Alex moved over to a single armchair detached from all others in the room and sat on the edge stiffly. Jon picked up a low leather ottoman from the other side of the room and placed it before her. He sat down, their knees touching and grasped her left hand in both of his.
"I'm going to tell you some things that I've never told you or anyone else. And some of these things are really hard for me to say...hell they're hard enough for me to hear for that matter, or even think about."
Alex sat quietly before him but would not meet his eyes.
Jon continued, "But there are things that need to be said and believe me when I tell you I'm baring my soul here." Now Jon turned away...he did not want her to see the emotion in his eyes "So if you're gonna walk away afterwards... then please don't look back because I just don't think I could take it."
"But first" he said "I need to know just one thing from you. Can you answer just one question for me, honestly?"
Alex glanced at Jon and could plainly see the anguish that distorted his beautiful face. "I'll try." She said almost inaudibly.
Jon took one hand and titled her chin so that she was looking directly at him, her eyes would tell him all he needed to know "Do you love him Ali? Really, really love him? Is he the last person you're thinking of when you fall asleep, and the first person you're thinking of when you wake? When you're apart it feels like you're missing part of yourself, and when you're together, the happiness is indescribable?"
"He's a good man." She replied evasively.
"That's not what I asked Alex." Jon said sternly.
"Yes! I love Rick."
It was like a knife had been plunged into Jon's heart but he persisted "Yes but do you love him like that...like I described... because I love a lot of people Ali, but we both know there is a difference."
"I'm trying to," She whispered looking down at her hands as she twisted Ricks ring that felt heavy on her finger, "But I'm damaged goods."
Jon reached forward and placed the palm of his hand on her face gently caressing her cheek. When he spoke it was a gentle coo. "Oh baby... there is nothing, you hear me nothing about you that is damaged."
A single tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away frustrated "Yes there is Jon... you saw to that a very long time ago.....the first time I looked into your eyes, in that second you ruined me for anyone else, irrespective of anything that came after."
It took all the strength he had and every ounce of acting ability for Jon no to look triumphant in that moment. He raised the hand he still held to his lips and kissed her palm gently and held it to his cheek.
"See, so you do know how I feel, how I have always felt, about you Alex because it was the same for me."
She interrupted "It doesn't change anything though."
He looked at her sharply "Please let me finish" Alex sat quietly again "For whatever reason we were born ten years apart and half a world away from each other, but from the first moment I touched you I knew we were meant to be together."
"You know, after you made me leave you four years ago, I've had a lot of time to think and I've tried - God Alex I've tried so hard - to put myself in your shoes and I don't blame you for anything you did. Hell I didn't give you very many choices, did I?
"Not that I could see...." This earned her another stern glance.
"But now I'm asking you to put yourself in my shoes for a moment because if nothing else I've got to know that you understand why I did the things I did. Why they seemed like the right things to do at the time." He paused momentarily waiting for a protestation that didn't come. Surely that was a good sign. "Hell Alex, in so many ways I was trying to protect you. You remember when we first met?"
A wistful smile touched her lips "How could I forget?"
"You know for a middle class boy from jersey you were the most beautiful, the most exotic woman I could ever have dreamed of..."
"That's silly" She blushed profusely.
His eyed twinkled as he caught her gaze "Don't call my feelings silly. It's how I felt...how I feel...I still haven't found anyone that compares to you."
"My mind was racing a hundred miles an hour...all the things I wanted to do for you, to show you.... But God... then I found out you were just sixteen. Part of me wanted to be selfish Alex, part of me wanted to be really selfish and just not let that even matter. It wouldn't have been the first time I'd taken something I wanted, consequences be damned."
He stroked his knuckles along the delicate line of her jaw. "But you were so young, so very precious...how could I tear you away from everything that you knew. I mean...Australia is so far away...if I had brought you back here or on tour or where ever..."Jon struggled to find the words to adequately convey his thoughts, "I mean, I knew my own mind, even then I knew how I felt but I didn't know if you felt the same way, not really. How could I take you so far from home, away from everything that was familiar, only to find you had a change of heart and that everyone that loved you – everyone except me - was hundreds of miles away."
"I didn't want to just be some rock star crush. So I left but I did send letters Alex. God I used to sit in my hotel room in whatever godforsaken city we were in and pour my heart and soul into those letters. I know now you never got them, but at the time I was devastated. When I hadn't heard from you I presumed my Rock Star crush theory was correct and decided it was time to move on. But I didn't forget you... I never forgot you."
"What happened to the letters Jon?...You mentioned them at the resort too" Alex asked quietly...it had been a mystery to her for far too long now.
"Doc destroyed them. He didn't want any of us being involved with anyone. Apparently that fucked with our marketability, harder to market a heartthrob with a girlfriend. When I got home after the Jersey tour I confronted him about it and he confessed what he had done....needless to say the dumb fuck no longer works for us." He said, clearly still agitated by the topic.
"Hmm... I had wondered why he wasn't on this last tour." So she had followed the tour...good sign.
"I tried so hard to shield you from all the bullshit back then...it wasn't anything you needed to know. There was no need to get you involved in my problems besides you made it pretty clear at your mom's that you didn't want me around."
"See Jon here is the problem...on one hand you are begging me to be a part of your life but on the other you are shielding me from it."
"Well yes I HAVE been shielding you from it because I wanted to protect you. I didn't want to burden you with all the drama in my life. I didn't want to tell you all these things but what choice are you giving me now. I can't fight Rick for you. You are absolutely right about one thing... he doesn't have all the issues that I have. But hell Alex if I didn't tell you everything now while I have the chance, I'd always wonder if I could have said something to make you see my point of view, and why I did some of the things I did"
"I understand why you left that first time Jon...I always have. What I have never understood – and we have had this conversation before - is why, considering you profess that I am the love of your life, why did you marry her."
"I have explained this to you Ali," he said as he leaned back and looked away, thinking of how best to explain it now so that she truly understood, "You know now what it is to tour Alex. And you know that one was particularly bad for me. I was.... desperate, for lack of a better word, for something to hold onto, something to give me some stability. Shit my head wasn't screwed on right. My voice was failing, it was a constant source of distress, it had become so bad that I was getting steroid injections." He laughed a bitter little laugh "But the machine had to keep going. There was no insurance if I couldn't work and the pace was brutal."
Alex wondered if he was referring to himself as the machine or the tour as a whole.
Jon continued "We were all getting on each other's nerves and that just got worse over time. I was exhausted, beyond exhausted. I know this sounds like a copout but if there is such a thing as temporary insanity I had it. Dorothea has always been..." he paused as he searched for the right word to use "...she's always been..." another pause, briefer this time "...comfortable. I had all these unknowns being thrown at me on a daily basis, not the least of which was if my band would make it through til the end of the tour. We had all the success we could hope for and I should have been on top of the world but I felt like I was on the bottom."
"I'm sure you've heard the saying 'It's lonely at the top'. Well that was me. And well Dot and I...I guess we have known each other for so long, I was just reaching for something familiar. I know I've said this to you before.... that you've heard the story, but it was completely spur of the moment. And looking back I think maybe I was trying to piss some people off too, Doc for sure, maybe even the label, all the people who were trying to tell me how to run my own fucking life. That was the one thing I could do that they had no fucking control over. But believe me when I tell you... almost the instant that it was over I realized I had made a mistake, but then I felt trapped. Doc and the label was trying to figure out the right way to spin it, and fuck if I admitted I had made a mistake then I just would have heard a bunch of I told you so's. And to be honest, I couldn't hurt her either; she was innocent in all of it. I mean, she thought I was crazy but she just went along with it."
"Because she loves you Jon" Alex said quietly as he paused.
"Well of course she does, and I love her too" now it was Alex's turn to feel the sharp pang of the knife "but not the way I love you Alex. There is a big difference. I love her more like a like a sister or a best friend. Kind of how you love Rick."
"But she doesn't Jon...she does love you that way...the way you described."
"No Ali, she doesn't. I mean hell, you remember when we were together in Queensland... she basically told me to fuck whoever I wanted to. If she loved me that way would she have said that?"
"Well how do you explain Stephanie?"
"Alex, babies are made every day and not necessarily between two people who even love each other, much less are married."
"Why would you bring a child into a loveless marriage?"
"Please don't bring my child into this." His words stung her and he saw the hurt in her eyes. He tried to explain. "I didn't say I don't love Dot, I do. It's just not like what I have with you. And fuck... I mean...it's not like we had this timed or anything. Shit happens!"
"Maybe from your perspective... but I'm sure she sees things differently."
"Why do you think you have this big insight into what she thinks and feels?"
"Regardless this is getting us nowhere..." Alex interrupted.
"Trust me, she's gotten what she wants. Look at how she lives"
"I saw the way she looked at you Jon..still looks at you...believe me she doesn't see you as a brother or best friend. Maybe if she did it would make it easier for me to do what you asking of me. Maybe if I didn't see her in the back of my mind every time we are together"
"Trust me on this, I know her better than you do. You're reading too much into her. She's not all that complicated. She knows how my life is and she doesn't object. She lives in a nice place and will never have to work a day in her life...and now she's got a baby to concentrate on. So if it's really just Dorothea that is standing between you and I, well we just have to figure out a way to push her aside"
"And that will excuse you to fuck around behind her back" Alex spat.
Jon was taken aback by her words...he had thought she was starting to come around. "Alex... I'm hurt"
"Why it's true isn't it?"
"Not for a long time truth be known...about four years now." It was Alex's turn to be taken aback. "Listen you know better than anyone that I'm no saint but I have never been this honest with another woman in my entire life... including Dorothea."
"So, why me? Why now?" She couldn't help but ask the burning question.
"I have never felt the need to explain myself to any woman, except you. You make me want to be worth your love, worth your trust. I know I'm not perfect Alex...far from it.... but you make me want to be a better man for you." He paused and watched the internal struggle as she chose her words.
"I think your fighting a losing battle Jon. You could never be the man I need."
Her words were unexpected, and though she has spoken them quietly, calmly...to him they contained more venom than the deadliest snake.
"So what I've said doesn't even make a difference to you, does it?" She could see that he barely held onto his temper now and waited for the explosion.
"Didn't I say from the start that it couldn't...as long as you have a wife nothing can make a difference."
"You know what Alex? I don't think you don't even know what kind of fucking man you need." He said out of spite. It was the temper she had heard about. He stood abruptly sending the ottoman skittering across the floor behind him.
"I know I don't need YOU" She jumped to her feet, just inches from him, her voice raised now.
"Really baby? You don't need me?" He pulled her aggressively into his arms and held her there as he kissed her forcefully, but before she could even respond he was pushing her away." She raised a hand to her tender bruised lips.
"I pity Rick. You only think you don't need me, but just wait Alex, just wait til you're trapped in a loveless marriage and he doesn't satisfy you the way that I do. I know he can't, so don't even fucking try to lie to me."
"Oh so last week you didn't hear me screaming his name in the early hours of the morning...I'm so glad....I wouldn't want to give you a complex. You see, Rick... well he even puts Richie to shame." It wasn't too far from the truth, he had all the equipment...but Jon was right...he didn't have the same effect on her...no one ever would. But there was no way in hell she was letting him know that.
"You fucking bitch don't even try that shit with me," The steely contempt of his tone caused a shiver in her, "You think I'm jealous of him? I think perhaps you've forgotten who you're talking to."
"Ooh I know very well who I'm talking to and I know you are insanely jealous! There's no doubt in my mind!" Her eyes narrowed and her jaw clenched.
"Honey you wanna know what I know..." he paused for effect, "I know he doesn't put a smile on your face like I can. I'm not jealous of him... I fucking feel sorry for him Alex." A sadistic smile crossed his lips. "Don't you think maybe you should cut him loose and let him find a wife who will really love him?"
"Oh baby, don't feel sorry for him. He gets the prize and unlike your wife, he has a partner who is faithful" She smiled sweetly.
He stood there his whole body rigid with anger. He ground out between clenched teeth "For the last time, leave...my...FUCKING....WIFE...out of this."
"Oh and you think you're a PRIZE now princess?"
"You know I am!" she responded smugly.
"What happened to the sweet little Aussie girl I remember? You've changed Alex."
"Yes Jon. You changed me. On that beach in Queensland you changed me forever." She retorted.
"Oh no don't you blame this shit on me. You go take a long look in the mirror. You know what I think?... I think you're right, I'm fucking better off without you. I can't fucking believe waited for you in that fucking hotel in Sydney hoping you would change your mind. What kind of idiot?!..." He stood shaking his head in disbelief...this wasn't how it was supposed to go down.
"I told you at my parents I had what I wanted from you," she said coldly, no trace of emotion was evident to him despite the torrent that raged within her.
He needed to hit something and he had never hit a lady in his life. The next best thing was the wood panel wall behind him. He turned and slammed his fist into it so hard that he heard his knuckles crunch, and wondered if they were broken. But he could feel no pain...the anger raging through him numbed all other sensations.
He turned to her and glared "Yeah well you know what babe?"
"What rock star?" She knew, to him, it was the worst kind of insult.
"If I were a fucking whore like you, I'd prove to you that I could have you right now" Fuck how did that come out of my mouth, "hell I could have fucked you in the pantry the other day." Smooth Jonny...
A loud crack rang throughout the room as her open palm connected with his cheek in the most brutal way. Jon rubbed his cheek in disbelief as he glowered at her, though he knew he deserved it...and far worse.
Alex was shaking furiously "GET OUT" were the only words she could manage through clenched teeth.
"Gladly bitch!" he said already at the door. He swung it open with a ferocity that even alarmed him and slammed it shut behind him.
He paused on the other side of the door. There was no way he could re-enter the party like this. He took several deep cleansing breaths and that's when he heard it, choking, heart-wrenching sobs coming from the other side of the door.
"Fuck" he cursed. "Does it ever end?" Deep pangs of regret gnawed at him until he felt they would consume him.
Jon had his hand on the door knob and was turning it when he felt a light tap on the shoulder.
"There you are. I've been looking for you. Is everything ok?" Dot asked her husband.
"Fine," he snapped, "get the baby! We're leaving!"
"But Jon," Dot looked at her husband confused, with one eyebrow raised, "It's not even midnight?" Her tone was questioning.
"Now Dorothea" He snapped sharply.
Dot knew better than to argue with her husband when he was in one of his moods. Without another word she turned around and stalked away.
Jon stood for a moment more gathering his emotions and thoughts, rubbing his closed eyes as if to erase the pained expression on her face that keep replaying in his mind. How could I be such an ass? How could this ever have been her fault?
From her place of concealment just outside the French doors, Alex heard the door open just as she had minutes before causing her to flee. The door remained open a crack and she could hear movement within the room but she was not ready to face anyone yet. As soon as the visitor was gone she would escape back through the library to the anonymity and safety of the guest house. And then she heard his voice.
"Fuck, FUCK! What have I done?"