Authors note: This story was inspired by the Universal movie "Family Man" starring Nicolas Cage.

 

 

"The Other Man…"

by AmyK

 

 

            "Another round!"  Chris shouted at the top of his voice.  He slammed his shot glass down on the bar as the people closest to him cheered.

            "What'll it be old man?" The bartender asked as he joined in the festivities.

            "Buttery Nipples!"  Chris lifted his shirt and molested his own nipple as an example.  "For everyone!"

            "He's lost his mind."  Justin laughed to Lance as they stood off to the side.

            "Hmm?"  Lance looked up from his clear drink and smiled at Justin.

            "The birthday boy… he's wrecked."  Justin shook his head and laughed as he watched the bartender pour the shots.

            "Yeah well, it's his party."  Lance shrugged and stood up with his drink in his hand.  "I, on the other hand, am going to go track down Katie Lynn and try to get to know her a little better, ifyouknowwhatimean."

            "I'd say you've had a few too many."  Justin looked at Lance's half empty glass.

            "Liquid courage."  Lance lifted the glass and toasted Justin,  "To having the courage to approach a supermodel."

            "She's not a supermodel man, she's a Playmate." 

            "Close enough."  Lance took a sip and shook his head,  "Besides, this is my… only my second one."

            "Lightweight."

            "Ha."  Lance rolled his eyes and walked toward the far wall where the beautiful girls had gathered.  He walked with a smooth saunter over to them and smiled as he shook hands with Katie Lynn.  Justin admired Lance to the utmost degree.  Not every man could be drunk and still manage to walk straight as well as carry on an intelligent conversation.

            Justin scoffed and ordered another rum and Coke, knowing that Lance would surely win over one of the girls that night… if not Katie Lynn then one of her sorority sisters. 

            "Jaaaaaaaaay Ceeeeeeee!"  Chris pulled himself onto the bar and shouted for his partner in crime.  "JC JC JC JC JC!"  He chanted.

            "Get off the bar man."  Joey reached up to pull Chris down as the crowd began to chant with him.  "Come on."

            "Party pooper."

            "Yeah I'm sorry for not wanting to get kicked out." Joey laughed.

            "They won't kick us out, it's my birthday!"

            "Remember what happened at my birthday when we stood on the bar?"  Joey asked.

            "It broke."

            "And they…?"

            "They kicked us out."  Chris nodded.  "But that's only because… because it broke.  I wasn't gonna break it tonight."

            "I heard it crack."  Joey snickered and took a sip of his orange juice.  He'd made the mistake of volunteering to be the sober one of the night, to make sure no one got in over their head.  Everyone else loved it when Joey was the sober one because he did stuff sober that the other guys would never think of doing drunk, so when he was the look-out for the night they were guaranteed a good time.

            "Oh shit."  Chris whispered.  "You did?"

            "Yeah."

            "Oh shit."  Chris laughed.  "Where's JC?!?"  Chris shouted again as he stuck his finger in the shot glass to get the very last drops of the buttery nipple out of the glass.

            "Here he comes."  Joey stood up on the lower rungs of the barstool to see over the crowd.

            "Hey man!  Happy birthday!"  JC laughed as he slapped Chris on the back.

            "Dude.  JC, you know what we need to do?"

            "Those girls in the corner?"

            "No, before that."  Chris snickered and pulled JC's face closer to him, to make sure the younger man heard what he was saying.  "This party is rad and all, but you know what we're missing?"

            "What?"

            "Guess."

            "I don't know."

            "Guess."  Chris insisted.

            "I don't know Chris.  Naked people?"

            "No, Jesus, no.  I don't wanna see you guys naked."  He made a face.  "Come on, one more guess."

            "Ducks?"

            "No."  Chris shook his head sadly.  "No JC we're missing one very crucial party elemental thing that every party has to have in order to be a birthday party."  His words ran together as JC strained to hear him over the music and people surrounding them.

            "What?"

            "The hand jive.  We are missing the hand jive."  Chris sighed, then laughed hysterically.

            "The hand jive?"  JC looked up at Joey.

            "You know…"  Joey imitated the hand jive dance to the amusement of everyone around him.  "From 'Grease'?"

            "Oh!  You wanna do the hand jive?"  JC asked Chris.

            "No."  Chris shook his head and leaned over onto the bar.  "I think I need a sex on the beach shooter."

            "Coming right up."  The bartender nodded.

            "I think everyone needs to do the hand jive."  Chris high fived JC and Joey before running his hands through his hair.  Joey turned to alert the DJ of the song request as Chris stuck his finger in his sex on the beach shooter and licked it off.  "Damn that's a good drink."

            "How many of those have you had?"  JC laughed.

            "Of these?"  Chris stuck his finger in the shot glass again.  "I've only had like two of these."  He lifted the glass to his mouth and tilted his head back, nearly falling over in the process.  "Where's Joey?  Where's the kid?  We all need to do the hand jive."

            "Joey went to tell the DJ."  JC looked over his shoulder.  "Justin is around here somewhere and Lance is schmoozing on the hotties in the corner over there."

            "Lance is a putz."  Chris grumbled.  "Those are my girls for my birthday and he's putting his mack on em.  That's not right."

            "They've been here all night and you haven't even said hi to them."  JC laughed.

            "I said hi."

            "You said 'nice rack' and walked away, that's not the same thing." 

            "Oh man.  That's no good."

            "Nope."  JC snickered as he watched Joey cross the dance floor on his way back to the bar.  "Here comes Joe."

            "Joey rocks man."  Chris shook his head and stood up.

            "Yeah he does."

            "And you do too."

            "Thanks."  JC nodded.

            "Okay now you've gotta lend me a hand though.  You've gotta help me out here."  Chris leaned toward JC and used the barstool for balance.  "You've gotta help me get everyone to do the hand jive with me for my birthday."

            "Alright buddy, I can do that for you."  JC laughed as Joey walked up.  "What's the verdict?"

            "He'll play it as soon as this set's done."  Joey leaned onto the bar and ordered another coke for himself.  "Actually, can you make it two?  This guy needs something to drink with no booze in it."  Joey smiled and took the two sodas.  "Here buddy, drink this."

            "What's this?"  Chris asked.

            "It's good for you man."  Joey nodded and pressed the glass into Chris' hand.

            "Thanks."

            "No problem.  Happy birthday dude."  Joey laughed as Chris took a long drink of the coke and dribbled a little down his chin.

            "That's good stuff."

            "Yeah it is."  Joey nodded and smiled at JC over Chris' shoulder.  "Coke, straight up and on the rocks."

            "Good."  JC laughed and turned toward the dance floor as the song ended and the DJ announced the special request.  Chris jumped up and grabbed JC's sleeve as he cheered for the hand jive.  They made their way to the DJ's table and did their thing for the crowd at the club, feeling right at home on the stage with the ever changing lights and screams coming from three feet away.

 

            It was another hour before Chris stumbled over to Justin and draped his arm over the younger mans shoulder,  "Dude.  Take me to bed."

            Justin laughed and shook his head,  "Come on man…"

            "I mean, to my room.  Not to bed.  You're cute and all but I so don't swing that way."  Chris snickered as he brought his hand up to cover his mouth.  "Joey on the other hand…"

            "Joey's not gay."

            "Prove it."

            "He has a kid."  Justin held on to Chris' wrist as he half dragged him to the door.

            "Oh yeah."  Chris stopped to ponder that for a minute.  "That's okay though because you guys would make a ugly couple."  Chris laughed again as he amused himself.

            "You're wasted man."  Justin laughed as Chris leaned all of his weight on Justin's six-foot frame.  "Seriously."

            "I deserve it.  I'm thirty damn years old."  Chris slurred his speech as they made their way to the elevators.  "Thirty.  Do you even know how old that is?"

            "Yeah, that's how old you are.  A three with a zero after it, right?"  Justin smiled.

            "When my mom was… when she was thirty, she had a teenager and a bunch of other kids."  Chris tripped over his own feet as Justin pressed the call button.

            "Yeah but look at you man, you're on the top of the world."

            "I'm on the top of the world lookin'… down on creation and the only explanation I can fiiiiind… is the love that I've found ever since you've been around, your love's put me at the top of the world!"  Chris sang a little louder than necessary.  "See I'll bet you don't even know that song." 

            Justin laughed as he dragged Chris onto the elevator and pushed the button for the ninth floor.  "That's the Carpenters."  Justin sighed and leaned Chris against the wall to give his shoulders a break.

            "Oh you think you're pretty smart now huh?  Mr. Smarty pants."  Chris rolled his eyes then discovered that wasn't the smarted thing to do when you were seeing triple.  "Shit man, I'm really drunk."

            "Yeah you are."  Justin laughed.

            "No I mean I really am."

            "I know."

            "For reals Justin, I have never been this drunk before."  Chris insisted.

            "I trust you."

            "Did I barf on you?"

            "No."  Justin looked at him cautiously,  "And you'd better not."

            "No I'm not going to I just wanted to see if I did because if I did then I'm sorry."

            "You didn't."

            "Good then I'm not sorry."  Chris laughed into Justin's shoulder as the doors opened on their floor.  "What would you be if I didn't know Lance?"

            "What?"

            "I mean if I didn't know Lance and if we didn't want to put a group together and we never called you to be in it and stuff… what would you be?"

            "You mean JC."

            "No I know what JC would be.  He'd be fuckin' Mickey Mouse or something."  Chris waved his arm for emphasis and threw himself off balance.

            "I mean - "  Justin began to correct Chris then realized that Chris didn't care.  "I don't know what I'd be."

            "Me neither.  I wonder though.  What would I be?  Maybe I'd be a rapper.  Or a punk rocker.  Or a clown."  He laughed so hard he snorted,  "No no no!  Wait!  I know what I'd be."  Chris used Justin and the wall for support as they headed for his room.  "Wanna guess?"

            "An exec?"

            "Hell no."  Chris frowned.

            "A bum?"

            Chris laughed for a minute then shook his head,  "Thanks fucker."

            "I don't know Chris, what would you be?"

            "I'd be one of those kinda guys who mows his lawn every Saturday morning."

            "You think so?"  Justin fished around in Chris' coat pockets for his room key, finally finding it in the inside pocket.

            "I know so.  And you know what else?"

            "Hmm?"  Justin slid the key in the lock and pushed the door open.  "Here you go."

            "But you know what I'm gonna do?"

            "What?"

            "Guess what?"

            "What Chris?"

            "Come on and guess dammit."  Chris shook his wobbly finger in Justin's direction.

            "You're gonna paint your feet green?"

            "You're a fucker."

            "What are you gonna do Chris?"

            "I'm gonna go do that instead."  Chris yawned and stumbled in the general direction of the bed.  "So tell your mom and everyone that I had fun but now I'm gonna go do this."

            "You're going to go mow lawns?"

            "All that."  Chris nodded with his cheek pressed against the bed spread.  "Mowing my lawn and shit.  I'm too old for this shit.  You're a kid; you're young enough.  Mowin' lawns has to be better than feeling like this."  Chris mumbled as he turned his head to face the other direction.

"All righty buddy, sleep it off.  I'll see you tomorrow."

            "Nope, tomorrow I'll be on the top of the world lookin down on creation and the only - "  Chris stopped as he began to giggle, then Justin shut the door behind him and let Chris begin his drunken slumber.

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

            Somehow, sometime in the middle of the night someone put cotton in Chris' mouth, or so he thought as he pulled himself from the hazy darkness of dreamland.  He slowly pried his pasty lips apart and took a deep breath, hoping the fresh air across his teeth might taste better than the sweat socks he tasted.

            His arm was stiff at his side and he knew he must have slept in exactly that position all night long.  Chris carefully slid his arm out from under him then stopped as it hit a warm body.  "Oh Shit."  He thought to himself.  He didn’t remember bringing a girl back to his hotel, but then he didn’t remember much after he and JC led the crowd in the hand jive at his birthday party.

            Though he dreaded it, he slowly opened his eyes to see who he had brought back to his room… silently praying that it was someone he knew, and no one else's girlfriend.  The first thing he noticed was that the sheets against his face were a soft green, not the starched white of his hotel room; just past the sheets was the girl with her mousy brown hair in a floppy ponytail.  He looked over his shoulder to get his bearings and saw the walls covered in beige and tan printed paper with several photos on the tall maple dresser against the wall.

            "Fuck, I'm at her house."  He groaned inwardly and sat up slowly as he slid his legs off the bed.  Chris rested is head in his hands as the vanilla scented room spun in front of him.  He noticed a large wicker hamper beside the dresser that was overflowing with clothes and a home made sun catcher taped to the narrow window above it.

            The sun shone in through the half closed sheer curtains as he looked around for his clothes, vowing to never ever drink that much again.  He had no idea where he was or how he got there, he wasn't even sure what happened because he'd somehow managed to put on pajama bottoms and a t-shirt.

            There was a slow movement on the bed behind him as the girl rolled over onto her back with a yawn,  "Hey babe."  She said in her soft morning voice as she scratched his back lightly.  "I didn't expect to see you awake this early."  She smiled and stretched her legs toward the end of the bed.  "You should go back to sleep while you still can."  She pulled the thick comforter up to her shoulder and sighed.

            "Hmm?"  Chris turned away from the window to get a look at the woman he'd spent the night with.  His face registered recognition and shock as he realized who it was.  He and Melanie worked together at Sea World Florida years ago, he took pictures of the guests and she worked a ticket booth.  He would have sworn that she was his first real love, but when Nsync started she quietly slid out of the picture.  "Mel?"

            "Yeah?"  She yawned and sat up; that was when he noticed her bulging belly.

            "I… wow… you're… I've gotta go."  Chris shook his head and rubbed his eyes.

            "Go?  Go where?  It's seven in the morning on a Sunday."  She shook her head as she stood up.  A tiny sound came from the monitor at her bedside.  "The kidlets have awakened."

            "I've gotta go."  He tried to clear his head as he ran his fingers through his hair.

            "Where do you 'gotta go'?"  She laughed at him as she pulled her light robe on by the door.

            "Back to the hotel.  The guys are gonna be worried."

            "They're already home… they brought you in last night, remember?"

            "I… they what?"  Chris stood up and held his head tight to keep it from rolling off his shoulders.

            "You drank a little too much last night.  Todd and Niles brought you home around two, which is why I'm shocked to see you up."  She smiled and pulled the door open.  "Go on back to bed, I'll make some breakfast."

            "No I -" He started, but she cut him off as the door drifted shut.  "Dammit."  Chris sighed and fell back onto the bed as he reached for the phone on the cluttered nightstand.  He dialed JC's cell phone number from memory and was surprised when the man who answered said it was a gas station. 

            "Do you have the right area code?"  He asked.

            "Ahh, maybe that's it."  Chris hung up and dialed again, adding the area code to the cell phone.  He couldn't believe he'd been drunk enough to leave with Melanie and end up in a completely different area code.  Chris scolded himself in his mind, then stopped abruptly as the operator informed him that the number he was trying to reach was disconnected, or no longer in service.

            Chris sighed and tried Lance's cell phone, his phone was always working and always on.  When he got the same recording he started to get worried.  Maybe there had been a billing problem or some kind of service interruption.  The WEG offices would be able to track someone down though, with all of the people on the crew one of them should be reachable.  Chris dialed the offices and waited through the introductory recording before he pressed Johnny's extension.  Johnny's voicemail would page him and Chris knew he'd be able to sort this out.

            "This is Johnny."  He surprised Chris by picking up the phone.

            Momentarily caught off balance, Chris' mind raced.  "Hey Johnny, this is Chris.  Listen, I just tried JC and Lance's cell phones and they both came back as - "

            "Who is this?"  Johnny interrupted him.

            "Chris."

            "Chris who?"

            "Kirkpatrick."  Chris said after a pause, Johnny knew who he was.

            "And you are…?"

            "The oldest man on your boyband team."  Chris joked.  "But listen, their cells came back as disconnect - "

            "Who are you trying to reach here at WEG?"  Johnny interrupted him again.

            Chris frowned,  "You."

            The bedroom door by the foot of the bed burst open just then and a little girl came flying through the door,  "Happy birthday daddy!"  She shouted as she climbed onto the bed.

            "Shit, I've gotta go, I'll call you back."  Chris said quickly as the little girl crawled up to where he sat and threw her arms around his neck.  Her dark brown hair was long and parted in the middle, and Chris couldn't get over how much she looked like his sister Taylor.  "Hang on there, hold on."  Chris reached up to remove her skinny arms.

            "Daddy, mommy said that Lauren could help her cook breakfast and we can eat when you wake up.  So are you awake now?  Can we go eat?"

            Chris frowned as the gangly girl sat back and used her whole hand to brush her hair out of her eyes,  "What?"

            "Are you awake?"  She giggled and bounced on the bed.

            "Y-yeah."  Chris said, though he sounded unsure.  "Wait maybe I'm not… what the hell is this?"  He thought to himself.

            "Then let's go downstairs!  Mommy's making chocolate chip pancakes and Lauren's gonna eat them all before I get there!"  She bounced off the bed and ran to the door where the grabbed the handle and swung it back and forth.

            "Who… who are you?"

            "Daddy…"  The little girl sighed and stopped swinging on the door.  "I'm Jenny you silly."

            "And who am I?"

            "You're daddy."  She laughed and jumped up and down,  "Hurry!  Before the chocolate chips are gone!"

            Chris pulled himself out of the bed and looked down at his flannel pajama bottoms and plain white t-shirt.  He didn't remember owning a pair this comfortable, but he shrugged and followed the little girl down the hall to the stairs.  He yawned as he convinced himself he must have still been dreaming.

            "Dadada hi!"  Another little girl said from her perch on the counter beside Melanie.

            "Hi."  Chris ran his hand over his face, waiting to see little green men or a volcano out the window… something to prove that he was still in the mystical dreamland.

            "Jenny, you should have let daddy sleep.  He's tired."

            "No, I'm okay."  Chris shook his head and sat at the little table as he watched Jenny snatch a small handful of chocolate chips.

            "Jennifer Danielle!  If you take another chocolate chip you won't live to see six."  Melanie smacked at her hand with a smile.

            Chris watched the scene with caution, as if he were invading their space and simply did not belong in the picture.  Melanie served up pancakes a few minutes later and poured him a large mug of coffee;  "You look like you need it."  She smiled and kissed him quickly as she balanced Lauren on her hip.

            Jenny joined him at the table a few minutes later followed by Melanie and Lauren in her high chair. Chris ate in silence as he watched the three ladies eat their pancakes.

            "Daddy, how old are you now?"  Jenny asked as she picked a chocolate chip off of her pancake.

            Melanie waited a minute before kicking his ankle under the table.  "Me?"  Chris looked up quickly,  "I'm thirty."

            "How old is that?"

            "That's six times as old as you."  Melanie smiled and leaned over to cut Lauren's pancake.  "That'd be like if there were six five year olds here and we added them all together."

            "Wow."  Jenny stared up at Chris in awe.  "That's as old as grandma?"

            "Grandma's older than that."  Melanie laughed and looked at Chris,  "How are you doing on the coffee?"

            "I'm uh, I'm fine.  Actually I'm not too hungry."  He placed his hand on his stomach and headed for the stairs, back to the only room he knew in the house.

            He pushed open the doors to the master bedroom then went into the bathroom to splash cool water on his face in a final attempt to prove that he was awake.  The water stung his eyes and took his breath away for a moment.

            Chris reached blindly for a towel only to have one handed to him,  "I'm sorry hun, I should have known your stomach would be unsettled.  I'm really going to have to lay into Todd and Niles, they shouldn't have let you drink so much."  Melanie shook her head and turned on the light to the walk-in closet to Chris' left.  She stood staring at the clothes on the left for a moment before she chose a plain black maternity blouse with white buttons down the front.

            Melanie carefully lifted the t-shirt she'd slept in over her head and stood there in her boxers and bra as she unbuttoned the blouse and slid it on.  "I've gotta hurry, I left Lauren alone with Jenny and chocolate chips, that could be frightening."  Melanie laughed and pulled her ponytail out of the back of her shirt.

            "Wait… Mel?"  Chris asked as he bit his lip hard.  "Wait."

            "What?"  She laughed and turned around as she worked the buttons through the holes.

            "What is this?"

            "What is what?"  She frowned and turned to find a pair of shorts to wear for the day.

            "This.  All of this."  He waved his arm around, noticing for the first time the etched gold band on his left hand.  "I'm not sure what this is."

            "The closet?"

            "Everything."  He shook his head.

            "Honey are you okay?"  Melanie stopped flipping through her clothes long enough to turn around.  "You look pale."

            "We're married?"  Chris touched the ring with his thumb.

            "Chris?"  She blushed quickly as she placed her hand on his arm.  "Yes, of course we are."

            "And those are our kids?"  He looked toward the bedroom door.

            "Yeah…?"

            "And you're… that's mine in there too?"  He nodded toward her round belly.

            "What are you getting at?"

            "This is my house and my clothes and my room?"  Chris' breaths came in short bursts.

            "What's wrong Chris?  Are you okay?"

            "No."  He shook his head and pressed his hands against his eyes.  "What about the guys?"   He asked without removing his hands.

            "The guys?"

            "JC and Justin and Joey and Lance."

            "I don't know who you mean.  Are they your friends from work?"

            "They're my brothers."

            "You don't have any brothers Chris, you have sisters."  Melanie said softly.  "You're scaring me babe, what's wrong?"

            "What about Nsync?"

            "What?"

            "The group."  Chris' voice shook.

            "I've never heard of them.  Chris… what is going on here?  Do you want me to call Eddie?"

            "Eddie?"

            "Let me call him."  Melanie let go of him as she walked quickly toward the bed where the cordless phone sat in the charger on the nightstand.

            Chris stood in the closet as he tried to catch his breath while his hands shook.  Melanie dialed their friends phone number and paced in front of the bathroom sinks as she waited for him to pick up,  "Hi, Eddie?  This is Mel."   She said when he answered.

            "Hey Mel." Eddie smiled.  "Where's the birthday boy?"

            "He's here.  He's uh… Eddie I think you should come over or something, he's acting really weird."  She said softly.

            "Weird how?"

            "He's just… he's looking at the girls like he's never seen them before, and he's asking me about these brothers of his that he wants to find and… Eddie he doesn't have brothers."

            "Is he drunk?"

            "No."  Melanie shook her head.  "He went out with Todd and Niles last night and had a few drinks, but not that many."

            "Can you put him on?"  Eddie asked.

            "Yeah."  Melanie took a few steps into the closet,  "Here, Eddie wants to talk to you."

            "Who?"

            "Eddie."  Melanie said softly.

            "Hello?"  Chris said as he took the phone.

            "Hey Chris, what's up?"

            "Who is this?"

            "This is Eddie.  Hey Mel says you're a little confused?"

            "Who are you?"

            "I'm Eddie man, your best friend from college.  Best man at your wedding?  Jenny's godfather?"

            "Fuck."  Chris said under his breath.  "And you know me?"

            "For almost eight years now."  Eddie nodded.

            "What's my name?"

            "Chris Kirkpatrick."

            "What's my mom's name?"

            "Bev."

            "What's my dog's name?"

            "You don't have a dog."

            "Yes I do.  I have two dogs." Chris argued.

            "You don't have any dogs Chris.  Jenny is allergic."

            "I have two dogs, two pugs named Busta and Korea."  Chris insisted.

            Eddie remained silent on the other end of the phone,  "Chris, Melanie called me because you're scaring her and to be honest you're scaring me too."

            "You?  How about me?  I'm not even sure what this is about."  Chris pressed his hands over his eyes as he cradled the phone between his ear and his shoulder.

            "Maybe you'll feel better if you lay down for a little.  Maybe you had too much to drink last night or something."

            "I'm not drunk."

            "No, I know."  Eddie said quickly.  "But I'll bet you'll feel better if you do.  I'm sure Melanie will also."

            "Okay."  Chris sighed.

            "Okay?  Tell you what?  Give me a call at home a little later and let me know you're alright or whatever, okay?"

            "Yeah."

            "Maybe you should think about taking some of those vacation weeks you've been putting off."

            "My what?"

            "Vacation weeks.  You haven't taken any since Lauren was born, I'll bet you've got about five or six weeks saved up."

            "I can take them?"

            "Yeah sure, of course you can.  You can start tomorrow if you want, take all next week.  I can handle your work load for a while and Bill is here, he's always looking for new challenges."  Eddie laughed.

            "Yeah, okay then.  I'll take a vacation."

            "Okay buddy, I'll talk to you later."

            "Yeah.  Bye."  Chris hung up and looked at Melanie who was watching him with a worried expression.

            "You're taking a vacation?"  She raised her eyebrow at him.

            "Yeah."

            "For how long?"

            "I don't know.  However long I'm here I guess."  He mumbled.  "I'm gonna go lay down.  I might feel better if I lay down."  He set the phone on the bathroom counter and walked numbly out to the main room where their bed remained unmade.

            "O-okay."  Melanie nodded as Lauren began to fuss downstairs,  "I'm going to go get you some water and check on Lauren… go ahead and lay down."  She left the room quickly and practically ran down the stairs.  Melanie removed Lauren from her high chair and quickly ran a wash cloth over her chocolate smeared mouth.  "Jen?  Jenny girl?  Can you play with Lauren for a minute?  Daddy's not feeling too good."  She set Lauren on the floor in the living room and opened the little toy chest in the corner.

            "Yeah, but she can't play with my ponies."  Jenny shook her head.

            "That's fine, maybe you can show her how that little piano plays music?"

            "Okay."  Jenny sighed as Melanie got a glass of water and walked back to the master bedroom where Chris was standing by the bed, looking unsure about climbing in.  "Honey, lay down.  Here’s some water…"  She set the glass on the nightstand and rested her hand on Chris' shoulder.

            Chris pulled the blankets back and moved the stuffed bunny out of the way as he sat down.  It was then that he noticed the birthday card on the little table by the glass of water.  He carefully picked it up and flipped it over to read the back,  "Chris. Well, you asked what your life would be like if you hadn't joined Nsync, so here you go.  As they say, the grass is always greener… be careful what you wish for."

            "What is this?"  Chris asked as he held up the card for Melanie to see.

            "That's a birthday card from your mom."

            "What's it say there on the back?"  Chris closed his eyes and handed the card to her.

            "Hallmark, when you care enough to send the very best."  She read the printed text.

            "What else?"

            "Copyright 1997?"

            "The writing in pen all around that, what does it say?"  He kept his eyes covered as his heart pounded in his ears.

            "There's no writing on the back, just on the inside.  That says 'Happy birthday honey, don't worry, 30 is the easy part.  Love mom.'  Is that what you mean?"

            "No Mel I mean the part in blue pen all over the back here."  He snatched the card from her and turned it over, only to find the written message was gone.  Chris sighed and fell back onto the bed.  "I must still be dreaming."  He mumbled to himself.

            "Maybe…"  She said with a worried expression.  "Maybe what?  Maybe you've lost your mind?"  She shouted to herself.  Melanie sighed,  "Maybe some sleep would help, why don't you lay down?"

            "Yeah, yeah that's a good idea."  Chris took a deep breath and pulled a pillow up to cover his face.

            "I'll keep the girls out of here, but remember that we're dropping them at my parents at three so we can meet Eddie and Julie for dinner."

            "Okay."  Chris sighed from under the pillow.  He'd agree to anything if he could just be left alone for a few minutes to try to sort everything out.  Nothing was how it was supposed to be, he was in someone else's house in someone else's life and he had no idea how to get out.

            He heard the door to the bedroom open and he assumed that Melanie had left the room.  He took a deep breath and moved the pillow to the side so he could breathe regularly.  He kept his eyes clenched tightly closed as he pulled the sheet up over his head as if he were hiding from the boogey man.

            "Okay, I'm awake, I'm not dreaming… I'm actually in this house where everyone thinks I'm the daddy.  So either the three of them are loony in the head, or I am."  Chris mumbled to himself with the sheet over his head.  "JC's phone doesn’t work, neither does Lance's, Johnny has no idea who I am."  He took a deep breath,  "There's shit written on the card that no one else can see… this is my life if I didn’t join Nsync?  If it is, then how the hell do I get back?  This is messed up." 

            "Mommy?  What's daddy doing?"  Jenny asked as Melanie ushered her away from the door.

            "He's not feeling well honey.  He went out with Todd and Niles and I think he's still just really tired."  Melanie cast a worried look over her shoulder at the bedroom as she bent to scoop up Lauren who had toddled up to the door with her sister.  "Why don't we go out back and sweep all the sand back into the sand box, what do you think?"

            "Okay but then Lauren can't help because she's the one who puts it all on the ground and not in the sandbox."  Jenny placed her hands on her hips and gave Melanie the perfect "mom" look.

            "Lauren can swing while we sweep, how's that?"

            "Okay."  Jenny smiled and bounded down the stairs as she held onto the railing.  "I think daddy should come and push Lauren when we sweep."

            "Daddy needs to rest right now."  Melanie explained.  "Maybe later he'll come out and play with us."

            "Okay."  Jenny ran to the backdoor and shook the handle as she waited for Melanie to unlock it.  They'd had problems with Jenny letting herself out without anyone knowing, so they'd installed a lock two feet above her head.  That seemed to do the trick.

            The three girls went out to the backyard and Jenny got the little hand broom and dust pan from the shed near the garage while Melanie strapped Lauren into the toddler swing hanging from the patio cover.  She frowned as she sat beside Jenny on the ground and tried to keep her mind on the task at hand rather than the man inside who was supposed to be her husband.

 

 

 

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Copyright 2002, Amy Lynn