The day after Christmas, JC and Sara got up early and had a quiet breakfast on his back porch. The weather was beautiful and they were comfortable in their pajama bottoms and t-shirts as they ate cold cereal and pineapple orange juice. "So what does your family usually do for Christmas?" Sara asked softly.

"We all get together at my grandma’s house on Christmas morning to open presents, that takes a couple hours and then we just sit around and catch up while we make dinner, then we stuff ourselves with turkey and ham and all that good stuff." JC stirred his frosted flakes and took a bite. "This year we’re doing it tomorrow though, since my two aunts spent yesterday with their husbands families."

"How many people are there?"

"Lots." JC shrugged. "I mean, there’s my family which is my parents, brother and sister. Then my dad has two sisters who are married with kids, so they’re there also. My mom’s brother is usually there with his daughter." JC counted the people on his fingers, "If my grandma’s friend Mary comes then we’ll have eighteen people. Nineteen including you." He smiled.

"Nineteen people?" Sara’s eyes widened at the thought. "I have to meet your whole family?"

"Not my whole family. My mom’s oldest sister lives in London with her husband and kids, so she won’t be there."

"Well yeah but still…" She gave him a worried look as she set her plastic bowl on the patio table.

"Don’t worry about it, you’ll fit right in. As long as you have a good sense of humor, which you do… and as long as you don’t mind dogs, which you don’t." JC smiled. "They’re gonna like you Sara." He pecked her cheek as he picked up her bowl and carried it into the house.

"I’m never going to remember their names." Sara complained as she followed him.

"You don’t have to."

"JC…"

"Don’t whine. We’re going to have a great week. There’s going to be snow and fireplaces, good home cooked food and lot’s of embarrassing stories about me." JC laughed and tried not to yawn as he adjusted the waist of his pants and walked toward the back of the house to his room. "And I know you think I forgot or whatever, but I didn’t." He shouted over his shoulder as she put her glass in the dishwasher alongside the bowls.

"Forgot what?" She padded down the hall in her bare feet.

"About your gift."

"You gave it to me already."

"The sweater?" JC laughed. "That’s not your only gift."

"I love it. I’m going to wear it tomorrow when we get to Maryland. And you don’t need to get me anything else JC, you buy me things all the time." Sara stood with her hands on her hips in his room as he pulled his clothes off the hanger in the closet. "Speaking of which, how formal is it?"

"Is what?"

"Christmas at your grandmas."

"What you’ve got on is fine." JC glanced at her from the closet, then went back to flipping through his long sleeved shirts.

"This is pajamas." Sara looked down at her plaid flannel pants.

"Yeah, that’s the attire. No one’s dressing up or anything, everyone is just in their pajamas in the morning, them comfortable stuff for the rest of the day." JC pulled a slate colored shirt off the hanger and tossed it on the bed. "Jeans, sweatshirt… whatever."

"Okay." Sara said softly.

"Why? What did you pack?"

"Jeans and stuff for the rest of the week, but I also brought a dress and slacks for Christmas and New Years." Sara reached into her overnight bag and pulled out the traveling clothes she had chosen when she packed two days before.

"Did you pack sweaters?"

"Yeah."

"How about a jacket?"

"I have my leather jacket." She checked the coat rack in the corner to be sure it was hanging there.

"Then you’re set." JC tossed his jeans and a clean pair of socks on the bed by his shirt and walked into the bathroom, "Dibs on the shower." He smiled and shut the door.

Sara smiled and shook her head as she picked up her over night bag and walked across the hall to the guest bathroom. She took her shower and got dressed in there, then quickly ran a brush through her curls and crossed the hall again.

JC stood there completely dressed with his suitcase in one hand and hers in the other, "Ready?"

"We have to leave now?" Sara checked her watch; "Our flight isn’t until noon."

"Right."

"It’s nine."

"And it’s the day after Christmas. There’s going to be more traffic than you can imagine down at the airport, and since we’re checking luggage we need to get there early."

Sara sighed, she knew better than to argue with him about time, that was one thing he was fanatical about. "Did you call for a cab?"

"I called for a ride, yeah." JC nodded. "It should be here any minute."

"Okay." Sara grabbed their carry on luggage and the tickets then followed him out to the front of the house. He set their bags by the driveway then went back to check the house and lock up.

While he was in the house a limo pulled up on the street and the driver jumped out, "Is this the Chasez residence?" He asked, pronouncing JC’s last name incorrectly.

"Um, yeah." Sara ignored the pronunciation and looked back at the front door where JC was standing with his back to her. "Jace?"

"Yeah?"

"There’s a limo here." Sara looked back at the street.

"Right on time." JC laughed and trotted down to where she was. He grabbed the bags as the driver opened the trunk. "Come on." JC nodded at the open car door.

Sara smiled to herself and walked down the driveway where she slid into the new smelling leather seat in the back. She ran her fingers over the smooth wood paneling and the power window controls, "Nice."

"This is the start of your relaxing couple days off."

"You think going to meet your family will be relaxing?" Sara smiled.

"You aren’t going to meet them, you’re going for Christmas. Meeting them is just a bonus." JC smiled and climbed into the limo beside her. "It won’t be as bad as you’re thinking."

"I don’t think it’ll be bad, it’s just… it’s meeting the parents. Come on, you were nervous about meeting mine."

"Well yeah…"

"Okay then." She smiled. "Let me be nervous."

"You can be as nervous as you want, but it’s not that bad."

They rode to the airport and checked their luggage, then went to the VIP lounge to wait for their flight to be called. The lounge was empty so they took their drinks to the tall tables by the window to watch the planes take off across the airport.

Sara’s feet tapped nervously as she clinked the ice in her glass. "What’s wrong?" JC asked with a smile. "Don’t get nervous yet, I mean, at least wait until we get to Maryland."

"I’m not big on flying."

"What? Are you serious?" JC laughed.

"I’m serious. I mean, I don’t freak out on planes, you know that. But this is a really long flight." She smiled and looked out the window. "Traveling just isn’t my most favorite thing in the world. No biggie."

"Maybe you should have a drink drink." JC laughed and nodded toward the bar.

"Yeah right, then I’d be a nervous and puking flyer, that’s not much better." Sara shook her head and laughed. "I’ll be fine."

The sat and watched the planes take off from and arrive in LA until their flight was called and they were able to board. The flight was long and boring, but they were able to watch the in-flight movie and eat the snacks they brought around. JC let Sara know what to expect, but kept reassuring her that she would have a great time and that she had nothing to worry about.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The plane landed in Baltimore shortly before nine and their feet dragged as they stepped off the airplane and into the walkway to the terminal. As they got closer to the gate JC’s smile grew and he took Sara’s hand in anticipation.

As they stepped into the gate Sara’s eyes scanned the crowd, even though she had no idea who she was looking for. JC spotted his mother right away and immediately pulled Sara towards her.

"Hi sweetie!" JC’s mother pulled him in for a hug as soon as he was within grabbing distance. "Honey you need a hair cut." She laughed and looked him over.

"Wow, I’ve been here four seconds and you’re already razzing me about my hair?" JC laughed and kissed her cheek. "I’ll get it cut, promise." Sara cleared her throat from behind JC and he turned around quickly, "Mom, this is Sara."

"Hi." Sara blushed as she extended her hand to JC’s mom.

"Hi hun." She pulled Sara in for a hug before Sara could move. "How was your flight?"

"It was long." Sara said nervously, she wasn’t used to such warm receptions.

"I’m sure it was." Karen laughed. "Come on guys, let’s get out of here before this guy starts drawing a crowd." She nodded at JC and laughed.

"Yeah, I’m gonna draw a crowd when you’re the one flipping out." JC rolled his eyes and dropped his arm over his mother’s shoulders. They walked down to the baggage claim area where JC got their two suitcases and carried them out to the curb.

"Greg is circling the lot in the Explorer, we’re supposed to wait over by the American Airlines sign." Karen led the way to the north end of the airport where they all waited for the blue Explorer. Greg hopped out when he got there and tossed the luggage into the back while everyone else got into the car.

"Sara, this is my Uncle Greg. Greg, this is my girlfriend Sara." JC made the introductions as they left the airport parking lot.

"Hi Sara, it’s good to meet you." He smiled in the rearview mirror as JC took her hand and smiled.

"When we get back to the house it’s gonna be nuts for a couple minutes." JC whispered.

"Okay." Sara nodded and looked out the window at the passing scenery.

"So Sara, have you ever been to Maryland?" Karen asked from the front seat.

"Um no, well not really. I went to Washington DC on a school trip when I was in eighth grade, but no I’ve never actually spent time in Maryland." Sara spoke quickly and stumbled over some of her words.

"Well I can promise it’s quite different than California." Karen laughed.

"You can say that again. I don’t think it gets this cold out there, does it?" Greg asked.

"We have ski resorts in California, so it can get pretty cold. But I’m from Southern California right by the beaches, it never got this cold there." Sara smiled and tried to relax.

"Man, what I wouldn’t give for a Christmas picnic on the beach." Greg laughed and they all made small talk as they drove forty minutes into Bowie to the house where JC’s dad grew up.

When they pulled up in front of the house they all got out and stretched as Greg got the luggage out of the back of the truck. The two men carried the luggage up the walk as the small group made their way up to the warm looking house, "Are you ready?" JC asked softly.

"Not even close." Sara smiled nervously.

"Just smile and say hi a lot, you’ll be fine. We’ll escape upstairs as soon as possible."

"Is… is everyone here?"

"Probably not." JC shook his head.

"Okay." Sara took a deep breath as they stepped up onto the porch.

The front door flew open and an older lady stepped out with a huge smile, "Well Josh, it’s about time! We’ve held up Christmas for you." She laughed and pulled JC to her for a warm embrace.

"Hi Gramma." JC held her tight and closed his eyes; it had been too long since he last saw her.

"Are you hungry? I have some left over ham if you want some." She stood back and straightened her black slacks. Her lavender blouse had come untucked in the back, but she didn’t seem to notice. JC’s grandmother tucked her graying hair back into the loose bun at the nape of her neck. "Hi honey, you must be Sara, I’m Lindy." The older woman was very grandmotherly, but she still presented and carried herself like a dignitary. Sara could almost picture her sitting on the Supreme Court cloaked in robes and prestige.

"Hi Mrs.…" Sara stopped and looked at JC for a response.

"Just Lindy is fine." She laughed and pulled Sara in for a quick hug, "Now lets get you Californians out of the cold."

They filed into the house where Sara was rapidly introduced to JC’s brother and sister, as well as Greg’s daughter Bridget, who looked to be around eleven. Sara tried to keep track of all of the names, and she knew when she was faced with the others the next morning, she’d be sunk.

She politely said hi to everyone and tried to stay out of the way as they all greeted JC and asked about what he had been up to. JC filled everyone in quickly then looked over his shoulder at Sara who was standing by the luggage. "I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired."

"Yeah." Sara nodded and blushed as all eyes turned to her.

"Where are we staying?" He asked as he turned to his grandma.

"Upstairs." She nodded toward the carpeted stairway off the entry hall. "Greg and Bridget are staying down the hall here and these ragamuffins here are staying downstairs since they’ll be here all week." Lindy nodded toward JC’s parents and siblings. Downstairs was what could be considered an apartment with two bedrooms, a sitting room, bathroom and a tiny kitchen area.

"Good enough." JC smiled and kissed his grandma on the cheek, "Thanks gram." He grabbed a suitcase and nodded for Sara to grab the other.

They said goodnight to everyone and headed up the stairs with Sara in the lead. "Your family, they call you Josh?" Sara asked as she bumper her suitcase up the stairs.

"Yeah." JC nodded. "Some of them anyway. I was Josh a lot longer than I’ve been JC." He laughed.

"That’s just weird." Sara stopped at the top and turned to look at him, "You don’t look like a Josh."

"It’s better than Joshua."

"You definitely don’t look like a Joshua." Sara smiled and looked around the landing, "Where to?"

"On the left there, by the corner." JC motioned in the right direction.

"Yours or mine?"

"Ours."

"Ours? Your grandmother is letting us share a room?"

"I’m 24." JC shrugged.

"Well yeah but still…"

"Her room shares a wall with this one, and the door will stay open. There’s not a chance in hell I’d try anything in my grandma’s house." JC laughed and dropped his luggage by the foot of the bed, then took hers and set it in the narrow closet. "Besides, I think I’m so tired right now I’m going to sleep till noon tomorrow."

"Yeah, me too. Which doesn’t make sense since it’s only about, seven or eight California time." Sara laughed.

"I’m always tired after sitting on an airplane all day, I think they pump sleeping gas into the air system or something." JC laughed.

"Yeah." She yawned and followed JC to the closet where she unzipped her suitcase and pulled her pajamas out. "What time do we have to get up?" Sara asked as she held the portable alarm clock in her hand.

"Don’t worry about that, no one sleeps through anything in this house. You’ll either get up when Gramma does, or when she starts breakfast, or when everyone else wakes up… or at the latest when the whole family gets here." JC said.

"Are you sure?"

"I’m sure." JC nodded.

"Okay." She reluctantly tucked the alarm clock back in her bag and took her toiletries and pajamas with her to the bathroom across the hall. She brushed, washed and changed all that needed it, and went back to the bedroom to crawl into the soft and inviting bed.

Sara lay down on the right side of the bed and pulled the blankets up to her shoulders, somehow the sheets were already warm against her legs. JC changed and turned the room light off then walked around to the other side of the bed and crawled under the covers beside Sara. He switched the small lamp on his bedside table on and took his notebook from his backpack.

"Is that your journal?" Sara asked. She hadn’t seen him writing in a while and was surprised to see him scribbling in the book again.

"Not exactly. I mean, it’s not like a diary or anything." JC shook his head.

"Like the one you had at Wycroft?" Sara asked softly.

"Nah, what I had there wasn’t really a journal either. Just a bunch of random writing and ideas."

"So then what do you write there in your little book?" Sara asked as she pushed herself into a sitting position.

"Lyrics and stuff."

"And stuff?"

"Yeah." JC blushed and smiled.

"Poems?"

"Songs are poems set to music."

"Can I see?" Sara smiled and leaned over to try to peek.

"No." He closed the book and leaned away from her. "Come on, these are private." He laughed as she tried to reach for the notebook.

"Private until they’re made into a number one hit." She rolled her eyes and lay across his lap to try to grab it.

"Sara…" He laughed and moved it to his other hand.

"JC…" She whined back. "Please?"

"Why?"

"Because I want to see. The curiosity is killing me."

"I’ll read one, how’s that?" He looked down at her and helped her back into a sitting position. She burrowed down in the blankets and rested her head on the feather pillow. JC flipped the pages in the well worn book toward the beginning; he went too far and turned several pages back, "Here, this is one I wrote for you." He said softly.

"For me?" Sara blushed.

JC nodded and kept his eyes on the book.

THE EYES THAT DON’T SEE

Have you ever looked past

What you see before your eyes

Adventures and explanation

Await you

People in general

Take for granted

What's before them

But looking past the surface

Can reveal peace

Of mind and heart

Discover what is beyond

What your eyes see

And open your heart

For sights beyond

Reality and common knowledge

You may find what

You've been looking for

And discover that

It was always there

Copyright Tara Rahemat

"You wrote that for me?" Sara asked as a rush of apprehension swept over her body. She had been worried about JC for a few weeks now, ever since his public service announcement went out, and the poem did nothing to help ease her concern.

"Yeah." He said softly and closed the little notepad. "A while ago, you know… when you were out on the road with us."

"That was amazing, thank you." Sara kissed him quickly and let her eyes linger on his, trying to see deeper into them. "How did I get this lucky?" She whispered, though she hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

"I ask myself the same thing all the time." JC kissed her again then sat back against the headboard to open his book and finish writing what he had been working on.

"JC?" Sara asked a minute later.

"Hmm?"

"That was really great, that poem you wrote, but what are you writing in there now?" She asked softly with a little laugh.

"If you’ll be quiet for another minute, I’ll show you." He didn’t take his eyes off the page as he continued to write.

Sara kept quiet while JC scribbled the last couple lines in the book then he sighed and handed the notebook out to Sara, "You’re worse than a child."

"No I’m not." Sara smiled and held the book in her lap.

"Are you going to read it?"

"Well now that you’re letting me I don’t know."

"Read the last page at least."

"This is personal." She said as she crinkled her nose.

"Five minutes ago you were ready to tackle me for it." JC laughed and sunk down under the covers as he turned on his side with his back to the open doorway.

"I know… but…"

"Don’t get all wishy washy on me, just read the last one." JC smiled and shook his head.

Sara flipped through the pages covered in blue and black ink and found the last entry. Where the other pages were worn, this page was crisp, having never been marked or crumpled in frustration.

Sara,

Earlier this year you gave me your journal filled with your innermost thoughts and feelings, your private memories and all of your passion. You trusted me with a big part of your life, and I treasure that notebook. This is my attempt to do the same. I don’t keep a journal, so this is the next best thing. I guess that’s not entirely correct, this is my journal to some extent. It is filled with my innermost thoughts and feelings, my private memories and every ounce of my passion. Where you express your dialogue in prose, I express it in poetry.

You’ve been sitting here very quietly beside me for the past few minutes. I’d keep writing forever if you’d stay right there with the look of happiness and anticipation on your face. Merry Christmas Sara bear.

Love always,

JC

"See? Its things like that that constantly remind me why I’m crazy for you."

"Nice choice of words." JC smiled.

Sara laughed lightly and shook her head; "You’re a nut, good night." He gave her a quick kiss then took the notebook from her and set it on the nightstand before turning the little light off. JC wrapped his arms around her and sighed, he could hardly wait for morning.

 

Early the next morning, Sara lay awake in the strange house, not wanting to be the first person up. A gentle thump in the hallway startled her as she opened her eyes slowly to see an old looking golden retriever smiling at her from the doorway. Sara smiled and pulled her hand out from under the blankets to let it hang over the side of the bed.

The dog slowly made her way into the room and nudged Sara’s hand with her damp nose before giving a tentative lick. Sara smiled and let the dog sniff for a minute before reaching to scratch her behind her ears, "Ella, leave those kids alone." Lindy whispered loudly from the hall. "Oh, I’m sorry hun, did she wake you?"

Sara shook her head ‘no’ as Ella reluctantly walked away from the friendly hand, "No, I was awake." She whispered back.

"Would you like some coffee, or something to eat?" Lindy asked as she stroked Ella head.

Sara glanced over her shoulder at JC still sound asleep, "Um…"

"Everyone else is still sleeping, so feel free to go back to sleep. Things won’t start rolling around here till seven or so."

"What time is it?"

"Just a little after five. I tried to keep Miss Ella downstairs but she just can’t resist visitors."

"It’s okay." Sara slowly swung her feet around and placed them on the thick throw rug beside the bed. "Can I help with anything?"

"Nope, I’ve got it covered. But if you’d like to keep me company, I won’t complain."

"I’d be happy to." Sara smiled and stood up to follow Lindy down to the kitchen. The cool air gave her a chill as she stepped into the hallway in her flannel pants and sweatshirt.

"Would you like a robe? This must be freezing for you." Lindy smiled and turned toward her room.

"No really, I’m fine." Sara said to the empty hall. Lindy emerged a minute later with a pink and yellow checkered fleece robe. "Thank you." Sara said out of courtesy. She pulled it on over her pajamas and followed Lindy and Ella down the stairs as she tied the sash around her waist.

The robe did warm her up as they entered the kitchen where Lindy had already begun to prepare the turkey for later in the day. "Grab a seat hun, would you like coffee?"

"I can get it." Sara said as she reached for the cupboard above the coffee maker. She smiled and tried not to yawn as she poured herself a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter to drink it black.

"So how do you like living in LA?" Lindy asked as she mixed the breadcrumbs and chopped vegetables for the stuffing.

"I uh… it’s nice." Sara nodded. "I grew up in the area, so I don’t really know much else." Ella plopped herself under the table and sighed. "How old is she?" Sara looked at the dog.

"She’s almost sixteen." Lindy smiled proudly.

"She’s a sweetheart." Sara said softly.

"Yes she is."

"Can I help with anything?"

"Nope, I’ve got it covered. You’re a guest here, you just make yourself at home." Lindy tucked her hair back into her ponytail and began opening drawers in search for a spoon.

"Thank you for inviting us to stay here." Sara said formally. The only exposure she’d had to family life was her own, and she wasn’t sure what was expected here.

"Oh pshaw, where else would you stay?" Lindy laughed lightly and looked at Sara like she was crazy for even asking. "I don’t get to see my JC very often so when I can, I keep him close by."

Sara nodded as if she understood, when really she could not even guess. They sat in comfortable silence as Sara wondered if the rest of the family knew how they met, or any of her history. She didn’t want to bring it up, and she surely didn’t want Lindy to say anything about it, but at the same time she wanted to know how much they knew.

"So JC tells us that you’re going to school to be a counselor?" Lindy asked as she kept herself busy getting things ready for the oven.

"Um, yeah. I’m going to a junior college right now so I can get used to being back in school and everything, and to get some of my general education classes out of the way before I go to UCLA."

"That’s great, I wish Josh would go back to school."

"I don’t know when he’d fit it in." Sara laughed lightly and sipped at her coffee.

"No, I know. He’s always so busy. But if I had my way he’d go back to school." Sara nodded and wondered what the campus would look like if JC enrolled in classes. "At the same time though, he’s learning more about life with Nsync than any school could teach him."

"That’s true." Sara nodded.

"How do you like school so far?"

"As weird as it sounds, I like it." Sara smiled and blew on her coffee.

"You know I went to college, and that wasn’t too common back then." Lindy kept her back to Sara as she prepared the food for dinner that night, and told her all about her days in college.

Heather and Tyler stumbled into the kitchen a short while later and said good morning as they reached for the coffee. They sat at the table across from Sara and smiled as she fidgeted with the napkin in front of her. Sara looked toward the door, hoping JC would come through and save her from this uncomfortable situation. She had only met them the night before and there she was sitting in her pajamas and a borrowed robe drinking coffee.

"Hey Gram, what time are Carol and Donna coming?" Tyler asked as he spooned heaps of sugar into his mug.

"I told them to get here at seven, which means Carol and her entourage will be here around seven thirty and we’ll be lucky if James and Donna get here by eight." Lindy smiled and opened the oven door to take a whiff of the cooking turkey. "So what do you think? Pancakes or french toast?"

"French toast." Heather and Tyler said in unison.

"Good enough. Sara?"

"Hmm?

"Which would you like?"

"Oh, whatever you make will be fine." Sara blushed.

"I’ll make whatever you want." Lindy laughed and reached into her bread drawer.

"French toast is fine." Sara said softly.

"Okay. Ty, do you want bacon?"

"Yeah, that sounds good." Tyler jumped up from the table and opened the refrigerator to get the bacon out.

"Do you have grapefruit Gramma?" Heather asked.

"I looked but I couldn’t find any that looked good, I’ve got oranges in there though, and grapes, apples… all kinds of fruit. I knew you were coming honey so I stocked up on vegetarian food." Lindy grabbed the eggs out of the tray and began to get things ready for breakfast. "Sara do you have any special diet needs? Vegetarian or anything?"

"Oh, uh, no. I’ll eat just about anything." Sara smiled and finished off the rest of her lukewarm coffee.

"I can vouch for that." JC yawned as he stepped into the kitchen. "She even eats my cooking."

"Oh man, talk about a stomach of steel." Tyler laughed and made gagging sounds.

"Only your bar-b-cued stuff." Sara gave him a smile of relief.

Heather sat back at the table and scooted her chair over to make room for JC, "Yeah, but you can’t really go wrong with that."

"Oh sure you can." Sara nodded. "I couldn’t bar-b-cue to save my life."

"Me neither." Ty set the bacon on the counter and offered to help Lindy with the breakfast.

"Nope, I’ve got it covered. I’m used to cooking for a house full, just let me at it and leave me alone." She smiled and pecked his cheek.

"Did you sleep okay?" JC asked softly.

"Yeah." Sara nodded.

"Cool robe." He smiled and kicked her foot under the table.

"It’s your grandmothers." Sara smiled back.

"So Jace, what’ll it be?"

"Pancakes… with cinnamon in them, like how you used to make them?"

"No problem." Lindy turned back to the stovetop as more people found their way into the kitchen. Before she knew it, Sara was surrounded by everyone she had met the night before. They were all in their pajamas still and talking over each other as the morning routine fell into place.

Lindy busied herself making breakfast for the bunch and they all stood around the kitchen eating as a family. As they were finishing up and placing their dishes in the dishwasher the front door opened and another family bounded into the house with shouted welcomes and lots of hugs.

"Let’s get to the presents!" One of the younger children shouted.

"Marisa." Her mother scolded her.

"Sounds good to me." Lindy laughed and draped her arm over the little girl’s shoulders. "You’ve got a lot under there, it’s a good idea to start early."

And with that the entire family wandered into the large family room with the scent of breakfast still warm in the air. JC held Sara’s hand as they sat down on the love seat, and Sara looked around cautiously. She was the outsider in the room and she could feel everyone’s questioning eyes on her. Sara cleared her throat and pulled the robe tighter around her, feeling suddenly under dressed though almost everyone else was lounging in their pajamas as well.

This was so unlike any other family situation she had ever been in and she didn’t know what to expect next. Sara usually tried to avoid situations like this, and was eternally grateful for the feel of JC’s hand in hers.

"Let me run through the introductions real fast before we get started." JC smiled at Sara, "Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz or anything." He added softly.

"Thank goodness." Sara laughed nervously and looked around at the crowded room. "Okay… mom and dad, Karen and Roy. You know Heather and Tyler; my Aunt Carol and her husband Wes. Ben over there in the Redskins jersey is their son, and Kelsey is their daughter. Um… James and Donna, Donna is my dad’s sister, they have three kids, Marisa, Ryan and Stephanie." He pointed them out as he talked, but Sara was already lost. "You met Greg and Bridget yesterday, grandma of course, and her friend Mary."

"And he’s JC." Kelsey added from the love seat.

"Josh." Carol laughed.

"Guys, this is Sara." JC squeezed her hand tightly as she smiled and bumped her shoulder against his.

"I’m never going to remember." She whispered as they sat on the couch closest to the fireplace.

"That’s okay." JC whispered back.

They spent several hours opening presents and just talking with each other. Sara was surprised that his family had bought little gifts for her as well, and they didn’t even know her. She received another sweater as well as a little photo album and a set of Country Apple scented lotion, soap and body wash.

When the presents were done the younger kids headed for the den to play with their new toys while the older kids and grown ups sat around the family room visiting. Lindy stood up after another hour and went into the kitchen to check on supper.

"Do you need some help?" Sara asked Donna as she too headed for the kitchen.

"Would you like to?" She asked.

"Sure." Sara pushed herself off the couch and followed Donna and Carol into the kitchen. "I’m not a great cook, but I follow directions well." She laughed nervously and looked around at the crowded kitchen.

"Glad to hear it, how would you like to roll that dough there into balls?" Lindy said with a smile.

"I’d be glad to." She washed her hands at the sink, then sat across the table from Heather to help her roll the dough.

"So did you ever find out if Ben asked that girl out?" Heather asked.

"Yes, her mom called me to see if it was okay." Carol laughed.

"How adorable. How old is he now? He must be… 12?"

"He’s 11. His birthday is the day after Mom’s."

"Oh that’s right."

"What about Kelsey? Is she still seeing Mark?"

"Yeah, going on two years now."

"Wow, has she brought up the "M" word yet?"

"It’s about time!"

"I don’t know, I keep telling her that he’s a great catch, but she doesn’t listen to me, what do I know? I’m only her mom."

"I like him almost more than I like her sometimes." Everyone laughed.

"Hey mom, don’t forget to ask James how he got that cut on his hand."

"Why? What happened?"

"Didn’t you hear? He was trying to get a squirrel out of the rain gutter and he thought it’d be easier if he climbed up on the roof and leaned over instead of climbing up the ladder to shoo him out."

"Wouldn’t he need the ladder to get onto the roof?"

"Oh yeah, of course. But he wanted to lay on the roof to get the little guy out."

"He didn’t fall did he?"

"Yep, fell onto the shed then rolled down into the dog food. He cut his hand on the rain gutter on the way down."

"Oh no!" They all laughed again, Sara included.

Sara rolled the dough into small balls and listened in silence. The banter going back and forth between the women was like nothing she’d ever heard before. She laughed when they did and paid close attention to what they were saying. It was obvious from the tone in their voices that even when they were complaining and teasing, they all knew they loved each other, and were doing the kidding in good humor.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After a few nights with his family, Sara was definitely beginning to feel more at home. She curled up on the couch between JC and Heather with a cup of decaf and a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

"So Sara, has Josh told you about the M&M incident?" His Aunt Carol asked.

"Um, no." Sara laughed and looked over her shoulder at a blushing JC.

"No, come on! This isn’t gonna be a ‘let’s all embarrass Josh’ night." JC shook his head as he laughed.

"Sara hasn’t heard any of the good stories yet, she shouldn’t be making decisions about dating you until she has the scoop." Wes added from the kitchen. He walked out with his hands full of sodas and handed them out.

"So what happened?" Sara laughed.

"I’m leaving the room if you’re gonna start in on these." JC shook his head and pretended to stand up.

"No! Come on, stay so you can defend yourself." Heather laughed

"This is worse than getting the third degree from a reporter."

"Yeah but an M&M story? This I’ve got to hear." Sara laughed and looked at Carol expectantly.

"We really don’t have to go there." JC covered his face with his hand.

"When Josh was four or five he was sitting in my backyard with Heather and they were eating M&M’s. They were told not to leave the little play area back there, so I figured they couldn’t get hurt, right? Well the next thing I know Heather comes running into the house crying hysterically so I run outside in a panic and I see Josh standing in the corner with his hands up by his face." Carol paused to laugh, as JC blushed even deeper.

"Can we stop it there?" He laughed.

"No way." Sara shook her head.

"So I see him in the corner and all I can think of is that he’s busted his lip or chipped his tooth or something like that, doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing. I told him ‘come here!’ and he didn’t move at all he just started crying, so I went over and turned him around and he just kept on crying."

"What happened?"

Carol giggled and said, "There was no blood, nothing swollen or chipped, but his nose looked kind of weird."

"No!" Sara’s eyes flew open as she looked over at JC. The room was filled with the laughter of everyone else who had heard the story hundreds of times before.

"Yep, a yellow M&M up his right nostril. Only it wasn’t in sideways, it was wedged in there straight. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t even think of how to get it out." Carol’s face was turning red as she laughed.

"So she called me and I drove over and watched Heather so she could take Josh into the doctors so they could take it out." Donna laughed.

"You stuck an M&M up your nose?" Sara laughed.

"See? This is why I wanted to go upstairs." JC continued to blush as Sara patted his thigh.

"That’s so cute." She chuckled again and looked across the room to Carol, "Are there any more stories?"

"Tons!" Karen said, and that sparked a dozen more embarrassing stories, not only about JC but also about everyone in the family. The stories kept everyone laughing until midnight when they all finally said goodnight and headed to their own homes, or rooms.

When they were finally alone in the bedroom Sara asked the question that had been bugging her since they arrived. "JC? Does your family know about how we met and everything?"

"Yeah, most of them. My parents and Heather and Ty. Gramma knows too." He nodded.

"They know why I was there?"

"Well, I mean, I didn’t go into details or anything but they know that we were both students there."

"Oh." Sara said softly as she dropped her eyes to the blanket.

"But… but Sara, it’s okay."

"No… I know."

"No, hey listen. They know that you’re the one who helped me on the road. I know my parents are really impressed with you, my mom keeps smiling at me then nodding at you." He laughed. "You’ve won them all over and to be honest, they don’t care about your past. You make me happy now and to them, that’s the important thing."

Sara blushed and tried to hide her sad smile, "That’s all they care about? That you’re happy?" That was such an odd and ‘out there’ concept, Sara wasn’t sure if she could grasp it.

"Pretty much." JC nodded and kissed her quickly. "And I am, so there’s nothing to worry about."

Sara fell asleep with the knowledge that JC was indeed happy, and she was the reason.

 

Over the next couple days Sara spent more time with JC’s sister and less time with JC, they were becoming friends and even spent a whole day at the mall alone. Heather didn’t ask any questions about Sara’s stay at Wycroft and for the first time in a long time, Sara felt the twinge of a new friendship blooming. They discussed their plans for New Years and wished they could spend it together in New York. Sara and JC had plans to spend it in LA with the rest of the guys to celebrate both the New Year and the completion of their album. It had been finished for a while but until it was released, they’d keep on celebrating that they’d finished it.

As a family they played touch football in the backyard and took down the Christmas tree and decorations. Lindy taught Sara how to make "no-bake cookies" and the secret to sweeter coffee without sugar. Sara never wanted to leave, but as their stay came to an end, she knew that when they did leave, she would be leaving part of herself back here.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On their last night there, JC sat at the tiny kitchen table with Tyler, Heather and their mom. Sara joined them for a little while as they shared old memories then they began talking about the new album and tour that was in the planning process. Sara had heard it all before so she excused herself and tiptoed up the stairs to their room.

The hallway was dark, but she already felt as if she had lived there forever as she maneuvered around the hall table and tall silk plant. She opened the door to the room she had spent the last few nights in and walked across the creaking hardwood floor to the bed where she took her borrowed robe off and dropped it over the chair.

Sara inhaled deeply, embedding the scent of the room in her mind, old newspapers and jasmine. The tiffany lamp on the nightstand glowed when she turned it on, and she climbed under the thick quilt.

She could hear the voices in the kitchen beneath her as they talked softly, then laughed as a female voice took over the story. Sara smiled as her bottom lip began to quiver, the whole week had been just a glimpse into what a real family was all about and it only made her resent her own more. She plumped the feather pillow under her head and stared out into the hall, mentally picturing JC tossing balls of torn up napkin at his brother while his mom and sister stirred their coffee and laughed.

JC quietly climbed the stairs an hour later with a smile spread from ear to ear. "Hey, Greg is going to be ready to – " JC started in a soft voice as he came into the room. "Oh, sorry." He changed to a whisper as he noticed that Sara’s eyes were closed.

"I’m not asleep." She whispered back as she cracked her wet eyes open.

"Greg is going to take us to the airport at ten, so Gram’s going to have breakfast for us at like, eight thirty." JC whispered as he unbuttoned his jeans. He shimmied them down his legs and folded them in half before laying them across the packed suitcase by the door.

"Okay." Sara nodded and scooted over to make room for him on what had become "his" side of the bed.

"You okay?" JC looked over his shoulder at her as he pulled his shirt over his head. Sara didn’t answer; she just nodded as she blinked back another set of tears. "Why are you crying?" JC reached out and smoothed her hair down. Her forehead was as warm as a child’s as she snuggled under the covers.

"It’s nothing." She tried to smile as she shook her head. "It’s stupid."

"Are you mad?"

"No, not at all." She pulled the blankets back for him to slide under then waited as he switched the small lamp off. "I’ve had a great week JC… this was the perfect way to spend the holidays."

"They all really like you a lot. You’re like part of the family now ya know?" JC smiled and rolled to face her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her neck softly, "But that doesn’t explain why you’re crying."

"It’s nothing." Sara shook her head again and placed her hand on his lower back. "It’s just… I had a really great time here; your family is perfect. This is just what I imagined a real Christmas was like. Maybe I’m just making a big deal out of this… but JC you’ve got the Barbie family."

"The what?" JC smiled.

"The Barbie family. You know, that’s the life little girls dream of, Barbie’s life. This is the family I’ve dreamt of." She laughed lightly.

"You’re weird." JC kissed her and brushed her hair off her forehead. "So you’re not sad or anything like that?"

"No." She shook her head; "I’m going to miss these guys though."

"They’ll miss you too." JC nodded and closed his eyes. She had become part of the family, and that alone was JC’s goal for the week.

 

 

 On to the next part…

 

 

Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn