Tony slipped into the dark bedroom without daring to turn on the light. Lilah was crabby as hell when awakened in the middle of the night, and waking her up was the last thing he wanted to do.
Well, other than tell her he was going on tour.
That’s why he was slightly inebriated and having trouble disengaging his legs from the pants that held them hostage.
Not long after he hung up from Jon, the kids had come barreling into the office, begging him to read bedtimes stories. Micah Jane had batted her mommy’s blue-green eyes up at him and said, “Please, Daddy?” in the sweetest way. The she turned all toddler Hitler, decreeing that he had to read, because she had said please.
Lucas wasn’t what anybody would necessarily call sweet, but he had his own special brand of endearment. Tonight it had involved head butting Tony’s thigh chanting, “Story!” until he disoriented himself enough to fall in the floor. He sometimes dreaded his son’s teenage years.
Story time was actually Tony’s favorite time of day, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he hated it. His kids had him so tightly wrapped around their pint-sized fingers that he would’ve read them half a dozen books if they asked. He was probably a little more indulgent than he ought to be, but he’d be so close to not even having them...
He had pretty well decided that procreation wasn’t in his cards when Lilah came along. Getting pregnant twice in her forties hadn’t been easy on her, but the stubborn woman had been determined to give him the children he’d always wanted and she thought he should have. Whenever he took a moment to stop and think about it, he acknowledged that she’d made a sacrifice that was unparalleled. It was why, no matter what happened, Tony would always make sure she was well cared for.
That thought process had conjured up ghosts of the early days and, after M.J. and Lucas had toddled off to bed with their mother not far behind, he couldn’t keep from embarking on a maudlin trail of memories. He poured himself one drink after another as he relived the last leg of the fateful - or Fate full – tour that had brought Lilah into his life.
She had been a pitiful thing, but so full of spunk and determination at the same time. He remembered marveling at the different sides of her and wondering who the true Lilah was. The way her smile had sucker punched him in the gut every time she wore it. The way she’d loved him enough to walk away, because he couldn’t – wouldn’t – reciprocate.
Once upon a time, ironically enough, he’d thought he would never get enough of her. Damn if he could figure out what changed. It seemed like he woke up one morning and, out of the blue, their conversations revolved around nothing more than bills and kids. They didn’t talk about their hopes or dreams, they didn’t very often say they loved one another. He sometimes wondered if it was because they no longer did.
Somewhere along the line, they even ceased sharing anything about their individual lives. She stopped telling him about her day and stopped asking about his. They’d become strangers who slept in the same bed.
Enough. Stop reliving shit. Just sit here and drink until you come up with a way to tell her you’re leaving.
And drink he did.
Sadly though, Jack Daniels didn’t prove to be the brilliant philosopher he’d been in the past, and Tony still didn’t have the magic words to get Lilah’s blessing for this tour stint. You’d think that, as estranged as they’d become, she’d be happy to see him go, but his gut told him different. Lilah wasn’t going to pack his bag and cheerily wave him away at the door. She was going to clamp down her emotions, shut him out and leave him to do whatever the fuck he wanted as long as he didn’t bother her.
So he drank some more.
That’s how he found himself falling out of his clothes and into bed at one o’clock in the morning, still with no idea of what to say.
But, like Miss Scarlett said, tomorrow is another day.
“Mmnh,” Lilah grumbled and angled onto her side.
While he might be a little inebriated, he wasn’t brain dead and froze like a deer in headlights, hoping that she would fall peacefully back to sleep and not rip him a new ass for waking her. He must have held his breath for a solid ten seconds with no motion from the other side of the mattress before he felt free to take oxygen again.
He’d no more exhaled his pent up breath when she scooted closer, her sleep toasty skin immediately warming him. “Jersey?”
God, how long had it been since she called him that? He closed his eyes and tried to recall, but couldn’t come up with a specific date. He’d bet it was three years at least.
She snuggled closer, draping an arm over his bare waist and burrowing her chin into his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“S’ok.” He wasn’t exactly sure what she was apologizing for, but didn’t want to get into another argument. In fact, in his inebriated state,the two of them tangled together felt so bizarrely right that he pretended their relationship hadn’t gone to hell in a hand basket and curled his arm around her shoulders.
“No, it’s not,” she murmured softly. “All I can tell ya is that it was a rough day. Lucas decided that poop looked like mud, and since he had so much fun playing in the mud by the pond, he decided to give the poop a whirl.”
Deep laughter came bubbling out before he could censor it. The mental image of his son, covered in shit and making mud pies with said shit, was too funny not to laugh. That boy was going to give them a run for their money all the way to adulthood. Tony would bet on it.
“It’s not funny,” she complained with a light poke to his ribs. Then she sighed and settled back into his side. “Well, it might be a little funny. Now that it’s over. At the time it wasn’t anything but freakin’ disgustin’ and then Andrew called right after.”
His laughter subsided. This one he wasn’t touching.
“Please understand that I’m just as frustrated as you are,” Lilah beseeched. “But I don’t know what to do about it. He’s my first baby. I just can’t stand the thought of him bein’ a starvin’ musician and havin’ no place to stay.”
There was so much he wanted to say. Drew could come live with them. Drew could stop playing grownup and be a grownup. Drew could survive on his own if he was forced to.
Tony gave himself a gold star for voicing none of those things.
“After I was a bitch to you, I went to hide in the bathroom for just a minute. You know, to try and compose myself. I was gettin’ ready to splash a little water on my face and caught sight of that really pretty towel set we have in there. The blue and green one I like so much?”
Yeah, he knew. The one that he’d always thought matched her eyes.
“Funny how havin’ that little bit of prettiness in the bathroom, of all places, reminded me of how blessed I am. Who am I to be a bitch over the little things, when I have so many positives in my life? I’m blessed to have a husband who works hard to provide for his family. We are blessed with two beautiful, healthy children. We’re all blessed to have this gorgeous home to live it. It’s endless, really.”
He’d been right there with her until she brought up the house. Now he was a little nauseous.
“Anyway,” she went on, her hand moving just enough to rake lazy fingers through the hair on his stomach. “I just didn’t want you goin’ to sleep still hatin’ me, so I thought I’d apologize.”
How did he tell her that he could never hate her, but that he wanted to kill her once in a while? Okay, maybe not kill, but strangle. Well, hell. He needed to keep his words to a minimum.
“I don’t hate you, and I’m sorry for being an asshole.”
“Mission accomplished then. Thank you.” Yet she didn’t move, except for that exploring hand. It crept from his stomach up toward his chest. “Even after all this time, I still love your chest, Jersey.”
This time around he wasn’t so surprised at old nickname, and it hit a sentimental spot in his heart at the same time her fingernail scraped the edge of his nipple. The nipple won his full attention. Well, actually, his dick thought it won and jumped up to demand center stage.
They hadn’t had sex in a couple of months. Multiplying that by five or more would give him last time she initiated anything.
Was she initiating something?
“You hittin’ on me?”
Her soft, uncertain voice found him in the darkness. “Would it be okay if I was?”
The surge of testosterone that rushed through Tony was dizzying and, with a feral growl, he flipped her onto her back. One more sex-ninja move had him out of his underwear and propped on stiffened arms, looming over her.
“Yeah.” Pushing his thigh between hers, Tony arched into her softness, offering proof of his assurance. “It would be okay.”
Not six hours ago, he’d been thinking it no surprise that he hadn’t been craving sex lately. Now he couldn’t think of anything else. Yes, her curves might be a little more curved than they used to be, but when he pushed her nightgown up and over her head, he found her skin to be as soft as ever. Her warmth heated Tony as he stroked over the smooth velvet of her breasts, and dipped low to capture one tip in his teeth.
“Oh, God,” she murmured through a surprised gasp. “That feels so good.”
He agreed wholeheartedly. What felt even better was the damp spot in the panties he unceremoniously shunted down her legs. He had no idea why, but knowing she was horny made him even hornier.
“Oh, honey.” The way she writhed breathlessly under his touch was pleasantly reminiscent of days past, or maybe the alcohol still had him strolling Memory Lane. It didn’t matter. Right now, the woman clinging to his naked body wasn’t Mrs. Lilah Bongiovi, mother of two rowdy toddlers. No, in the dark it was easy to pretend this was his Bluegrass visiting in a dream. “Your hairy body is ticklin’ me in all the right places.”
The southern accent that refused to give itself up to a more northern dialect hit him in all the right places. He pushed a finger inside her, quickly following it with another when he found her primed and ready. Reaching as high as he could, Tony hooked a finger forward and was rewarded with a barely stifled scream.
“Good God a’mighty,” she gasped. “You’re gonna kill me before the main event.”
“I’m not into necrophilia, so main event it is.”
Sliding his fingers free of her hot confines, he fisted himself and dredged through the slickness simply because it felt good. He dawdled a little longer than he normally would have, enjoying both the feeling and her appreciative noises, but his need for release quickly won out. Tony pushed inside with a low grunt and stilled, reacquainting himself with the landscape.
“Don’t just sit there,” she ordered in a strangled voice. “Move already.”
She wanted him to move, so he moved. Hard.
“I’m kinda surprised I liked that, but I did. Do it again.”
So he did. Over and over he pushed into her with as much force as he could muster, until the crown of her skull was bumping against the headboard. Then he simply curled his forearms around her calves and reeled her in, using the momentum of both their bodies to intensify the impact.
Yeah, that’s what he wanted to hear.
Her hips stuttered before bucking an extra time and her fingernails dug into his shoulders. It would only be seconds before she went over the edge, and he wasn't asshole enough to beat her to the punch.
“Come already, goddammit,” he snarled. If she didn’t, she was going to be too late. His stamina was nonexistent after a two month dry spell.
She wasn’t screaming and climbing the walls with ecstasy, but he knew his wife well enough to be assured that she’d reached her intended destination. With another couple of jarring strokes, he was right there with her, and hell if it didn’t feel like the orgasm drained not only his dick, but every ounce of the tension he’d been harboring. His bones went limp as noodles, leaving him little choice but to collapse on top of Lilah.
“Little late to be askin’, but did you happen to be wearin’ protection?”
Tony had been so excited to get his rocks off before she changed her mind that it hadn’t even entered his whiskey soaked brain. “No.”
Her little sigh renewed the tension he’d just released. “Doesn’t matter, I guess. Surely God isn’t cruel enough to let forty-five year old woman get pregnant.”
They’d talked about him getting a vasectomy at one point, but with the way their sex life had dwindled, Tony hadn’t really seen a point to putting himself through the procedure. Now he regretted that decision just a little bit. He would regret it a whole lot if his swimmers decided they were going to storm the castle walls and make a baby, because they sure as hell didn’t need another kid.
He slid off her with a huff, landing on his back and peering up at the darkened ceiling. “It’ll be fine. I’ve gone bareback before without getting you pregnant.”
“Only once. The other three times...” she let the sentence trail off, rolling to cuddle at his side. It was a surprising move. He’d expected her to create some distance so she could deliver a lecture on his lack of preparation. Instead he got, “I think maybe we oughta make more time for us.”
Did he black out and miss a pivotal moment? He must have since her statement was completely out of left field.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, come on, Tony. Our marriage… Well, maybe it’s just me, but it feels like we’re strugglin’, and we have been for a long time.”
He had a choice to make here. Option A was to play dumb, like he thought everything was peachy keen. It would absolve him of accountability for allowing their marriage to crumble into its current state. Option B was to concede to her regrettably accurate observation and spend the rest of the night talking about their relationship, when he’d really rather go to sleep. It wouldn’t solve anything, but he could at least temporarily forget their problems.
Haven’t you been dishonest enough with her? You may not have ever outright lied to her, but you sure as fuck haven’t adhered to the ‘no bullshit’ rule.
“It’s not just you,” he acknowledged quietly.
“I kinda wished it was.” The weariness in her voice was distressing to him, but her next words were worse. “Do you still love me?”
Did he? Could he even look far enough beyond the circumstances that had turned him into a bitter stress ball to make that determination?
The ever-intuitive Lilah relieved him of the effort by offering her own answer to that question. “I still love the man I married, but sometimes I don’t know if that’s who you are anymore.”
Being faced with the idea that she may not love him put a different spin on the situation – a spin that he had avoided considering up until now. A spin that was unexpectedly hurtful.
“Which brings me back to my original statement about makin’ more time for us.”
“How so?” he inquired absently, still a little dumbfounded by the fact that she may not love him. Tony wondered if he was more like his quasi-egomaniacal brothers than he’d given himself credit for, because that sure as hell had never crossed his mind. Well, not this concretely, anyway.
She shrugged against him. “If we spent more time together, I could figure out if you’re still that guy. If you’re not, then it will give me a chance to get to know who you became so I can decide whether or not I want to live with him.”
“That’s bullshit. I’m not auditioning for the part of your husband to see if you’re gonna let me stay.” It could be the hurt amplifying, but that pissed him off. She wasn’t the only one who didn’t know whether or not they wanted to stay. Maybe she had to prove herself to him before he would agree to stay.
“Calm down,” she requested, completely unaffected by his slight show of temper. The Shield of Apathy was firmly in place. As she always did, Lilah had emotionally severed herself from anything with the potential to hurt her. If this whole scenario had any negative impact on her at all, lack of emotion would be his only clue. Everything else she would keep hidden from sight until she could deal with it – alone.
What’s it come to that she’s protecting herself from you?
“Tony, this is obviously a two way street. I’m not naïve enough to believe I haven’t changed, too, and not necessarily for the better. But, if for no other reason than because I try hard to be a good mother to our children, you owe me that same ‘audition’.”
There was only a heartbeat in which he was silent before assenting, “Alright.”
She was obviously having trouble believing he’d done an about face so readily, but Tony had no problem admitting she was right about them becoming different people or that he owed her an audition because of the kids. Their kids didn’t deserve a broken home because he was too lazy to try and prevent it.
“Yeah, alright. I’ll… try and make myself more available in the evenings, after the kids have gone to bed.”
Evidently his concession wasn’t what she’d been looking for, because she didn’t pounce on it with gratitude. Instead she stayed mute for so long that he half-suspected that she’d fallen asleep.
“I appreciate that, thank you,” she ultimately granted, sounding very much awake. “But I was thinkin’ of somethin’ a little more drastic.”
It’s never enough.
“Well…” He could feel her physically withdrawing from him and into herself when she scooted toward her side of the bed, still facing him. “You remember the two thousand dollars for the garbage disposal?”
“Yeahhhh….?” Like he was gonna forget a gold plated disposal.
“I didn’t spend it on a disposal. I… booked us a vacation.”
That did not compute. He recognized those words, but they didn’t make sense in the given context.
She sighed deeply, drawing her knees toward her chest and curling herself in a modified fetal position. “Tomorrow – today – is your fiftieth birthday.”
He was painfully aware of that. Despite his best efforts to ignore the fact, his entire family had insisted that it was a milestone to be celebrated and were planning to descend upon his house tomorrow – today – in the afternoon. Why they were doing it in the middle of the day, he had no idea, but nobody worked a nine-to-five job in his family, so he hadn’t questioned the time Lilah had given him.
“The trip is your present from me. Jon and Dorothea are giving you a week of babysitting so that we can go.”
Shit. She was serious. “Go where?”
“Uh. Las Vegas.”
Las Vegas, the land of quickie marriages and just as quickie divorces. Was that the ulterior motive behind her chosen destination or did it simply rank as a coincidence?
“Originally because I heard about a motorcycle rally there, but it was last week. Then I decided that maybe it would just be fun.”
It could be if he were going with one of his buddies, or even his brothers. But Lilah? The jury was going to stay out on that one for a while.
“When did you think we’d go?”
“After your party tomorrow. We’re on the last flight out of Newark.”
Vegas. For a week. Without the kids. To get to know his new/old wife.
What the hell? Titty bars were going probably be out of the question since he was going with his wife, but drinking and gambling held a charm that wasn’t dulled by his marital status. He could ask Jon for an advance on that mortgage money and maybe hit it big at the craps table. It would be nice to pay off his own house and tell his brother what he could do with his job offer.
“Okay. That sounds good.” He stretched across the empty space between them to press a light kiss to her cheek. “Thank you.”