Kyle buzzed his way up and down the street collecting a pumpkin full of candy before they made it back to his house.  "Oh daddy is too much candy."  Kyle rolled his eyes as he looked at his haul.

            "Too much huh?  Then can I have some?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle held out his plastic pumpkin as JC unlocked the car.

            JC took a snack sized Snicker bar and popped it in his mouth, "Yum!  All righty, lets go see the guys real fast."

            "See guys?"

            "Yeah, we're going to go see Joey and Chris and Justin and Lance."

            "Wow!"  Kyle laughed and crawled into his seat as Jessica got in the passenger door.

            "Daddy I sink guys comere."

            "You think the guys should come here?"

            "Yeah and see."

            "Yeah, well… I thought they should come here and see you too but they're stubborn."  JC laughed and hopped into the driver's seat.  "They don't like me so they won't come and see me."

            "No me.  See me."  Kyle giggled.

            "Oh!  Well I'm sure they'd come to see you.  But tonight we're going to go see them."

            "Day like me?"

            "Of course they like you."  JC smiled at his son in the rear view mirror as he backed out.  "They like you a lot."

            "Yeah."  Kyle sighed and looked out the window.  "I like sink too."

            "Well cool."  JC laughed softly as he drove down the street and headed for Justin's house, the furthest away.

 

            They spent the next two hours going from house to house to show off Kyle's costume before the older boys headed out for various parties they were attending.  Kyle rang each of their doorbells and used Joey's favorite trick-or-treating phrase to get the little goodies they had for him.  Joey was the only one who was unprepared so he handed out Fudgesicles in the kitchen, which they all ate right away.

            By the time they were in the car and headed home, Kyle was sound asleep.  He'd come down from his sugar high as soon as the car started and was snoring by the time they hit the end Lance's street.  JC bit his lip and turned to face Jessica in the darkness of the car.  "So…"

            "Hmm?"  She looked at him and her smile dropped slightly.  That 'so' meant he wanted to talk.  "I'm not jealous of her."  She said softly when he didn't say anything.

            "I'm not…"  JC stopped and pursed his lips.  "Then I don't know what it is."

            "It's nothing."

            "No, it's something."

            "JC… it's just that she shows up out of nowhere and wants to suddenly be his 'mommy', and that’s just not cool.  As a female I don't know how she can do that.  I mean, I have no connection to him at all other than you really… and it just seems like I'm more concerned about him than she is."

            "Yeah."

            "Well then it’s not fair that she gets to be his mother.  It's like the story of the little red hen, if you don't put anything into it you shouldn't get anything out of it."  Jessica heard the words leave her mouth but she couldn't believe she'd actually said them.  "That sounds horrible."

            "She put in the first two years."  JC said softly.

            "I know."

            "But I know what you're saying.  It doesn't seem fair, and maybe it isn't."  JC sighed.  "But… but for Kyle's sake I have to do this.  I have to try to make things work with Lori and if that means putting up with certain things… well then that's okay."

            "But where do you draw the line?"

            "I don't know.  I'm new at this."  JC forced a small smile.  "But Jessica, I really need your help here or something.  When all this went down in LA you were the one who kept my head on straight and told me that she needed to be a part of Kyle's life.  You were right, she does.  She plays an important part and all of her actions make a difference.  When Kyle's old enough to understand, he can make up his own mind."

            "JC, I know that she's important in his life."  Jessica sighed.  "I just… I know she needs to be around… in my head I know that but that doesn't change the way I feel.  It's just petty I guess."

            "Well…"  JC shrugged.

            "I don’t want you guys to get hurt."

            "We won't."

            Jessica stared at him for a minute and licked her lips, "I hope not."  She said softly.

            "I appreciate your concern."

            "Please don't talk to me like I'm a reporter."  She made a face.

            "Jessica… I'm glad that you're worried for us.  That means a lot, it really does.  I care about you a lot and I know you love us too.  That means more than anything Lori can say."  JC bit his lip.  "But I think we're doing alright.  She's getting better believe it or not.  I can handle her being testy with me as long as she's there for Kyle and she has been lately.  You don't have to have any contact with her if you don't want to… that's fine."

            "I'd rather not see her."

            "Then don't."  JC placed his hand on her leg.  "This is my crap I have to deal with; I don't want you to feel like you're stuck in the middle."

            "I am though."

            "You don't have to be."  JC shook his head.  "I've got caller ID so if her number comes in you can let it go to the machine and I'll deal with it later.  When she comes over to visit you can do what you want.  The only thing I need from you is just for you to be here."

            "I will be."

            "Okay."  JC looked over and caught her eye in the passing streetlight.  "We okay?"

            "We're fine."  She sighed and offered a small smile.

            "She'll be gone soon."  He kissed her quickly then turned back to the road.  "Then we can get back to normal."

            "Good."  Jessica smiled and leaned against the window to watch the last of the freeway pass by on their way home.

 

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

 

            On Friday JC left early in the morning to get back to the studio, and took a handful of Halloween candy with him to give him the sugar buzz he was sure he'd need.  Jessica and Kyle slept in a little and spent the day picking up Kyle's room and cleaning out his dresser drawers. So many of his clothes didn't fit any more and being a fashion mistress, Jessica wasn't about to let Kyle cruise around in short shorts or shirts that rode halfway up his belly.

            "Kyle... buddy these don't fit you any more."  She held up a pair of pants that were a size eighteen months and looked more like capri's when she put them on.  "Your dad might be able to pull that off, but I don't think you'll be able to."

            "Is mine."

            "I know they're yours but they don't fit.  Let's take these clothes that don't fit and give them to other kids who need them."  Jessica nodded and reached back into the drawers.

            "No I can have."

            "We'll get you new clothes, okay?"

            "We can go sopping?"

            "You bet."  Jessica smiled and imagined JC and Kyle shopping for clothes.  "I'll see if maybe we can go this weekend.  We'll get you some clothes that fit.  And that aren't stained."  She made a face as she pulled out a shirt with dull red stains down the front.

            "Kay."  Kyle nodded and reached into the drawers himself to help weed out the things that didn't fit.

 

            When JC came home that night there was a trash bag full of clothes waiting by the garage door waiting to be taken to the goodwill store in town.  "Hey.  What's this?"  JC asked as he kicked at the bag.

            "Is my cose."  Kyle shrugged as JC walked into the kitchen to see the two of them eating brownies at the table.

            "You're throwing your clothes away?"  JC frowned and reached over to take a piece of brownie from Jessica's napkin.

            "No we fro dem to kids."  Kyle stuck his tongue out to lick the icing from his top lip but only managed to smear it more.

            "Translation?"  JC looked over at Jessica as she took another bite.

            "Those are clothes that don't fit him any more so we took them out of his drawers and we're going to give them to other kids.  To the Goodwill store or something."

            "Oh." JC nodded and quickly dropped kisses on both of their cheeks.  "Is there anything to eat?"

            "Nope.  Just brownies." Jessica laughed as JC pulled the fridge open.  "We just had sandwiches for dinner; do you want me to make you one?"

            "I've got it."  JC brought out the makings for a turkey sandwich and yawned.  "But save me a brownie, those look good."

            "Day yummy daddy."  Kyle licked his fingers as the last bite of his brownie passed his lips.

            "Right on."  JC bustled around the kitchen making his dinner then casually sat beside Jessica.  "So that's what you guys did today?  You cleaned out Kyle closet?"

            "And his toy chest and all that.  His room is spotless."  Jessica nodded.

            "Very cool.  You wanna clean the rest of the house while you're here?"

            "Don't count on it."  She leaned over to kiss him quickly before she laughed.  "You'll need to take him shopping and get him some more clothes that fit.  You might want to get things that are a little too big that way he can grow into them."

            "Okay."  JC took a bite of his sandwich while his stomach growled loudly beneath his t-shirt.

            "We can go this weekend if you want.  Or next week sometime."

            "I'm working next week."  JC shook his head.  "I think."

            “Then maybe Kyle and I will go and spend your money.”  She raised her eyebrow at Kyle who just laughed in response.  JC and Jessica joined in with the laughter and each thought to themselves how nice it was to be laughing like a family.

            When JC was done with his dinner he picked Kyle up and yawned with the little boy as they made their way upstairs.  He put Kyle to bed, and then he followed Jessica back to the living room to finish off the brownies and relax on the couch, as was becoming their normal evening routine.  They noticeably avoided any mention of Lori and simply resigned to watching the shows in silence with their arms around each other.

 

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

 

            Morning was a lazy time for them all and they didn't end up eating breakfast until after ten in the morning.  Kyle decided he wanted an egg picnic, so JC scrambled up some eggs and they ate on the grass just outside of the back door on the dew covered lawn.

            "When… when does Lori get here?"  Jessica asked carefully.

            "Um, last night.  Late last night.  I guess she'll be calling today to see about coming by."

            "Hmm.  Okay."

            "I should actually go get the phone."  JC jumped up and brushed the grass off of his damp bottom before he ran inside.  He returned a minute later with a handful of towels and handed them out for everyone to sit on, then dropped the phone by his plate and smiled.  "This was a good idea Kyle; it looks like it'll be a gorgeous day today."

            "It's hard to believe its November, huh?"  Jessica looked up at the cloudless sky.

            "I know.  This is strange; it's usually rainy and stuff by now.  Not that I'm complaining."

            "Yeah no kidding.  The longer it can stay clear like this, the better, right?"

            "Right."  JC sat indian style on the towel and took a bite of his toast.

            "Daddy Candy can have a egg?"

            "Nope, she doesn't need eggs.  She has her dog food over there in her bowl."

            “She like egg?”

            “I don’t think she’d like eggs, no.”  JC shook his head then reached over to stop Kyle hand as the little boy reached for his eggs.  “I’m seriously Kyle, don’t feed her eggs.  If she eats them and gets sick, you’re going to have to clean it up.”

            “Kay I keen.”

            “No.”  JC laughed and caught Jessica’s smile out of the corner of his eye.  “No, just don’t feed her the eggs.  She’s a dog so she has to eat dog food.”

            Kyle sighed and rolled his eyes, “Kay daddy.”

            “Eat your breakfast.”

            “Kay.”  Kyle said again as he picked up his toast and took a bite, keeping his eyes on his breakfast plate.

            The phone beside JC’s knee rang just then and startled all three of them.  “Figures.”  JC grumbled as he jumped to his feet with the phone in his hand.  “Hello?”  He answered when he stepped up onto the patio heading for the house.

            "Hi JC, this is Lori."

            "Hey."  JC lowered his head and stepped just inside the door.  Without him saying who it was, Jessica new it was Lori.  She shuttled Kyle and Candy over to the play set and went about chasing him up the rope ladder to the little bridge with Candy yapping at their heels.  "How was your flight?"  JC asked as he shut the back door halfway and leaned on the kitchen counter.

            "It was fine, thank you."

            "Are you at your hotel now?"

            "Yeah, let me give you that number."  Lori shuffled papers around then rattled off the local hotel number.  "We're in room 8110, it's under Julie Bard."

            "Julie Bard?"  JC asked as scribbled the number on a grocery bag.

            "She's one of the friends I'm here with.  She got the room in her name because she had the credit card."

            "Oh… you - you're here with friends?"

            "Yeah."  Lori smiled.

            "Oh."

            "I mean, I came out to see Kyle but I figured while I was out here I might as well make a little vacation out of it.  It'll be short, but still."

            "Oh."  JC said again, he wasn't expecting that.

            "So some of the girls I work with decided to come too.  We'll do a little sightseeing too I guess."  Lori sighed.  "Anyway, when can I come by to see Kyle?"

            JC thought for a second, "Pretty much anytime you want.  He's in bed by about eight every night and he still naps in the afternoon, so… but yeah, anytime."  He frowned slightly and thought ahead for the day.  "He probably won't need a nap until like, one or two today so if you want to see him bef -”

            "I was thinking about tomorrow."  Lori interrupted him.

            "Tomorrow?  Yeah, okay yeah that'd be fine.  What time?"

            "In the morning sometime.  I'd like to take him for a few hours, you know… spend the day with him since I haven't seen him in forever."

            "You want to take him?"

            "Yeah.  Maybe we'll go to the movies or something."

            "Oh."  JC always felt like English was his second language whenever he spoke to Lori.  He didn't know why he always got flustered with her, but he hated it.  "Yeah that'll be fine.  You'll have to take Frank with you though.  Like last time."

            "The bodyguard?"

            "Yeah, our security."

            "Do you really think that’s necessary?"

            JC's eyebrows shot up; did she really think he'd let her take Kyle without supervision?  "Yes, it's necessary.  Especially around here."  JC said slowly.  He didn't always have Frank around when he took Kyle out, but he was much more qualified to handle fans and Lori definitely wasn't prepared to handle his fans with Kyle.

            She sighed loudly and said, "Fine.  Okay.  So can I pick him up at ten?"

            "Ten would be fine, sure.  How long did you want to keep him?"

            "I'm not sure.  A few hours I guess.  Like I said, we'll just go to the movies or to a park or something."

            "Okay."  JC nodded and pulled on his lip.  "Do you remember how to get here?"

            "Yeah."  Lori said quickly.  "I remember."

            "Okay, cool.  We'll see you at ten then."  JC nodded.  "Do you want to talk to Kyle?"

            Lori paused for a second, "Sure."

            "Okay."  JC pulled the door open and shouted for Kyle to come to the phone.

            "No daddy I a sark."

            "You can be a shark in a minute, come talk to your mom on the phone for a minute."  JC waved the little boy over.

            Kyle heaved a heavy sigh then rolled his eyes and walked over, "Is mommy?"

            "Yep, it's your mommy.  Say hi."  JC handed the phone to Kyle who took it in both hands.

            "Hi mommy."  He mumbled as he sat on the first step leading to the grass.  "Yeah.  Kay."  Kyle nodded and looked longingly toward the play set where Jessica and Candy were lounging in the shade of the slide.  "I a sark and I simmin a ossin."  Kyle explained softly.  "No a sark.  Rawr!"  JC listened as Kyle explained in toddler-talk what he was doing.  "Kay bye."  Kyle stood up suddenly and handed the phone to JC.

            "Are you done?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle didn't even look back as he took off across the backyard again.

            "Hello?"  JC asked into the phone, but she had already hung up.  "All righty then see you tomorrow."  He grumbled as he turned the phone off and set it on the picnic table before walking out to the 'ocean' to join the shark and the other seat creatures in their playtime.

            "Is she coming over?"  Jessica asked without looking up.

            "Nope, not today.  She wants to take him out tomorrow."

            "She's in town though, right?"

            "Yeah.  She brought some friends with her and they're over at the Holiday Inn."

            "She brought friends?"

            "Yeah, I guess she's making this into another vacation or something."

            "Hmm."  Jessica pursed her lips and looked up at JC, squinting into the sun.  "So she's not going to see him today?"

            "Nope."

            "Okay, then we've got all day to play."  She smiled and pulled Kyle onto her lap.  "We get to play all day kiddo, how does that sound?"

            "Yeah!"  Kyle cheered and wiggled on her lap.  "I a sark and you a fiss and Candy a fiss and daddy…" Kyle frowned and looked JC over.  "A pie wit?"

            "A pirate?"  JC laughed.  "I'm not a pirate."

            "Yeah."  Kyle giggled.  "Is tend."

            "It's pretend huh?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle jumped up and darted around the sand area in shark-like moves, opening and closing his mouth.

            "Okay then, I'm a pirate."  JC smirked down at Jessica with a raised eyebrow as he growled and pulled himself up onto the bridge over the 'ocean' and made pirate noises.

            They played around in the backyard for most of the afternoon, then stopped for lunch at Mc Donald's and went home to relax a little and do some laundry that JC had been putting off.  The three of them sat on the couch and folded the warm clothes straight from the dryer as "Lilo and Stitch" played on the big screen TV that evening.

           

            Kyle went to bed early but JC and Jessica stayed up late watching Saturday Night Live to see the Goo Goo Dolls perform and Sarah Michelle Geller host it.  They didn't mention anything at all about Lori coming the next day and neither of them seemed anxious to even go there.  The topic was best left alone until it had to be dealt with.

 

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

 

            "When will Lori be here?"  Jessica asked the next morning as she rinsed their breakfast plates in the sink.  She didn't want to be the one to answer the door; in fact she'd rather be upstairs or in the backyard when she came to avoid a confrontation.

            "Um, she said she'd be here at ten.  Frank will be here any minute."

            "She's taking him out, right?  Kyle I mean."

            "Uh huh."  JC tied Kyle's shoe, then pulled the little boy to his feet.

            "Me?"  Kyle asked.

            "Yep, you."  JC said as Jessica dried her hands and sat in the chair across from him.

            "Me and Lori?"  Kyle crinkled his brow and looked from JC to Jessica.

            "Well yeah, your mommy is going to come and get you."  JC smiled.

            "My mommy?"

            "Yeah."

            "Lori?"  Kyle looked confused.

            "Lori is your mommy's name."  Jessica explained as she gently kicked at JC's ankle.

            "Why?"

            "Because that's just her name.  Just like your name is Kyle."  Jessica pulled him onto her lap and wrapped her arms around him.      

            "And daddy?"  Kyle looked over at JC who sat beside them.

            "Me too."  JC nodded.  "My name is…"  He paused, would he be 'JC' to Kyle as well?  "They call me JC."

            "Jaaaaaycee?"  Kyle giggled and looked up at Jessica.  "Jessi and Jessi?"

            "Yeah, it kind of sounds the same, huh?"  JC laughed and leaned back on the couch.

            "And Lori?"  Kyle asked.

            "Yep, Lori is your mom."

            Kyle sighed with a boyish shrug, "Kay I go wiss Lori?"

            "Yeah, you're going shopping I think with Lori, your mommy.  Then you'll come back here for dinner."

            "Cool."  Kyle slid out of her arms and off the couch.

 

            Frank showed up a minute later and entertained Kyle until Lori showed up right on time.  Kyle was on sensory overload seeing his favorite person Frank and then his mother.  He loved visitors more than anything, so he was ecstatic.

            Jessica ducked upstairs when the doorbell rang for the second time signaling that Lori was there, but she heard JC open the door and greet her.  "Hey, come on in."  JC's voice lowered as he took in the sight of her.

            Lori's dark hair was pulled back and she looked like she was going to a club instead of taking her son out.  He pursed his lips and took Kyle from Frank's shoulder where he was perched happily.  "Hey buddy, look who's here."

            "Hi Lori!"  Kyle giggled and bounced around as he grasped her hand.

            "That's your mommy silly."  JC blushed and at that point Jessica shut the bedroom door to block their voices out.

            "He calls me Lori?"  She asked quickly after hearing the door upstairs shut.

            "No.  I just… we had a conversation earlier about names.  We referred to you as Lori and he wanted to know who that was.  He's called me JC all day today."

            "Hmm."

            "So… so you guys are going shopping?"

            "I think so, yeah.  Maybe to the movies."  Lori nodded and picked Kyle up, not meeting JC's eye.

            "Okay."  He nodded and shoved his hands in his pockets.  "Well let me get you his car seat and everything."  JC took a step towards the garage.

            "I have one."  Frank said softly.

            "You're driving?"  JC looked up at Frank.

            "I'll drive."  Lori shook her head.  "But thank you, we can use your seat if you don't mind."  She said to Frank."         

            "That's fine."  Frank nodded and pulled his keys from his pocket.

            "When do will you be back?"

            "Um."  Lori looked at her watch then planted a kiss on Kyle's cheek as almost an after thought.  "One or two?  That should be enough time I think since we're just going to the mall."

            "So you'll be home by two?"

            Lori paused and looked up at JC.  "I'll have him back here by two, yeah."

            "Okay."  JC smiled to stop the chilly tone that had taken over the conversation.  "Well have fun guys."

            "Daddy you can come?"  Kyle asked as Lori turned for the door.

            "Nope.  No, you get to go out with Frank and your mommy.  You'll have a lot of fun man.  Lot's of fun."  JC held the forced smile and waved as they stepped out the front door.  "I'll see you later though, okay?"

            "Kay."  Kyle nodded, but didn't look too sure as they walked down the front steps.  JC shut the door and sighed, he didn't want to watch them pile into Lori's rental car and drive away.  Being away from Kyle was never easy, not even when he was left with someone JC knew and trusted.  Having him out with Lori just made his stomach tie into knots and he needed to keep his mind occupied for the next couple hours.

            "So…"  Jessica's voice startled JC as she walked up behind him

            "So."  JC sighed and turned around.  "We have the house all to ourselves."

            "Hmm."  She smiled and kissed him in the hallway.  "How'd it go?"

            JC shrugged and bit his lip, "Fine I guess.  They'll be back by two, so that's only a couple hours."

            "Okay."  Jessica nodded.  "Is she coming by again tomorrow or something?"

            "She didn't say anything, but I imagine she'll come by again before she leaves."

            "When does she leave?"

            "Wednesday."  JC sighed again and ran his hands through his hair.  "Four more days."

            "You can do it."  Jessica took his hand and pulled him to the family room.  "Come on; let's watch something that's not a cartoon."

            "Oooo, living on the edge."

            "How about 'Life is Beautiful'?"

            "I've never seen that."

            "You own it."

            "I know."  JC laughed.  "Chris said it was a movie that everyone should own and watch over and over, so I bought it."

            "Chris likes it?"

            "Loves it."

            "I didn't think he liked movies you have to read." Jessica smiled and sat in the corner of the couch.

            "I didn't think so either, but he always manages to surprise us."

            "I guess so."  She laughed and turned the TV on with the remote.  "Pull up a corner… let's watch."

            "Okay, okay."  JC fell into the far corner and put his feet on the couch by Jessica's, knowing that before the movie even started their feet would be entwined somewhere in the middle.

            As they watched the movie Jessica saw JC's eyes flicker to the clock on the wall every couple minutes.  She knew he was counting down to when Lori would be back with Kyle and she smiled at his sweetness.

            When the clock read two o'clock JC shifted his position and placed his feet on the floor as his whole body seemed to prepare for something unpleasant.  "She said they'd be back at two, right?"  He asked as he used the remote to stop the movie.

            "I didn't hear."  Jessica shook her head.

            "No, yeah she said two."

            "Okay."  She nodded and looked at the clock.  "Then they should be here any minute."

            "Yeah."  JC rested his elbows on his legs and tapped his fingertips together in front of him.  Jessica sat up beside him and moved so that their legs were touching, then started the movie again to keep his mind off the clock for a little while longer.

            As the minutes passed, JC became more agitated and nervous.  "What time is it?"  He asked as he ran his hands through his hair with his eyes closed.

            "Um, two thirty five."  Jessica said softly.

            "Shit."  He said under his breath.  JC stood up and walked to the kitchen to get a drink, then went to the front door to see if they were by chance waiting on the porch.  Of course they weren't, so JC slammed the front door and went back to the couch where Jessica was still sitting, the movie playing in the background unnoticed.  "I'm calling Frank."  JC picked up the phone and punched a number into the keypad, then waited for a minute without Frank picking up.  He grumbled under his breath and hung up quickly.

            The time passed slower than normal with JC asking for the time every chance he got.  "What time is it?"  JC asked softly without taking his eyes off of his hands clenched in his lap.

            "Three minutes since the last time you asked.  It's two fifty five."

            "Shit."  JC said under his breath as he stood up and paced behind the couch.  Jessica looked up cautiously and noticed his pulse beating in his throat.  "Where is she?"

            "I don't -”  Jessica started, but stopped herself when JC turned sharply and opened and closed his fists at his sides.

            "Where the fuck is she?"

            "Page Frank again."

            "He doesn't have a pager."

            "What did you call last time?"

            "His cell phone.  It's turned off."  JC's feet stomped in the entryway as he lunged for the cordless phone on the table in front of Jessica.  He pounded the number into the keypad again and waited as it rang once and went to voicemail.  "Dammit."

            "Jace… just… calm down a little.  They'll be here before you know it."  Jessica tried to remain the calm one in this situation though almost everything in her wanted to pace right beside JC.  She didn't trust Lori and it was apparent that JC didn't either, no matter how much he tried to make it look like he did.

            "If she took him -”  He stopped himself as he brought his fisted hand to his lips.  "If she's not here in five minutes I'm calling the police."  He held the phone in his hand and looked at it quickly.  "I should call now." He turned it on and licked his lips.

            "Wait.  JC, wait another five minutes.  There could be a reasonable explanation for why they're late."  Jessica stood up and put a hand on JC's arm.

            "It feels wrong Jess.

            "I know.  But Frank is with them.  He wouldn't let anything happen to Kyle, you know that.  He can keep you guys safe from mobs of teens; he can keep the little guy safe from his mother."

            "She's an hour late."  JC glared around the room and forced a deep breath into his lungs.

            "I know."  Jessica kept her hand on his arm and turned his chin to make him face her.  She loved JC more than she hated Lori, so she had to do what she could to keep him calm and if that included rationalizing Lori's actions for the moment, she'd do it.  "She's not from the area, maybe they got lost or something.  At three you can call whoever you need to, but give them another couple - "  She was cut off by the doorbell ringing in the front hall.

            "That's them." JC dropped the phone on the kitchen counter and practically ran for the front door.  He pulled it open fiercely and reached for Kyle before they even made it through the door.  "Where have you been?"  JC demanded as he clung Kyle to his chest.

            "What?  We went to the mall then to a movie."  Lori smiled and shook her head.  "I told you we were going to...?"

            Jessica came around the corner and JC thrust Kyle into her arms.  "Take him upstairs please."  He said softly.

            "Hi Jessi."  Kyle laughed as he bounced excitedly in Jessica's arms.  "I see a moobie and hava candy!"

            "You did?  That sounds like fun.  Why don't you tell me all about it?"  Jessica turned and took two steps up the stairs.

            "Wait, let me say goodbye."  Lori made a move for the stairs but JC put his hand out to stop her.

            "Say goodbye from here."  He said sternly.

            Lori gave him a look that could have melted steel, then stepped up to where Jessica and Kyle stood.  "Bye bye angel, I'll see you later, okay?"

            "Kay."  Kyle hugged Lori's neck and kissed her cheek while still in Jessica's arms.  "Bye bye mommy."

            "Bye sweetie."  She smiled and stepped back down as Jessica continued up the stairs with Kyle.

            "Where have you been?"  JC crossed his arms over his chest as he heard Kyle's bedroom door shut above them.

            "JC… I told you we were going to the mall and to the movies."  Lori sighed and held her smile in place.

            "You told me you'd have him home by two."

            "The movie started later than I expected."

            "You should have called."

            "I… I'm sorry; I didn't think it was that big of a deal.  You knew we were going to the movie and you knew Frank was with us."  She seemed legitimately sorry that JC was upset.

            "If you were going to be later than two you should have called.  You knew before the movie started that it wouldn't be done by two."

            "I know, and like I said I didn't think it was that big of a deal.  I can see now that it was.  I didn't realize you were such a stickler for time limits."

            "I'm not a stick -”  JC stopped and took a deep breath.  "I don't like not knowing where he is."

            "You knew where he was."

            JC's jaw muscle twitched as they stood facing each other in the entry way.  "I wish you would have called." He said softly.

            "I'm sorry."  She said again.  "Sheesh, you're acting like you think I'd try to kidnap him."  Lori half laughed at the thought, but stopped when she saw JC's eyes darken.  "My God, you think I'd take him?"

            "I -”  JC shoved his hands in his pocket.  "I don't know what you'd try, so… it's, I mean yeah."

            "Jesus, this is lovely."  Lori rolled her eyes and shifted her feet.  "I've got more sense than to kidnap my own son.  I know that you have full custody and I know that I'd have to go through the right channels to change that.  You might think I'm stupid, but I'm not JC."

            "I don't think you're stupid."

            "You'd have to if you actually think I'd kidnap Kyle while your security guard is two feet away watching like a hawk."  Her voice took on a sharp edge and suddenly JC felt like the roles had reversed for the afternoon.  Where he'd gone into the situation livid and ready to wail on her, she had turned it around to where he felt like the bad person.

            "I don't think you’re stupid.  In fact I think you're very smart which is why it crossed my mind.  You'd have to be brilliant to get Kyle away from Frank.  And when you're an hour late that's all I could think about."

            "I can't believe you sometimes.  If I wanted to take Kyle I could do it any time.  I could take you back to court and go that way or… or any number of ways.  I…"  She took a deep breath and licked her dry lips.  "I don't want to take Kyle from you; I just wanted to see him.  I love him and… and this is the only way I can actually get quality time with him."

            "You can see him -”

            "Anytime I want, I know."  She nodded.  "But with you or… her… around, it’s hard. He's too wrapped up in what you guys are doing or showing me things that have your names and memories all over them.  When I can take him away from here its like he's mine… really mine, again."

            "He'll always be yours."  JC forced the words from his mouth; they were harder to say than he imagined they would be.  Lori's shoulders rose in a short shrug and she pursed her lips.  "He will be."  JC repeated.

            She nodded and kept her eyes on the floor before she looked up and said, "We'll be on time next time."

            "Next time…?"

            "I'd like to see him again before I leave on Wednesday."

            "Oh."

            "I mean, that's the whole reason I came out here."

            "Yeah."

            "We're going to Daytona I think tomorrow, but on Tuesday I'd like to see him again."  She explained.

            "I… okay."  JC's heart raced in his chest, could he let Kyle leave with her again after the panic he'd felt that afternoon.  "You want to take him out?"

            "Yeah, maybe.  I saw that you have a park up the street here, maybe we'll just walk up there or something."

            "Okay."  That eased JC's mind a bit since they'd be within walking distance not halfway across town.

            “I’ll call you tonight after I talk to my friends and let you know for sure what time and all that, okay?”

            “That’s fine.”  JC nodded.

            Lori stared at him for a second and wondered how she’d ever managed to put herself in a situation like this.  “I’m sorry you were worried this afternoon.”

            JC nodded instead of answering as he pursed his lips and breathed through his nose.  “So you’ll call tonight?”

            “Yeah.  Before his bed time so I can tell him that I’ll see him on Tuesday.”

            “Okay.”  JC nodded again.  “I’ll have to keep him home from school on Tuesday, but I don’t think he’ll mind.  Unless… unless you want to take him after like, twelve thirty.  We’re usually home by then.”

            “I’ll have to see.”  Lori pulled at her purse on her shoulder, then opened the front door.  “Is she – “  Lori stopped herself as JC looked up at her sharply.  Lori’s eyes traveled up the stairs to where Jessica and Kyle’s laughter could be heard behind his closed door.

            “I’ll talk to you tonight.”  JC lowered his voice and held the door open for her.

            Without another word Lori left the house and JC shut the door firmly after her.  He stood for a moment in the silent hall, then sighed and hopped up the carpeted stairs to Kyle’s room.  “Hey.”  He said softly as he pushed the door open.

            “Hey.”  Jessica stood up from the bed and walked over to his side.  “So…?”

            “She uh… they went to the movies.”

            “Yeah, and…?”

            “She didn’t think it would be a big deal to be a little late.  She didn’t think I’d be that worried.”

            “Are you serious?”

            “Maybe I did freak out a little bit.”  JC shrugged and cleared his throat as Kyle ran a dump truck across the floor by his feet.

            “I – “  Jessica stopped herself from continuing by biting her bottom lip and closing her eyes in a long blink.  “Okay.”  She wasn’t going to let herself get in the middle of whatever it was Lori and JC were dealing with.  She would not let herself get suckered into having another outburst like before.

            “She said she was sorry.”  JC explained.

            “Fine.”  Jessica forced a smile and went back to the bed where she’d left the fire truck waiting by the edge.  “If you’re okay with that, then that’s fine.”

            “I kay wiss at.”  Kyle giggled from the floor.

            “Well okay then.”  Jessica turned all of her attention to Kyle and they finished playing their car games.

            “She’s going to call tonight to set up another time for Tuesday so she can see him again before she goes.  It sounds like she’s really trying here… I mean, she came all the way out.”  For whatever reason, JC found himself defending Lori.

            “It’s fine.”  Jessica said as she looked up at JC.  “I’m glad she’s growing up finally.”  She gave JC a look that signaled the end of that conversation as she held out a cement mixer truck for JC to join in the fun.

            JC took the hint, and sat on the floor by Kyle.  He cleared his throat quickly, then placed his hand on Jessica’s knee that was at his eye level.  “Sorry I freaked out today.”

            “You had every right.”

            “Yeah but… anyway, thank you.”  He placed a kiss on her knee then gave it a little squeeze.  “Anyway, enough about that.  What are you guys playing up here?”

            “We’re playing chase the car.”  Jessica explained, obviously using Kyle’s name for the game that included running the trucks back and forth.

            “Sounds like fun.”  JC ran his truck over to where Kyle’s truck was parked and made mixer sounds with his lips.  Jessica watched on with a fake smile and tried not to let the afternoon get the best of her.  It was only for another couple days and then Lori would be gone.

 

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

 

            By ten that night Lori still hadn’t called and Jessica tried not to look too annoyed.  It was JC’s business, not hers.  They went to bed without mentioning the big white elephant in the room with them, and slept straight through to morning when JC’s alarm clock went off at dawn.

            “Call Johnny and tell him I’m sick.”

            “Are you sick?”  Jessica asked with her mouth against the pillow.

            “No.”

            “Then no.”  She reached behind her and patted JC’s thigh.  “You’ll have fun when you get there.”

            “No I won’t.”  JC’s voice shifted as he scooted closer to Jessica, wrapping his arms around her waist and nuzzling her neck.

            “Yes you will.”

            “Promise?”

            “Promise.”  She laughed lightly.  “Chris and Joey will be there, how can you not have fun?”

            “True.”  JC sighed and hit the snooze button.  “Just five more minutes.”

            “Five.  Only five.”

            “Promise.”  JC whispered before peppering her neck with light kisses.

            The snooze button was pressed three more times before Jessica managed to shove JC out of bed and into the shower so that he wouldn’t be late.  As the hot steam filled the bathroom, Jessica let her eyes drift closed as she dozed off to the sound of JC humming a nameless tune.

 

            It was after seven when JC finally made it out of the house, blowing kisses to Jessica while she snuggled under the covers and peeking in on Kyle as he slept.  He was running a little late, but the extra few minutes in bed with Jessica had been worth it.

            Kyle finally woke Jessica up at eight thirty and they had a cereal breakfast in front of the TV while they watched cartoons.  Amy called just as “Garfield and Friends” ended and they made plans to get together for lunch at the mall so that they could get Kyle some new clothes that fit.  It was something they had to do anyway, and it gave Jessica a good excuse to get out of the house and visit with her friend, who was more than willing to listen to her vent.

            As Jessica got Kyle dressed upstairs, the phone rang in the master bedroom and she ran to grab it.   “Hello?”  She answered the phone cautiously.  She hadn’t remembered to look at the caller ID and didn’t want to get caught talking to Lori.

            “Hey Jessica, it’s me.”  JC said quickly.  “Lori just called on my cell and let me know that she’s going to come by tomorrow.”

            “Wasn’t she supposed to call last night?”

            “Uh huh.”  JC licked his lips.  “But anyway, she’s going to come by tomorrow at eleven thirty to pick Kyle up and take him to the park or whatever.  Can you write me a note so I can call Frank when I get home?  I’ll forget if it’s not written down and… and I only have like, one more minute of a break here.”

            “Oh, okay yeah I’ll leave a note here by the phone.”  She scribbled the message on a scrap piece of paper and taped it to the phone charger base.

            “What are you guys up to?”

            “We’re getting ready to go to the mall with Amy.  She’s on her way over.”

            “Ah ha, that sounds like fun.”

            “Yep.  It’ll give us girls some time to gossip and we’ll pick up some clothes for Kyle while we’re there.”

            “Do you have my card?”

            “No, but I have my corporate card.  I’ll just put it on there and we can voucher it back when the bill comes in.”

            “We can do that?”  JC asked with a frown.

            “I do it all the time.  Karen the finance manager said it was easier to do that than try to figure everything out beforehand.  Whatever that means.”

            “Oh.  Okay.”

            “So yeah… that’s what we’re doing.”

            “Fun.”  JC smiled and wished he was at home.  “I have to get back to work.  I’ll see you tonight.”

            “What time?  Do you know?”

            “Um, like six I think.  Maybe seven.  We’re meeting with some staging guys so… yeah so I don’t know.”

            “Okay.  I’ll see you later then.”

            “I’ll call you this afternoon.”

            “Okay.”

            “Bye.”

            “Bye.”

            “I love you.”  JC said after a brief pause.  Through the phone lines Jessica could sense his smile and she smiled right back at him.

            “I love you too.”

            “Give Kyle a kiss for me.”

            “I will.”

            “You too.”

            Jessica laughed and shook her head.  “Go back to work.”

            “Okay, bye.”  JC hung up and left Jessica smiling at the phone in her hand.

            Jessica shook her head and put the phone back in the charger before going back to Kyle’s room to finish getting him dressed.  "Hey guess what buddy?"  Jessica tried to sound excited for Kyle’s sake.

            "What?"  He asked as he bounced on his knees on the bed.

            "Tomorrow afternoon your mommy is going to come by and see you."

            "Nooo."  Kyle laughed.

            "Yeah she is."

            "No, she not here."  Kyle looked around the room and shrugged.

            "Well no, she's not here now but tomorrow she'll be here.  What do you think you'll do?"

            "Nassing."  Kyle shook his head.  "She not here."

            "Tomorrow."  Jessica nodded.

            "No, she doe like me."

            "She… she what?"  Her heart skipped a beat as she pieced his sentence together.  "You think she doesn't like you?"

            "Yeah, she doe like."

            "Oh sweetie, she likes you.  She loves you bunches, just like your daddy and I do."  Jessica reached over and pulled Kyle onto her lap as she tried not to cry.  She hugged him close and covered his cheek and ear in kisses; “We all love you a whole bunch because you're such a special little boy."  She growled into his neck to make him laugh.

            "No you silly."  Kyle giggled and raised his shoulder to stop her from tickling his neck.

            "No you're silly."  Jessica shook him around playfully then kissed his forehead.  "We all love you a lot Kyle, I'm sure she'll be here tomorrow to see you."  Jessica ran the back of her hand over her eyes and prayed that Lori would show up the next afternoon.  If not, she wasn't sure how she'd react.

 

 

 

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Copyright 2002, Amy Lynn