You are not going to have a stroke. You are not going to have a stroke.
Tony wondered how many times he had to chant that refrain before he could guarantee it wasn’t going to happen. Six, seven hundred?
On about the tenth time through, the odds swung in favor of the stroke when his phone rang with yet another call from Jon. His brother had spent the better part of a month trying to convince him to come out of “retirement” and sign on for the next tour. The tour itself probably wouldn’t start for another four months, but, with the new album coming out in a couple of weeks, the pressure was on.
“I said no,” was Tony’s greeting. Forget the mundane pleasantries. Hello was a waste of breath when he knew the motive behind this call. “What part of retired do you not understand?”
“The part where I’m left with subpar video staff who don’t know shit while I continue to muddle on through my career, putting on a happy fucking face like everything is the same as it’s always been.”
Tony closed his eyes, inhaled and held the breath for a count of seven before releasing it in a gusty sigh. He felt sorry for his brother. He did. The last tour had gone completely to hell in the middle and, while the video was only a tiny piece of the problem, it was one more straw to help break the camel’s back. He found it completely understandable that Jon wasn’t looking forward to repeating the experience, but Jesus.
“Look,” he deliberately put the latest Lilah scene aside in an effort to be a decent brother. “I get it. I do, but the last time I went on tour-“
“The last time you went on tour, you got a wife.”
“Not helping your case today, man.”
“Fuck,” Jon groaned. “What now?”
Jon was the one who got bombarded with the menial, trivial married life shit that irritated Tony on any given day. Therefore, he knew about Lilah’s apathy over her appearance, the fact that Tony felt like she was always busting his balls over something, and that sometimes it was easier to hide out at Jon’s house than spend the evening with her.
The only thing he didn’t know about was the financial strain. Nobody knew that.
Still, it hadn’t been a good move to choose Jon as a marital sounding board, because it resulted in him hearing only the negative about Lilah. It was why, six years later, Jon didn’t like her much more than he had when she blindsided him in the Dublin Q&A session. Tony felt bad about that, but it didn’t stop him from dumping the latest aggravation on his brother.
“She hates being dependent on me.”
A bored groan resonated through the phone line. “There’s a fuckin’ newsflash for ya. Tell her to get a job and stop bitchin’.”
“I did that, believe it or not.”
“And it blew it up in my face,” he admitted wearily.
“Women have to be so goddamn complicated. Yanno, that’s a really good reason for you to go on tour. You could use the break. Absence makes the heart grow fonder all that shit.”
Tony laughed out loud, genuinely amused for the first time in far too long. “You’re getting desperate, big brother, if you’re reduced to touting this tour as a marital aid.”
“Is it working?”
There was a moment of uncharacteristic silence in which Tony suspected the call may have dropped.
“Yeah,” his brother muttered. “Listen, Tony. I’ve asked you like a dozen times to come on tour with me, but I don’t know that I’ve really conveyed it as anything other than a convenience to me.”
“You mean there’s something besides your convenience involved here?”
“Shut up and listen, asshole,” was Jon’s bland response. “Yes, it’s convenient to have you there because you’ve always been there. That’s why it sucks when you’re not. You cannot believe the difference between you and the other video guy. With you, I know everything is going to be the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t have to think about it, I don’t have to wonder what’s going to go wrong. I just have to sing and shake my ass. Your presence gives me a peace of mind that I don’t have otherwise.”
“Damn, Jon. Have you been watching Oprah reruns again? Because that definitely sounds like an Oprah moment.”
“No, you stupid shit. I’m being sincere here. I need you on this goddamn tour, because you’re the only one besides me who will work his ass off to bring a flawless show every night. It’s just a paycheck to everybody else.”
Great. Here was the guilt trip that made declining this job “offer” equivalent to denying his brother a kidney. Yes, he loved Jon and could probably do the job in his sleep, but he hated living out of a suitcase for weeks on end.
Before he could reiterate that particular hatred, the door to the office swung abruptly inward. He swiveled toward it, but Lilah wasn’t looking at him. She merely tossed a few envelopes on the desk and went back the way she came, closing the door quietly behind her.
At least she didn’t slam it this time.
He counted his blessings as his gaze lit on the envelopes, which all bore logos that he recognized – power bill, water bill, satellite TV bill, and the ever-dreaded insurance bill. With five cars and two motorcycles, the six month premium was almost as outrageous as the goddamn house payment.
“You gonna say something or what?” Jon summoned peevishly, unhappy at being ignored for too long. “Because as much as I want you to go, I’m not gonna demean myself enough to beg. I’m open to bribery, but I’m not beggin’.”
Jon had just unknowingly hit upon Tony’s biggest weak spot at the moment. Tony would never outright ask his brother for money. Ever. He – or the rest of the family – didn’t have any entitlement to what Jon had worked hard for and the Bongiovis very much believed in making it on their own merit. Yet another reason he didn’t understand Drew’s continued dependence on Lilah for living expenses, but that was another story.
This one, however…
“How much is it worth to you?” Tony asked softly, not quite believing what he was about to do.
“Name it,” was the immediate, unwavering response. “Whatever you want, it’s yours. Car, European vacation, college funds, it doesn’t matter.”
“Anything?” Tony was skeptical that his brother was willing to go quite this far, but the worst he could say was no.
Again, there was no hesitation. “Anything. The sky’s the limit if you’ll come on this tour.”
Be careful of what you offer big brother. For once, I’m willing to take you up on it.
“Alright. Pay off my mortgage and I’m in.”
This time Jon hesitated before asking, “How much is it?”
Five hundred and forty thousand dollars.
Five hundred and forty thousand dollars.
“Little over half a million.”
Now his brother hesitated a lot.
In the past, Tony’s tour salary had been roughly fifteen percent of that figure, with some kind of perk thrown in after it was all over. Asking for something of this magnitude was completely over the top, and he knew it. He was a little sick over it, in fact, but perceived it as a win-win situation. Jon would either agree to alleviate a huge financial burden or he would stop aggravating Tony about the tour.
Tony didn’t much care which at this point. He just wanted to know, so he could move on.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m thinkin’. You really go for a guy’s balls, don’t ya?”
“Hey, man. You asked what I want and that’s it. It’s cool if you wanna take some time to think about it.”
“I don’t need to think about it,” he was informed with an air of determined resignation. “I’ll do it.”
Tony thought he may be hallucinating. Did he just negotiate a half-million dollar deal with his business savvy brother? “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, but I have my own terms to add.”
Ah. This was more like it. Capitalist Jon was alive and well, working the best possible angle of a deal.
“The half mill buys me the house outright so I can use it a real estate investment and take the tax write-off. You and your family can live there as long as you want. Rent free, naturally.”
Tony’s stomach tied into a ferocious knot. Lilah would shit – twice – if she found out that their house wasn’t theirs anymore.
“I cannot just sign my house over to you. Do you know what kind of hell Lilah would give me? Besides, what about the two hundred grand I’ve already got sunk into it? I’m just supposed to eat that?”
“Fine,” his brother relented. “I’ll give you full market value, but you’ll have to figure out a way to deal with your wife. The house goes in my name.”
Market value. That would pay off both mortgages and give them a nice, healthy nest egg. Damn if that wouldn’t feel like the world had been lifted from Tony’s shoulders.
“You’re not gonna get a better offer,” Jon warned. “So don’t hold out for one.”
Lilah would kill him.
That’s if she finds out.
He couldn’t sell their house and not tell her.
You haven’t told her that you’re just about broke. What’s the difference?
That was different. That had been a matter of pride. He’d assured her time and time that he could provide for this family. To admit he couldn’t do that was akin to handing over his balls and his motorcycle – everything that made him a man.
You don’t have to tell her.
She would have to sign the legal paperwork, since they co-owned the house.
She told you from the beginning that real estate transactions were beyond her area of expertise and she liked it that way. Just tell her you’re refinancing. You are. Kind of.
What if something happened to him? She would find out that he couldn’t leave her their home.
Okay, maybe that’s a dealbreaker.
“What if something happens to me?” Tony blurted out. “Or you? What will Lilah and the kids do?”
“If you die, I’ll sign the house over to her.”
“That’s it? No strings attached?”
“Okay, now what if you die?”
“If something happens to me, I’ll leave it to you and Lilah in my will. Or, God forbid, if Dorothea gets smart and tries to leave me, your house will be exempt from my holdings.”
That all made sense. Besides, Dottie liked Lilah. She would never deny her a place to live.
“Are you going to let Dorothea in on our little arrangement?”
“I dunno,” Jon said. “I hadn’t thought about it. Probably.”
That was going to be a major problem for Tony. There was no way in hell his sister-in-law would keep quiet about the arrangement. She’d probably call the house within five minutes of finding out, in fact.
“How do you feel about keeping this just between us?” he broached. “I’m kinda leavin’ Lilah outta the loop on it. She doesn’t need to worry about a bunch of legalese that doesn’t make any difference in the end, and it would be easier if I didn’t have to worry about somebody else mentioning it.”
His brother faltered before giving a put upon sigh. “You realize you’re a monumental pain in my ass, don’t you?”
“Hey. You’re the one who wants me on the damn tour.”
“I’m startin’ to forget why,” was Jon’s sarcasm laced response. “Fine. This is gonna come back to bite you in the ass, but I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
Jesus Christ. This was actually going to be doable. He was going to be out from under those crippling mortgages and could actually fill up his truck without thinking about how much it cost.
“And,” his brother rudely interrupted the first second of inner peace he’d experienced in eons. “I assume it goes without saying that, unless you save my ass from a burning building, there will be no bonus after the tour.”
That was fine by Tony. This deal was better than a fleet of friggin’ Camaros. Maybe even better than a fleet of Harleys.
That wasn’t good enough for Jon. He wanted it spelled out in blood. “Okay what?”
With one final deep breath, Tony took the plunge that had the power to make or break his marriage. “Okay, I’m in.”
The laughter startled him. It wasn’t just a chuckle from Jon, but a full belly laugh with a little snort thrown in for good measure. His brother hardly ever laughed like that.
“What the hell are you laughing about?”
“Ah, man,” Jon chortled. “Don’t you see the fuckin’ irony here?”
The belly laughs had subsided to quiet giggles, but he would bet that Jon was wiping tears from his eyes.
“Tony, Tony, Tony… Do you realize that you just sold your house to go on the ‘This House is Not for Sale’ tour? Fuckin’ priceless!”
For some reason, Tony didn’t find it all that humorous.