Thursday, February 9, 2017

6. What Now?

The room earned no more than a cursory glance, as it was identical to hundreds of others Tony had stayed in through the years.  King size bed, desk, dresser, nightstands and lamps.  This one happened to also have a couple of stuffed chairs with footstools, he noticed while giving his duffle a toss onto the bed.  He didn’t bother removing his jacket.

Was he subconsciously maintaining his ability to leave at a moment’s notice?  Maybe, but why?  It wasn’t like she was going to throw him out.  Probably.  At this point it was still debatable if she was coming to the room, period.  In spite of his embarrassment threat, she could choose to drag this bullshit out a little further by spending half the night in the casino.

Like you’d almost decided to do?

Only if she continued her silent treatment and refused to let him speak.  If she would listen to what he had to say, then he’d gladly stay here and hash it out, just to be done with it. 

Be honest.  Aren’t you a little worried that this episode won’t be the only thing that’s done?

The click of a key in the door card reader saved him from the rest of that split personality conversation.  It appeared that Lilah had decided to join him, a notion that was confirmed when she entered the room with her suitcase rolling behind her. 

At the start of the birthday party, she’d looked pretty good.  In fact, he remembered being surprised at her appearance when she came downstairs.  It was the first day in recent memory that she’d worn slacks instead of leggings, taken the time to put in her contacts and apply makeup, and had forsaken her usual bedraggled ponytail for a sleek French braid.  The Lilah at home today had actually resembled the woman he married. 

Tonight, however, he could see the strain of the day wearing on her.  Her braid had long ago disintegrated and was re-fashioned into the customary ponytail, makeup was smudged and she generally looked… If he were being politically correct, he would say ‘drained’, ‘exhausted’ or ‘death warmed over’.  In his far-from-politically-correct mind, he simply thought she looked like shit.

He ignored the voice that told him he was responsible for that. 

The wheels on her suitcase bumped the wall as it came to a halt, and she piled her purse and jacket on top of it.  Shoes got kicked to the side and she went directly to the big bed, tucking her left leg under her as she sat with the glossy wooden headboard at her back.

“So talk.”

Showtime, Bongiovi.  This is what you’ve been waiting for.

Yet he stood there like a big dumb palooka, saying nothing. 

Great.  You’ve spent half the damn day crafting just the perfect speech and, now that you’ve been granted audience with Her Majesty, your mind goes totally blank?  Smooth.  Very smooth. 

“You don’t need a script,” she said, using that creepy intuitiveness of hers to decipher the reason behind his silence.  “It’s just me.  Somebody who doesn’t matter enough to be a part of your major life decisions.  It’s not like my feelin’s can get any more hurt.”

Nothing she said could’ve thawed his vocal cords any faster.

“Don’t start that shit.”

“Start what?”  She lifted her eyebrows curiously.  “Speakin’ my mind?”

“No, that goddamn martyr act you do!”

Her bone-deep sigh grated on his nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard, and fulfilled the martyr role that he accused her of.

“I’m stupid – maybe emotionally retarded – not a martyr.”

It didn’t matter whether it happened by design or accident, it still happened, and it was the topic of least priority for this little powwow.

“Moving on.  What did you mumble under your breath in the car?”

A frown pulled at the corners of her mouth and she smoothed an open palm down her thigh. 

“I said I can’t do this.”

Yeah, that’s helpful.  I understand everything now.

“What the hell do you mean by ‘this’?”

Her hand flapped back and forth between the two of them a couple of times before she pointed to the antique gold wedding set on her left ring finger.

“This.  I thought if I got us away from home and all the usual responsibilities that we’d magically find whatever it was we’ve lost, but…“  She laughed without humor.  “To paraphrase some Jovi lyrics, it feels like you’ve already got one foot out the door.  I don’t see the need in humiliatin’ myself any further.”

Tony’s stomach roiled, and he sank to one of the cushioned footstools to lean forearms against his thighs, dangling intertwined hands between them.  He didn’t want to ask this question, but no longer had the luxury of avoiding it. 

“So… what does that mean?  You want a divorce?”

Her mouth opened with a soundless gasp, then closed again.  She inspected to her ragged cuticles to avoid looking at him for as long as she could, but when she finally did… grief-stricken eyes filled to overflowing.  An angry hand swiped at the tears before they could fall, but her voice was full of them when saying, “I want my husband back.”

Jesus Christ, not tears.  Not from Lilah.  She didn’t do tears.  She walled up her emotions and debated from a logical standpoint rather than arguing, she changed the subject to support that logic, but she didn’t motherfucking cry.  She couldn’t, because he was too far beyond having the patience to be kind and understanding.

That’s why Tony took the opposite path and allowed his frustration to bubble over instead, stabbing a finger in the air to enunciate each word of his bellowed, “I’ve been right fucking there!”

She sniffed loudly, harshly scrubbing at the trails wetness that had found a way down her cheeks, but didn’t open her mouth to do anything but breathe.  There was utter silence, save for the subtle gulps as she inhaled and exhaled through her mouth instead of her now stuffy nose.

“Goddammit, stop crying and talk to me!”

Watery eyes flew hot enough to electrocute him with a lightning flash of temper.  “Goddammit, yourself!  I need a minute to mourn!”

She popped off of the bed and stalked to the bathroom.  The door slammed behind her, but he could still her blowing her nose and snotting around some more before it was drowned out by water in the sink. 

Mourn.  Motherfucking mourn!

He strode to the closed door and banged on it with his fist.  “If you’d fucking talk to me for once in your goddamn introverted life, there might not be anything to mourn!”

The running water stopped and all was quiet until she blew her nose again.  Then, with another sniff, she jerked open the door and glared at him.  She continued to glare until he moved out of the way, clearing the path for her to go back into the bedroom and resume her seat.

He followed part way, stopping to lean against the wall with crossed arms.  Lilah’s eyes and nose were red and her face blotchy, but it looked like she was finished crying.  She had donned the invisible Shield of Apathy to hide any residual emotion.

Thank God. Maybe we can get somewhere now.

“Are you going on tour?”

They’d apparently moved on to a shotgun style inquisition, and Tony didn’t consider it an improvement.

He rolled his eyes.  “Lilah-“

“Simple question,” she interrupted.  “Yes or no?”

It wasn’t a simple question, it was a live minefield waiting for him to make a wrong step.

“Yes, I’m going on tour.”


“What do you mean why?” 

“It’s pretty much self-explanatory.”

Why in the hell did women have to be so complicated?  Men would beat the hell out of each other with their fists until they were equally drained and then go have a beer.  Women had to dance down this convoluted path of logic that only made sense to them and pissed the man off even more.

He should give more money to gay rights. 

“It’s not just one reason.”

Her chin lifted belligerently and it gave him a sick sense of satisfaction to see her getting frustrated, too.  “Okay, so start with the first one.”

If she wanted shotgun, she’d get shotgun.

“Number one, Jon wouldn’t leave me the fuck alone.  Number two, he agreed to make it very worth my while.  Number three…”

Did he tell her this?  Was this the landmine that would blow up in his face?

Might as well say it.  We’re “speakin’ our minds” here, aren’t we?

“Number three?” she prompted quietly. 

“It would give us a break from each other.”

He held his breath waiting for her reaction and was… confused when she laughed.  It wasn’t necessarily a side-splitting laughter, or even a ha-ha laughter.  It was more like a ‘the joke is on me’ kind of thing.


Lilah shook her head, the damnable ponytail swishing along with it.  “I was just thinkin’ about that TV show, ‘Friends’.  Ross and Rachel were on a break when Ross screwed the bald girl.  Is that the kinda break you’re talkin’ about?  The kind where you fuck the Bon Jovi groupies while your wife is home raisin’ your children?”


Tony was quickly presented with her palm in a firm, but silent order to keep his mouth shut. 

“I’m not ready for that answer, so I’m gonna ask another question instead.  Do you know why I – as a women over the age of forty who didn’t enjoy motherhood when she young enough to keep up with her kid – decided it was a good idea to have babies with you?”

He stepped six inches to the left in his mental minefield and took a chance.  “You said you wanted me to have kids.”

“While that’s true, it wasn’t the determinin’ factor.  That wasn’t how I convinced myself it wouldn't be the same grueling experience that raisin' Andrew was.”

This time he mentally went a full step forward.  “Then why?”

“I thought it would be better this time – the kind of parentin’ experience that normal people have – because I’d have a real partner.  Somebody to share the responsibilities and the burdens when they became too overwhelmin’.  If I’d had the slightest inklin’ I was gonna end up raisin’ those babies on my own, I would've had my tubes tied instead of gettin' pregnant.”

“You’re not raising them on your own.”

“Sure as hell feels like it, and it’s about to get worse if you’re goin’ on tour.”

“I’m home almost every night,” he argued, ignoring the tour comment that was biggest damn landmine in the field.

“Fair enough,” she conceded.  “But you’re not spendin’ time with me or the kids.  Aside from dinner and readin’ them a bedtime story, you’re holed up in your office, chattin’ with sauce groupies on social media and drinkin’.”

“You never pay any attention to me when I do, so what the hell difference does it make?  You’re always on your laptop or phone, planting the kids in front of a Disney movie on the TV and ignoring them, too.”

Her eyes snapped shut, but not before he saw the painful crack in her emotional shield.  The way she dipped her head in defeat, he might as well have hit her with his hand.


Though there was nothing exaggerated about what he’d said, her reaction stabbed at his conscience.  She was always, without fail, the first one to accept blame for anything she even might have had a hand in.  It was an unfortunate part of her personality, whether she considered it martyr-ish or not, and chances were that she already beat herself up over her parental shortcomings.   He'd pointed them out just make himself feel better.

Tony sighed and moved to sit on the bed, facing her.  He wasn’t ready to hug her and make it all better yet, but he wanted to be closer than ten feet away.    

“Lilah, I’m not going on tour to fuck groupies.  I thought maybe if we missed each other, things would be better when the tour was over.  And that whole thing just happened last night, so I hadn’t exactly had much chance to tell you.”

Her eyes were open again and she shook her head in denial.  “You had a chance, you just couldn’t figure out how to sell it.”

Busted, but if she could admit her inadequacies, he could have balls enough to do the same.


He’d expected that to incite a new flurry of shotgun inquisition, but she remained mysteriously silent and he was hesitant to push.  Interrogation made him defensive even when he didn’t have anything to hide.  With that one secret still hanging in the wings, Tony had no interest in prompting another round. 

That left them both staring quietly at one another, with an undercurrent of tension thrumming between them.  He was trying to imagine what might be going through the mind she kept closed off from the rest of the world, and he figured she was reading his like an open book.  One of these days, he’d like to have a logical explanation for how she did that.

“Now what?” he finally broke down and asked, since they weren’t going to get anywhere by saying nothing.

One shoulder lifted in a half-shrug.  “You tell me.”

“Let’s start with whether or not you can be okay with me going on tour.”

“I’m still tryin’ to get past bein’ left out of that loop.”

He sighed at her spiteful reply and made the only concession he could.  “We’ll talk more about it later, but if I go are you going to be okay with it?”

She averted her eyes.  “I don’t know.”

He couldn’t say he was overjoyed with the answer, but Tony would take what he could get.  At least it wasn’t a flat out no, and, if he would man up and tell her how that whole thing came to be in the first place, she might be more open minded about it. 

Not tonight, though.  There was no way he could even think about opening that can of worms tonight.  He was ready to be done with the drama and honor his mental commitment to their kids.

“I’m not ready to call it quits yet, Lilah.”

Her eyes snapped back to lock on his.  “You’re not?”

Walking in this hotel room tonight, he had been as close as ever before.  Then he’d felt obligated to ask Lilah if she wanted a divorce, and found that he was afraid of the answer...

It told him that he wasn’t there yet.  Tony had agreed to come on this trip to try and improve their relationship.  He – they – owed it to their children to do that much, and he wasn’t willing to cry “divorce” until he’d actually put forth some kind of effort.

“No.  Are you?”

Her eyes went watery again and she whispered, “No.”

For the first time in the last thirty hours – since that phone call with Jon – Tony felt a sliver of peace enter his soul.  Maybe they hadn’t fucked this up beyond repair.



“What’s something about me you wish I’d change?”

His brow drew down in confusion.  Where the hell had that come from? 


She pulled that tucked leg out from under her and bent her knees, putting both feet on the bed.  “Surely you’ve said in your head a million times, ‘I wish she would or wouldn’t…’ do something.  What’s one of those things?”

There were several.  Cook broccoli was one, since he hated it and it stunk, but she said the kids liked it.  Or maybe it was should eat it?  Something. 

Wear ugly leggings was obviously another.  Not take his truck when she was out of gas in the Tahoe.  Not spend so much time lost in her laptop when he was home.  Stop coddling Drew.

All of those were viable answers, but if he were to choose only a single thing it would be…

“I wish you’d take better care of yourself.”

Her head cocked inquisitively to one side and she frowned.  “Like, eat salad instead of pizza?”

“No, like acting like you give a shit about yourself.  Get dressed in something other than leggings and do something with your hair besides that ponytail.”  He grabbed her hand and pointed to the ragged fingernails, of which three had a bit of polish.  “Either wear nail polish or don’t.  You used to always keep your toes painted.”

“I did that today,” she protested, retracting her hand and pushing it under her butt.  “Except for nail polish, and it’s not exactly like I have an abundance of personal time with our kids tryin’ to tear down the house.”

“I noticed today, and it’s the first time in a very long time that I’ve recognized you as the girl I married.  You need to make time,” he insisted.  “Somebody would be willing to watch the kids once in a while so you can get a manicure or whatever.”

His wife studied him thoughtfully, and Tony could see the wheels turning.  She was trying to validate what he said and make it work in her very unusual mind.  He had no idea how her brain worked most of the time, but she must’ve she found a way to do that, because she gave him a slow nod. 

“I’ll work on it.”

Holy shit, is it going to be this easy?

“Now I’m goin’ to return the favor.”

Nope.  It isn’t. 

“Okay, Lilah, I guess turnabout is fair play.”  Jesus, he dreaded this.  “Whaddaya got?”

“I wish you’d quit drinkin’.” 

No hesitation, no uncertainty, no alternatives.  She wanted him to stop drinking.  Period. 

He’d been drinking since well before it was legal for him to do so, and Tony had a fondness for it.  Thinking over the last couple of days, maybe he was a little fonder than some people, but he enjoyed a good glass of whiskey.  And the occasional beer. 

Making an effort was one thing, but he didn’t feel like it needed to be as drastic as all that.

“How about I drink less?”

She chewed on her bottom lip, considering his counteroffer.  “A lot less.  Only one a day.”

It isn’t going to be anything that even vaguely resembles easy.

“We’re on vacation, for God’s sake.  People come to Vegas specifically to get drunk.”

She wasn’t going to back down.  Lilah had that stubborn as shit set to her chin and she wasn’t going to let loose of this one.  He knew it as well as his own name. 

“So what’s your compromise?”

“Uh…”  What compromise kept him a happy vacationer while sifting through marital strife, yet didn’t make it look like he needed a twelve-step program?  “None before dinner.  And I’ll keep it to single digits, but you can’t be marking a tally card in your damn head.”

“You can’t stop me from keepin’ a tally,” she informed him staunchly. 

True that.  She had a weird ability to keep track of that kind of shit even when she wasn’t trying. 

“Well, at least keep from being obvious about it, and don’t be a buzzkill.”

One of her eyebrows kicked up.  “You’ll drop back to one a day when we go home?”

One drink a day is reasonable for everyday life.  If you need more than that, then you really do have a problem. 

“If we renegotiate for special events.”

A single nod sealed the deal, and she actually smiled when saying, “I can live with that.” 

It had been so long since he’d seen a genuine smile from her, that he’d forgotten how it could impact him.  Not that he was complaining.  He simply enjoyed the little punch in the gut and smiled, too.   


  1. I'm on Team Lilah here! Still can't believe Tony made the decision to go on tour without talking to her. I think he's getting off easy!!

  2. the first little flicker of progress.....but good luck having only one drink a day on tour with big brother the Wino. joanne