We arrived at The Meadowlands just after seven and went in through the back way. The arena was mobbed and Jon was waylaid by fans for autographs as we tried to make our way inside. Rick kept a firm hand on my elbow and tried to move us along, but Jon stopped and shook hands and signed autographs, hating to disappoint anyone.
The energy and the excitement were contagious and I could see Jon responding to it, as the previous lethargy fell away. We were finally inside the arena and we could hear the warm-up band doing their sound check as we made our way backstage. People nodded deferentially to Jon as he made a beeline for Richie, who greeted us with a broad smile.
“Hey, man, glad you could join us” he teased as he gave me a kiss hello.
Jon fired off questions to which Richie nodded affirmatively, ushering us toward a small room where it was quieter.
“I even had food delivered since I figured you wouldn’t have had time to eat” he added as he waved in the direction of a table set up with all kinds of light snacks and wines. Jon groaned and I laughed as Richie looked at us questioningly.
“We pigged out before we got here and we’re stuffed” I whispered to Richie who looked a bit deflated, but nodded, refilling his wine glass.
“Where’s the set list? I want to add something” Jon demanded and Richie handed him a paper and a pen. He scribbled something down near the end and flagged a roadie, barking instructions. The roadie scurried off with the paper to do Jon’s bidding.
“Relax, man. Everything’s cool. I got it covered” Richie assured him, but Jon was still fretting and needed to run over all the details to which Richie merely nodded, winking at me.
Rick had disappeared now, I assumed to check out the security. I saw Hugh and David in the corner, munching on some wings and looked around for Tico or Eva.
“Is Eva here tonight? Where’s Tico?” I asked Richie as Jon looked around.
“Eva’s not here, but Tico was here. Probably in the john” Richie replied.
Jon returned to firing questions and Richie answered patiently, allowing him to complete his mental list. The warm-up act was on stage now and Jon was off to the corner checking to be sure his guitars were ready and barking more orders.
Richie looked at me and shook his head. “You’d think after twenty-two years he’d relax and trust me a little” he said to me, half under his breath.
“Old habits die hard” I replied.
He grinned then, flashing me an engaging smile. “Yeah, you’re right. I shouldn’t take it personally. So, did you guys have a good day at least?” he inquired, pouring me a glass of wine.
I smiled sheepishly and Richie caught my meaning, laughing, as he said “Oh, that’s why he’s late. I should have known.” Jon reappeared, his timing impeccable, and seemed satisfied that everything was good to go.
“I just need a little time to myself before the show, babe. Gotta walk the hall” he said as he thanked Richie and gave me a quick kiss before disappearing again.
“What’s that about?” I asked Richie.
“Before every show, he walks the hall, slapping the walls. Don’t ask me. It’s just what he’s always done to get pumped” he explained, taking a gulp of wine.
Tico came up alongside me and slipped an arm around my waist, kissing my cheek. “Hey, glad you’re here. Is everything cool? Where’s our boy?” he asked and Richie pointed towards the hallway and nodded and Tico grunted knowingly.
“No Eva tonight?” I said to Tico, a little disappointed.
“No. She’s home. She doesn’t come for the big gigs, just the special events. I’m surprised you’re here tonight. Aren’t you getting bored with all this yet?” he asked, waving his arms to indicate the backstage chaos. It really was a job to them, whereas to me it was still an adventure.
I shook my head no, adding “I love the energy and I could watch you guys on stage every night. I can’t imagine getting bored.”
They both laughed and Richie commented “Wait until you’ve been to the hundredth show and we’ll see if you still feel that way!”
Despite the comments and the weariness before a show, I didn’t think any of them would give it up for anything. Once the lights went down, the energy became palpable and it never let up the entire night.
The crowd cheered as the opening act withdrew and Rick appeared at my elbow and steered me to the side of the stage where I could see everything. The stage was dark, but as the clamor from the audience became louder, I saw the guys take their places in the shadows. I strained to see out in the crowd, searching for Jon on the stage or a catwalk.
I caught sight of him as “Last Man Standing” thundered into the arena and thought to myself that if rock ever dies, it’ll be Jon left standing for certain. I watched his tiny figure get larger as he moved through the crowd toward the stage, touching the fans and shaking hands as he went.
He was larger than life and I felt my own excitement grow as he came nearer. He took the stage and turned briefly, catching my eyes, as we exchanged a look that needed no words.
He launched into ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’ and I felt a shiver run down my spine as I recognized the opening chords. But the look Jon shot me when he came to the chorus sent my blood boiling in my veins. That smirk would be my undoing every time!
The show rolled on like relentless foreplay until he took a break during Richie’s solo and joined me momentarily on the side. His body glistened with sweat and his hair curled from the dampness, but his warm breath in my ear made my toes curl.
“The next one’s for you” he whispered hotly before scampering back on the stage.
Jon sang “Always” with a passion that made me cry in the past, but the way he poured his heart and soul into it tonight took my breath away. I could see the glances towards me from the front row, craning to see where Jon was looking, but I was grateful to be hidden in the shadows as the tears were streaming down my face. He came towards me then, still singing, and I began to back further into the shadows, but the smile on his face coaxed me out as he led me onto the stage and finished the song, holding my hand.
I forgot about the stage, the crowd, the band, everything, as our eyes locked and he pulled me close for a kiss, both tender and passionate. The applause was deafening as I became aware of my surroundings and I started to tremble as the lights went down.
Jon led me off stage, explaining that he wanted the world, or at least New Jersey, to know how he felt. I threw my arms around his neck, tears mixing with laughter as the cries from the fans demanded more.
Jon returned to the stage amid the shouts and cheers and the band began the final set. He hadn’t misjudged his fans. They were happy that he was happy and I was honored beyond belief. He swept off the stage after the final encore and lifted me in his arms.
“I’m sorry I didn’t warn you, but I just had to do it. It felt right and I’m glad I did it. I wanted you to feel the audience and know what it’s like and why I love to tour. Dot never understood, but I wanted you to be a part of it. I don’t want you to feel left out and I wanted you to know it’s a part of me, but not something that will ever come between us. I will love you always. Off stage and on stage” he said breathlessly.
I understood. I understood the high from the crowd and the adulation. And I understood that it wasn’t something he’d ever give up until he was good and ready. And I’d never expect it from him. It was just as much a part of him as was his sexuality or his tenderness when it came to his kids. And it was the whole package that I loved.
“I love the whole package, Jon. There isn’t anything I’d ask you to change. And I love being able to share this part of your life with you” I said, meaning every word. “And I’m anxious to share my life with you too.”
“Let’s go home, Babe. I’m feeling frisky” he grinned as he led me towards the exit, waving goodnight to the guys.