That Friday Alyssa had a long day at work then trudged through the grocery store to get the weeks worth of food. She picked up a tired and cranky Tony from his preschool and headed home through the light drizzling of rain.

Alyssa got Anthony situated in the kitchen then brought all of the bags in from the car. Half way through unpacking the bags her phone rang across the kitchen. "Hello?" She answered as she tried not to drop the phone on Tony’s head.

"Hey Lyss? This is Joey." Joey smiled and held his tiny cel phone to his ear as he leaned against the wall and tried to stay dry.

"Hey, how’s it going?" Alyssa asked as she wedged her phone against her ear and stepped over the cord. Anthony was "helping" her put groceries away. "Baby no, that goes up here on the counter. You can put the crackers away, how’s that?"

"Yum, what kind of crackers?" Joey laughed.

"Ritz crackers, of course." Alyssa grabbed a couple things of frozen juice and opened the freezer. "So what’s up?"

"Well actually I was calling to see what the chances were of you getting a sitter for tonight."

"I… I might be able to do that, why?"

"I would like to take you out for a dinner that doesn’t come with a free toy."

"Ahhh… I like free toys." Alyssa smiled and shut the freezer.

"I like free toys and fries!" Tony added from the floor as he tried to pry open a box of cereal.

"Tony, come on." Alyssa sighed in exasperation and took the box away. "I’m trying to get this put away."

"What are you doing?" Joey laughed softly.

"I’m trying to put away my groceries and Tony here isn’t helping."

"I’m helping." He pouted as he pulled himself to a standing position. "I put the crackers away."

"I know you did sweetie. Can you go play in your room for just a couple minutes so I can finish?" She asked sweetly. Anthony bounded out of the kitchen and down the hall to his room.

"Need some help?" Joey asked.

"You wanna help me put away groceries?" Alyssa smiled and brushed her dark blonde bangs out of her eyes.

"I’d love to." Joey smiled and stood up straight.

Alyssa laughed and shook her head, "I’ll be done by the time you get here."

Joey casually leaned over and pressed the glowing orange button, "I wouldn’t be so sure about that."

"Joey…" Alyssa smiled and put the box of macaroni and cheese down on the counter. "Are you outside my door?" She laughed.

He rang the bell again and said, "Well why don’t you open the door and look already."

"Okay, I have to hang up the phone though."

"Fine, but it’s raining." He smiled.

"Okay bye." She dropped the phone back on the cradle and bounced over to the front door. She unlocked it quickly and threw the door open with a smile. "You are crazy." She laughed as Joey flipped his phone shut and slid it into his pocket.

"You knew that." Joey smiled and took a step into the house to get out of the drizzle. He pulled Alyssa in for a hug and lifted her off the ground.

"I have had a shitty day, you have no idea how happy I am to see you." She laughed as he set her back on her feet.

"I’m happy to see you too." He couldn’t stop smiling as he followed her across the living room to the kitchen.

"You don’t have to help put groceries away, I was kidding." Alyssa smiled and took the loaf of bread out of one of the bags and put it in the bread box.

"I don’t mind."

"Mommy?" Anthony called from down the hall.

"Tony don’t shout, come here and talk to me."

"I’m stuck." He shouted back.

"Stuck in what?"

"In my bed, mommy." He shouted, more annoyed then panicked.

"I’ll go check it out." Joey smiled and turned toward the hall as Alyssa went back to unloading the food from the bags.

Joey walked down the hall and glanced in the first room to the left which used to be a guest room when he was dating her. It was now decorated in Blues Clues paraphernalia. The off white walls had a border with all of the characters dancing around it, a big Blues Clues comforter on the bed, with matching pillow cases, and a toy chest shaped like the big chair. Joey smiled at the Chicago Bulls throw rug on the floor in front of the bed, then noticed Tony wedged between the bed and the wall.

"Hi Joey." Tony said sadly.

"Hey buddy, what happened?"

"I got stuck." He sighed.

"I can see that, you need some help?" Joey smiled and sat on the bed beside Tony.

"Yeah." Tony nodded. Joey leaned over and scooted the bed out an inch or two so Anthony could pull his foot out. "Thanks."

"Did you drop something back there?"

"Yeah." Tony nodded and laid on his stomach to reach behind the bed.

"Whatcha lose?" Joey laid on his stomach beside him and looked down between the bed and the wall.

"Tickety tock."

"What’s it look like?"

"Like a clock." Tony explained slowly.

"Okay…" Joey reached his long arms towards the floor as he laid across the small bed.

"I think it’s over there." Anthony pointed toward the head of the bed.

"Up there? Okay, let me climb under there and get it." Joey crawled off the bed and lay on his stomach on the floor to look under the bed. "There it is." He scooted halfway under the bed to reach the small toy.

Alyssa stood in the door way and smiled as Tony laughed at Joey. "You’re too big to go under there." Tony shook his head.

"I think I’ve got it." Joey said from under the bed. "Here ya go." He shimmied backwards and sat up with the toy in his hand. "Is this it?"

"Yeah." Tony picked it out of Joey’s hand and jumped back on the bed.

"What do you say, Tone?"

"Thanks Joey." Tony mumbled softly.

"Tony…" Alyssa said with a very motherly tone.

"Thank you Joey." Anthony said clearly.

"Your welcome kiddo." Joey laughed and stood up, "So do you wanna see about dinner?"

"Sure, let’s go on out here so I can call the s-i-t-t-e-r." Alyssa said softly, motioning out towards the other room. Joey followed her and sat across from her on the couch as she picked up the phone and dialed. "Hi Anna, this is Alyssa. How are you?" She asked with a smile. "That’s great, hey is there any chance you’d be free to watch the little monster tonight for a couple hours? Oh, okay. Yeah, no that’s okay, I know it’s last minute and everything. Okay. I’ll talk to you later Anna. Thanks." She hung up and shook her head, "One down, one to go." She said to Joey.

"I can always call one of the guys." Joey suggested.

"No that’s okay." Alyssa laughed. "They’ve got better things to do that hang out with a cranky 3 year old tonight." She dialed the phone again and waited for the other girl to pick up, "Hi is Pam there please? Sure, this is Alyssa Carnes, Tony’s mom." She waited for a second before Pam came on the line, "Hi Pam this is Alyssa. I’m good how are you? Good, hey I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’re free tonight is there? Um, I guess from…" She checked her watch and looked at Joey. "I’d say six until maybe eight or nine? Oh you do? Oh… no I don’t think we could be home by then." Alyssa looked at Joey and asked, "Could we be back by seven thirty?"

Joey checked his watch and saw that it was already after 5. "Eh, I doubt it."

"Okay, well thanks anyway Pam. Okay, sure just remind me next time you come over and I’ll order some. All righty, I’ll talk to you later." She hung up and looked at Joey. "I’m sorry."

"What about your parents?" Joey asked.

"They have their church stuff Friday nights." She frowned.

"Well we can just stay in." Joey smiled. "I can go out and get some take out if you want then we can just eat here."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure." Joey smiled and stood up again, "What would you like?"

"I would absolutely love some good Italian food. How about if you run on up to your moms house and bring some good stuff back." Alyssa laughed.

"Oh sure thing, I’ll be back in a week." He laughed. "But hey, you want good Italian food, I’ll bring you the works." He reached into his pocket for his keys and headed for the door.

"Thanks Joey." She followed him to the door and said, "Would you mind stopping by Mc Donalds? The kid has had a hard day too." She reached into her pocket for some money.

"I’ve got it, don’t worry."

"Joey you don’t have to buy our dinner."

"It’s a date. I can buy if I want to."

"Fine, then you can buy mine, you don’t have to buy Tony’s." She said as she handed him four dollars.

"Alyssa come on. Keep it." He pushed her hand away and opened the door.

"Joey…" She argued.

"Oh stop it." He rolled his eyes and made a beeline for his car in the rain.

Joey returned twenty minutes later with delicious smelling spaghetti and garlic bread, and a small bag on Mc Donalds for Tony. He knocked once then pushed the door open slowly, "Lyss?" He asked as he walked in, not wanting to startle her.

"Yeah, in here." She said softly from the kitchen. She was sitting at the table cutting up lettuce and tomatoes for a salad. "I’m making a salad so we can have a real meal." She looked up as he walked into the kitchen.

"Cool." He smiled and sat the bags down on the counter behind her. "Where’s Tony?"

"You know… I haven’t heard him since you left." Alyssa frowned and stood up quickly. She headed down the hall, leaving Joey in the kitchen to set up dinner.

Alyssa pushed Tony’s door open a crack and saw the little guy fast asleep on top of his covers on the bed, with his Tonka truck in one hand and his ratty old stuffed camel in the other. She smiled to herself and crossed the room to take his shoes off and cover him up. She switched his light off and shut his door quietly before going back to the kitchen. "He crashed." Alyssa smiled.

"Oh man, poor guys gonna miss out on a killer cheese burger." Joey looked at the happy meal on the counter.

"That’s okay, he can have it tomorrow." Alyssa took the bag and placed it in the refrigerator. "He’s had a really long day and I don’t think he’s feeling to hot."

"That’s no good." Joey frowned and dished up the spaghetti and garlic bread onto two plates and set them at the table. "Does he have a cold?"

"Yeah, I think he’s starting to get one. I’ll have to keep an eye on him for the next couple days so I can nip it in the bud if that’s what it is."

"Yeah, that’s no fun."

"Nope." Lyssa shook her head and sat across from Joey at the small table. "Well this smells wonderful. Where did you go?"

"It’s a secret." Joey smiled and shook his head.

"You’ll have to take me there sometime." She smiled flirtatiously at him, then laughed.

"You bet. One night when you can get a sitter, we can go." He said. "It’s not exactly a kids restaurant."

"Okay." She nodded. "I’ll let you know."

"I’m going to be really busy in the next couple weeks." Joey sighed. "We start work on our new album and then we’re going back on the road in November."

"I thought you just finished?" Alyssa took a bite of her garlic bread, "Wow, this is great."

"Isn’t it?" Joey smiled and took a bite of his own. "We did just get back about a month or so ago. But we’re going to go back out for I think two and half, three months. You know, kinda of like a winter leg, maybe some Christmas songs." He shrugged.

"That sounds like fun." Alyssa nodded.

"Uhh, I don’t know about fun, but it’s what I do." Joey smiled and they continued to eat their dinner.

"Do you love it still?" Alyssa asked quietly a little later.

"More than ever I think. The group is number one on my priority list right now." Joey wiped his mouth on his napkin and placed his fork on his plate. "Which I guess is a good thing."

"Yeah." Alyssa nodded slowly. The group was number one with him, how could she jump in there and throw Tony in the mix? That wouldn’t be fair to any of them.

Alyssa frowned unconsciously and Joey laughed, "What’s that frown for?"

"Hmm?" She looked up suddenly, not realizing she’d been lost in thought for a couple minutes. "Nothing." Alyssa sighed again and stood up with her plate, "I just hope Tony isn’t getting sick." She walked her dishes to the kitchen and set them in the sink, she’d do them later.

"Lyss? You okay?" Joey asked as he walked up behind her to put his dishes in the sink.

"Yeah." She gave him a fake smile and turned around.

"You got quiet all of a sudden." He said with a cautious smile.

"I’m just… I’m tired I guess."

"Do you want me to go?"

"Joey… I don’t want you to go, no." She shook her head and rubbed her eyes.

"What do you want Lyss?" Joey asked as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

What did she want?? What did she really want? She really wanted Joey to just go away. To just not be here like it was before. It was so much easier then. She didn’t have to worry about trying to find a way to tell him. That’s what she wanted. Right?

"I don’t want anything." She said softly as she leaned her forehead on his chest.

"Alyssa, come on." Joey smiled and tilted her chin up towards him. "All right, you need a cheese infomercial to snap you out of your funk. Come on." She kissed her forehead quickly then took her hand and led her into the living room.

"Joey I hate infomercials." Alyssa whined with a smile and plopped down on the sofa across from him.

"Yeah, but it’ll take your mind off whatever it is that’s bugging you."

"Thanks Joey…" Alyssa caught his eye and meant it.

"You’re welcome." He flipped the channels till he found an infomercial for Nad’s hair removal stuff, then sat the clicker on the table and sat back on the couch. They sat at opposite ends with their feet intertwining in the middle of the cushion.

They watched for a couple minutes in silence, then Joey said, "You know… ever since - " He stopped mid sentence. Alyssa was asleep with her head on the arm of the couch. Joey smiled and tilted his head to the side as he watched her sleep.

He slowly took his eyes off of Alyssa and flipped through the channels to find something else to watch. He settled on a re-run of "Fresh Prince of Bel Aire" and turned the volume down as low as he could make it.

Joey watched two episodes back to back then stood up slowly so not to wake Alyssa. He stretched his hands over his head and flicked the TV off before returning the remote to it’s spot on the table. He quickly and quietly returned to the kitchen to turn off the lights, and throw away the take out containers from dinner.

Joey gently took the quilt from the back of the couch and covered Alyssa on the couch, then kissed her cheek softly. He kept his face inches from hers and just stared at her dark eye lashes resting on her cheek. What he wouldn’t give to go back in time and not break her heart. He would do anything to have the last four years with her… Maybe they could start over now though…

He slowly brushed his lips over hers then stood up straight. He smoothed down her baby fine hair and sighed, before crossing the room to turn off the lights, sending the room into darkness. The tiny glow of a nightlight in the hallway lit his way to the front door. Joey let himself out, and locked the handle of the door before he shut it quietly behind him.

 

Tony and Alyssa spent the next four days bundled up at home with matching fevers of 101. They both had a terrible flu, and Alyssa wouldn’t let Joey come over at all. If he was going to start recording in the next week or so the last thing he needed was the flu. He called every day to see if they needed anything, but other than a solid nights sleep, they didn’t need anything.

By that weekend they were both well enough to spend the day at Justin’s moms house again, with all of the guys and a handful of other friends. Tony had a blast playing ball with the big guys while Alyssa hung around and got reacquainted with Dani.

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

 

"Have you thought about Halloween?" Joey asked two weeks later as they sat in a booth at Carlos Murphy’s restaurant.

"What about it?" Alyssa asked as she cut Tony’s chicken fingers into bite sized pieces.

"Well what are you guys doing?"

"We are going trick or treating." Lyssa smiled at Tony and made a scary face. "And… we are going to carve a gigantic pumpkin, right?"

"Yeah, and I get to be a scuba diver." Tony laughed and took a bite of his fries.

"Oh yeah?" Joey laughed. "How are you going to do that?"

"Mommy made it." He said matter-of-factly.

"I just got him a little wet suit, then used 2 liter bottles to make his tanks and strapped them to his life vest." She smiled. "He’s already got the mask and little fins."

"Right on." Joey laughed. "How about you?"

"Alice."

"Alice?" Joey asked.

"Of Wonderworld." Tony laughed.

"In Wonderland." Alyssa corrected him.

"Cool." Joey laughed.

"What are you doing for Halloween?" Alyssa asked as she handed Tony his dinner and started in on hers.

"Um, I don’t know really. We’ve had shows the last couple years." Joey shrugged.

"Well you’re more than welcome to come with us." She smiled.

"And you can get candy!" Tony took a sip of his milk.

"Oooh candy sounds like fun. I like candy." Joey smiled at Tony and continued to eat.

"Me too. I like suckers." Anthony nodded.

"Me too." Joey laughed.

 

They finished up their meal then headed out to the car, "Where are you guys going trick-or-treating?" Joey asked.

"Just around the neighborhood." Alyssa said as she loaded Tony into the back seat.

"Do I have to dress up?" Joey laughed as he climbed into the passenger seat.

"If you come with us? Don’t you think that’d be a good idea?" She asked.

"True." He nodded.

"So…?"

"Sure, I’ll go with you guys. That sounds like fun." Joey rested his arm across the back of Alyssa’s seat as they headed back to her house.

When they got home, Anthony was sound asleep in the back seat, snoring lightly. "Here, can you go open the front door for me please?" Alyssa handed Joey her keys as she opened the back door.

"Do you want me to get him?" he asked.

"No, I’ve got it." She smiled and unbuckled Tony’s seat. She picked him up carefully and rested him on her shoulder as she headed up to the house. Joey stood there holding the door open for her, and shut it behind her. Alyssa walked down the dark hall to Tony’s room and laid him on the bed. Joey stood in the door way and watched as Lyss took Tony’s shoes of, then carefully pulled his jeans off and pulled the covers up over his bare legs. Tony wiggled and frowned before smooshing his face into the pillow and sighing contentedly.

Alyssa sat at the edge of the bed and smoothed his hair gently, so not to wake him. She leaned down and softly kissed the top of his head and whispered his night time prayers before she stood up and walked slowly across the room. "He’s out like a light." She whispered to Joey as she stepped past him.

"Yeah." He whispered back, keeping his gaze on the sleeping child, as Alyssa headed for the living room. Joey sighed softly and followed her down the hall.

Joey sat on the big soft couch as Alyssa went into the kitchen to grab a glass of water. She carried it in both hands as she came back to the living room and sat across from Joey on the couch. He had turned the TV on and "When Harry Met Sally" was playing softly in the background.

"Why do you always sit way over there?" Joey asked as Alyssa made herself comfortable in the corner.

"What do you mean?"

"Every time I come over you always sit all the way over there." He smiled and placed his arm across the back of the sofa. "I don’t bite."

Alyssa laughed shortly and smiled at Joey, "I know you better than that, Joey."

"I’ve grown up a lot." He said softly as he leaned over and took her hand. "Come on just sit with me." He pulled her gently to the other side of the couch and leaned back so that she was leaning back against his chest. Joey wrapped his arms protectively around her and sunk deeper into the couch. "See? This isn’t so bad…"

"No… it’s not." Alyssa said softly, melting into him. She’d thought about what this would be like… to have Joey back in her life. In Tony’s life. "Hey… Joey…?" She said slowly, now would be the perfect time.

"You know Lyss." He started at the same time. "Sorry, go ahead."

"No, you go." She said, chickening out. She looked towards the TV and followed Meg Ryan’s image across the screen.

"Ever since I’ve been hanging out with you guys, with you and Tony… I just feel kind of… I don’t know. I mean, Alyssa, Tony is great. He’s the best kid I’ve ever been around. If all my kids could turn out like him, I’d have a dozen."

Alyssa’s breath caught in her throat, and she was sure she gasped audibly, but Joey didn’t react. "I…" She started, but her lips wouldn’t form the words.

"I’ve never dated anyone with a kid before, and I never thought I would. But with you, this just feels different, you know?" He asked softly as he ran his fingers through hers. She couldn’t do anything but nod slightly. "So I guess what I’m saying is that… if you’d like… I’d like to see more of you." He said softly right next to her ear. His voice sent chills up her spine and she closed her eyes slowly.

"Joey… it’s more complicated now." She said a minute later.

"I know it is. But I’d like to try." He kissed her neck softly, the half days growth on his chin tickled her ear. Alyssa covered his arms with her and pulled them tight around her waist, then sighed and turned her head towards the TV, listening to Joey’s heart beat in his chest under her ear.

"I’d like that too." She heard herself say. He smiled broadly, though she couldn’t see, then wrapped his arms tighter around her and kissed her neck playfully again. This was his chance to do things right with her… even if she was a package deal now.

 

On to part 4…

 

Copyright � 2000 Amy Lynn