"Anthony, come on." Alyssa sighed and tugged at the toddlers hand as they walked up the brick walk way to Justin’s moms house. She adjusted the beach bag on her shoulder, trying not to spill the contents.

"But mommy there are – they have basketball right by the car!" Tony tripped over his feet as he tried to point to the basketball hoop set up in the driveway.

"I know sweetie." Alyssa helped him up and continued walking toward the house.

"I can play ball like Jordan."

"I know you can honey. Uncle Jason taught you, huh?"

"Yeah." Tony wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his blue and white plaid over shirt as they stopped at the front door.

"Let me look at you." Alyssa kneeled in front of Anthony and sighed again. His dark blue safari shorts were too big and his tiny wife beater was bunched up around his waist. "All righty, you’re looking good kiddo." She smoothed his hair down and stood up straight.

"You’re looking good too mommy." Tony said as he laughed and tugged at her hand.

"Thanks." Alyssa laughed and rang the doorbell, anxiously waiting to see the guys.

They waited for a couple seconds before they heard foot steps coming down the hall, followed by voices and a couple loud barks. Justin pulled the door open quickly and held two medium sized labs back with his foot. "Hey! Alyssa right? Come on in." He laughed as the dogs tried to hop over his leg.

Anthony cringed and grabbed tight to Alyssa’s shorts, "Mommy?"

"Oh they’re okay, they’re really nice dogs, they’re just happy to see you guys." Justin said as he pulled back on the collars.

"It’s okay Tony." Lyss reached down and pried the tiny hands from her shorts, then picked Tony up to balance him on her hip. "Hi Justin." Alyssa smiled and followed him into the house with the dogs surrounding his feet.

"So who’s this?" Justin asked as he tugged Tony’s shirt sleeve.

"This is Tony, can you say hi to Justin? This is his house."

"Hi." Tony mumbled as he buried his face in Alyssa’s shoulder.

"Hey you know what?" Alyssa whispered as they walked through the house towards the back door.

"What?" Tony whispered back.

"That basketball hoop outside is Justin’s, and I’ll bet he knows how to play really good." She whispered as she raised her eyebrows and smiled.

"I can play basketball." Tony said.

"I know… I’ll bet Justin doesn’t know that though."

"I can play basketball." Tony said loudly.

Justin turned around as he reached for the handle on the big double french doors, "You can huh?"

"Yeah I play like Jordan." Tony smiled shyly.

"Like Michael Jordan?" Justin asked, appropriately surprised.

"Yeah. Da Bulls!" Tony raised his hands over his head and cheered.

"Right on! That’s pretty cool Tony, maybe we can play a little one on one later, how does that sound?" Justin pushed the doors open and stepped outside.

"Yeah. And then I can show you how you dunk it, you can dunk it like this and it goes POW." Tony made the slam dunk motion then wiggled free of Alyssa’s arms to walk beside Justin, his shyness almost completely gone.

"You can slam dunk it? That’s cool, I can’t do that."

"I can show you." Tony smiled up at the curly haired giant as Alyssa laughed.

"Joey’s over by the pool." Justin nodded in that general direction then excused himself as he walked over to where his mom stood by the grill.

"Tony, come on." Alyssa said as the toddler began to follow Justin.

"But I want to go with Justin and slam dunk it." Tony frowned.

"Not right now sweetie. Justin’s going to help his mom cook up some lunch, but he’ll play with you later."

"Then can I go help cook lunch?" He asked, not moving any closer to Alyssa.

"Not right now honey, come on. Let’s go say hi to Joey."

"But I want to cook with Justin." Anthony frowned and looked back toward the grill.

"Nope, not right now." She took his hand and pulled him toward Joey and the others by the pool. "Hey Joey." She said quietly as she snuck up behind him.

"Hey Lyss." He pulled her in for a big hug as the bag fell off her shoulder. "Hey Tony." He smiled at the little boy and stepped back. "You know everyone here, right?"

"Um… no." Alyssa looked around and saw only a couple familiar faces.

"Well here, let me introduce you around then we can go in the pool." Joey smiled and took the bag from Alyssa. He set it on the ground beside the shaded table as Tony pulled his hand out of Alyssa’s. She sighed and rolled her eyes as Joey took them over to where Chris and Dani were sitting with a little girl in the chair between them. She was eating potato chips off of a plate in front of her, meticulously licking her fingers between each chip.

"Hey guys! You remember Alyssa right? This is her son Tony." Joey said as they walked up. "Lyss, this is of course Chris and Dani, and the little chip eater over there is Chris’s little sister, Taylor."

"Hi, of course I remember Alyssa." Chris laughed and stood up to hug her. "Who could forget the gumby girl."

"Oh God." Alyssa blushed and covered her face as she hugged him back. "I totally forgot about that. For the record I don’t do that anymore."

"What?" Joey asked, smiling, but confused.

"Jesus Joe, don’t you remember? She would like, hug herself and she could clasp her hands behind her back, then pull them over her head?" Chris laughed and sat back down as Tony cowered behind Lyssa’s legs.

"I can’t believe I used to be able to do that." Alyssa laughed and turned to Dani, "How have you been? I can’t believe you stayed with this monkey humper."

"Hey!" Chris protested. "I did not."

"You totally humped that stuffed monkey, you know you did." Alyssa laughed and pointed at Chris.

"I did no such thing." Chris said to Dani.

"I was there hun, and you did." Dani laughed.

"What?" Joey asked.

"Remember? When we all went to Epcot and there was that store with huge stuffed animals? Chris humped the monkeys leg." Alyssa laughed as Tony pulled at her hand.

"Mommy I gotta go." He said softly.

"Oh… Joey, where are the bathrooms?" She asked quietly.

"Um, inside the house there, down the hall on the right." He pointed back towards the french doors.

"Okay, we’ll be right back." She smiled at the others and took Tony’s hand.

"I want Joey to go." Tony said shyly.

"Tony honey, I’ll take you." She said softly.

"I can take him." Joey said as he reached out his hand to the kid.

"It’s okay Joe, really."

"I don’t mind." He laughed as Tony bounced up and down and took Joey’s outstretched hand. "Let’s go little man." They headed toward the house and Alyssa sat in the chair beside Dani.

"He’s cute." Dani smiled.

"Thanks." Alyssa watched as Joey tossed Tony up onto his shoulders and walked across the lawn.

"How old is he?" Chris asked.

"He’ll uh… he’ll be four in a couple months." She said carefully.

"I’m four." Taylor said as she licked her fingers again.

"You are huh? Are you in school?" Alyssa asked.

"Yeah I go to preschool with Miss Janet and Miss Candy." The little girls explained.

"Do you like it?"

"Yeah, I get to read my books a lot and play on the bars with Michelle."

"That sounds like fun."

"Uh huh." Taylor nodded and reached for another chip.

"So wow… it’s been a long time huh?" Chris asked.

"Yeah." Alyssa nodded and tucked a stray hair behind her ear.

"Man, when Joey told us he’d ran into you again, it was pretty shocking. I mean, after what? Four years or so… that’s weird."

"Well we didn’t run into each other really, Joey came knocking on my door." She smiled and tried to change the subject, "I’ve been following your guy’s story though, you’re doing pretty good."

"Yeah, we’ve been busy." Chris nodded and took a drink of his soda.

"Chris, did you call that guy? What’s his name, Paul?" JC asked as he walked up to the table.

"No shop talk today." Dani sighed and covered her ears. "Come on you guys, how often do you actually get time off?"

"Pete, and no I didn’t talk to him." Chris answered.

"We’re not talking shop, this has nothing to do with work." JC said as he removed his sunglasses.

"I’ll bet." Dani rolled her eyes and took a chip off of Taylor’s plate.

"So you need to call him because if you don’t call him now he’ll be booked." JC said to Chris.

"I know, I’m going to call him Monday." Chris nodded.

"All right, you got his number?"

"Yeah, it’s on that card you gave me. All ten of them." Chris laughed.

"Who is this guy?" Dani asked.

"He’s the guy that’s going to come do the landscaping for the backyard." Chris said. "I want to get it done before we leave again."

"Oh."

"Not work stuff, don’t worry." JC smirked and put his shades back on and walked away.

"He hasn’t changed at all." Lyssa laughed.

"Nope, not at all, and he won’t either." Chris shook his head and watched as Joey and Tony walked back across the yard.

Alyssa watched over her shoulder as they walked side by side down the brick walkway. Both of them started down the little steps with their left foot, then hitched their shorts up when they got to the bottom. Alyssa smiled, then looked away quickly as her heart sped up. She’d have to find a way to get Joey alone and talk to him about Tony.

"Come on, I’ll go introduce you guys to everyone else." Joey said as they walked up.

"It was nice seeing you guys again." Alyssa smiled as she stood up and followed Joey across the huge lawn. Joey walked her and Tony around the yard and introduced them to everyone there, then headed for the grill to get their steak and chicken.

"Can I play ball after lunch?" Tony asked as Alyssa cut his chicken for him.

"You’ll have to ask Justin, it’s his basketball hoop."

"I have an idea, Joey can play too!" Anthony laughed and took a sip of his juice.

"You bet." Joey smiled.

"Then I can go in the pool and go – " He inhaled deeply to show how he could hold his breath.

"Yeah, I have to go with you though kiddo." Alyssa handed him his plate and began to cut her own steak.

"I can go by myself." Tony argued as he took a tiny bite.

"No way Jose." She shook her head. "If you’re not going to wear your water wing things you can’t go in without me."

"I can go with Joey." He challenged.

"Nope. Me." Alyssa raised her eyebrow at Tony and stared him down.

"But Joey’s a growed up."

"Grown up, and yes he is, but you can’t go in the pool unless I am with you." She explained. "Not that I don’t trust you." She said quickly to Joey.

"No, hey that’s fine." He laughed and wiped his mouth.

"It’s just, kids are so quick you know." She continued to explain.

"No problem." Joey smiled and took another bite of his steak.

 

They finished up their lunch then Anthony jumped up and pulled at Alyssa’s hand, "Can I play ball now?"

"You’ll have to go ask Justin." Alyssa said again. "He’s right over there by the door." She pointed and Tony followed her finger.

He looked from Justin, to Alyssa, and back, "Will you ask him?"

"You’re the one that wants to play" Alyssa smiled and shook her head. "He’s nice, you met him earlier."

"But he has the dogs?"

"No, they’re in the house."

Tony sighed and walked the 15 feet over to where Justin stood talking to Lance. "Can I play ball?" He asked quietly, standing just behind Justin.

Lance and Justin continued talking, not hearing the small boys voice. Tony looked back at Alyssa and frowned, then turned back to Justin and said it louder this time, "Can I play ball?"

Lance glanced down and saw Tony standing there looking up at Justin expectantly. He cleared his throat and nodded at Tony. "You have a visitor." Lance said softly.

"Huh?" Justin turned around, expecting to see someone standing there, but from 6 feet up he saw nothing. He glanced back at Lance and saw that he was looking lower, then turned to see Tony, "Hey! Tony my man, what’s up big guy?" Justin laughed and knelt to Tony’s level.

"Can… can I play ball?"

"Yeah, you wanna play now?" Justin asked.

"Can I?"

"Sure thing." Justin stood up and addressed Lance, "Tony here is gonna show me how to slam dunk, wanna watch?"

Lance laughed quietly and said, "I’ll never miss the chance to see someone school you in basketball."

"You gonna school me, kid?" Justin asked as he placed his hands on his hips.

"Yeah, and so you can dunk it." Tony smiled up at Justin and put his hands on his hips too.

"Cool, let’s head out." Justin looked around the backyard and caught Alyssa’s eye, "It’s okay if we go out front?" He shouted to her.

"Yeah." She nodded. "I’ll be out in a minute."

"Right on." Justin smiled and held the french doors open for Lance and Tony, then followed them through the house to the driveway out front.

Justin hopped in the car and parked it on the street to open up the "court" then grabbed the basketball from the back seat. Joey came out of the house and asked, "Can I team up with you guys?"

"We can be two teams." Tony said as he watched Lance take his sweatshirt off to show his wife beater under it.

"Tony’s my partner." Justin bounced the ball as he walked up the driveway. He rolled the ball to Tony’s feet and said, "Show me what you got."

Tony picked up the huge basketball and bounced it with both hands, trying as hard as he could to not let it get away. He bounced the ball and turned completely around in a circle, then stopped the ball and rested his foot on top.

"Wow! You’re pretty good there Tone." Joey clapped from the sidelines.

"Yeah I play like Jordan." Tony explained.

"You like Jordan huh?" Lance asked.

"Da Bulls!" Tony shouted and threw his hands over his head.

The three grown men laughed and Justin reached down to high five Tony, "That’s right, Jordan’s the man."

"Yeah he’s the man." Tony nodded and slapped Justin’s huge hand.

"So show me how you dunk big guy." Justin picked up the ball and handed it to Tony.

"I have to – you have to pick me up." Tony looked up at the basket miles above his head.

"If I pick you up to make the dunk, will you pick me up?" Justin asked.

"No!" Tony laughed. "You’re too big."

"Then how am I supposed to dunk?" Justin smiled at the boy.

"You’re big and you can jump higher and dunk it." Tony explained as he held the huge ball in his hands.

"Okay, let’s see you dunk it." Justin picked Tony up under his arms and ran him across the court to the basket. He lifted the small boy up as high as he could and Tony slammed the ball through the net.

"Whoa! Good shot Tony!" lance and Joey clapped from the sidelines.

"See? I can dunk like Jordan." Tony laughed as Justin put him back on the ground.

"You sure can, you rock." Joey high fived Tony and dribbled the ball quickly.

The big kids played a little basketball with Tony running around with them trying to catch the ball, and every couple minutes Justin would hand the ball to Tony and then pick him up so he could dunk it. They were up by 10 points when they called a half time break.

"Hey Tone, you’re giving these old guys a run for their money." Alyssa laughed as she stood with her arms crossed over her chest.

"I’m schooling them." Tony said as he walked over to where Lyssa stood.

She bent to tie his shoe and laughed, "You sure are."

"He’s really good." Joey said softly as he stood beside her. Tony ran over to Justin and Lance and shared their bottle of water. "I mean, considering he’s only 3. He can dribble that huge ball and everything."

"Yeah, Jason’s still a sports nut so whenever they get together he teaches Tony some other sport. I think next time it’ll be soccer, Jason went to Chile over the summer and fell in love with the sport."

"Cool." Joey smiled and watched as Justin helped Anthony take his button down shirt off. He folded it in half and set it on the sidelines with Lances sweat shirt, that way Tony looked like the others in tank tops and shorts.

"You’re really great with him Joe." Alyssa said a minute later. "You all are."

"Yeah, kids are cool." Joey squinted and licked his lips. "But at the end of the day I’m glad he’s going home with you."

"He’ll be beat." Alyssa looked at her watch, it was almost 3:00pm, "He’s missing his nap right now, I’d be shocked if he made it till four."

"I’ll be shocked if we make it till four." Joey laughed. "He’s a great kid, really. He acts so grown up, I mean these guys love him."

"Yeah, he hasn’t been raised with other kids, so he’s like a little grown up." Alyssa smiled and sighed.

"Do you want to have little brothers or sisters for him?" Joey asked as he watched Lance kneel in front of Tony and show him how to wipe his face using his shirt.

"I… I think so. Eventually." Alyssa cleared her throat and smiled up at Joey, "I mean, I loved growing up with my brother and sisters. He’d love having other kids around."

"Yeah… I’d like to have a big family." Joey nodded.

"Really?" Alyssa asked, a spark of hope lit inside her.

"Eventually." He nodded. "You know, maybe closer to 30."

"Oh… yeah." She nodded and turned back toward the house, "Can you guys keep an eye on him? I’m going to go mingle."

"Hmm? Oh sure. We’ll keep him out of the street." Joey laughed.

"Thanks." Alyssa smiled and walked back into the house. She didn’t have a lot to worry about, there was a four foot wall around the whole house, and a security gate blocking the end of the driveway. They would have to pick Anthony up and put him over the gate for him to be in any real danger.

The boys played for a while longer with Tony running around by their feet "blocking" Lance and slam dunking the ball every chance he got. Lance took a quick step to the side and accidentally tripped over Tony, sending them both to the ground. Anthony’s little face puckered up and he immediately began to cry, more scared than hurt.

"Whoa! Hey, are you okay? Time out guys." Lance said as he reached over to help Tony sit up, "I’m sorry big guy I didn’t see you." Lance got a worried look on his face just as Tony let out a howl.

"Jeez Lance, just body slam him why don’t ya?" Justin said as he and Joey ran over to the crying boy.

"I’m sorry big guy, here, come here." Lance scooted over beside Anthony and pulled him onto his lap. Tony immediately buried his now tear covered face into Lance’s tank top as he placed his hand on Tony’s silky baby fine hair. "It’s okay buddy, are you hurt? Where did you fall?"

"Owwww!" Tony cried as Lance got a panicked look on his face.

"What did he fall on?" Justin asked as he leaned over the two on the floor.

"I don’t know, his hands are a little scraped." Lance held Tony’s hand open and brushed the dirt off softly. "How’s your head? Did you hit your head?" Lance asked as he ran his hands over the boys tiny head.

"What happened?" Alyssa asked as she ran out the front door and down the walkway towards the driveway.

"Lance body slammed him." Justin said.

"I did not." Lance glared at Justin and rocked Tony back and forth. "It was an accident, I didn’t see him."

"Are you okay baby?" Alyssa asked as she knelt in front of Tony and stroked his head. "Did he hit his head?" She asked Lance.

"I don’t think so, he pretty much fell on his butt." Alyssa went to take Tony from Lance, but he had a death grip on Lance’s tank top.

"Did you hit your head, baby?" Alyssa asked softly.

"No my hand." Tony held up his hand for his mom to inspect.

"Oh yeah, you skinned it." She said as she raised it to her lips to kiss it. His cries subsided as she said, "Let’s go on inside and clean it up."

"No!" Tony said as he peeled his face away from Lance. "It hurts when you clean it."

"It won’t hurt, it’ll help so it won’t get infected."

"I don’t want to." Tony started to cry again.

Lance adjusted him on his lap and looked at his own hand, "Lookit kiddo, I biffed my hand too, let’s go wash our hands then we can go in the pool. I think we’re done with our ball game, what do you think?"

"Did I win?" Tony asked as he wiped his eyes quickly.

"Of course we won." Justin smiled and tousled Tony’s hair, "We kicked their butts."

"Mommy can I go in the pool?" Anthony looked up at Alyssa with red watery eyes.

"Um… sure." Alyssa looked at her watch and saw that it was almost 4:30. He’d be pooping out soon, and she was ready to head home.

"Come on tough guy." Lance held Tony tight as he stood up and brushed his butt off. "I’m real sorry Lyss." Lance said softly as he walked by her with her son in his arms.

"It’s… it’s okay." She forced a smile and followed them into the house. Tony laid his head on Lance’s shoulder, and by the time they got to the bathroom he was sound asleep and drooling on Lance’s shirt.

"Oh man, he’s racked out." Justin said softly as he and Joey followed them into the bathroom.

"He’s beat guys, I’d better just take him home." Alyssa said as she tried to cover her yawn.

"Do you want me to just carry him to your car?" Lance whispered over Tony’s head.

"If you wouldn’t mind." Alyssa smiled. "I need to go get my bag and things." Alyssa left the small group of boys in the bathroom as she went out to the back yard to get her bag.

"Whoa Lance, you’re bleeding." Joey said, looking at Lance’s elbow in the mirror.

"Oh man…" Lance glanced in the mirror to see around Tony.

"Here, I’ll take him." Joey said as he reached for Anthony.

"Don’t wake him up." Lance whispered as he carefully pried Tony’s hand off his tank top and handed the sleeping boy to Joey.

Joey adjusted Tony in his arms and held him against his chest as the child turned his sleeping face towards Joey. "He’s cute when he sleeps." Joey whispered as he stepped out of the bathroom.

He walked carefully out to the front of the house to go wait by Alyssa’s car. He held Tony tight with one arm as he reached over to open the gate and stepped through. Joey walked to Lyssa’s car and leaned back carefully as Anthony continued to sleep in his arms.

Alyssa bounded out of the front door with her beach bag over her shoulder and a diet coke in one hand. Her dark blonde hair was falling out of her pony tail, and she didn’t have a speck of make up on… but Joey couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She hadn’t changed at all since the last time they were together. Oh sure, her life had changed… she had a son now, among other things. But she hadn’t changed.

Alyssa slowed down as she spotted Joey standing by her car with her son… their son… nestled asleep in his arms. She caught her breath as her heart sped up, now would be the perfect time to tell him. She smiled slightly and pulled the gate closed behind her then walked up to Joey.

"Thanks." She said softly as she unlocked her car door.

"No problem. We really wore him out."

"Yeah, I should hire you guys to come tire him out every night. He’s out like a light." Alyssa opened the back door and adjusted Tony’s seat so Joey could put him down.

"Yeah." Joey laughed lightly and leaned into the car, depositing Tony in his seat, then he stood back, not sure how all the buckles went.

Lyssa leaned into the car and strapped Tony in as he slowly peeled his eyes open and looked at her, "No mommy… I want to go in the pool." He said as he began crying.

"No baby, you’re tired. We’re just going to go home."

"Nooooo!" He whined, still half asleep. "You said we could go swimming."

"Sweetie, you’re pooped. We can go swimming at grandmas this week, how’s that?"

"I want to go with Justin." Tony whined again as big alligator tears fell down his cheeks.

"Nope, we’re headed home honey. I’m pooped too." She shook her head and leaned to kiss his forehead. He angrily pushed her away and kicked the back of the seat in front of him. "Hey. Anthony, that’s not cool. You can be upset but don’t kick."

"I want to go in the pool." He shouted.

"I told you no. We’re going home now." She said firmly as he continued to cry. She cast a sorry look at Joey and shrugged, "I’m sorry about all this."

"It’s okay." Joey laughed and shook his head. "You’re the one who has to drive home with his feet in your seat."

"I know." She sighed and unlocked the front door. "I uh… I had a nice time today. It was great to get out of the house, you know?"

"Anytime." Joey smiled and held her door open for her as Tony continued to cry in the back seat. "Like I said, we’re off for the next couple months, we should hang out more."

"I… I’d like that." She nodded. "And I think we should talk." She glanced over the back seat at Tony.

"Okay." Joey smiled and followed her eyes into the back seat where Tony was still crying. "Drive careful." He said as she hopped into the car and rolled her window down.

"I will. And hey, thank the guys for playing with Tony, he… he really like play with the big boys." She smiled.

"He’s a good sport." Joey squatted and leaned his arms on her window sill. "I’ll call you this week, okay?"

"Okay." Alyssa nodded shyly and smiled.

"Cool." Joey leaned in and kissed her cheek quickly. "See ya Tony." Joey waved over the back of the seat at the still screaming child. He shook his head and stood up as Alyssa carefully pulled out into the street and drove away. He did not envy her.

 

 

 On to the next part

 

Copyright � 2000 Amy Lynn