The next day was spent running between the recording studio, a photo shoot and three radio shows.  Kyle and Jessica tagged along for most of the day but ducked out after lunch to allow the little boy a proper nap time.

            Driving between meetings, JC took his cell phone and leaned further into the corner of the back seat to call Lori.  He shushed Chris in the seat in front of him, then frowned and curved his shoulder to block out their voices a little better.

            "Hey Lori, this is JC."  He said softly when she answered.

            "Oh.  Hi."  She sounded surprised to hear from him and he guessed she would be.  They never spoke other than the times when she called, by her choice.  "What… is everything okay?"

            "Yeah, no everything is fine.  I just… we had to make some schedule changes and on Saturday we aren't going to be able to make the call."  He explained quickly.  "We're going to be leaving earlier than we expected so we'll be on the plane when you're supposed to call."

            "Oh, well that's okay."

            "But I can call you earlier if you want.  When we get to the airport or something?"

            "What time will that be?"

            "Um, we'll probably get to the airport at like, six."

            "Oh."

            "Is that okay?"

            "Yeah.  Yeah that'll be fine I guess."  Lori nodded and spoke slowly.  "So you want me to call?"

            "I can call you."  JC shook his head.  "That'll save you the long distance charges."

            "Okay."

            "I can call other times too if you'd like."  He offered.

            "No.  No it's okay.  You can call on Saturday."

            "Okay."  JC nodded.  "Do you want me to go get Kyle?  He's just in the other room I think."

            "No that's okay."  Lori forced a smile.  "Let him uh… let him play.  I'll talk to you later.  Thanks for calling."

            "No problem."  JC bit his lip and frowned.

            "Alright, well… bye."

            "Bye."  JC hung up and closed his phone.  For as good as she had been doing over the last week or so, he couldn't ignore the sinking feeling he got in his stomach every time he heard her voice.  There was something else going on with her, he just wished he knew what it was.

 

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

 

            Their third night in San Francisco was spent in the heated indoor pool playing with the guys and enjoying the little bit of privacy the windowless room offered.  The boys were able to act like children without being concerned about paparazzi hiding out in the bushes; JC was able to let Kyle be a child without worrying that his photo might show up in some rag magazine; and Jessica and JC were able to show as much affection as they wanted without legions of fans screaming in protest.

            "Man. We should do this every night."  Joey said as he pulled himself from the deep end.  "Seriously.  Can we call ahead to every hotel and have them lock up the pool for us?"

            "Won't work."  Chris dripped water over Joey as he tried to dry himself.  "How many hotels you know have indoor pools?"

            "Lots."  Joey countered.

            "How many of them don't have windows to the outside pool?"

            "I don't know."

            "Like.  None."

            "Then we've gotta come back here more often."  Joey laughed and stretched out on the concrete floor with only a towel to support his head.

            "Nsync headlines a fourteen week tour with one venue!"  Chris laughed and shook his head over Joey.

            "You smell like a wet dog."  Joey swung out and punched Chris' knee.  "Get out of here."

            "I'm going, I'm going."  Chris laughed, then jumped into the pool and took Kyle from JC.  "Come on buddy, show your dad how you can dive bomb into the pool." He placed Kyle on the ledge of the pool and stepped back.

            "Chris, be careful."  JC cautioned.

            "Aw, he knows what he's doing."  Chris laughed over his shoulder.  "Come on Kyle.  Remember?  We practiced it in the hotel room.  It's just like when we were jumping on the bed."

            "Chris!"

            "Oh relax, no one got hurt."  Chris sighed and clapped his hands.

            "Daddy watch!"  Kyle shouted as his teeth chattered.  Even in the warm water of the pool he got a chill.  Kyle took two quick steps then did a cannon ball right between Chris' arms.  His arm floaties kept him from going under the water but the splash he produced soaked everyone within a couple feet.

            "Whoa!"  Jessica wiped the water from her face and laughed.

            "I splashed!"  Kyle shrieked with laughter.

            "That's a cool trick, buddy."  JC smiled and shook his head, sending a spray of water like a halo.  "Remind me to not let Chris baby-sit anymore."

            "Kay."  Kyle laughed and wiggled out of Chris' arms.  "Again!"  He shouted and waited for Chris to lift him out.

            "He likes it."  Chris argued.

            "He's two."  JC shrugged and tapped Chris' shoulder.  "Keep an eye on him."

            "I will."  Chris nodded and waggled his eyebrow quickly.  "You go ahead and take a little romantic moment or whatever."

            "Chris…"  JC sighed and rolled his eyes, wondering how Chris had managed to read his mind.

            JC and Jessica climbed out of the pool and pulled two lounge chairs off to a far corner where they could have some privacy, but still keep an eye on the pool.  It wasn't that JC didn't trust Chris or the other guys or guards sitting right there next to the pool, but he couldn't help the feeling of wanting to always have an eye on Kyle.

            They sat together and talked about virtually nothing for almost an hour.  It was a rare occasion when they could actually sit and not have to worry about phones ringing or meetings or little two year old demanding their attention.  They had the night in New York, but even that seemed decades ago.

 

            When they returned to their room that evening, they were all ready to climb into bed.  JC quickly bathed Kyle and tucked him in before he and Jessica took showers of their own.  They all fell asleep with damp hair and smiles and didn't wake up until JC's wake up call early the next morning.

            "That's for me."  JC grumbled as Jessica made moves as though she were going to get out of bed.

            "Hmm?"

            "That's for me.  You guys can sleep in."  He whispered as he pulled the blankets back up to her shoulder.  He picked up the phone and grumbled an answer in reply to the cheery voice on the other end, then hung up.  He climbed out of bed in the dark and fumbled his way to the bathroom.

            "What're you doing today?"  Jessica whispered loudly, so not to wake Kyle.

            "Studio time.  We're actually recording today."

            "What time will you be done?"

            JC stepped into the doorway and shrugged with his toothbrush in his mouth, "Early I hope."

            "How early?"

            "Well not like, noon."  He shook his head then disappeared to spit in the sink.  "I'd say six maybe?"

            "Oh."

            "We've got a lot of work to do."  JC explained softly.

            "Mm hm."  Jessica closed her eyes and snuffled deeper into JC's pillow.

            "Frank will be here though, so you guys can do whatever you want."

            "Okay."

            JC came back into the room to grab his clean clothes before dressing in the dark.  "Do you want me to call when we're ready to break for lunch?"

            "Sure."

            "Maybe you guys can come eat with us?"

            "Yeah, call us.  I'll make sure we're in the vicinity of the studio around lunch time."

            "Cool."  JC smiled and tied his shoes.  "I've gotta run."  He leaned over and kissed Jessica quickly, then did the same to Kyle as he slept.  "See you later, big guy."  He stopped again to kiss Jessica before he grabbed his room key and his zip-up sweatshirt and headed out.

 

            Jessica and Kyle slept in for a little while longer, then got up and ready for the day.  With Frank in tow they headed down to Pier 39 to do some shopping and sight seeing.  When they got there Frank pointed out that they were only a matter of blocks from the studio, so they'd be in the perfect place when they called for lunch.

            After looking through the shops and buying little trinkets and toys for Kyle, they headed for the aquarium and spent a few hours looking at the natural sea life behind inches of glass.  They were more than ready for lunch when they came out of the aquarium and headed for the far side of the pier.  Jessica expected JC to call earlier, so when the phone rang just after one, her stomach growled in harmony.  "Hello."  She smiled into the phone and reached for Kyle's hand as Frank walked two steps ahead of them.

            "Hey babe." JC sighed into the phone.

            "Hey."  Jessica smiled and swung Kyle's hand.  "Hey kiddo, it's your daddy.  Are you ready to go eat lunch?"

            "Actually, Jess, wait."  JC spoke quickly and she could hear the strain in his voice.

            "What?"

            "We… I can't really stop.  We're going to work through lunch."

            "Jace… you need to eat."

            "No, I know.  They're bringing food in, but we're going to work through it.  If we do that we might be able to get out of here earlier."

            "I can see?"  Kyle reached his arms up to look over the railing of the pier.

            "Hang on sweetie."  Jessica stooped and lifted him to rest on her knee.

            "I'm sorry."  JC pursed his lips.

            "No… that's okay."

            "If we get done early enough, maybe we can go to dinner."

            "Yeah.  Maybe."  Jessica fumbled the phone against her ear and readjusted Kyle.  "See those sea lions?"

            "Isa liiiiion??"  Kyle's eyes widened as he looked up at her.  "Raaawwr!"

            "Yeah it's a sea lion.  They live in the water."

            "Ina water?  Why?"

            "Because they like the water." Jessica explained softly.

            "Where are you guys?" JC asked, interrupting her explanation.

            "We uh, we're down at Pier 39.  Right up the street from the studio actually."  She said softly.

            "Oh."

            "My leg's gonna fall off honey."  She lowered Kyle to the ground and took his hand.  "We're going to go grab a corn dog I think… go ahead and call if you guys get a dinner break."

            "Okay."  JC paused.  "I'm sorry."

            "It's okay."  Jessica forced a smile.  "We're having fun."

            "Jace!"  Someone called him from his side of the conversation.

            "Hang on."  JC said to the other person.  "Is… can I talk to Kyle real fast?"

            "Sure, hang on."  Jessica tugged on Kyle's hand and smiled up at Frank's knowing expression.  "Hey Kyle, your daddy is on the phone.  Come here and say hi."

            "No Jessi, I see liiiions."

            "You can see the sea lions in a minute, say hi to your daddy."  She held the phone out for him.

            In a perfect imitation of JC, Kyle rolled his eyes and sighed.  "Hi daddy."  He whined into the phone.  Jessica held tight to his hand as he talked softly, "Yeah I see a karium and a fiss.  Uh huh.  I have candy." He giggled and pulled hard on Jessica's hand.  "Kay.  Kay.  Yeah.  Lato at night?  Kay.  Love too."  He handed the phone back to Jessica and began to pull her toward the arcade.

            "Hello?"  She held the phone to her ear and let herself be pulled.

            "I've gotta go."  JC sighed softly.

            "Okay."

            "I'll call you when I know what time we can break for dinner and we'll go grab something."

            "That sounds good."

            "I'll talk to you later.  Love you."

            "I love you too."  Jessica nodded and waited for JC to hang up on his end before she folded the phone and tucked it into her back pocket.

            "No lunch?"  Frank asked.

            "They're working through lunch."

            "Well that sucks."

            "It happens."  Jessica shrugged and tried to smile it away.  "He'll call for dinner."

            "But you're not going to hold your breath?"

            "Nope."  Jessica laughed.  "Come on, Kyle.  Let's go get a corn dog and some fries, does that sound good?"  She held his hand and pulled him toward the little Sea Lion café.

            "And daddy?"

            "Daddy has to work."

            "And see a con dog?"

            "Nope, he has to work in the studio.  We're going to see him for dinner maybe."

            Kyle sighed and looked up at Jessica.  "Daddy sucks."

            "Whoa.  Hang on a minute there pal."  Jessica stopped and picked him up as both she and Frank tried not to laugh.  "That's not a very nice thing to say."  Kyle frowned in response and squinted his eyes up at her.  "Your daddy is working very hard so that we can go home tomorrow and have a nice Thanksgiving and Christmas."

            "No."

            "Yes."  Jessica raised her eyebrow, daring him to be more defiant.

            "I doe like."

            "You don't like your daddy?"

            "No."  Kyle pouted and crossed his arms over his chest.

            Jessica thought for a moment.  "That's okay.  You don't have to like him all the time.  But he loves you very, very much.  We'll see him tonight and then tomorrow we get to go home and you can see him all the time."

            "No."

            "Yes."

            "I doe wan."

            "I'm sorry you don't want to, and I'm sorry you're upset right now.  But that's the way it goes kid."  She paused and kissed his forehead.  "Now lets go get some lunch and maybe make Frank play the claw game, what do you think?"

            "He can win?"

            "I'm sure Frank can win you something, right Frank?"  Jessica smiled up at the large security guard and smiled.

            "You bet I'll win."  He smiled and led the way into the little café.

 

            They ate greasy corn dogs and fries, then topped it all off with a huge waffle cone filled with peanut butter ice cream.  The three of them shared the ice cream but still threw most of it away before they went back to the hotel for a nap.

            By the time JC called that evening, Kyle and Jessica were well rested and snuggled up on the bed watching "Jungle Book II" on video.  The phone ringing on the bedside table startled both of them and they laughed as Jessica reached to answer it.  "Hello?"

            "Hey, what's so funny?"  JC smiled.

            "The phone scared us and we both jumped."  She smiled.  "What's up?"

            "Well believe it or not we're almost ready to leave."

            "For dinner?"

            "For good."

            "Oh really?"  Jessica smiled and tickled Kyle's side with her toes.  "You're done?"

            "Almost.  If you leave right now, we'll probably be done by the time you get here."

            "Right on."  She checked her watch, "And it's just about dinner time."

            "It's a little late, isn't it?"

            "We had a late lunch. Have you eaten?"

            "Nope."

            "Then I'd say its perfect timing.  I'll call Frank and we'll head on down in a minute."  Jessica smiled.

            "Okay, I'll see you in a few."

            "I'll see you."  Jessica smiled and hung up the phone.  She called Frank to let him know they were heading out, then grabbed Lello and Kyle off the bed.  "Okay kiddo, we're going to go see your daddy and get some dinner.  What would you like to eat?"

            "Con dog!"

            "Oh I don't think so.  If we eat more corn dogs I think we'll be sick."

            "I no sick!"  Kyle laughed as he pat his belly.

            "If you eat another one you will be.  You'll explode!"  She tickled his tummy and laughed as they headed for the door.  Frank met them in the lobby and they all got into a taxi to go to the studio fifteen minutes away.

            When they got to the studio offices Jessica, Frank and Kyle sat on the leather couches and waited for the guys to come down.  JC had said they were almost done, so she knew it would only be another minute or two.

            Twenty minutes later she decided that she was wrong.  JC didn't answer his cell phone, so she started to get worried.  "They can't have 'em on in the studio."  Frank explained.  "So it's probably on silent in the other room."

            "Damn."

            "Damn."  Kyle mimicked her.

            "Oh, bad word."  Jessica clamped her hands over her mouth.  "I said a bad word."

            "Uh oh!"  Kyle laughed and danced around Jessica's feet.  "Jessi we can go ouside?"  He asked as he crawled onto the couch and slid off the shiny leather cushions.

            "Not right now, we have to wait here for your daddy."  Jessica said softly as she held Kyle on her lap.  "Just hold still sweetie, he'll be here in a minute."

            "Jessi no."  Kyle whined and slid off the couch again, letting his legs buckle under him so his knees hit the floor.

            "We're waiting for your daddy.  Don't you want to see him?"  She pulled Kyle off the floor and into her lap.

            "No."

            "Yes you do."  Jessica sighed and wrapped her arms tighter around him, silently praying that JC would hurry up.  They had already been waiting twenty minutes and Kyle wasn't going to sit still much longer.

            "No Jessi.  I wan go ina pool."

            "We can't go in the pool tonight.  We're going to have dinner with daddy and then pack up our stuff.  We get to go home tomorrow."

            "I can go wiss you?"

            "No you're going home to Florida to see Candy.  I'm going to go to my house and see my mom and dad."

            "And me?"

            "Nope, you can't come with me this time."

            "Yeah."  He dragged the word out in a pitiful whine.

            Jessica shook her head sadly, "I'm sorry sweetie.  Maybe later."

            "Hey, hey!"  Joey cheered as he emerged from the small studio first.  "We are free!"

            "Get me out of here.  Where's the nearest bar?"  Chris asked as he jumped on Joey's back and swung an imaginary lasso over his head.  "Howdy partner!" He smiled down at Kyle and hopped off of Joey's back.

            "Hi."  Kyle turned shy as Chris scooped him up.

            "Are you waiting for your old man?"

            "My daddy."

            "You daddy is taking his sweet time, isn't he?"  Chris lowered Kyle to his hip and stepped back into the studio, "Hey come on man, your kid is waiting for you out here."

            "I'm coming."  Jessica heard JC call from deep within the dark room.  "Hey buddy!  Where's Jessica?"

            "In ere." Kyle pointed back to where Jessica was standing as he wiggled to get down.  "I see."  Chris put him down and he ran back to Jessica.

            "Are you ready to go get some dinner now?  Did you guys eat yet?" He asked Jessica as she held Kyle in her arms.

            "No, we didn't eat yet."

            "Cool, then let's go."  JC smiled and reached for Kyle.  "C'mere buddy, I haven't seen you all day!"

            "No."  Kyle frowned and clung to Jessica's shirt.

            "I… he uh… he didn't really get a good nap today.  I think he's tired."  Jessica explained quickly.

            "Are you tired, buddy?"  JC slid his hands under Kyle's arms and tried to lift him away.

            "No daddy."  Kyle swatted at JC's hands and set his brow in a frown under his tuft of bangs.

            "No?"

            "He's being kind of stubborn today."  Jessica said apologetically.

            "Oh."  JC let his hands drop.

            "Let's go get some dinner.  I'm sure he'll feel better after he eats."  She smiled and patted Kyle's back.  "Do you want a grilled cheese sandwich?"  Jessica crooned softly to Kyle.

            "Kickin nuggets."

            "Okay, I think we can do that."  She bounced him higher onto her shoulder with aching arms.  She'd spent most of the day carrying him and her shoulders were letting her know it.

            "Where do you guys want to go?"  JC asked.

            Jessica shook her head, "Anywhere.  I'm not picky and he just wants chicken fingers."

            "Nuggets."  Kyle corrected her.

            "Right, chicken nuggets."  Jessica smiled.

            "Okay." JC nodded and frowned quickly as he placed his hand on Kyle's back.  "There's got to be a family style restaurant around here somewhere."

            "I'm sure there is."  She nodded and let JC open the lobby door for them. Frank followed them out and flagged down their van.  He helped load Jessica and Kyle into the backseat, then climbed in with JC and let the driver take them to a restaurant of his choice.

            They ended up at a chain restaurant that served good old fashioned American food.  JC smiled at the simplicity as they were seated in a booth near the restrooms.  Kyle's boosted seat blocked JC against the wall as Frank slid in beside Jessica.

            Dinner was warm and simple and JC was honestly surprised that they made it until dessert before anyone approached them.  From his seat against the wall he wasn't easily seen unless someone walked out of the restroom area and actually looked, which must have been what the small group of fans did.

            JC signed a few autographs between bites of his brownie sundae, then thanked them for letting him eat his meal undisturbed.  The fans giggled their way to the exit as Jessica smiled and lifted a bite of Kyle's caramel sundae to his lips to avoid dripping the melted ice cream down the front of his shirt.

            After dinner and ice cream, Kyle was much more compliant and happily went to JC as they left.  The small group made their way back to the hotel and up to their rooms where JC laid a sleeping Kyle on the best closest to the wall.  "He's beat."  JC whispered.

            "We had a busy day."

            "What'd you guys do?"

            "We uh, well we went down to Pier 39 and went to the aquarium.  Then we saw the sea lions and went to the arcade and stuff like that.  We did some shopping too, it was fun."

            "Sounds like it."

            "So you guys are done?"

            "For now, yeah."

            "For now?"

            "Yeah, we have a little more work to do but that's just editing and stuff like that." JC sighed and pulled Kyle's shoes off.  He gently shook the little boy and woke him enough to take him to the bathroom.

            When the two boys emerged from the bright bathroom, Kyle was in his pajamas and yawning almost constantly.  "Okay kiddo, hop up in your bed."

            "And you too?"  Kyle asked as he slid beneath the covers with Lello tucked under his arm.

            "Jessica and I are going to pack up all our stuff, then we'll go to bed too."  JC said softly as he sat on the bed and pulled the blanket up to Kyle's shoulder.  "Okay?"

            "Kay."  Kyle yawned.

            "Good night, buddy."  JC kissed Kyle's forehead and brushed the hair off his forehead.

            "Nigh nigh, daddy."  Kyle turned onto his side and faced the wall, away from the lights of the room.

            JC sat next to him on the bed for a few minutes, then sighed and stood up.  He didn't want to pack up, but it needed to be done.  They had to be up and ready early the next morning, and he didn't want to have to rush around.

            "I uh… I packed up all of my things and most of Kyle's.  I didn't know… I mean, I wasn't sure how you wanted to pack your own stuff or what you were going to wear tomorrow."  Jessica nodded toward the closed suitcases stacked by the closet door.

            "Oh you, you packed?"

            "A little bit, yeah.  I didn't get the bathroom stuff."

            "Wow."  JC looked around the room and noticed that his clothes were the only ones out.  "Thank you."

            "No problem."

            "It looks like I'm the only one packing tonight then."  He put his hands on his hips and looked around.

            "I'll help."  Jessica stood up and pulled his empty suitcase out of the closet.  "Of course, it serves you right for unpacking."

            "I don't like living out of my suitcase."

            "Ahh, but it makes packing much easier."

            "I know, I know."  JC smiled and began to refold his clothes to put them in the suitcase.

            Working together, it didn't take them long to get all of their things packed up and stored near the front door.  Their pajamas and bathroom stuff would go into their carry on luggage that was waiting in the bathroom for them to fill the next morning.

            "You're going to Connecticut, right?"  JC asked as he flipped the light off and peeled his shirt off in the darkness.

            "Yep."

            "Hmm."

            "What?"

            "Nothing."

            "That wasn't a nothing sound."  Jessica smiled and assumed her position between JC's arms.

            "I don't want to harp on it."

            "On what?"

            "Nothing."  JC smiled and laughed softly into her hair.

            "Jace…"

            "I told you I wouldn't bug you about it any more, so I'm not."

            "Ah."  Jessica smiled and blushed into the darkness.  "I see."

            "So see?  It's nothing."

            "You're very patient."  She whispered as she laced her fingers through his.

            "Yes.  I am."  He smiled.  "I'm hoping it'll pay off in the end."

            "It will."

            "I know."

            "Soon."

            "Good."  He kissed her neck and sunk deeper into his pillow.  He hoped it would be really soon, because he could happily live the rest of his life right there in her arms.

 

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

 

            Early the next morning they were all awakened by a low rumble throughout the building.  Earthquakes were not uncommon in California, but it was the first one they'd actually been there to experience.  "Whoa!"  JC said as he dove from the bed he shared with Jessica to Kyle's bed only three feet away.  "Whoa.  Did you feel that?"  He asked as he looked back at Jessica.

            "Yeah.  That was creepy."  She nodded and placed her hand over her chest.  Kyle remained asleep curled up with Dill and Lello under the covers.  "Is he still asleep?"

            "Yeah."  JC nodded and took a deep breath to try to calm himself down.  "Damn, talk about an adrenaline rush."  He laughed uneasily and pushed himself off of Kyle's bed as the phone rang.  "Hello?"

            "Woo hoo!  Good morning California!"  Chris laughed like a hyena, "Did you feel that?  We were rocking and rolling all over the place."

            "I know."

            "That was awesome.  You should have seen the buildings out the window man… insane."

            "How big was it?"  JC asked.

            "I don't know.  I just turned the news on."  Chris' TV blared in the background.  "It probably wasn't that big."

            "It was huge."  JC countered.

            "The buildings still standing, it wasn't huge."

            "It was pretty big."

            "There's no damage Jace, it wasn't even kinda big."  Chris sighed and smiled.  "Oh well, we had to be up in fifteen minutes anyway."

            "I'll be glad to get back to the East coast where the ground doesn't move."  JC grumbled.

            "Three point six."  Chris said.  "No one on TV is even shaken up.  They said there's no reported damage yet."

            "Great.  Wonderful.  Listen, I'll see you in the lobby at five."

            "Ugh.  That's too early."  Chris rolled his eyes.  "Okay.  I'm gonna go call Justin and tell him the sky's falling."

            "He'll believe you."

            "Of course he will."  Chris laughed, then hung up the phone.

            JC relayed the information to Jessica as she crawled out of bed and headed for the bathroom.  "Well that's good then.  It's a nice way to end the vacation, isn't it?"

            "If you say so."  JC leaned over and smoothed Kyle's hair down, then went to join Jessica to get ready for their trip home.

 

            The huge entourage of people met up in the lobby at the scheduled time, but most of them looked like they could use another three or four hours of sleep.  By the time they got to the air port, checked in and made their way to the VIP lounge, everyone was awake and Chris was bouncing around working off some of his nervous energy.

            "Okay buddy, let's go call your mommy."  JC left their carry on bags by the guards and then stole off to a secluded corner for silence and privacy.  "You can tell her you get to go on another airplane today."

            "Yeah."  Kyle giggled and bounced out of JC's arms.

            Jessica watched them from across the room, then smiled when JC caught her eye and waved her over.  She walked slowly to their corner and kissed his cheek.  "Are you all set to go home?"

            "Yep."  JC sighed and tugged at his lower lip.  "I'm definitely ready to go home."

            "Even though you'll only be there for a few days?"

            "At least I'll be home."  JC tilted his head to the side.  "After that I get to have Thanksgiving with my family and then we're off the hook until after the New Year."

            "I thought you were going back the Monday after Christmas?"

            "Nope.  We convinced management that we'd be useless until after the New Year.  That way we can focus on our parties instead of work."

            "You're going to party huh?"  Jessica looked down at Kyle as he tugged on the bright blue laces of his shoes.

            "Heck yeah.  We've got a raging third birthday to plan for."

            "Oooo, fun!"

            "Yep." JC laughed and fished his phone out of his jacket pocket.  "But first… first we have to call Lori."

            "Ahh."  Jessica leaned against the windows at Kyle's side.

            JC dialed and waited as it rang through to her answering machine twice.  On the second try he waited and left a message, "Hey Lori, it's me and Kyle.  I was… we were calling so you could talk to him before we get on the plane to go home, but I guess… well maybe you forgot that we had to do the call early.  Um… anyway… we should be home this evening if you want to call.  I'll talk to you later.  Bye." He hung up and looked at Jessica, "Well…?"

            "She forgot?"

            "I don't know.  It looks that way.  Or maybe she's asleep."  He shrugged.

            "Hmm."

            "I'm getting tired of her not following through."  JC ran his hands through his hair and let out a harsh breath.  "Honestly.  If she misses another call I've got half a mind to tell her she can't talk to him any more."

            Jessica's eyes narrowed and she frowned slightly, "Jace… its one call."  She hated defending Lori.  "She's done well the last couple weeks."

            "She was late half the time."

            "You're over reacting, don't you think?"

            "No."  He said with his hands over his face.  He knew he was.

            "You're tired and frustrated.  Why don't you relax a little on the plane and give her a call tomorrow to talk to her."

            "Jessica…"

            "If she really did just flake on him, then you can be mad."

            "What other explanation could there be?"

            "I don't know."  She shrugged.  "You said yourself she may be asleep."

            "So?"

            "So cut her some slack."  Jessica couldn't believe those words were coming from her mouth, but after talking to Lori on the phone and seeing that she was actually trying, Jessica almost felt sorry for her.  Almost.  "It's not going to do anyone any good to get mad about it right now, will it?"

            "No."

            "Okay then."  She smiled and kissed his lips quickly.  "Don't be mad.  Be happy… you're going home!"

            "I know, I know."  He grumbled.

            "So smile or something."

            JC forced a Teen People smile and rolled his eyes.  "Happy?"

            "You're a grouch."

            "I'm tired." He argued without meeting her eyes.

            "I know you are."

            "I'm sorry." He put one arm around her waist and hugged her with Kyle in his free arm.   JC placed a warm kiss on her forehead and sighed softly.  "You're right.  I'm overreacting."

            "See?"

            "I won't freak out till we get home."

            "Okay."

            "Thank you."

            "You're welcome."  Jessica whispered into his chest.  Kyle reached out and put his hand on her hair and laughed.  "I'll see you soon, sweetie."  She smiled up at his bright red smile.

            "Jessi you go home?"

            "Yep, I have to go home."

            "And me and daddy?"

            "Yep, you and daddy are going home to.  To your house.  I'm going to my house." Jessica laughed and quickly kissed his sticky lips.  "Yum!  Cherry!  Who gave you a sucker?"

            "Chris."

            "Chris is a little trouble maker."  Jessica raised her eyebrow at JC.

            "He'll be surprised when a hyper two year old gets dropped in his lap halfway to Florida."  JC laughed and shook his head.

            "Hey."  Chris raised his hand to accompany the shout as he got JC's attention.  "You wanna get on the plane or you wanna stay in the airport for another six hours?"  He waved JC over to the boarding area.

            "That's my cue."  JC sighed and moved Kyle to his left arm to get the feeling back in his right before they got on the plane.  He turned back to Jessica and smoothed her hair behind her ear.  "Okay.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you." He punctuated each sentence with a kiss.  "Be safe."

            "I will."  Jessica smiled.  "I love you too.  And you too."  She kissed Kyle's cheek, then returned to JC's lips.

            "Call me when you get home."

            "I'm going to beat you."

            "Leave a message." He smiled against her lips.

            "Come on lovebirds."  Chris shouted as he walked up the walkway toward the plane.

            "It'd be justifiable if I tossed him off the plane, right?"  JC asked softly.

            "Completely."  Jessica laughed and kissed him again.  "I'll leave you a message.  Call me when you get in so I know you made it."

            "I will."  JC squeezed her hand.  "Say bye bye." He said as he bounced Kyle on his hip.

            "Bye bye Jessi." Kyle pressed his hand to his mouth and blew her a kiss over JC's shoulder.  She blew one back as her heart soared and tears sprang up in her eyes.  Jessica watched until the plane pulled away from the terminal and headed for the runway.

            Her flight wouldn't leave for another twenty minutes but it was a direct flight.  She went to her gate and pulled her book out, though her mind wouldn't let the image of Kyle blowing her a kiss leave her mind.  She'd do anything for that little boy, and she couldn't wait to be a part of his life on a daily basis.  "One more vote to move in."  Jessica mumbled under her breath with a smile.  She knew that the next time she was down at JC's house she'd tell him for sure that she was moving in.  There was no question about it.  She couldn't change her mind, she loved them both too much.

 

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

 

            When JC and Kyle made it home, Kyle ran straight for the back door and bounced while screeching for JC to open it.  "Candy!!"  He shouted when the dog bounded into the house.  Her tail wagged furiously and knocked Kyle down twice before JC shooed them into the living room where they couldn't hurt themselves.

            JC let them play as he checked his messages, waiting for the last one to know that Jessica had made it home and that she would probably be napping but to call her anyway.  He picked up the phone before the message was finished playing and dialed her number.  She answered on the first ring and yawned, "Ugh, sorry. Hello?"

            "You weren't kidding."  JC smiled.

            "Of course I wasn't.  I'm tired."  Jessica grinned at the sound of his voice.  "You guys made it?"

            "Yep.  We're home.  Kyle's rolling around on the floor with Candy and I'm seriously thinking about a nap myself."

            "It's a beautiful thing."  Jessica said as she fought off another yawn.

            "I bet it is."  JC opened the fridge and got out a box juice.  He shoved the straw in the top and took a long sip.  "So anyway.  I'll let you get back to your nap.  I just wanted to let you know we made it."

            "Okay.  Thank you."

            "I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"

            "Okay."

            "Love you."

            "Love you too."

            JC hung up the phone and sighed. He should have saved Jessica for last, especially when his next call was going to be to Lori.  The silence in the living room was the only thing that took his attention away from the phone in his hand. With Kyle and Candy in the same room, silence was never expected.  That was the bad kind of silence.

            "Kyle?"  JC asked as he looked over the back of the couch.  He couldn't see either of them in the room and his heart skipped a beat.  "Candy?  Candy girl…"  A light thumping from under the table brought JC around the couch to investigate.  "Hey girl, where's – " He stopped mid-sentence as he squatted to look at the big dog under the table. Her tail hit the underside of the table with each wag and she smiled at JC as his face came into view.  "Ah ha."  JC smiled back. Kyle was curled up between Candy's forelegs and her belly, fast asleep.  The dog laid her head back down and continued to wag her tail.  She was just happy they were home.

            "Good girl.  You keep an eye on him for me, okay?"

            She wagged her tail in response as JC went back to the kitchen to call Lori.  He dialed the number and waited for her to answer, half hoping that she wouldn't.

            "Hello?"  Lori answered softly after the third ring.

            "Hey.  This is JC.  I just wanted to let you know we made it home safe."  JC tried to keep the frustration out of his voice.

            "Oh, okay thanks.  Hey, I'm sorry I wasn't here when you guys called, I forgot that you were going to call me.  I'm so used to calling you, you know?"  She sighed softly but hid a smile.  "I'm sorry I missed it."

            "It's okay."  JC forced himself not to grit his teeth; she actually sounded genuine.

            "How is he?"

            "Fine.  He's asleep."

            "Asleep?"

            "With the plane ride and the time difference, it's probably close to his nap time."

            "Oh, yeah."  She nodded.  "Well I'm glad you made it home and everything.  I'll call on Tuesday now at our regular time.  Now that you're home it should be easier to stay on that schedule."

            "Yeah."  JC took a deep breath.  "I'll actually - we'll be running around and stuff so you might want to just keep calling my cell phone.  Just… you know… so we don't miss each other."

            "Okay.  I have that number."

            "Okay."

            "I'll talk to you Tuesday then."  She said after a short pause.

            "Okay.  Bye."  JC hung up and raked his fingers through his hair.  He couldn't wait till Thursday when he could be with his family and have more than a month of free time to look forward to.

            Sometimes it scared JC when he saw how comfortable he was with the free time. Before Kyle, he'd hated the downtime.  He always managed to find something to do, some new project to work on or songs to write.  But with Kyle around he lived for days or weeks off to spend even more time with his son.  For whatever reason he still felt like he was making up for the two years he'd missed.

 

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

 

            JC and Kyle spent Sunday playing with Candy and kicking it around their house, just glad to be home again.  They curled up on their bean bags and watched "Mulan" and "Jungle book" back to back while snacking on goldfish crackers and Pop Tarts.  JC dreaded going back to work on Monday, but knowing that they only had three more days left helped push him along.

            Kyle spent both Monday and Tuesday at Lance's house with Amy and for the first time in a long time, he cried when JC left him.  "He'll be okay."  Lance tried to reassure him as they pulled onto the main street.

            "I know." JC nodded.

            "Just a couple more days."

            "Then we're back to normal." JC smiled out the passenger side window and sighed.  Just a couple more days.

 

            On Tuesday they ran overtime in the studio but they were able to finish everything that they needed to get done.  They would only need to spend a few hours in the shop on Wednesday so that they could get an early start on their vacation, which was always good news.  They pulled up in front of Lance and Amy's house and JC rushed to the front door where they were waiting.

            "Come on, come on buddy."  JC grabbed Kyle's bag and waved at Amy.  "Thanks, see you guys tomorrow!"

            "Daddy we say?"

            "Nope, we're late.  Come on."

            "I hava lunch box?"

            "I've got your lunch box, let's go." He glanced at his watch.  They had twenty minutes to make it home in time for Lori's call.

            "I hode it?"

            "I've got it.  You can hold it when we get to the car."  JC scooped Kyle up and walked quickly down the front walk to the car.  With Kyle strapped into his seat, JC sped home and made it with only seconds to spare.  Not that Lori was regularly on time, but he didn't want her to call and get the machine.  Not after scolding her for missing so many calls.

            "We can have eye keem?  And chips?"

            "You want chocolate chip ice cream?"  JC asked.

            "Yeah."  Kyle giggled and pulled his chair out from the table.  He climbed into his booster seat with familiar ease then looked at JC expectantly.  "Kay I have?"

            "I don't know if we have any.  Maybe we can improvise."  JC pulled the freezer open and saw that they only had cookies and cream ice cream.  "Um… okay hang on."  He pulled the cupboard open and saw a chocolate chip bag half full.  "All righty."  He took the bag and the ice cream to the table, then grabbed spoons and a bowl.  "We'll have this ice cream and put chocolate chips in it, how's that?"

            Kyle frowned as he tipped the ice cream container towards him. "No daddy, is chips in err."

            "Those aren't chips.  Those are cookie pieces and stuff."

            "Yeah."

            "That's what you want?"

            "Yeah."

            "Okay."  JC shrugged and scooped ice cream into the bowl.  They shared the large scoop as JC thought about Thanksgiving.  It was only a couple days away and he was already salivating at the thought of home cooked turkey and cornbread stuffing.

            When they finished the ice cream, JC took the dishes to the sink and rinsed them as Kyle slid out of his seat and yawned.  "Tired pal?"

            "I see Candy?"

            "She's sleeping."  JC shook his head and looked at the napping dog wedged under the coffee table.

            Kyle stumbled over to JC's feet and held his arms out to be picked up.  JC lifted his son and rested him on his hip, "Man, you are tired."  JC flipped his wrist around to check the time.  "Well shit, you should be.  It's after nine."  He sighed and kissed Kyle's temple as the little boy rested his head on JC's shoulder.  He didn't mention anything about Lori or the phone call.  Instead he rested his hand flat on Kyle's warm back and said, "Okay kiddo.  Bed time."

            "And I buss my teef?"

            "Yep.  You definitely need to brush your teeth.  We need to get all that ice cream off so you don't get cavities."

            "Yeah."  Kyle yawned again as JC hopped up the stairs and down the hall to Kyle's bathroom. He helped get the toothpaste on Kyle's toothbrush then stood him on the little stool so he could see in the mirror.  JC fetched Kyle's pajamas and changed him in the bathroom.

            "Okay."  JC took a deep breath that turned into a yawn at the end.  "It's time to hit the sack."

            "You too?"

            "Yep.  Me too."  JC nodded and picked Kyle up again.  They walked into his room where JC settled him under his covers and sat on the edge of his bed.  "Guess what?  Tomorrow you get to go see Amy again and then after that we get to go see Heather and Tyler and your grandma and grandpa."

            "And Candy?"

            "Actually, Candy is going to stay at home."

            "Why?"

            "Because she can't come with us.  But we'll be back soon so we can play with her.  Does that sound like fun?"

            "Yeah."

            "You'll like Thanksgiving buddy.  You'll get lots of food and lots and lots of sweets."  JC leaned down to kiss Kyle goodnight.  "Sleep tight, Kyle.  I'll see you in the morning."

            "Nigh nigh daddy."

            "Night night."  JC smiled and reluctantly stood up.  He hated not being around Kyle all day, and hated even more that he didn't get to spend much time with him in the evening.  Though he didn't like it, he knew that as soon as Kyle was asleep he'd sneak back into his room and watch Kyle sleep for an hour.  At least.  He'd done so every night that week and just the thought of it made him smile.  For JC, that was the quality time he needed.

            As soon as he shut the door JC's mind went to Lori and he scowled deeply, furrowing his brow without really realizing it.  He hopped down the stairs to the kitchen to finish cleaning up, and it was then that he saw the message light on his answering machine.  "Figures."  He sighed and pressed the play button, knowing already what he would hear.

            "Hi JC, this is Lori.  It's uh… it's almost three here so that's about uh, six your time.  Anyway, I'm not going to be able to make the call tonight.  I have an appointment that I can't miss and I – "  She paused and took a deep breath. JC could almost hear her lick her lips.  "I'd like to call on Thanksgiving though since… you know, since I can't call today.  I'm sure you have plans and everything so I'll call at seven your time, you should be done with dinner by then.  If that's not okay then let me know what time would be better.  If I don't hear from you though I'll just call at seven.  Your time.  Thanks.  I'll talk to you on Thursday."  She hung up and the machine beeped twice, indicating that that was the last message.

            JC shook his head slowly, she hadn't even mentioned Kyle.  He was the only reason she was calling and he didn't even get a "hello" or an "I'm sorry".

            "Yeah, well…"  JC grumbled softly as he finished putting the dishes in the dishwasher.  When he was done he went upstairs and crept into Kyle's room, his single most favorite place in the whole house.  With the door left open a crack, a small sliver of light shined in to chase the shadows away and to assure that JC wouldn't trip over toys left in the center of the room.  He took his position on the floor beside Kyle's bed, rested his arms on the mattress and dropped his chin to his hands.  A passerby might think he was praying but he wasn't.  He would always thank God for bringing Kyle to him; but in those quiet moments when it was just JC and Kyle, all he could think about was how perfect they were and how he just couldn't imagine what he'd done before Kyle came around.

            Those days were less than a year ago, but in his mind they were lifetimes away.  It got to the point where JC would try to think of their first tour, years before Kyle was even a thought, and yet somehow JC's mind would trick him into thinking Kyle had been there somehow.  Playing with the big space helmets, playing with Chris' braids, goofing for Joey's camera.  All of that seemed possible and somehow right.

            JC spent an hour staring at Kyle's face without truly seeing it.  He'd memorized every freckle, the fall of his hair, his little cowlick that would forever send his hair careening off his forehead, everything about Kyle reminded JC of himself and that solidified all of the feelings JC had.  No matter what, forever and ever, there would be a small piece of JC to hold onto.  JC leaned over with a sigh and kissed Kyle's forehead before standing up.  His knees cracked as he stood and he laughed softly at how old he felt.

            He left the room quietly and slipped down the hall to his own bed.  The next day would be their last in the studio until after the New Year and they would be busier than ever to get things settled for the break.  He would need all the rest he could get to prepare and if he could just get through Wednesday he'd be fine.  Perfectly fine.

 

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

 

            The next day JC was in the studio with the guys for sixteen hours while Amy watched Kyle and Candy.  It was after eleven at night when JC finally carried Kyle into their house and upstairs to his room.  Amy and Lance had offered to let them crash at their house, but JC didn't want to impose.  He and Kyle would be leaving early the next morning to spend the day with his parents and JC didn't want to waste time in the morning driving home to change and get things ready.

            Once Kyle was in bed JC got everything set out for Thanksgiving so that in the morning he would be able to just shower, throw on his clothes, dress Kyle and go.  The dinner rolls from the bakery up the street were by his keys on the kitchen counter and the bottle of wine he chose for the occasion was tucked into a dark red gift bag on the floor by the door.

 

            On Thanksgiving morning everything went as planned and they were on the road right on time.  They drove for several hours while both JC and Kyle sang silly children's songs to keep them entertained.  When they arrived they were greeted with tons of hugs and kisses and JC immediately wished they never had to leave.  Family was so important to him, he didn't want Kyle to miss a single minute of it.

            While Kyle took off for the backyard to play with the family dogs, JC dropped himself at the kitchen table and helped cut up vegetables for the dinner.  "So honey, how are things going?"  His mother asked with a soft sigh.

            "Good."

            "Yeah?"

            "Yeah."  JC smiled and popped a carrot slice into his mouth.

            "How is Kyle's finger?"

            "Fine.  We got the stitches out and you can barely even see the scar now."  JC nodded, that was one thing he was relieved about.  He didn't want Kyle to have a scar.

            JC and his mother slipped easily into family talk and child advice.  She told stories of when he was a child and he filled her in on Kyle's latest antics.  JC felt as though now that he had Kyle he could get even closer with his parents.  He now knew where they were coming from and why they did so many of the things they did.

            As his mother set the timer for the vegetables to cook, she sighed and finally asked about Lori.  Since they'd already covered Jessica in conversation, JC knew Lori was bound to be next.  He paused for a second and wondered how much he should tell his mom.  Without much internal argument, JC told his mom exactly how things with Lori were going. He voiced his concerns and listened to her advice.

            Hearing an outsiders take on the whole situation helped JC a lot.  He'd been going on for months about not wanting to be too hard on her because she was Kyle's mom and that was important, but his mother helped his see that in doing that, Lori was seeing what she could get away with.  He had to be firm with her and stand behind his threats or ultimatums.

            He'd heard most of his mothers arguments before, mostly from Jessica, and he told her that much.  His mother smiled widely and nodded, "She's got a good head on her shoulders."  She placed a kiss on his cheek and sighed.  "I'm just glad you have a son kiddo.  I don't know what you'd do with another girl in your life."  She smoothed down his hair and laughed softly, kidding him the way only a mother could.

 

            JC and Kyle spent the whole day there and stuffed themselves to the gills with turkey and all the side dishes that came with it.  By the time JC finished loading the car they had enough left overs to last them a week and Kyle was sound asleep in his seat.  JC waved goodbye as he drove down the driveway, promising to see them all again on Christmas at his grandparents house.

            Seven o'clock passed as they were on their way home.  JC checked his cell phone to make sure he had reception and was almost angry to see that he did.  His phone remained silent for the duration of the drive home, but he forced himself not to focus on that.  He carried Kyle up to bed then put the food in the refrigerator and got himself a glass of water.

            JC carried the water upstairs and set it on his bedside table as he stripped himself and climbed into bed.  He was looking forward to sleeping in the next day, for the first time in months.  Before he could get himself fully comfortable under the covers, JC was asleep.

 

            The ringing of the phone pulled JC out of his deep sleep and he groped for the phone in the darkness.  The glass of water he'd left on his nightstand knocked over and soaked the carpet as well as the base of the phone.  "Damn."  JC swore as he placed the phone against his ear.  The clock's red numbers glowed bright as his mind registered that it was after midnight.  "Hello?"  He asked quickly.  Midnight phone calls were never good.

            "Hi Jace, this is Lori."

            "Lori?  It's midnight."  JC's heart returned to normal.

            "I know.  I'm sorry I missed the call today."

            "I'm tired of this Lori.  You said you would call at seven o'clock our time and here it is midnight and now you're calling?"  The late hour and his lack of sleep made his temper shorter than usual.  He knew he'd probably regret whatever he said, but at the moment he didn't care.

            "I'm sorry, I had to work late."  She tried to explain.

            "Then you should have called to let us know that you wouldn't make it.  Kyle waited by the phone for an hour waiting for you to call."  He lied to hurt her, Kyle hadn't even realized that she was supposed to call.

            "I'm sorry."

            "You're always sorry, Lori."  JC pressed his free hand against his forehead as he closed his eyes in the darkness.

            "Well shit JC, what else do you want me to say?  I'm sorry.  I can't go back in time and call at four like you want me to."  She jumped on the defensive, immediately moving JC to the extreme offense.

            "If it was just this once I wouldn't have a problem Lori, but you do this all the time.  You completely miss calls… you call an hour late.  You call five hours late."

            "I said I'm sorry."

            "Yeah, well I'm sorry too.  I'm sorry your son is such an inconvenience to you.  I'm sorry he has to take up a whole hour every week on the phone.  I know you're so busy with your new carefree lifestyle and your new flashy job, so I really appreciate the calls you do manage to squeeze in when you get the chance.  Kyle appreciates it too."  His voice was scratchy with sleep, but the sarcasm was hard to miss.

            "Stop it JC, I'm trying."

            "No.  You were trying, now you're back to the old you that doesn't give a shit about anything.  I half expect you to just disappear again."

            "You'd like that wouldn't you?"  Lori asked venomously.

            JC tried not to laugh, "You don't want me to answer that."

            "You'd like nothing more than to see me completely gone from Kyle's life."

            "No Lori, you're wrong about that.  I want nothing more than to have you in his life.  I would love for you to come see him every now and then, to call him when you say you're going to call him.  To send him a card, or ask for pictures, or ask for us to come out to see you.  I'd love for you to show some interest in your son's life, but I just can't seem to make you do that."

            Lori sighed, but didn't say anything for a minute.  "Are you done?"

            "Not yet."  JC set his jaw.  "If you miss one more call, that's it."

            "That's it?"

            "No more calls."

            "You want me to be a part of his life but I can't call?  That makes a lot of sense JC."

            "I said if you miss another call.  If you flake out on another call without calling to let us know you can't make it then yes, I'll take those privileges away.  Maybe that will make you see how much you've screwed up and make you want to take more interest in his life."  He raked his fingers through his hair.  "I'm tired of playing these games with you Lori.  I've been nice by letting you contact him and see him and everything like that.  I don't have to and if you miss one more call, I'm not going to."

            "I don't believe you."

            "Try me."  He longed to hang up the phone.  "I've had enough.  But now it's all up to you."

            "It's not up to me; you hold the power to all of this."

            "No, you do.  If you can make your calls on time then you can continue to see him.  You're the one who will make or break this.  If you do what you said you would, then everything will be fine.  It's only if you screw up again that everything changes.  You don't want it to change?  Then straighten up and make the calls."  He bit his lip then shook his head quickly.  "Good night."  JC hung up and exhaled sharply.  Reacting that emotionally was never something JC was used to, not until Lori came around.

            He shook his head slowly as he fluffed his pillow under his head and tried to close his eyes to the pounding in his ears.  He'd given her an ultimatum and, to save his pride, he'd abide by it this time.  Whether he wanted to or not.

 

 

Next...

 

 

Copyright © 2002, 2003 Amy Lynn