since she’d come into his life, the built-in security of staff in the house was a thing of the past.  Tessa wasn’t the type to have people under foot. 

Lottie ruled the roost at the Jersey house, and was happy to go into semi-retirement when they’d decided to spend the majority of the year in SoHo.  So, the hunt for a dog for her had two distinct advantages—peace of mind for him, companionship for her.  

Figuring it would be the ugliest thing on the earth, he’d gone on the hunt.  Okay, so his assistant had gone on the hunt—but he’d made sure to go and pick out a puppy from the litter personally.  He’d gotten it from a family on the outskirts of Westchester county.  The woman had been more than a little surprised when he showed up for the dog, but being a relatively short drive from the city, she was used to dealing with celebrities.  

As soon as he’d seen the golden poof tumble over her too large paws onto her face, he’d laughed.  Instead of bounding up again, she’d stretched out on her back for an impromptu nap.  That right there had sold him.  Following it up with huge brown eyes peeking from the surprisingly springy hair, and her innate friendliness, he’d picked her out, collared her, and bought her on the spot.  

From the look on Tessa’s face, it was love at first sight for her too.  The Labradoodle was going to be a horse, but it was worth that look on her face.  

“For me?” Tessa’s eyes widened as she hugged the dog to her.  She gave a delighted laugh and fell back against the two pillows that hadn’t landed on the floor in their own private Christmas festivities.  The dog burrowed under the sheets, curling into Tessa’s side, her little body shuddering and heaving in delighted ecstasy as she scratched her ears.

“Don’t think you’re going to be taking my spot, dog,” Jon warned.

Tessa finally looked away from the adoring eyes of her present and up to his.  “I didn’t think you really liked dogs.”

“More like I don’t like fur with my allergies, and the mess usually.  And of course, I don’t like to share you.” He leaned in, kissing her softly, laughing when the puppy jumped up between them.  “See?”

Tessa gathered the puppy against her chest and leaned into him, one hand keeping the dog close, and the other at his cheek.  Morning rumpled and naked, she was everything that an adult Christmas morning was supposed to be.  Tempted to drop the puppy on the floor and tangle himself inside her, he sighed when her attention returned to the bundle of energy doing her level best to get on Tessa’s lap.

He ruffled the top of the dog’s head.  A large pink tongue swiped over his wrist before her adoring eyes returned to Tessa.  A huge red bow hung low on the dog’s chest.  Jon tapped the box.  “Don’t forget your other present.”  He rolled off the bed, handing Tessa her robe.  “So, what are you going to name her?” He asked as he grabbed the puppy by the scruff and cuddled her into his arms.

“It’s a her?”  Tessa shrugged into her robe.  “God, I can’t get over how adorable she is.” Her lips scrunched into an exaggerated pucker, she laughed like a girl as the dog licked her from chin to nose.  Scratching under her chin, she rescued the dangling black velvet box snapped around the bow.  “I can’t believe you got me a dog.”

An equal opportunity whore for affection, he laughed around the puppy kisses that had been transferred to him.  “Stop,” he said firmly and brown eyes met his solemnly, then returned to panting with her tongue lolling out of her mouth.  “So, how bad is Mary going to kick my ass for giving you a dog on Christmas Eve?”

With a laugh, Tessa tumbled back into bed with her velvet box.  “Oh wow, we need a carrier and food, she needs a leash and tags.  Did she have her first shots? How old is she?”

He put the dog on the hardwood floor, and she promptly jumped up until her huge paws covered each of his thighs.  Oh yeah, what had he been thinking?  Petting the top of her head, he let her sniff around the room.  God, he hoped she didn’t pee on everything.  “She’s just a little over nine weeks old.  I picked her up last night just before the party.  Ava’s been watching her.”

“How are we going to get all the things she’ll need before your parents get here?  God, the boys are going to flip!” She pushed her hands into her hair.  He could see the wheels spinning.  She was in full on planning mode.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to bust her bubble that he’d done most of it.  She did like to control the world with her decisions.  He sat next to her.  “Open the box, Tessa.”

“What?”

He shook his head and took it from her, flipping it open.  

“Holy Hanna!” The flat of her hand slapped over her mouth, then dropped into her lap.  “Jon!”

“Tessa!” he said in mock shock.

She leaned in, the tip of her finger tracing the platinum links that led to a glittering fall of chain and gemstones that peeked out randomly.  Anything from topaz to diamonds were found in the one of a kind necklace he’d found in London.  

“I asked the artist to make sure all our birthstones were in there.  Our family and the Bouchet’s.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck.  “Thank you.”  She sniffed into his neck and held on tighter.  Knowing these were the good kind of girl tears, he let her sniffle a bit before she sat back.  “I’ll wear it today.”  The puppy climbed up between them.  “I’ll use it like a talisman, right Stella?”

“Stella?”

Tessa nodded.  “She looks like a Stella.  And I have a feeling you’ll be yelling out her name a lot.”

He frowned.  “Why?”

She pressed her lips together and pointed over his shoulder.  

He turned around to find his favorite black boots in pieces.  “Goddammit, Stella!”

“See, I told you.” She hugged the two of them together.  “You needed new ones anyway.”

“Shit.”

She looked around the room.  “Nope, I don’t think she did that one.”

He flopped back on the bed.  It was going to be one long ass day.



Followers