At ten thirty exactly JC’s phone rang the next morning, "Is me?" Kyle asked as he bounced toward the bed with Lello in his arms.

                "Yep, that’s your special visitor." JC tried to smile as he picked up the phone, "Hello?"

                "Hi, I’m here." Lori said.

                "Okay, come on up to the tenth floor, Les will be waiting for you at the elevator."

                "Les?" Lori asked.

                "The security guard." JC nodded. "We’ll see you in a few."

                "O-okay." Lori stuttered before she hung up the phone.

                "All right pal, let’s go down to our other room and wait."

                "Who is?" Kyle climbed up on the bed and jumped lightly, then fell on his butt.

                "Who is it? It’s your special visitor. Do you remember who?"

                "Mommy?"

                "Yep." JC nodded. "She’s coming to see you today. You’re a special kid, you get to see your mommy today huh?"

                "Yeah. We go ouside?"

                "Maybe." JC nodded. "You can show her some airplanes and stuff outside. Maybe you can have a snack out there."

                "Cheese?"

                "You want cheese?"

                "Cheese fish?" Kyle asked as he tucked Lello under his arm and slid off the bed.

                "Oh, the goldfish cheese crackers? You bet." JC grabbed the bag off the nightstand and picked Kyle up.

                "And Jessi?"

                "Nope, Jessica isn’t going to be there today, she’s at home." JC explained. "I’m going to hang out with you for a little while, but then I might leave, okay?" He slid his cell phone into his pocket, intending to call the guys to touch base.

                "No say." Kyle shook his head.

                "If I leave it’ll only be for a little while, I’m just going to go make some phone calls."

                "No, say. Have to." Kyle insisted as he placed his hand on JC’s cheek. "Daddy have." Kyle nodded.

                "You’ll be there with your mommy and with Frank."

                "And daddy." Kyle nodded.

                "You want me to stay there the whole time?"

                "Yeah have to." Kyle nodded and sighed as JC let them into their room by the elevators. It was empty and chilly so he turned the air conditioner off and opened the window to let in the warm air from outside.

                "I’ll stick around then." JC nodded. They got some of Kyle’s toys out of the backpack and put them on the bed for him to play with, then waited for a few minutes for Lori to show up. She knocked hesitantly as Les opened the door to let her and Frank into the room.

                "Hi sweetie!" She laughed as she ran over to Kyle. "Hey big guy, how are you?"

                "Hi." Kyle said shyly as she squeezed him in a tight hug.

                JC stood up straight with a matchbox car in his hand. A million things came to mind and danced on the tip of his tongue, things he wanted to say but for the sake of the two year old in her arms, he wouldn’t. JC bit the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood, then quickly licked his lips to get rid of the sharp metallic taste. He hadn’t thought that just seeing her again would bring back all the same feelings from before; he had managed to keep his anger and frustration in check. But now that she was standing there holding Kyle, it all came back.

                "Hi." Lori said as she looked up at JC.

                "Hi." JC forced the single syllable from his mouth. The security guard placed himself against the wall by the closet, close enough to be effective in any situation, he watched with careful eyes.

                "So what have you guys been up to? Did you go to the beach? It looks like you got some sun there sweetie." She ran her hand over Kyle’s short hair.

                "We go a mokey." Kyle nodded and moved his hand to his head; lately he’d been annoyed when people touched his hair.

                "You went where?"

                "A mokey." Kyle nodded and wiped his mouth on his bare arm. "And efant."

                Lori looked at JC for clarification, "Where’d you go?"

                "To the Zoo." JC spun the wheels on the car in his hand. "He saw the monkey’s and the elephants."

                "Oh man!" Lori laughed and looked down at Kyle, "That’s it? There are so many more animals there. One day I’ll take you to the Zoo and show you the hippos and the tigers and penguins, all of that."

                "We saw the whole Zoo, those were just his favorite." JC squeezed the matchbox car in his hand and took a deep breath. He didn’t want to lose his cool in front of Kyle, or at all really; he just wanted to pull Lori aside and talk some sense into her. This whole court thing was crazy, they were adults, and they should be able to work something out. "Will you have time after the visit?" He asked quickly.

                "Time? For what?"

                "I think we need to talk."

                "I have to drive back to LA tonight, I have to work you know." She shook her head.

                "Lori, we need to talk about this. You’re taking me to court and – "

                "And we can discuss whatever it is you want to discuss there. In court I mean."

                "I don’t think it needs to – " He started.

                Lori shook her head and frowned as she scooped Kyle up and headed for the far corner of the room. JC looked from Lori to Frank with his eyebrows raised; did she really just blow him off completely? Was that how it was going to go?"

                Frank just shrugged and moved into the room a few more feet. JC sighed and sat down on the bed as he flipped his cell phone open. He dialed George’s number and waited as it rang in his ear. "Hey George." He said softly as he leaned forward on his knees.

                "Hey kid, what’s up?" George asked. "Did Lori show up for the visit?"

                "Yeah, she’s here now. I asked her if we could talk about this whole thing and she just like… ignored me." JC said just above a whisper.

                "She wants to take it all the way." George sighed. "She wants all contact to be through the lawyers which basically means that you can’t discuss the case with her without her lawyer present."

                "What?" JC whispered loudly while trying to keep his voice down as Kyle and Lori investigated his bag of toys across the room. "Seriously?"

                "Seriously."

                "If we could just sit down and talk we could work this out. I don’t want to go to court at all, can’t we just agree to visitation or something?"

                "She and her lawyer won’t settle for less than full custody. They will not negotiate visitation until after the judgment."

                "Why is she being like this?" JC asked softly as he stood up and headed for the door so he could have his conversation in the hall.

                "Daddy?" Kyle jumped up as JC reached for the handle. "Say."

                "I’m just gonna go talk on the phone for a minute."

                "No here." Kyle shook his head.

                "I can’t stay here. I’m going to be right outside this door, I’ll be back in two minutes." JC smiled. "Promise."

                "I go?"

                "No you can stay here with your mom and visit. Show her how Elmo laughs." JC said as Kyle ran over to the door.

                "I show." Kyle insisted. "Say?"

                "I have to talk to my buddy on the phone. You can stay right in here with Frank and your mommy. I won’t leave without you… here." JC dug in his pocket. "Hold my wallet for me. You know I can’t go without that, right?"

                "No I go." Kyle threw the wallet on the floor.

                "Come on buddy, I need three minutes on the phone." He lifted Kyle and handed him to Frank who was standing the closest. "I’ll be right back."

                "Now?"

                "In three minutes." JC nodded as he ducked out the door. He heard Kyle start to cry as the door clicked closed behind him and he took a deep breath before going back to his phone, "Sorry about that."

                "That’s okay. Is he alright?"

                "Yeah, he’ll be okay." JC nodded. "Why is she doing this? If she thought I was good enough to leave him with me why doesn’t she want me to have him now?"

                "I don’t know man. I’ve tried to talk to her and her lawyer but it just ain’t happening." George shook his head. "All her lawyer has said is that Miss Sczlansky won’t settle for anything less than what she’s asked for. If the judge makes the decision to grant shared custody or visitation, or any amended version of what she’s asked for she will go with that, but as for settling before the court case, that’s not a possibility."

                "You told me if I went in there asking for everything, I could end up with nothing." JC said.

                "Right."

                "So what’s this?"

                "She’s going in there asking for everything. She could very well end up with nothing. Most judges are fair, but if someone struts in there and gets greedy, they can turn the tables against themselves."

                "Yeah." JC sighed. "So… so explain this to me. If she’s asking for all of that, what am I asking for?"

                "You’re essentially the defendant in this case. Lori is saying she wants full legal and physical custody and your argument will be that that arrangement is not okay with you. That’s pretty much where you stand. You’re saying ‘no’ to her request. You showing interest in raising the child will show the judge that both parties are willing to be involved. Most courts favor joint legal custody."

                "So I’m not asking for it all?"

                "You’re saying you don’t want her to have sole legal and physical custody."

                "Then what am I asking for?"

                "Joint physical legal custody."

                "I can’t ask for it all?"

                "We’ve covered that JC."

                "So at best I might get joint custody?"

                "That’s probably what’s going to happen." George nodded. "Like I said, most courts favor joint custody if the parents show an ability to communicate. You’re letting her have these visits with him; you’re showing an attempt at communication… I think that’ll show through."

                "This is fucked up."

                "Basically." George agreed. "I’m going to need to meet with you this week to go over some questions."

                "Questions?"

                "If her lawyers get a chance to shoot you down, they will. I have a feeling they like to play hardball. I’d like to get you ready for that."

                "Okay." JC sighed as Kyle pulled at the handle of the door from the other side and cried. "Can we do that Thursday?"

                "Yeah, Thursday’s fine. Whenever you can make it."

                "Daddy go?"

                "I’m right here buddy." JC said loudly. "I’ll be back in just a second."

                "Why don’t you give me a call a little later and we’ll set something up."

                "Okay." JC nodded. "Thanks George."

                "Anytime kid." George smiled as JC hung up and pulled the door open.

                "Daddy?" Kyle stared up at him with red tear stained eyes.

                "Kyle… buddy why are you crying? Come on, I told you I was going to be right back."

                "No say." Kyle said forcefully as he clung to JC.

                JC sighed and carried him into the room where Lori stood with her arms crossed, she did not look happy, "What’s that about?"

                "He didn’t want me to leave the room." JC shrugged and held Kyle close to stop him from crying. "He’ll be okay in just a minute." JC sat on the corner of the bed and stroked his head. "Okay, I’m going to sit right here, I’m not going anywhere." He said softly. "Why don’t you take your mommy onto the balcony and show her your goldfish crackers? Maybe she’d like some."

                "You say."

                "I’m gonna stay." JC nodded.

                "Here?"

                "I’m going to stay inside, right here on the bed okay?"

                "Kay." Kyle nodded and cautiously let go of JC to walk across the room to where Lori stood. Kyle looked back over his shoulder to make sure JC was still standing there, then he dug into his bag of goldfish crackers and pulled a small handful out. "Is fish. And cheese." Kyle said as he looked back at JC before stepping out onto the balcony.

                "I see that’s a goldfish cracker. Do you like those?"

                "No sim." Kyle sighed as he shook his head.

                "No, they probably don’t swim very well." Lori smiled and sat on one of the chairs outside.

                JC fell backwards and lay on the bed with his cell phone in his hand while he listened to Kyle and Lori chatting back and forth on the balcony a few feet away. Frank made his way toward the sliding glass door and gently kicked JC’s foot, "You okay?"

                "Yeah." JC nodded, though he didn’t open his eyes. "I’m cool."

                "Cool." Frank nodded and leaned on the wall to keep an eye on Lori.

                "Can you tell me when an hour is up?"

                "An hour from now? Or when she got here?"

                "From now." JC shook his head.

                "You bet." Frank pushed a dozen buttons on his watch, then dropped his hand to his side.

                JC listened to the mother and son chatting on the balcony, more like friends than anything. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do and he didn’t feel right just sitting there straining to hear every word. JC picked up the hotel brochure and read in detail all of the services they had to offer, from the glamorous salon off the lobby to the rooftop dining.

                "Jace?" Frank’s voice broke through his concentration a little while later.

                "Yeah?" JC looked up from the booklet.

                "It’s an hour." He cleared his throat.

                "Okay." JC yawned and set the brochure aside as he pushed himself up. He arched his back and winced as it cracked, then straightened his shirt and ran his hands through his hair. JC leaned on the doorframe leading to the balcony and squinted into the sun, "Hey."

                "Daddy hi." Kyle smiled up at him as he sat on the ground mashing his goldfish crackers with his feet.

                "Hey pal, you’re making a mess." JC smiled and shook his head.

                "Yeah." Kyle laughed and stood up. He brushed his hands off and walked inside, as if he knew the meeting was over.

                "We’ve gotta get going." JC said shortly.

                "Right now?"

                "Yes." JC said without looking at his watch. "There is a recording studio I told Lance I’d check out for him while I was here."

                "You’re working?" Lori scoffed as she stood up.

                "It’s down by the beach so we’re going to check it out then walk around down here, but yeah I guess that could be considered work." JC nodded.

                "When will you be back in LA?"

                "I don’t know." JC shook his head. He hadn’t decided when they would leave for LA, but if he had his way it wouldn’t be until the day before their court appearance.

                "It’s just hard for me to have to drive all the way down here." She said softly as she scooted past JC and into the room.

                "There are plenty of hotels in the area if you’d like to stay." JC said, knowing full well she wouldn’t go for that."

                "I have a job up in LA."

                "Well…" JC shrugged.

                "Can I come back this week?"

                "You can call my lawyer and set it up through him, sure." JC bent to pick up a few of Kyle’s toys from the floor. "Come on buddy, help me pick these up so we can go."

                "I hop?"

                "Yeah, you’re a good helper." JC nodded and smiled as Kyle picked up a few of his cars and dropped them into the backpack.

                "We can’t just set it up now?" Lori asked.

                JC sighed and stood up straight, "Lori, you’re the one who wanted all the contact to go through the lawyers. If you want to change that then change it all the way, not just to accommodate your needs. If you want to discuss visiting him again this week that’s fine, but then I want to discuss this whole thing."

                "It’s just a hassle to have to make a dozen phone calls…"

                "I wasn’t the one that made it that way." JC shrugged and leaned to zip the backpack. "Go ahead and call Mr. Carreno to set up another visit. As far as I’m concerned you can come whenever you want." He reached for Kyle’s hand and took a deep breath. "Say bye bye, Kyle."

                "Bye bye mommy." Kyle waved over his shoulder.

                "Bye sweetie, can I get a hug?" Lori kneeled down beside the bed and extended her arms for Kyle. He walked over and gave her a tight hug and kissed her cheek. "Bye angel, I’ll see you in a couple days, okay?"

                "Kay." Kyle nodded and walked back to JC. "Go ouside?"

                "Yep, we’re heading out." JC smiled down at his son. "Let’s go get Les and we’re outta here."

                "Fank here?" Kyle looked back at Frank as he stood against the wall.

                "He’ll come with us, yep." JC walked out into the hall and waited as Frank followed Lori out of the room and to the elevators.

                JC and Kyle rounded up Les and let him know that they were heading out to run a few errands. Les was on the phone with the management office talking over security issues for the European leg, and he told JC to go on without him. "You got Frank, right?" Les asked as he covered the mouthpiece.

                "Yeah."

                "You’ll be cool then. If you’re heading out in big crowd areas give me a holler though. No malls, no movies, no nothing like that."

                "Nah, we’re hitting a studio for Lance and that’s about it I think."

                "Cool. Check in when you get back." Les waved and returned to his phone call.

                Kyle and JC met Frank by the elevators and let him know that Les wouldn’t be joining them. He didn’t seem surprised or worried, so they headed out to get their tasks for the day done.

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

                JC, Kyle and Frank took a mini tour of the studio by the beach and JC was impressed. It was small and homey feeling, but completely decked out with all of the latest in sound equipment. He made a dozen mental notes to relay back to Lance, then shook the owner’s hand and thanked him for the look around.

                "That’s a nice looking studio they got there." Frank smiled.

                "Yeah it is. I’d love to be able to record for a couple hours, then sneak out the back and walk to the beach. Lance is gonna flip when he hears how sweet this place is." JC shook his head as they walked out to the van. "Hey, can we take a walk on down to the beach? We haven’t really been there yet."

                "You bet." Frank nodded as he looked around. "You gonna stay right there on the walkway?"

                "Yeah, I just want to walk down to the lifeguard station there, with the life boats on the wall?" JC pointed up the beach a little ways.

                "Cool, I’ll keep an eye from here." Frank smiled and patted JC’s shoulder as the younger man adjusted his sunglasses.

                "Thanks man." JC grinned and pushed the strolled toward the concrete walkway a few feet from the sand.

                "Isa ossin?" Kyle asked.

                "Yep, that’s the ocean." JC nodded. "We’ll have to come back this weekend."

                "Kay. See shark?"

                "No, we won’t see any sharks here I don’t think." JC shook his head as the stroller wheels kicked up the sand that covered the walkway.

                "Yeah, I see shark."

                "Sharks are pretty scary though, you’re sure you want to see one?"

                "See no bye." Kyle shook his head.

                "Oh hey! You know what? We can go to Sea World tomorrow and see a lot of sharks."

                "No bye?"

                "Nope, the sharks at Sea World don’t bite. They’re behind glass so we can see them swimming and stuff like that. Do you want to go see that?"

                "And else?"

                "And dolphins and seals and otters… they’ve got all kinds of fish and maybe even a manatee."

                "A tee?"

                "Heck yeah." JC laughed.

                "Ina ossin?"

                "Nope, manatee’s live in Florida. That’s where our house is."

                "I see?"

                JC paused for a second, "Yeah, we’ll go see them at Sea World then maybe when we go home we’ll go see some in Florida."

                "Kay." Kyle sighed and sat back in the stroller.

                "We should go get some food too, so we don’t have to keep eating the same room service garbage." JC said more or less to himself.

                "Cheese?" Kyle added from his seat.

                "Yep, we’ll get more goldfish crackers." JC smiled and mentally made a short grocery list as they walked toward the lifeguard station.

                "Daddy a pane." Kyle’s tiny hand extended from the side of the stroller as he pointed up. "See?"

                "Wow, look at that." JC stopped the stroller and leaned on the handle, "That’s a big plane."

                "Is big?"

                "It’s huge."

                "Big stage?"

                "A stage? Oh… well yeah it’s bigger than our stage." JC made a face; Kyle always managed to amaze him with his vocabulary and knowledge.

                "Big Laaaance?"

                "It’s a lot bigger than Lance." JC laughed.

                "I see Laaaance?"

                "We’ll see him again soon." JC hated telling Kyle that, when he couldn’t promise that they would. He hoped with all of his heart that Kyle would be able to see the four uncles he’d adopted and Jessica again, but everything was still up in the air and he didn’t want to let him down.

                "Kay." Kyle yawned and sat back in his seat as JC turned the stroller around and walked slowly back to where Frank and the van waited.

                JC asked Frank to stop at a grocery store on the way home so that he could pick up some food to keep in the hotel room. Frank waited in the car as Kyle dozed off so JC could run in and get what he wanted without having to bother with tugging a cranky two year old around with him. He got some fruit, crackers, granola bars, breakfast treats and some juice boxes for Kyle.

The three of them went back to the hotel and carried the four bags of groceries up to JC’s room where he stashed them in the mini kitchen and put Kyle down for a late nap. JC took that free time to look through the Sea World booklet to help plan out their trip to the theme park.

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

                The group of men spent the entire day at Sea World the next day. Both Les and Frank came along for the adventure and proceeded in having just as much fun as JC and Kyle in all the little children play areas and gift stores. They saw all of the marine life JC promised Kyle they’d see and spent plenty of money on plush sharks and sweatshirts for souvenirs. Kyle had the best time and napped in the strolled while the grown ups ate lunch. They stayed for the fireworks show that night then headed back to the hotel. JC had his meeting with George in the morning and he wanted to be well rested for that.

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

                Thursday morning JC awoke with Kyle bouncing on the bed, "Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi!" Kyle giggled as he jumped.

                "Dude, it’s too early for this." JC grumbled as he rolled over, but the smile across his face gave him away. "Duuuude."

                "Doooood!" Kyle laughed and stopped bouncing long enough to slide off of his bed and climb onto JC’s. "Go bye?"

                "You want to go bye bye? We’re still sleeping."

                "No seep." Kyle shook his head and tugged at JC’s blankets.

                "Where did you get this kind of energy in the morning? You’re acting like Chris."

                "Chris see?"

                "Nope, Chris isn’t here."

                "Yeah!" Kyle jumped and fell flat on his bottom. "We go?"

                "I have a meeting today with George, but Frank is going to come down and hang out with you, how does that sound?"

                "Go Frank?"

                "No, I don’t think you guys are gonna go anywhere." JC shook his head. "But he’ll come down and play with you."

                "Frank pay Lego?"

                "I’m sure he’ll play with your Legos, he’s cool like that." JC grunted and sat up in bed. "Let me wake up for a minute here, then we’ll get some breakfast and stuff." He yawned and rubbed his hands over his head.

                "Daddy see shark?"

                "We saw sharks yesterday, huh?"

                "Yeah and pegin."

                "You like the penguins?"

                "Yeah jump!" Kyle jumped to demonstrate how the penguins jumped into the water from their icy ledges. "And splash."

                "Right on, we’ll have to go back huh?"

                "Yeah." Kyle nodded. "Have pop?"

                "Pop?"

                "Pop eat."

                "You’ve lost me kiddo." JC said as he stood up and stretched his arms over his head. "You want to eat?"

                "Yeah pop."

                "Pop?"

                "Yeah." Kyle giggled and slid off the bed to go over to the grocery bags in the mini kitchen.

                "Oh, Pop Tarts?"

                "Pop." Kyle nodded.

                "Okay, yeah we can do that." JC nodded and walked over to the little kitchen area. He lifted the bags onto the counter and dug out the box of strawberry Pop Tarts. He opened the box and handed one to Kyle for breakfast, "This isn’t really balanced, but it’ll do. Do you want an orange too?"

                "A bite."

                "You want just a bite of an orange?"

                "Yeah."

                "I’ll peel it but you’ve gotta have more than just a bite." JC reached into the shopping bag and pulled out an orange. He stood over the trashcan and removed the peel in four wide pieces; "Here you go." He sectioned the orange and handed a piece to Kyle while he ate a piece himself. "It’s pretty good."

                "Yeah." Kyle set his Pop Tart on the table and took a bite of the orange piece. JC sighed and sat back in the wide recliner chair and watched Kyle nibble on his orange slice and Pop Tart. Kyle carefully brushed the crumbs off of his hands and mouth after each bite before he would suck on the orange slice.

                "Do you want more orange?"

                "Yeah." Kyle nodded and smiled as the sticky orange juice dribbled onto his chin.

                "You’re a mess." JC laughed and handed Kyle two more pieces.

                "You mess." Kyle laughed as he held his hand flat with the fruit in his palm.

                Kyle turned around to return to the table where he had set the rest of his breakfast, but as he turned he tripped over the strap of his backpack. The orange fell to the ground as Kyle bumped his chin on the chair as he fell forward. JC’s stomach dropped as Kyle hit the floor with a thud, "Oh man, hang on." JC dropped the orange and ran to Kyle to lift him onto his lap. "Are you okay?"

                Kyle’s mouth was wide open and his face was red, but no sound came from him. JC had seen enough movies to know that Kyle would inhale in just a second and wail like siren. True to form, Kyle did just that. When he paused to inhale JC noticed that there was a small trickle of blood across his lower teeth.

                "Oh shit buddy, hang on let me look." JC’s heart sped up as he held Kyle’s face between his hands, using his thumbs to gently pull Kyle’s bottom lip down.

                "No!!" Kyle screeched. "No owie!"

                "Just… hang on buddy I have to see if you’re hurt."

                "No!"

                "Just a second." JC wiped away Kyle’s drool and blood to show a little cut on the inside of his lip, "Oh man, you bumped your lip." JC quickly drew his thumb over Kyle’s front teeth to make sure none were knocked loose.

                "Owie daddy!" Kyle cried and tried to claw up JC’s shirt. "My Jessi."

                "Your what?" JC asked as he relented and just held Kyle close to let him cry it out. The knick on his lip would be sore for a day or two, but all of his teeth were intact.

                "My Jessi!" Kyle sobbed even louder.

                "Jessica?"

                "I wan!"

                "I…" JC was at a loss for words. Kyle had never asked for anyone other than himself or his mother when he was hurt, and here he was asking for Jessica? "She’s at home buddy." JC tried to calm him down.

                "Daddy owie."

                "I know it hurts, should we go get some ice? Maybe that’ll make it feel better?"

                "Eye keem?" Kyle said through his tears.

                "No, some ice. There’s some in the hall, let’s go get a piece and it’ll make your lip feel better." JC awkwardly stood up while still holding Kyle, and grabbed his room key off of the table.

                "Go ouside?" Kyle gulped for breath and rubbed at his teary eyes.

                "We’re just going down the hall." JC shook his head and looked down at his pajama bottoms and t-shirt; there was no way he’d go outside in this. "Come on, we’ll get a big bucket of ice." JC grabbed the plastic ice bucket and they walked down the hall to the ice machine. He filled the bucket then juggled that and Kyle in one arm as he grabbed a piece and held it to Kyle’s pursed lips.

                "Come on Kyle, it’ll feel better."

                "I owie."

                "I know you have an owie, the ice will make it feel better."

                "I beed?"

                "Yeah, a little bit of blood, that’s okay." JC nodded and looked down at his white shirt with a small pinkish stain on the shoulder where the blood mixed with saliva.

                "Have my Jessi?"

                "Jessica isn’t here right now." JC shook his head and put the piece of ice into Kyle’s mouth. "Can you hold that right there?" He set it between Kyle’s lower lip and his teeth.

                "Owie daddy." Kyle sniffed around the ice cube in his mouth.

                "I know buddy." JC rubbed Kyle’s head quickly then headed back down the hall to their room.

                "Hey Jace, what’s the deal?" Les asked as he slid his key in his own door.

                "We had a little bump." JC looked down at Kyle’s red-rimmed eyes and tear stained face.

                "You okay little man?" Les tilted his head to look at Kyle.

                "I owie and beed." Kyle removed the ice long enough to mumble his response, then put it right back.

                "Is he okay?" Les asked JC.

                "Yeah, he hit his chin on the chair and split his lip a little. It’s a real small cut, but you know how your mouth just bleeds."

                "Can I see it?" Les asked the little boy.

                "No, owie." Kyle frowned.

                "You know what makes owies feel better?" Les asked with a smile.

                "Ice?" Kyle ventured a guess.

                "And suckers." Les reached into the zippered pocket of his warm up suit and pulled out a purple tootsie roll pop. "You wanna try that when you’re done with your ice?"

                Kyle nodded and rested his head on JC’s shoulder as the ice began to melt and trickle down JC’s chest. "What do you say?" JC asked softly as he took the sucker.

                "Anks." Kyle said around the piece of ice.

                "You’re welcome Ky man." Les laughed. "Hey Jace, what time did you want to head over to your lawyers?"

                "Um, in about an hour or so? I’ve gotta get him cleaned up and dressed and everything."

                "You too." Les nodded at JC’s attire.

                "Yeah me too." JC smiled. "Let’s say ten, come on by and get me around then."

                "Okay." Les nodded and pushed his door open. "Take it easy Kyle."

                "Bye." Kyle answered softly. They walked back down to their room and JC sat on the bed with Kyle in his lap, "Have candy?"

                "You can have that a little later. Maybe when Frank is here." JC set the tub of ice on the nightstand with the room key and sucker. "Let me take a look at your lip."

                "No owie."

                "I know it hurts but I have to make sure it’s okay before we get dressed." JC used his finger to turn back Kyle’s lower lip. "That looks okay." JC nodded.

                "I owie?"

                "Yeah, that’ll hurt for a little while, but you’re cool, right?"

                "Yeah." Kyle sighed deeply as the water from the melting ice cube ran down his arm.

                "All righty then. Let’s get you cleaned up with a bath, then Frank will come over and you guys can play with your Legos."

                "And you?"

                "I have a meeting today." JC shook his head and helped Kyle scoot off the bed, then walked into the bathroom to start the bath.

                Kyle followed him into the bathroom; "I go."

                "Nope, you’re going to stay with Frank."

                "No you."

                "I have to go to the meeting. But I won’t be that long. You can stay and play with Frank and then after that we’ll go swimming in the pool, how does that sound?"

                "You say."

                "I can’t stay Kyle, this is important." JC pulled Kyle’s damp shirt over his head and tugged at the little pajama bottoms Kyle was wearing.

                "Yeah, have." Kyle nodded.

                "You’ll be okay with Frank, you guys will have fun. Now lets get you in the bath and cleaned up so the fun times can begin, what do you say?"

                "I say bass."

                "Bath, that’s right." JC laughed and lifted Kyle over the edge of the tub to set him in the warm water. JC took a few minutes and washed the orange juice from Kyle’s arm then washed his hair. He let the little boy play in the bubbles for a little bit while he faced the mirror to shave and run his fingers through his hair.

                When he was done he wrapped Kyle in a towel and carried him out to the bedroom so that they could get dressed while they watched "Blue’s Clues", a show that was actually growing on JC. He dressed Kyle in clean shorts and a t-shirt, then got out a similar outfit for himself. He was getting used to the warm San Diego days and had been daydreaming about moving out west permanently.

                Les and Frank showed up at JC’s room a short while later and greeted Kyle with the excitement and humor that the little boy was growing used to. "Hi guy." Kyle smiled as the two men walked into the room.

                "What up little man?" Frank extended his hand for Kyle to slap him a low-five.

                "I owie." Kyle reached up and turned his lower lips down to show Frank.

                "Whoa dude, how’d you do that?"

                "I fall and boom."

                "Oh man, you’re cool though right? You didn’t break anything?" Frank asked with a look of concern.

                "I bake orange." Kyle sighed and shrugged.

                JC laughed lightly, "He had an orange slice in his hand when he fell and it kind of got squished."

                "Ahh, I see." Frank smiled.

                "Well you’ve got my secret healing stick right?" Les asked softly as Frank lifted Kyle onto his hip.

                "Have candy." Kyle nodded.

                "Don’t give him that until he eats his lunch though." JC warned Frank.

                "I won’t."

                "Seriously. You don’t want him on a sugar high." JC smiled and looked at Les, "Ready Freddy?"

                "I’m ready, do you know where we’re going?"

                "Yeah, he gave me directions." JC walked over to the table and dug around in his binder. "They’re in here somewhere."

                "Daddy say here." Kyle said to Frank.

                "Nope, I think your dad’s got a meeting to go to."

                "No, here." Kyle shook his head.

                "Nope, I told you buddy, I have to go talk to George for a little bit but I’ll be home really soon."

                "Kay." Kyle looked down at his shoes.

                "When I get back we’ll call Justin okay?" JC smiled. Kyle had brought Justin up a few times over the past couple days and he was sure he’d like to talk to his buddy on the phone.

                "Jussin?"

                "Yeah, we’ll call him on the phone."

                "Kay." Kyle nodded.

                JC sighed and watched Kyle for a minute, "Okay come here and give me a hug you little monster." He reached over and took Kyle from Frank for a minute, "I love you buddy."

                "Love too." Kyle said into JC’s shoulder.

                JC handed Kyle back to Frank and smiled then waved as he and Les left the hotel room to go to Mr. Carreno’s office.

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

                JC hopped out of the rental car at the hotel by the Zoo while Les looked at the piece of paper in his hand; "It says bungalow B-12."

                "It’s right here." JC nodded toward the room on the end. He tapped on the door and waited for George to answer as he looked around the hotel. It looked more like a park with a bunch of little cottages in small clusters around the back, which is where JC and Les were standing.

                "Hey, good morning JC." George smiled as he held the door open. "Sorry for the mess, I’ve had some of my workbooks sent out here so I wouldn’t have to keep having everything faxed." He laughed and nodded for JC and Les to enter.

                "Actually, I’ll wait in the car." Les shook his head and watched JC step inside the room.

                "You sure?" JC asked with a hint of concern.

                "You bet." Les nodded with a small smile. "I brought a book, it’s all good."

                "Okay." JC waved and let George shut the door behind him. "So what’s up today? What are were doing?" The two beds were littered with piles of papers and folders so JC pulled up a chair at the bar in the kitchen.

                George sighed and ran his hand over his balding head, "It’s time you got ready for court JC." He frowned and walked over to the bed to dig through the pile closest to the phone.

                "I’m ready." JC nodded.

                "Not quite."

                "What else do I need?" JC asked as he took an apple from the fruit bowl and spun it between his hands.

                "You need to be ready for the questions they’re going to ask.

                "Okay." JC shrugged and set the apple on the counter to spin it like a top. "Do you have the questions?"

                "No, not the ones they’re going to be asking for sure. But I’ve been doing this a long time JC, and with you being in the spotlight they’re going to go for a personal attack, I can almost guaranty that."

                "It’s not like we haven’t been slammed in the tabloids before." JC shook his head and frowned.

                "This is going to be personal against you though, not the group."

                "So… so, what can I do to get ready?" JC stopped spinning the apple and looked at George. "What would you ask if you were her lawyer?"

                "That’s what I’ve been coming up with. Now for custody hearing they’re going to want to go after your lifestyle to show what Kyle would be exposed to if he remained in your care."

                "Yeah, a loving home and stability." JC rolled his eyes.

                "I’m serious." George raised his eyebrow and sat at the table by the door. "I think it’d be a good idea for you to think about some of these questions, they could easily make or break your case."

                "O-okay." JC sat up straight on the barstool and ran his hand through his hair. "Do you – can we do it now?"

                "I’m ready if you are."

                "Yeah." JC nodded.

                "Yes."

                "What?"

                "If you’re on the stand you need to say ‘yes’, not ‘yeah’."

                "Okay, yes." JC bit his lip to keep from smiling.

                "How long are you on the road?" George consulted his notes.

                "This time?"

                "Sure."

                "Um, a little more than six months total. Off and on at the start though."

                "And the six months before that?"

                "We were uh, recording a little, and working on the new album. Setting up the choreography, things like that."

                "Were you at home in Florida?"

                "Yeah, for most of that time. We did some TV promo work in LA, Chicago and New York though."

                "When you get home this time, once the court is done, what are your immediate plans?"

                "To uh, to get the house ready for Kyle. Get him a kid size bed and things like that. I’ve got a guestroom but it’s… well it’s not geared for kids you know?"

                "But you’ll be home for how long?"

                "Um, a couple months." JC shifted on the stool and ran his fingernail along the grout between the tiles.

                "A couple months?"

                "Yeah, about three and a half months before we head off to Europe for seven weeks."

                "So you’ll be at home with Kyle for three and a half months?"

                "Yes." JC nodded.

                "By yourself?"

                "I…" JC thought for a second and furrowed his brow. "Jessica will be there."

                "And Jessica is…?"

                "My girlfriend." JC said after a moments thought. He could have been straight with his lawyer… he should have been straight. But if having Jessica as his ‘girlfriend’ would give him a leg up he was for it.

                "She is?" George asked as he glanced down at his notes.

                "Um… yeah." JC coughed nervously and tapped his foot. "We’re uh… we don’t uh…"

                "It’s private, I got it."

                "Yeah."

                "There’s no privacy in the courtroom." George smiled at him; "Does she live with you?"

                "Sometimes." JC said. "She has a uh, she has her apartment in Connecticut, but she has stuff at my place too."

                George sensed JC’s uneasiness and mistook it for over all nervousness, "They’re going to get more personal than that JC."

                "I know." JC nodded and looked up at his lawyer. "I’m pretty used to having my life be under the microscope though."

                "Maybe." George nodded. "But you’ve got more on the line now, more than just your reputation."

                JC nodded and cleared his throat, "I know. I need to be prepared, so lay it on me." He sighed deeply and braced himself for the next course of questions.

                "Have you ever done drugs?"

                "No." JC rolled his eyes and stared at a portrait on the wall behind George.

                "Look me in the eye." George said sharply.

                JC sighed, "I smoked pot three times when I was like, fifteen. That summer."

                "That’s it?"

                "That’s all."

                "You’re sure?"

                "I’m positive." JC looked George square in the eye. He was sure.

                "Do you drink?"

                "No more tha-"

                "Do you drink?" George cut him off, wanting a straight answer.

                "I drink about a gallon of water a day." JC said sarcastically.

                "JC, come on. These are questions they’re going to ask you and sarcasm doesn’t fly in the courtroom."

                "No, I don’t drink."

                "At all?"

                "The most I’d drink is a few martinis or a shot or two, once a month with the guys. But I haven’t had anything in months."

                "When was the last time you had a drink?"

                "I had about half a beer at a ball game about a month or so ago."

                "Was Kyle with you?"

                "No, he was with Jessica back at the hotel."

                "Okay, so before the beer when was the last time you drank?"

                "Um… right before I left to go back to Florida the last time. Me, Lance and Joey went out." JC smiled. "That was… I went to Florida and that’s when Lori dropped Kyle off with Chris."

                "So since Kyle has been in your custody you’ve had about half a beer?"

                "Yeah." JC nodded.

                "Do you smoke?"

                "I’m a singer, that would ruin my career." JC made a face then caught George staring at him, "No, I don’t smoke."

                "Are you around people who smoke?"

                "Some guys on the crew smoke I think." JC shrugged. "But the backstage area, hotels, buses and vans are all smoke free. So no, I’m… we’re not around people who smoke."

                "How many girls have you been with?"

                "George… come on."

                "They’re going to want to show that you recklessly sleep around."

                "I don’t." JC said defensively.

                "Well…?" George shrugged, "Listen kid, I don’t care how many chicks you’ve slept with."

                "It’s not like I’m a man-whore or anything." JC rolled his eyes. "I’ve been with… I don’t know, maybe… eight or nine."

                "All in relationships?"

                "Uh… no. No I wasn’t in a relationship with all of them." JC blushed.

                "In the last three years how many girls have you been with?"

                "Two." JC nodded.

                "Two?"

                "Lori, obviously, and Ali."

                "Ali?"

                "She was who I was dating when Kyle was abandoned with me. We dated for a couple years."

                "What about Jessica?"

                "I uh…" JC blushed even deeper, "No, we uh… no."

                "So, two girls in three years?"

                "Well Lori was a little more than three years ago now. Jessica is a recent development." JC thought fast. "We’ve only been dating a couple months, basically since right around the time when Kyle showed up."

                "And she’s helped you raise Kyle?"

                "She takes care of him a lot." JC nodded.

                "Define ‘a lot’."

                "Anytime I can’t basically. I’d say he was with her on an average… I guess three or four hours a day."

                "Everyday?"

                "Well some days were more, some days are less." JC shook his head. "I mean, some days I have him all day and some days I need her to watch him for like, five hours or so. When we were on the road I mean."

                "Is that including the time you guys are together?"

                "Excuse me?" JC blushed.

                "Does that include the time you and her are watching him together?"

                "Oh… no." JC shook his head. "We… the three of us… spend a lot of time together." JC tugged on his lower lip and frowned slightly. "But uh, of course now that the tour has ended he’s with me almost constantly."

                "And Jessica? Is she here?"

                "She’s in uh… in Connecticut." JC shook his head.

                "Who is Kyle with now?"

                "His private security guard, Frank."

                "Jessica sounds like a good person." George smiled. "Not many girls would take over mothering a child that wasn’t theirs. Especially if their boyfriend was the father, you know?"

                "Jessica loves Kyle." JC shrugged, that much was true.

                "I’m going to do what I can to keep Jessica out of the courtroom." George nodded and made a mark on his notepad. "I don’t really think it’ll get that far, but if so you’ll want her here."

                "She needs to be here?" JC’s ears turned pink for a second, "I mean… I can call her, sure."

                "Just in case. One thing they’re going to try to say is that you recklessly sleep around and if Jessica will be taking part in raising Kyle they might want to bring her into it."

                "Okay." JC wracked his brain trying to remember if he’d kept her phone number.

                "I’d say we’re about done here." George said as he stood up and stretched his hands out in front of him.

                "I can stay." JC shook his head.

                "Nah, we’ve covered enough today." George insisted. "I’ll give you a call tomorrow to touch base as far as what we’re going to do next week. Just take it easy and enjoy the rest of your week."

                "Yeah." JC scoffed sarcastically.

                "Have you guys hit Sea World yet?"

                "Yep." JC nodded. "Kyle digs the penguins."

                "The Zoo?"

                "Of course."

                "The beach?" George smiled.

                "Not yet." JC shook his head. "We walked down on the ocean walk or whatever, but I’m planning on actually spending some time there this weekend."

                "There’s a little cove in La Jolla, it’s perfect for kids. No big breakers or anything, it’s small and they have a tide pool."

                "Cool, we’ll check it out." JC stood up and sighed. He shook George’s hand quickly and asked, "Have you heard from Lori again?"

                "Since when?"

                "Since Monday? She had that visit on Tuesday but I haven’t heard anything since then."

                "Nope." George shook his head. "I talked to Mr. Foley, her lawyer, this morning. He was under the impression you two had set up a meeting for today?"

                "Uh. No." JC gave him a look. "No, all the meetings are set up through you."

                "That’s what I told him." George nodded.

                "Well then – " JC stopped and reached for his cell phone. "Dammit." He dialed Frank’s cell phone number and waited anxiously until the older man answered.

                "Frank here." He answered with a gruff tone.

                "Frank this is JC, is Kyle with you?"

                "Yeah man, he’s hanging out with his dog and that red thing. They’re taking apart my Lego creation." Frank laughed.

                "Has Lori come around?"

                "Lori? Nope. No one’s come around at all."

                "She hasn’t called or anything?"

                "Nope." He shook his head. "No calls, no one knocking on the door, no nothing."

                "No Legos." Kyle added with a giggle.

                "We’ve got Legos kiddo." Frank laughed at the child. "Why? What’s up?"

                "She thinks she has a visit today, but she doesn’t."

                "She’s not seeing him today unless you’re here to clear it. Don’t worry about that Jace."

                "No, I know. I just wanted to make sure."

                "It’s cool, it’s all good." Frank nodded and pressed two Legos together.

                "Thanks. Okay." JC took a deep breath. "We’re about done here, I’ll be back in a half hour."

                "Alright man, see you then." Frank laughed as he clicked the phone off.

                "Things are cool back there. If she thinks she has a visit today she hasn’t called or shown up." JC said to his lawyer.

                "Well that’s good." George nodded. "Because that could be a mess."

                "Yeah." JC looked around the little room.

                "Okay JC, get on out of here. I’ll talk to you later." George smiled and patted JC’s shoulder.

                "Thanks George."

                "No problem kid." George smiled as JC pulled the door open and stepped out of the room. The door swung shut behind him and he closed his eyes tight, silently wanting the day to be over.

                JC sighed and ran his hands through his hair; "I need a hair cut." He said to himself as he walked down the hall.

                Les followed a step behind as they exited the hotel, "Things go okay in there?" He asked softly as he disarmed the van in the parking lot.

                "Uh huh." JC nodded.

                "You ready for court?"

                "As ready as I’ll ever be I guess." JC shrugged with his hand on the door handle, waiting for the guard to unlock the door. "I’ll give you fifty bucks to go in my place though." JC smiled at the large guard over the hood of the van.

                "I’d have to grow my hair out though. And lose like a hundred pounds. And be a short little white dude."

                "I think you could pull it off." JC gave him a tired smile as he unlocked the doors.

                "You’ve got high hopes kid." Les chuckled and slid into the driver’s seat.

                "Yeah well… I’ve got to." JC nodded and opened the door on his side. He grabbed his sunglasses off the seat before he sat down and slid them on carefully.

                JC rolled down the window as they left the parking lot, he had high hopes.

 

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Copyright � 2001, Amy Lynn