On Monday morning Melanie was more quiet than usual.  She went straight into the shower without saying anything, leaving Chris to sleep on the bed until Jenny came in to wake him up a few minutes later.  "Daddy?"  She whispered as she poked gently at his chin.  "Daddy are you awake?"

            "No, I'm sleeping."  Chris mumbled without opening his eyes.

            "Okay then can you wake up?  Lauren is awake and she's going to cry."

            "Tell you what… why don't you go listen at her door and come and get me when she starts to cry?"  Chris sunk deeper into his pillow.

            "Because daddy… if she cries then she's sad."  Jenny whispered.  "So get up now."  She tugged on his hand then shook it up and down.  "Get up daddy."

            If her giggling hadn't been so cute he might have been upset, instead Chris sighed and opened his eyes,  "Okay, okay I'm up."  He swung his legs over the side of the bed and staggered to Lauren's room while Jenny skipped up and down the hall.  "She doesn't sound like she's awake."  Chris mumbled as he listened at the door.  "Maybe she's - "

            Chris was interrupted by the beginning of what could have turned into a full-fledged cry from inside the room.  "Mamamamama."

            "See?  I told you she was awake."  Jenny rolled her eyes and stopped skipping.

            "You were right."  Chris nodded and pushed the door open.  "Hey Lauren… hey baby girl."  Lauren reached her hands out to Chris and gave him a wide grin.  "Jenny heard you in here talking so I guess it's time to get up, huh?"  He lifted her out of the crib and held her to him.  "Oooh, come on big girl, let's go get some breakfast."

            "Me too?"  Jenny danced around his feet while she tugged on Lauren's sleeper.

            "You too.  What sounds good?"  Chris looked down at Jenny as they walked down the stairs and toward the kitchen.

            "Um, eggs and toast."

            "Eggs and toast, I can make eggs."

            "I know you can daddy, you make scramber eggs."

            "Scrambled?"

            "Yeah."  Jenny crawled up onto the couch and looked at the blank TV.  "Can you turn on Arthur?"

            "Sure, just a second."  Chris set Lauren on the floor couch beside Jenny, but she immediately rolled onto her stomach and slid off to go pull her toys out of the basket.  He turned the TV on and surfed until he found the right channel.  "There you go.  Keep an eye on Lauren for me, okay?"

            "Okay."  Jenny nodded but kept her eyes on the TV.

            "Okay."  Chris said softly as he went into the kitchen.  Over the past week he'd gotten familiar with the kitchen and knew a lot more about here things were and how to make breakfast for kids.  He got the eggs and milk out of the fridge and set them on the counter beside the bowl and the fork.  Chris mixed everything up while the frying pan heated with a pat of butter in it.  From his position in the kitchen he could see into the family room where Jenny was still sitting on the couch and Lauren was holding her baby doll in one arm and opening and closing their little play microwave with the other.

            Chris scrambled up a half dozen eggs and made a few pieces of toast then set out plates for himself and Jenny.  As an afterthought he set one at Melanie's place and served up breakfast.  He dropped a few bites of egg and a half of a piece of toast on Lauren's high chair tray, then went to retrieve her.  "Okay Jenny, breakfast is ready."  He said as he scooped Lauren up off the floor.  "Jenny, chop chop."  He tapped her foot as he walked by the couch.

            Lauren giggled and slapped her hands on the tray as Chris strapped her in and placed her sippy cup of milk beside her.  "What kind of fruit do you want?"  He raised his voice to be heard by Jenny in the family room.  "Jenny?"  He sighed and went to the kitchen to grab a few bananas.  "Okay, we'll just have bananas."  He peeled one and took a bite, then broke off a piece for Lauren.  "Hey Jenny, come eat."

            "I'm not hungry."  Jenny said, leaving her eyes on the TV.

            "You were hungry ten minutes ago."  Chris argued back.  They'd played this game a few times over the last week, and he'd learned the little tricks to being a daddy that way.  "Come on.  Get over here and have your breakfast.  You've got eggs and toast and a banana."

            "I don't like bananas."

            "Well then you should have said something when I asked you what kind of fruit you wanted."  Chris mumbled as he broke off another piece for Lauren.  "Come on, you need to eat before you go to school."

            Jenny sighed heavily as she stood up and sulked into the kitchen to sit at the table.  She ate in silence and picked at her toast with a frown.  Melanie came down as Chris was finishing his breakfast and sat beside Jenny.  "Do you want me to nuke that for you?"  He asked as he stood up.

            "No, it's okay."  She shook her head and took a bite of the cold toast.

            "Mommy I'm done."  Jenny sighed and looked down at her half eaten banana and partially eaten eggs.

            "You're going to be hungry before lunch if you don't finish that up."

            "I'm done."  She shook her head.

            "Okay, then run upstairs and get dressed, we have to get going."  Melanie said as she stood up and took Lauren's cup to the sink.  She nibbled on the piece of toast as she rinsed the cup and set it on the drain board.

            "Mommy…"  Jenny began to whine.

            "Jennifer, don't argue with me this morning.  Please go upstairs and get dressed.  I've set out your favorite jeans with the glitter in them and that pink shirt you like."  Melanie sat back down and peeled a banana for herself.

            "With the buttons on the front?"

            "Yep."  Melanie nodded and took Jenny's plate.  "So come on… I've got a doctors appointment today so I can't be late."

            Jenny sighed and shoved her chair away from the table, then sulked toward the stairs.  "I don't want to wear sneakers today, I want to wear sandals."  She grumbled.

            "You can wear whatever shoes you want." Melanie said after her, having heard Jenny's little remark.  She took a few quick bites of her banana as she buzzed around the kitchen.

            "Do you want me to go get Lauren dressed?"  Chris asked carefully.  He hadn't seen Melanie this stressed before, and he wasn't sure how he was supposed to react.  Having not been in the 'father/husband' role for very long, he was still caught off guard occasionally.

            "Actually, if you could go get dressed, that'd be a big help."  She looked at him in his sweat bottoms and baggy t-shirt.  "I'll get Lauren ready."

            "Okay."   Chris set his plate in the sink, then took off up the stairs.

            "And check on Jenny, make sure she's getting dressed."  She shouted after him.

            "I'm am getting dressed."  Jenny shouted from her room.  "And I hate this shirt I wanted my other pink shirt!"

            Chris cringed as he heard the ever familiar tone in Jenny's voice.  It impressed him though, because he didn't learn the fine art of that tone until he was much older, but he had a feeling Melanie would like it about as much as his mom had.

            "Jennifer Danielle!"  Melanie shouted as she stood at the bottom of the stairs.  "Put your clothes on right now.  I'm not playing around."

            "I hate this shirt!"

            "You do not."  Melanie sighed.  "You know what?  Fine.  Wear whatever you want.  I don't even care any more."

            "Hey Jenny, just put on the clothes mommy sat out for you."  Chris said softly as he stood at her door.

            "I hate this shirt."  She repeated softly.

            "Then quietly choose another one."  Chris sighed.  "Your mom is kinda freaking out today so just… just do what she says okay?  It's just for one day."

            "No, she always yells at me."  Jenny said as tears threatened to fall.

            "Aw come on, no she doesn’t.  I've been here for a - "  Chris stopped himself.  "This is the first time she's yelled at you in like… a week.  She doesn't always yell at you."

            "Yeah she does."  Jenny cried as she pulled the pink shirt over her head and tugged it roughly into place.

            "No, you're just upset about today.  But listen, she'll be fine this afternoon, I promise okay?  When you get home from school she'll be back to normal I hope, and maybe we can go get ice cream for dessert tonight.  How does that sound?"

            "With whip cream?"

            "Maybe."  Chris nodded.

            "But I just don't like her when she yells at me."  Jenny sniffed and tried not to cry.

            "I know you don't."  Chris crossed the room and sat on the bed in front of her.  "But sometimes mommies just have to be upset like that."

            Jenny walked over and crawled onto his lap to wrap her arms around his neck.  "When I'm a mommy I'm not going to yell.  I'm going to let my girls wear anything they want all the time."

            "That sounds like a plan."  Chris smiled then kissed her forehead.  "I have to go get dressed now too before I get yelled at."  He whispered.  "So finish getting dressed then get your school stuff and wait downstairs, okay?"

            "Okay daddy."  Jenny nodded against his chest.

            "Okay."   He nodded, then carefully moved her off of his lap.  "Those are cute pants."  He smiled and ran his hand over Jenny's hair before he left her alone in her room.

            Chris went to the master bedroom to take a quick shower and dress himself in a pair of regular jeans and a clean shirt.  When he hopped down stairs a few minutes later Jenny was in tears and Melanie was fuming.

            "Whoa, what's the problem here?"  Chris asked as he placed his hand on Jenny's head, steering her toward the kitchen where Melanie was slamming cupboards.

            "Can you take Jenny to school while I run Lauren over to Liz's?"  Melanie threw a box juice into the diaper bag on the counter.

            "Wait, what's going on?"

            "Jennifer decided she wanted to take a snack to school today, so she tore open the cookies and spilled them all over the floor.  Then, to clean them up, she poured water on them."  Melanie nodded toward the sink where a soggy cookie bag was surrounded with a dozen mushy cookies.

            "Oh man."

            "Yes."  Melanie sighed and lifted Lauren off the floor.  "As if I don't have a million other things to do today, now I have to get on my hands and knees and clean that crap up."

            "I'll clean it up."  Chris said quickly.

            "I tried to clean it up!  I tried!"  Jenny wailed from his side.

            "I know."  Chris said softly as he stroked her head.  He looked up at Mel,  "I'll clean it up, where's the sponge?"

            "I already cleaned it Chris."  Melanie heaved an exasperated sighed and closed her eyes.  "Just… just take Jenny to school so she's not late.  I'll meet you back here and then we can go."

            "Okay… okay we'll go.  Come on Jenny girl, let's get you to school."  Chris put his hand on her shoulder and picked up her backpack.

            "Daddy I tried to clean it up."  Jenny cried.

            "I know… I know…"  He nodded as they headed for the front door with Melanie still slamming things around in the kitchen.  "She's cranky this morning, remember?"  Chris whispered.

            "I know!"  Jenny sniffed and pulled the front door open.  Chris spent the five minutes on the walk to school trying to calm Jenny down and explain that sometimes moms need to freak out a little and stuff like that.  The he turned the topic around and started talking about the field trip they were going to go on that Friday.  That brightened her mood considerably and by the time she got to her classroom, she was all smiles.

            "Okay kiddo."  Chris sighed and gave Jenny a hug.  "Mommy and I will be here to pick you up after school, and we'll go get ice cream for dessert tonight, I promise."

            "What if mommy says no?"

            "Then just you and I will go."  Chris smiled.  "Have a good day at school."

            "I will.  Bye daddy."  She kissed his cheek before he could stand up, then skipped into her classroom with her backpack bobbing behind her.

            Chris stood for a minute and watched as some of her classmates made their way into the class as well, then he turned to walk back home.  When he was alone, his mind tended to wander back to the guys and what he'd be doing right now if he were with them.  He conjured up mental images of each of them doing different things, some irrational side of him thought that if he didn't think about them he may forget.  And he couldn't let that happen.  His mind knew that this was his life now, but a part of him wasn't ready to completely let go of what used to be.

            A smile crossed his lips as he thought of Justin making goofy faces between flashes at a photo shoot.  Out of nowhere sometimes a memory would come back and remind him of who he was, always catching him off guard.  He walked into the house with a broad smile and helped himself to a cookie from the fresh bag Melanie had left out on the counter.  Chris sat at the kitchen table and stared out in the backyard, letting his mind wander a little while longer before Melanie came home.

            "Chris?!"  Her voice broke through his thoughts.

            "Yeah?"

            "Come on, we've gotta go."  She shouted again from the garage door.

            "Okay."  He removed his feet from the chair across from him, and turned the lights off as he headed for the garage.

            "We're going to be late."  Melanie said when she saw him coming.  She climbed into the driver's seat and had the car running by the time Chris climbed in beside her.

            "Calm down Mel…"  He said softly as she backed out.  "So what if we're late, they won't start without you."  He caught her eye and smiled.

            "I know."  She sighed softly as she turned the radio down.  "I'm just… I'm nervous."

            "Don't be."  Chris shook his head.  He didn't know what was supposed to happen at this appointment, but he was sure that if she went in there maxed out on stress the whole appointment would be rough.

            "I can't help it."  She said softly as she maneuvered her way through the light traffic toward the freeway.  "The sonogram will be able to show if everything's alright."

            "Everything is fine, I'm sure of it."  Chris smiled and touched her arm affectionately.  He wished he knew why she was so concerned, it was obvious that he should know.  "Just take a couple deep breaths, then we'll go get ice cream for dessert tonight."  He smiled.

            "Is that what you promised Jenny?"  She smiled sideways at him.

            "Yeah."  He laughed lightly.  "But you can have some too."

            "Thanks."  She chuckled and merged onto the freeway.  "I can't believe I yelled at her this morning."  She sighed softly and shook her head.  "I'm going to have to apologize, I'm not usually like that with her."

            "I know."  Chris nodded, though he didn't really.  "I explained to her that you were having a rough morning and that you'd be normal by tonight."

            "Gee, thanks."  She laughed and carefully tucked her hair behind her ear.  "I hope so… but it'll all depend on what the doctor says."

            "Everything will be fine."

            "I know, but what if it's not?  I mean, with what happened to Courtney this year, I just… I'm petrified.  And with them not knowing and everything…"  She exhaled sharply.  "I know I'm probably just over reacting because our girls turned out fine and Shannon had Trent and Megan just fine… but still."

            The picture became a little clearer to Chris as he nodded and furrowed his brow.  Her worry and concern seemed a little more valid now, and somewhere inside Chris, a little twinge of anxiety showed itself.  "We'll know in an hour though."  He rubbed her shoulder softly, then leaned over and kissed her cheek.  "Then we'll all be fine."

            "Yeah."  She gave him a shaky smile then exited the freeway and turned into the clinic parking lot.  Melanie took a few deep breaths before getting out of the car to follow Chris inside.  They walked up to the nurses station where she apologized for being late and checked in, then they went to sit in the comfortable padded chairs.

            They waited only a few minutes before they were called back to the examination rooms.  The nurse weighed Melanie and took her blood pressure, commending her on both.  "You're right on schedule, good job Mel!"  The nurse smiled and led them to a private room.  "You're doing an ultrasound today, so we've got you back here.  Dr. Finch isn't here today; he actually managed to squeeze a vacation in this week so Dr. Kennedy will be seeing you today.  Don't worry, he's awesome, you'll like him."  She giggled and opened a door at the end of the hall.  "The room is a little smaller than normal so Chris you'll have to go around to the far side of the table.  You guys know the drill."

            "Yep, thank you."  Melanie smiled and stepped into the tiny room.  Chris smiled at the nurse, then followed Melanie.  She positioned herself on the table and remained sitting while Chris leaned on the corner of the counter.

            "This is cool."  Chris said as he looked around the little room.  His hands itched to pick up some of the little gadgets on the counter behind him, but he knew better than that.

            "Yeah, it's a blast."  Melanie said sarcastically as she cracked a little smile.  They sat in silence for a few minutes while Chris looked at the pictures and diagrams on the wall.  When the doctor came in Chris turned quickly and knocked a plastic pelvis to the floor.

            "Damn, I'm sorry."  He scrambled on the floor to pick it up.

            "Chris…"  Melanie sighed.

            "Sorry."  He mumbled as he picked it up and placed it back on the counter.  "Hi."  He smiled at the doctor who stood by the door, amused.

            "Hi there, I'm Dr. Kennedy."  He shook Chris' hand, then addressed Melanie.  "So how are you feeling?"

            "Pretty good."  She nodded, though she looked nervous.

            "Great, glad to hear it."  He beamed.  Dr. Kennedy flipped open Melanie's chart and furrowed his brow,  "So we're doing a sonogram today, huh?"

            "Yes, my uh… my sister was pregnant earlier this year and at about week 22 the fetus just stopped developing so… so they… I had a sonogram done at week 20 so that today you could compare this one to the last one."

            "Okay, we'll check on the development then."  He nodded and noted the measurements from her previous sonogram.  "Are you ready?"

            "Yeah."  Melanie lay back on the table and pulled her t-shirt up to her bra. She slid her stretchy pants down to expose her stomach, then reached for Chris' hand.

            "Okay, let's see what we’ve got here."  Dr. Kennedy placed is hands on Melanie's abdomen and prodded gently.  His warm hands traveled down the side of her stomach and he smiled,  "We've got a tooshy over here."

            Melanie laughed nervously and looked up at Chris for a smile of reassurance.  "This little guy has been turning around a lot lately."

            "Yep, well there's still a little room in there, he's got to move around while there's still space."  Dr. Kennedy smiled, then measured her stomach.  "Very good.  You're right on target."

            "Okay."  Melanie nodded.

            "Do you have any questions?"

            "No… not really."  Melanie shook her head.  She'd been through this twice before, she pretty much knew what to expect.

            "All right, let's get the ultrasound out of the way then and listen to the heartbeat."  Dr. Kennedy switched the little machine on and dimmer the lights slightly.  He prepared her stomach, then placed the instrument just below her belly button.

            "Whoa, check that out."  Chris let go of Melanie's hand and took a step toward the monitor.  "Can you hear that?"  He asked as the baby's heartbeat sounded through the little speaker.  "That's amazing… that's… wow, that's so cool.  It's so fast…"  Chris squinted at the monitor.  "Check that out."  He whispered.

            "It's nice to see new daddies this excited."  The doctor commented softly.

            "He's not that new."  Melanie laughed,  "We have two daughters at home."

            "Very nice."  He smiled as he moved the device around on her tummy to get a different angle for measurements.  "There's the top of the head right there."  A little arrow on the screen zipped around to outline the skull.  "And if I go over here you can see the shoulder and arm… there's the elbow."

            "Wow."  Chris stared in awe as Melanie tried not to laugh at his reaction.

            "And the hand.  Look at those long fingers!  You've got a piano player in there."  The doctor smiled and moved around a little more.  He looked again at her chart, then went back to the monitor,  "Well I'm pleased to say everything looks great."  Dr. Kennedy grinned.  "The baby developing right on target, all of the measurements are right up the center for the average 24 weeker.  It's about eight and a half to eight and three quarter inches long and weighs about… I'd say a little over a pound.  The baby can hear, and react to you talking or loud noises… you might notice that in her movement."

            "Really?"  Melanie asked.

            Dr. Kennedy nodded,  "Checking back to your last ultrasound, the baby has grown about three inches, which is perfect. You won't need another ultrasound unless something happens." He smiled and caught Melanie's eye to reassure her.  "Now, last time they couldn't tell, but I can this time.  Did you want to know the sex?"

            "Yes."  Melanie said.

            "No."  Chris said at the same time.

            "Chris?"  Melanie sighed.  "I thought we decided that we wanted to know?  That way in case it’s a girl we can just keep Jenny and Lauren's stuff and if it's a boy we could get rid of all that and get boy stuff?"

            "We did?"

            "Honey, we had that conversation last month when we made this appointment."  He could tell she was getting aggravated at him.  He obviously couldn't remember anything like that so he just nodded and cleared his throat.

            "Okay, yeah… I just didn't think that we had made up our minds yet."  He said softly.

            "So is that a yes?"  The doctor asked.

            "Yeah."  Melanie and Chris said in unison.

            "You have two girls at home?"  The doctor asked as he looked up at them both.

            "Yes."

            "Well… in a few months you'll be welcoming a third."  He smiled.  "As far as I can see here, it looks like a girl to me."

            "Kathryn."  Melanie whispered as she craned her neck to see the monitor.

            Chris' heart skipped a beat and he felt adrenaline rush through his veins with excitement.  "Kathryn."  He whispered back.

            "Oh so you've conceded and finally decided to let me have my way huh?"  Melanie laughed lightly and looked up at Chris.  He gave her a confused look, one that she should have been used to by then.  "You've been against Kathryn from the beginning."

            "No, I like it.  It's perfect."  Chris said softly as he leaned forward to kiss her quickly.  "It's beautiful."  He turned his attention back to the monitor to watch his unborn daughter move around in little spurts on the screen.

 

            When they left the doctor's office a short while later Chris was still in a mild state of shock.  "I just can't believe how clear the picture was, I mean, you could see her fingers."

            "Pretty neat huh?"  Melanie laughed and played along.

            "And you can feel all that moving around and stuff?"

            "Yep."  Melanie said.  "Constantly.  We've got a gymnast in there, I swear."

            "Can I feel?"

            "You can try."  Melanie shrugged and stopped walking as they got to the car.

            Chris placed his hand on her stomach, almost feeling like an intruder.  He held it still for a second, but felt nothing.  "Maybe later."  He smiled up at her, then leaned down to kiss her stomach.  "Hi Kathryn."  He said softly.

            Melanie laughed lightly and patted his head as he stood up straight.  "I'm glad everything's okay."  She said softly.

            "Me too."  He kissed Melanie's lips and smiled.  "So what's the plan for the rest of the day?  Are you going to the office?"

            "Nope.  I told them I wouldn't be in today, but I may do some work from home a little later."  She shook her head.

            "Cool."

            "I need to go grocery shopping though.  And remember when Lauren was born we had that gift to give Jenny from the baby?  She really liked that; maybe we should do that again.  You know… get the girls a little something from Kathryn for when she's born."

            "Sure, we can do that."  Chris smiled as they climbed into the car.  He was glad to see that with the good news her mood lightened.

 

            They spent the afternoon walking hand in hand through one of the local malls.  At the little toy store there, they picked out little gifts for the girls for when the baby was born.  For Jenny Chris chose a book that would read the page if you pressed on the corner to help new readers.  For Lauren Melanie chose a new baby doll with a magic bottle and a change of clothes.  While they were out and about they stopped and had lunch in the food court and picked up a few Christmas presents for the girls as well.  The left the mall after one o'clock and headed to Eddie and Liz's house to pick Lauren up before Jenny got out of school.

            "Hi sweetie!  Did you have a fun day with Katie and Liz?"  Melanie asked Lauren when Liz opened the door with Lauren in her arms and Katie climbing up her legs.  "How'd she do?"  She smiled at Liz as she took Lauren from her.

            "She did great, of course.  Her and Katie spent almost the whole time playing with that dishwasher thing she got for her birthday.  The one that makes all that noise?"  Liz laughed as Katie clung to her knees.

            "Oh fun."  Melanie laughed and bounced Lauren on her disappearing hip.

            "How was the doctors?"

            "Good.  Dr. Finch was on vacation so we got to see Dr. Kennedy."

            "Oh he's good.  He delivered Molly."  Liz smiled, then bent to pick Katie up.  "You had a sonogram, right?"

            "Yeah, everything's normal."  Melanie licked her lips then looked down at Lauren.  "And… we're going to have a little sister here for Lauren in a few months."

            "Oh you're kidding!"  Liz laughed and pulled Melanie in for a hug.  "Another girl?  That's great, oh that'll make things so much easier for you."

            "I know."  Melanie nodded.  "Coming from a family with three girls, I know just how it'll go.  I can't wait for them to grow up and be friends like me and Shannon and Courtney."

            "Congratulations, that's great."  Liz hugged Chris then bounced Katie on her hip.  "So what about you Miss Katie?  Do you want a little brother or sister?"

            "No."  Katie giggled and hid her face in Liz's shoulder.

            "That's her word of the week, and I love asking her that.  Two's enough for me."  She smiled at Melanie,  "But you'll let me play with this little one whenever I want, right?"  She placed her hand on Melanie's tummy.

            "Anytime you want."  She nodded.  "We've gotta go get Jenny, thank you so much for keeping an eye on Lauren."

            "No problem at all.  They entertained themselves so all I had to do was diaper duty."

            "Did she get a nap?"

            "Nope, they were too busy running around."  Liz shook her head.  "But she should be about ready to crash.  I'm going to go lay this little monster down right now."

            "Okay, thanks again."

            "Thanks."  Chris waved as he turned to head down the little brick walkway.

            "See you guys later!"   Liz called after them.  Melanie waved back, then went to the car to get Lauren in her seat.

            They drove back across town to Jenny's school and waited by the gate for class to get out.  When Jenny saw them both standing there she broke into a run and body slammed Chris' legs.  "Daddy!"

            "Hey kiddo!"  Chris laughed and lifted her up to hug her.

            "And mommy and Lauren!  Wow, everyone is here to see my school!"  Jenny giggled.

            "Yep, we're here to take you home now."  Melanie nodded as she leaned over to kiss Jenny's cheek.  "I'm sorry I was a meanie this morning."  She crinkled her nose and rested her forehead against Jenny's.

            "It's okay."  Jenny shrugged, having already forgotten the morning episode.  "Can I have a snack when we get home?"

            "Of course, you can have whatever you want."  Melanie nodded.

            "Daddy are we going to get ice cream tonight?"

            "Yep, but you have to eat your dinner first."  Chris nodded.

            "I will, I'll eat it all up."  Jenny rubbed her tummy then squirmed to the ground.  "Did you park the car or did you walk?"

            "We drove.  We're parked over by the street."  Chris said as he took her hand to keep her from running too far ahead.

            "Can I ride in the front?"

            "No, it's not safe."  Melanie said from a few steps behind them.

            "Please?" Jenny whined.

            "It's not safe."  Chris repeated.  He didn't know that it wasn't safe, but if Melanie thought so then he would back her up all the way.  "We'll be home in a few minutes anyway.  When you get old enough to ride in the front then we'll go on a really long car ride, okay?"

            "Okay."  Jenny laughed and skipped as she swung Chris' hand back and forth.  They drove the short distance home and Jenny ran into the house, leaving the other three in the garage.

            "Man, what I wouldn't give for her energy."  Melanie sighed wistfully as she hoisted Lauren out of the car seat.  The little girl had fallen asleep as soon as they headed home from school, and she wasn't going to wake up any time soon.  "I'm going to lay her down upstairs, but don't let her sleep longer than like… an hour."

            "Okay."  Chris nodded as he shut the car door behind her, then followed her into the house.  She went to the left to go up the stairs and Chris headed toward the kitchen where he head Jenny going through the cupboards.  "What are you looking for?"

            "Fruit snacks."  Jenny said as she pulled an empty box from the pantry.  "Uh oh, they're all gone."

            "I thought there was another box in there."  Chris frowned and stood behind her to look over her head.  "Hmm, I don't see it.  How about goldfish crackers?"  He picked up the box and shook it.

            "No."  She made a face.  "How about ice cream?"  She looked up at him hopefully.

            "Yeah right.  Not until after you finish your dinner tonight."  He looked around the pantry some more.  "How about… fruit rolls.  Check it out, it's just like fruit snacks only flat."  He pulled one out of the box and handed it to Jenny.  "It's perfect."

            "Okay." She sighed heavily and took the snack.  Jenny stood in the kitchen and unrolled the fruit roll then nibbled on it while Chris got himself a toasted English muffin for a snack and sat on the couch.  Jenny came around with her backpack and sat on the floor in front of the coffee table to finish her fruit roll.

            "I'm going to go do a little work, can you hold down the fort?"  Melanie asked as she came down the stairs and headed down the hall toward the garage.  She stopped in front of the office door and rested her hand on the doorknob.

            "Sure."

            "I'll be in the office if anyone needs me."  She smiled, stepped in and shut the door.

            Chris looked down at Jenny,  "So now what?  Lauren's upstairs taking a nap… do you want a nap?"

            "No."  Jenny laughed.  "Can we watch cartoons?"

            "Do you have homework?"

            "I have to make nine's."  Jenny shrugged.

            "Okay, well grab some paper and a pen and we'll do that while we watch cartoons."

            "I can only have pencils.  Miss Howard doesn't let us use pens."

            "Oh, okay.  Well then grab a pencil and let's go."  Chris slid down to the other end of the couch and used the remote to turn the TV on.  "What channel is cartoons on?"  He asked as Jenny dug around in the junk drawer in the kitchen to find a pencil.

            "Nickelodeon."

            "Okay, but what channel is that?  I don't remember."  Chris asked as he clicked the 'channel up' button.   He surfed through the channels looking for anything that resembled a cartoon, but stopped abruptly when he saw a familiar logo.  "Hey, it's TRL."  He laughed and left the channel where it was.

            "Daddy that's not a cartoon."

            "I know, I know, I just want to watch for a minute."  Chris smiled and leaned forward onto his knees.  He rested his chin in his hand and sighed, watching the camera pan the crowd below the MTV studios, then the lucky group of people that got to sit inside with Carson Daly.

            Jenny came and sat on the floor in front of him with her binder and a big piece of paper with the number '9' written in the corner.  He smiled and listened to the music playing in the background as the camera panned back from the mini monitor to show the end of the video and the host.

            "Holy shi - "  Chris looked down at Jenny.  "Shinola."  His eyes grew wide as he stared at his best friend on the TV screen.  "Oh my God."  He said slid off the couch and kneeled in front of the TV.  "Holy smacks.  You look like hell man, what happened to your hair?"  Chris whispered at the TV.  Just when he thought he was getting comfortable in the family life, Justin had to go throw a curve ball.  "Typical."  Chris muttered under his breath as he smiled at the TV. 

            "Daddy?  What are you doing?"

            "That's - "  He pointed to Justin on the TV.  "I used to know him."  He explained quickly, then turned back to the monitor.

            "So that was Destiny's Child coming in at number seven.  Tommy Lee is going to be joining us here in a few and we'll have the caller of the day right after this break, so don't go anywhere."  Justin pointed at the camera, then ran his hand through his collar length hair.

            "Honest to God… you look awful."  Chris shook his head as a number flashed across the bottom of the screen.  "Oh man… too easy."  He laughed as he reached for the phone and dialed the toll free number.  Surprisingly it rang in his ear, and suddenly any courage he had seemed to vanish.  What would he say if Justin actually answered?  There was no way he'd make a fool out of himself on national TV, and the fact that Justin was the host of TRL just proved what Chris already knew; Justin wouldn't know who he was anyway.  But he had to call, he had to try.  Because what if…?

            "TRL."  A girl answered and interrupted his internal questioning.

            "H-hi."  Chris stammered, seriously pondering slamming the phone down.  "I know this may sound like a weird question, but what's the hosts name?"

            "Our guest host today is going to be Tommy Lee."

            "Yeah but the host himself.  Who's that?"  Chris asked.

            The girl laughed,  "You mean Justin Timberlake?"  Her tone showed that Chris must have been living under a rock to not know who he was.

            "Yeah, how long has he been the host?"

            "Two years as of a couple months ago."  The girl replied.

            "Is he a singer too?"

            "No, he's just the host."  She shook her head and Chris could tell she was itching to get on to another call.

            "Okay, just one more question."

            "What's that?"

            "Have you ever heard of Chris Kirkpatrick?"

            "Nope, who's that?"

            "No one."  Chris shook his head.  "Thanks."

            "No problem."  She disconnected before Chris could say another word.

            "Daddy?  I heard of Chris Kirkpatrick."  Jenny said as she held her pencil over the paper in front of her.  "That's you!"  She giggled.

            "That's right."  Chris nodded and smiled down at Jenny.  "That's right… that's me."

            "Is that your friend on TV?"  Jenny looked up just as Justin's image appeared again.

            Chris tore his eyes away from the screen and quickly changed the channels.  "Nope… I thought I knew him, but I don't."  He said softly.  "So… how are you doing on those nines?"

            "Good.  They are easy though see?  It's just a circle and a line like this."  She demonstrated with a proud smile.

            "That's a great nine."  Chris nodded as he tried to smile.  Right then and there he decided to stop trying to test himself and the guys to see if this was real.  There was no longer a question in his mind.  From then on he promised himself that he would focus on being the daddy, and to really try to forget about the possibility of ever going back.

 

 

 Next...

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2002, Amy Lynn