JC was cold and silent for the rest of the morning.  Without saying a word Jessica could see that he was replaying the conversation in his head over and over, changing his replies and mentally saying exactly what he wanted to instead of reacting emotionally like he had.  Kyle sat at the coffee table playing with his toys quietly, purposely keeping his eyes lowered and away from JC who seemed ready to strike out at any second.

            "Stop it."  JC's hand came down firmly on Kyle's to stop the little boy from banging his matchbox car on the coffee table.  "That's driving me nuts."

            Kyle's eyes widened with an expression close to fear, bordering on confusion.  "Is mine."

            "I know it's yours.  Stop banging it on the table."  JC sighed and stood up, removing himself to the kitchen where he poured another cup of coffee.  In the process of pouring, he spilled a dribble of the coffee on the counter. "Dammit!"  He voice bellowed through the small living room.

            Having sensed the stress of situation all morning, Kyle finally broke.  He picked up his car and Dill and practically ran for the stairs.

            "Kyle… honey, wait."  Jessica started after him, but JC's voice cut her off.

            "Jessica!"  JC's face turned red as he saw her standing right in front of him.

            "You don't need to shout, I'm right here."

            "Where are the towels?  I can't find any fucking towels."  He sloshed the cup around again, making a bigger mess.  "Dammit!"

            "They're in the second drawer down.  Right – no right there by the – JC stop.  Listen to what I'm saying.  They're in the second drawer down on the – "  JC slammed the drawer shut and stepped back.  With a soft sigh, Jessica stepped forward and opened the drawer to the left of the sink.  "Here."

            JC took the towel and quickly mopped up the mess on the counter, not daring to meet Jessica's eyes.  She licked her lips and frowned then took the cordless phone to the front room and dialed Lance and Amy's number from memory.  As it rang in her ear she prayed that they'd be home.  If they weren't she didn't know who else she could call.

            Just before the machine picked up, Amy answered.  "Hey Jace!  Long time no talk."

            "Amy?  Hey, this is Jessica."  She said softly.

            "Hey!  I didn't know you were in town!  How's it going?"  Amy smiled at the sound of her friend's voice.

            "Not good.  It's a long story, but do you think you or Lance come and get Kyle and keep him for the afternoon?  Just like, a couple hours?"  Jessica pursed her lips as she leaned against the wall trying to keep her voice down.  She ran her fingernail over frame of a picture and furrowed her brow.  "Please?"

            "Is everything okay?"

            "Yeah."  Jessica said quickly.  "I'll explain later, but just… can you?  JC really needs some time right now and it'd be better if Kyle wasn't here."

            "Jessica… are you sure you're okay?"

            "Yes, I'm sure."  Jessica nodded and tried to sound more sure than she was.  She heard JC swear as he dropped something solid in the kitchen.  "Lori called today, that Kyle's mom, and it's not good.  JC's going to blow his top here in about two minutes and Kyle does not need to be here to see that.  Can you please come and get him?  I'd bring him but I -"

            "No, no of course.  I'll be there as soon as I can."  Amy said reassuringly.  "I'm sorry, I'll leave right now.  Do you want to meet me by the curb?"

            "Yeah.  I'll get Kyle and wait.  Thank you Amy."

            "No problem."  Amy hung up the phone and launched into action.

            Jessica ran up the stairs to Kyle’s room and slowly pushed his door open, "Hey kiddo, are you okay?"  She asked softly.

            "Daddy say bad word."

            "Yeah, he's saying some bad words today, huh?"  Jessica sat beside him on his bed and pulled him onto her lap.  "He's not mad at you sweetie, he's just having a really bad day."

            "Yeah."

            "But you know what?  I called Amy and she's going to come and get you so you can go to her house."  Jessica smiled and bounced him on her knee.  "Does that sound like fun?"

            "And Laaaance?"

            "Yep, Lance will be there too."

            "And Jaxo and Lex?"

            "The dogs too."  She smiled and stood him on the floor.  "Why don't we get your bag ready?  You can put Lello and Dill in there and maybe a book?"

            "Kay."  Kyle grabbed Lello off the floor and placed him on top of his backpack while Jessica opened his drawers.  She chose clean clothes just in case and put them in the backpack as well.

            "Okay, wait here for a minute.  I'll be right back, okay?"

            "Kay."  Kyle scooted back on the bed to get his favorite book from under his pillow.

            Jessica quietly went back down the stairs to the kitchen to get some snacks for Kyle to take with him.  Through the windows to the backyard she saw JC sweeping the pool cleaner over the top of the water to get the stray leaves out.  The tautness of his muscles and the firm frown on his face showed that he was trying to relieve the anger any way he could.  If he took it out on the pool cleaner, no one would get hurt.

            With a few packets of fruit snacks and a baggie of goldfish crackers, Jessica went back upstairs to Kyle's room.  "There you go; you've got some snacks there.  You're ready."

            "Candy can see Jaxo and Lex?

            "No, Candy is going to stay here with me and your daddy."

            "Kay.  And I can go see a doggie now?"

            "Yep.  Let's go wait for Amy."  She took Kyle's hand and dropped the backpack over her shoulder.  They went through the garage to get Kyle's car seat before they walked out to the front of the house and stood at the end of JC's driveway.  For ten minutes they waited until Jessica saw Amy's little car coming up the street.  "There she is."

            "Jessi you come wiss me?"  Kyle squinted up at Jessica.

            "Nope, I'm going to stay here with daddy and talk to him about using bad words."

            "Kay."  Kyle nodded and sighed as Amy pulled to a stop and got out.

            "Hey guys."  She smiled and walked around the front of her car, leaving it running by the curb.

            "Hey."  Jessica hugged her quickly and handed off Kyle's bag.

            "Hey Kyle, what's up big guy?"

            "Daddy say a word is bad."  Kyle waited as Jessica placed his car seat in the back of Amy's car.

            "JC has a potty mouth."  Jessica smiled slightly and lifted Kyle into his seat.  "Thank you so much."

            "No problem, really."

            "He's got his snacks and everything in his bag there, and stickers and… well he's got everything he needs."  Jessica placed her hands on her hips and exhaled heavily.  "Be good over at Lance and Amy's, okay?"

            "Kay."  Kyle giggled.

            "Okay."  Jessica leaned in and kissed his cheek.  She stood up and shut the door as she turned to Amy.  "I'll uh… we'll come and get him a little later, but I don't… I'm not sure when."

            "Don't worry about it."  Amy shook her head.  "He can stay the night if he needs to, really.  It's not a problem.  We were just going to rent a video and hang out."

            "I'm sorry."

            "Don't be."  Amy smiled then gave her another hug.  "Are things okay though?  With you guys?"

            "Yeah."  Jessica nodded against Amy's shoulder.  "This is all about Lori… I'm sure you'll hear all about it later."

            "Okay.  Well give us a call if you want to come get him or if you want us to bring him back."

            "I will.  Thanks again."  Jessica waved as Amy got back in the car and turned around in her seat to say something to Kyle.  Kyle smiled and waved, then made a face at Jessica as they pulled away from the curb.

            With a soft sigh Jessica shoved her hands in her pockets and walked back up to the house.  As soon as she pushed the door open she heard JC calling for Kyle.  "Kyle!"  He stood near the top of the stairs as he shouted.  "Kyle!  Come down here."

            "He's not here."  Jessica said softly as she walked up the stairs and stood a few steps behind him.

            "What?"  He whipped around causing his hair to bounce in an almost comedic way.

            "He's not here."  She repeated as she fidgeted with her hands.

            "Where is he?"

            "I had Amy come by and get him."  Jessica said nervously.  "He's going to hang out over there today."  She licked her lips and dropped her eyes.  "You just… JC you need to let this out and it'd be better if Kyle wasn't here."

            "What do I have to let out Jess?  What?"  He demanded as he stomped down the three steps to the landing then brushed past her.

            "You're mad JC… and you have every reason to be."  She followed behind him to the living room.

            "You're damn right I'm mad.  I'm pissed off, that's what I am.  And the only person who deserves this is fucking Lori and she's too caught up in her own little world to come here so I can let her have it."  JC's hands flew up as he ran them through his hair, tugging harder than he intended.

            "JC you have to find another way to get this out because you're scaring me, and you're scaring Kyle.  That's why he was upstairs in his room."

            "I didn't scare him."  JC rolled his eyes.

            "Yeah you did.  You were yelling in the kitchen and that scared him."  Jessica nodded as she took a step back against the wall.

            "Shit."  JC brought his hands up to cover his eyes as he pressed hard.  "Jessica, I just don’t know what to do."

            "JC… you don't have to do anything right now.  You're doing fine; you just need to step away for a minute."

            "I need to beat the shit out of something."  He curled his hands into fists against his eyes, then lowered them to his sides.  "For real.  I never understood why guys would have a full gym in their house, but right now all I need is a fucking punching bag."

            "You've got a couch."  Jessica looked over at the couch behind him.  "You could start there."

            "No, I'm gonna have to break stuff."  JC's hands shook.  "Jesus, I didn't know I was this mad."

            "You've gotta let this out JC, or else you'll blow up around Kyle… and…"

            "I would never hurt him."  He glared up at her without raising his head.

            "I know you wouldn't."  She said quickly as she took a step forward.  "I know you would never do that JC, that's not what I mean.  If you blow up around Kyle that will scare him to death.  He doesn't know that you're not mad at him…"

            "I don't need this." JC lowered his voice.  "But what the fuck am I supposed to do?  I mean, I can't control this.  I can't control any part of this.  Any part that I thought I could control, I've just been told that I can't.  All I wanted was for her to be the mom she promised she would be.  She promised when she was here last time that she was going to try, well this isn't fucking trying!"  His voice grew louder as he continued.  "She's so selfish!  I swear to God, she has no clue what she's doing.  This little decision of hers isn't just affecting her life.  No… it's screwing with my life and with Kyle's.  Why can't she see that doing this goes farther than just her own little peach colored world?"  He was shouting by the time he finished, with his hands waving through the air.

            Jessica took a step back, then a deep breath.  "JC, I -"

            "I mean come on.  You've known him for what?  Six months?  Maybe a little longer or whatever but still.  You've known him for six months and you're more of a mother to him that she ever was.  Ever.  I don't care about those two years she raised him.  I mean, who knows if she raised him then anyway?  She can't deal with it now, how could she have dealt with it for two years on her own?  She's so full of shit, I swear.  I just want to grab her and shake her as hard as I can."  JC grabbed the coffee mug off the counter, raised it above his head and threw it onto the floor, sending ceramic pieces and coffee all over the floor.

            Jessica flinched away and tried to catch her breath.  Letting it all out was what JC needed, but she wasn't expecting an all out tirade.  Rather than say or do anything to stop him she snapped her mouth shut and let him continue.

            JC pulled open the kitchen cupboard and pulled out two more coffee mugs and threw them to the floor.  "This is ridiculous!"  He shouted.  "I hate her.  I hate her for everything.  For the last six months.  I.  Hate.  Her."  He pounded his fists on the countertop causing the toaster to jump.  "I should have taken Kyle when this whole thing started and just left.  When I was given custody I should have just not let her see him.  Dammit, if I had known then that she would completely screw him over like this I never would have let her see him.  Never.  She doesn't deserve to see him at all.  I want to take those two years away from her.  She doesn't deserve to have anything… anything that Kyle might have given her.  I want her to agonize every day over him.  For the rest of her life I want her to know that she has ruined everything.  I want her to feel exactly what Kyle feels when he finds out that his own mother didn't want him.  I want her to feel what that feels like for him, times… times a billion… every day of her life."

            His face was red and his words were muddled by the volume of his rage.  He turned to Jessica who was pressed against the wall wondering just what kind of beast she'd set loose.  "You're a woman, how can she do this?  How can a mother turn away from her son?"

            "I don't know."  She said softly as she shook her head.

            "How can she just leave?  She seemed like she wanted to fight for him and then now out of nowhere she just ditches him?  I don't get it.  I will never, ever understand that."  His voice cracked slightly as he exhaled sharply and put his hands on his hips.  He stood in silence for a minute and tried to catch his breath.  Slowly, he leaned back against the counter and slid down until he was sitting on the floor.  "My God Jessica… how did this happen?"  His voice was barely above a whisper.  "How did I get so mad?"

            Jessica knelt beside him and carefully placed her hand on his knee.  "You've been saving it up Jace.  Since the beginning."

            "But…"

            "But you've never been able to really let it go.  You've been worried about Kyle or me or the guys… you haven't taken the time to realize what it was doing to you."

            "I hate her Jessica.  I've never hated anyone before."  His hands shook slightly as she turned and sat beside him to hold his hand. JC's arms wrapped around her and they held each other awkwardly on the floor amidst the broken coffee mugs.

            Without warning Jessica felt JC's body shuddering against her chest.  He was crying and clinging to her like a lost child.  "Jace, listen to me.  This… this is a shock, okay?  You are going to be alright.  You and Kyle, you'll both be okay.  You just need to get through this first part."  She stroked his head and kissed his temple.  They sat there for a long while until JC took a deep breath and let it out against her shoulder.

            "I'm sorry."  He swiped his fingers under his red eyes.

            "Don't apologize."  Jessica shook her head.

            "I… I never come unglued like that."

            "It's okay."

            "No it's not."

            "Holding it all in would have been ten times worse."

            "But if Kyle had seen –"

            "He didn't."  Jessica reached for his hand and he helped her stand up.  "That's why I had Amy come to get him.  And now that you've let it out we can call them."

            "But…"

            "Unless you're not done."  She risked a small smile.

            "No, I'm done."  JC smiled back then took another deep breath.  "Man, that actually felt good."

            "You have every right to be upset, JC."

            He nodded solemnly.  "I know.  But… but I'm not really.  I'm not mad, I'm just… I'm scared and frustrated and confused.  I don't understand how she could do this and I have no idea what I'm going to do now.  I mean, this wasn't ever anything that I could have planned for."

            "No, I'm sure it's not."

            "But it's nothing I can change either.  I have to make the best of what I've got."

            "And that shouldn't be hard because what you've got is a great kid who loves you more than anything.  Plus a strong support base and family and… everything.  JC, Kyle will never have to wonder if he's loved."

            "But will that be enough?  Will having me and everyone I know love him be enough to fill up the hole of having his mom leave him?"

            Jessica pursed her lips and frowned, "You'll find a way."

            "I have no idea what to tell him."

            "You don't have to tell him anything just yet.  He probably won't even notice for another couple weeks. You'll have time to think about it, don't worry."

            "Can we go get him?  I just… I want to; I need to have him here."

            "Sure.  Absolutely.  I'll clean this up; you go change your clothes."  Jessica nodded and tried to smile as he gave her a confused look.  "You've got coffee all over your pants."

            "Oh."  JC's gaze dropped to his pants and he smiled sadly, "Yeah.  I'll change."

            "Make it snappy."  Jessica opened the pantry and got the little hand broom out to sweep up the heavy shards of ceramic dishware before they left.

 

            A half hour later, Jessica's hand squeezed JC's as they walked up the driveway to Lance's front door.  The motion detectors caused the large flood lights to come on as they got to the porch, though it wasn't quite dark enough to need them.  "Thank you Jess."

            "You're welcome."  She said softly.

            "Did you tell them?"

            "No."

            "Okay."  He nodded and raised his hand to knock.  After a minute they heard the dogs barreling toward the door with Kyle's delighted squeals following them.

            "Hang on, let me get it.  Jackson, get back."   Lance laughed as the door opened and the two dogs came running out to greet them.

            "Hey."  JC nodded as a greeting.

            "Hey man."  Lance smiled and reached to pull the dogs back inside.

            "Daddy!"  Kyle jumped into JC's arms and gave him a big hug.  "Candy not here only Jaxo and Lex."

            "Candy's at home waiting for you."  JC smiled and ruffled Kyle's hair before he moved him to his other hip and followed Lance into the house.  "How was he?"

            "Perfect, of course."

            "Of course."  JC rolled his eyes.

            "So is everything…okay?"  Lance asked cautiously.

            JC pursed his lips and shrugged.  "Not really, no."

            "What's going on?  Amy just said that Lori called today and that you needed some time alone or something."  Lance led the way to the family room where the dogs immediately dove for their soft beds in the corner.

            "She… yeah she called today kind of.  To talk to Kyle.  She's… she signed away her parental rights, completely."  JC explained softly, as if there were a chance that Kyle would understand what he was saying.

            "What?"  Lance gave him a disgusted look.  "Can she do that?"

            "Yeah."

            "So do you have to go to court?"

            "Nope.  No, that wouldn't matter.  She just has to sign the paper and… you know."

            "Can the judge can still say no?"  Lance asked.

            "He could, yeah."  JC shrugged and sighed.  "But… but I mean what difference would that make?  He can't make her take an interest or anything."

            "Damn…"

            "Yeah."

            "So… so that's it then?  She's -"                                   

            "Officially out of the picture."  JC nodded.  "And of course there's more to it than just that.  But yeah."

            "Wow.  That's… that's huge."

            "I know."

            "Chris is gonna go through the roof."  Lance smiled and shook his head.  "Did you tell him yet?"

            "I haven't told anyone yet.  Just you guys."  JC looked around at the adults in the room.  "And I'd… you know…"

            "Enough said.  We won't say a word."  Lance shook his head, knowing that was what JC was getting at.

            "Well hey, if you want us to watch him tomorrow or over the next few days at all, just call.  We've got nothing planned till next weekend."  Amy offered from across the room.  She stood beside Jessica to let the guys talk.  There was something special that they shared and sometimes everyone else had to step back and let them do their thing.

            "It's okay.  Thanks guys."  JC smiled and brought Kyle's cheek closer to give him a kiss.  "We should get going."

            "Call if you need anything."  Lance said as he walked them to the door.

            "We will.  Thanks."  Jessica gave him a quick hug before they left.

            Kyle chattered the whole way home about his afternoon, though Jessica and JC only understood about half of what he was saying.  It was clear that he had fun, and knowing that much made JC relax a little.  He knew that if he could get through that first day, he'd be much better off.  With a quick glance at the clock, he knew he could hold out for a few more hours, then he'd be in bed with Jessica and nothing could be wrong about that.

 

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

 

            To keep with the mood, a harsh winter storm struck almost all of Florida the next day.  Jessica, JC and Kyle spent the rest of her time there inside the house keeping out of the rain and wind.  They ventured out for dinner twice and once to the theater to watch the latest Disney movie, but other than that they sat around getting cabin fever and wrapping Christmas presents.

            The weather didn't clear up until Thursday, the day Jessica was set to leave; and the day Lori was going to court.  "Figures."  JC grumbled as he looked out the bedroom window to the clear blue sky.

            "Hmm?"  Jessica's voice echoed in the bathroom.

            "It's a gorgeous day today.  No more rain clouds."

            "Perfect timing."  She stepped out of the bathroom with her little travel bag of toiletries.  "Do you mind if I leave this here?"

            JC turned from the window to look at what she was asking.  "You won't need it?"

            Jessica shook her head, she had duplicates at home.  With as much as she traveled she always kept a spare set handy.  "No.  And I'll be back next week anyway."

            "Sure."  JC raised his hands to the top of the window frame, stretching his back and shoulders.  Every part of him wanted to tell her to leave everything there, to move in right now, to not even go back to Connecticut.  But he knew better than to pressure her and he didn't want to force the issue.  She knew that the option was always there, he just wished she'd say yes already.  Now, more than ever, he felt that he needed her there.

            "I'm almost packed.  Are you about ready to go?"  She let her eyes canvas his bare back.

            "Yeah."  He sighed and dropped his arms.  "Whenever you are."  There was nothing anyone could say or do that could turn his day around.  To keep his mind off of Lori, he'd spent the week thinking about Jessica, but Jessica was leaving… so even that didn't help.

            "I'm ready."  Jessica reached for her bag, smiling as she noticed it was lighter.  Each time she came she tended to leave behind more and more things.  She rationalized it by saying it would save her packing the same things the next week, but inside she knew that wasn't the real reason.

            JC collected Kyle from his room and after only one small argument; they all got in the car and headed for the airport.  Kyle pouted the whole way with his arms crossed over his chest and a deep frown settled in his brow.  "What's wrong?"  Jessica whispered with a quick glance to the back seat.

            "He didn't want to come with us; he wanted to play with Candy."

            "Oh."

            "She's all muddy though."

            "From the rain."  Jessica nodded.

            "He'll be fine."  JC forced a smile as they pulled off the freeway at the airport.

 

            When they pulled up to the curb Kyle grudgingly said goodbye to Jessica and gave her a quick kiss before returning to his quiet pout.  JC unloaded her bag from the back of the car then stood on the curb as Jessica walked around to his side.  "Thanks."  She said as she took the bag from his hand.

            "No problem." He mumbled as he shuffled his feet.  His mind had been a whirlwind of emotions since the call on Saturday and Jessica was the only thing he felt that was keeping him together.  Watching her leave was going to be a test of his will.  In one swift movement JC wrapped one arm around Jessica's shoulders and out his free hand in hers.  "I wish you didn't have to leave."  JC said, holding her tighter than usual.

            "I know."  Jessica nodded and lowered her cheek to JC's chest.  "But my family is doing Christmas this weekend."

            "I know."  JC kissed the top of her head and sighed softly, not quite ready to let go.  "I can wish though."

            "Yes.  You can."  She turned her head to kiss him softly.  "I'll be back on Tuesday.  We'll have a great Christmas together.  Just us."

            "You, me and Kyle."

            "Right."

            JC closed his eyes and smiled, "Sounds perfect."

            "It will be."

            He kissed her again and ran his hands up to her shoulders, "I love you."

            "I love you too."  Jessica smiled and hoisted her bag up to her shoulder.  "But I'm going to miss my plane if I don't go."

            "I know."  JC reluctantly let go of her hand.  "Call me when you get home."

            "I will."

            "And send me your flight information for next week."

            "I will."  She pulled herself a way and hauled her suitcase toward the entrance.

            "Bye."  JC said softly, barely audible from ten feet away.

            "Bye."  Jessica smiled back and waved before disappearing into the crowd of people heading off for the holidays.  As soon as she settled herself on the plane a short while later, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes.  All of a sudden it seemed like all of her plans were put on hold while her mind whirled with all of the possible outcomes.

            Lori had, once again, found a way to completely change Jessica's outlook on her future.

 

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

 

            "So?  What did he say?"  Katie asked as soon as she walked in the door and saw Jessica sitting in the burgundy recliner.

            "Nothing."

            "Nothing?"

            "I didn't tell him."

            "What?  Why not?  What happened?"

            Jessica sighed and tucked her legs up under her in the recliner chair.  "All hell broke lose on Saturday when I was planning on telling him."  She frowned and shook her head, "I had it all planned to.  I was ready.  Then Lori called and,"  Jessica shrugged, "everything hit the fan."

            "Who's Lori?"

            "Kyle's mom."

            "What'd she say?"

            "It's a big, long, ugly story."

            "Meaning it's private and you don't want to say anything?"  Katie asked with a knowing smile.

            "Yeah.  Let's just say that the last thing on JC's mind is whether or not his girlfriend is moving into his house."

            "But everything is okay now, right?"

            "I don’t know."

            "She's not going to take Kyle is she?"

            "No."  Jessica shook her head, "Just the opposite in fact."  She thought for a moment then ran her hands through her hair.  She needed to vent to someone.  "You can't say a word to anyone, and I mean it."

            "I won't."

            "The other guys don't even know yet, so you really, really can't say anything."

            "Who am I gonna tell?"  Katie rolled her eyes.

            Jessica paused, waiting to change her mind.  "Lori gave up her parental rights to Kyle.  So JC… well it's a lot to deal with."

            "Sheesh, from what I've heard that'd be a good thing.  Wouldn't it?"

            "That's kind of a weird thing.  It's good in the fact that now JC doesn't have to worry about whether or not she'll make her calls or visit him or whatever.  On the other hand, what is Kyle going to think?  I think JC's just really upset for Kyle, since he's only two and doesn't have any idea what's going on.  You know?"

            "Yeah."

            "So now he's got to do the whole lawyer thing and he's just stressed to his eyeballs."

            "Are you going back?"

            "Yeah.  I'm doing Christmas with my parents this weekend and then I'll be back in Florida."

            "For good?"

            Jessica let a little smile slip, "Yeah.  Probably.  When I get back things will have hopefully been settled and I can just let him know then."

            "That'd be cool.  A good thing to cushion the bad thing, right?"

            "Something like that."

            "Awesome."

            "Have you thought about finding another room mate?"

            "Nah.  I was waiting until I knew when you were going to leave.  At the rate you were going it could have been months."  Katie laughed and fell onto the couch beside Jessica's chair.  "Marissa at work said she was looking for something for January though, so maybe I'll talk to her.  She's cool."

            "Yeah?"

            "I mean.  She doesn't have the boy band connections like you do, but, "  She shrugged and laughed, "she'll do."

            "You won't be losing my connections.  I'll just be a phone call away.  And every time we're in the area I'll hook you up if I can."

            "You better!"  Katie took the remote from Jessica and sighed, "So.  What are we watching?"  And with that they settled into their comfortable routine, something that Jessica would miss terribly when she moved to Florida.

 

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

 

            From Friday afternoon until Saturday morning, JC's stomach was in knots.  He ate hardly anything and found himself being short with Kyle.  Thursday was the magic day, the day that Lori was sitting in front of a judge and giving up any right she had for Kyle.  They tried to keep busy so that JC's mind wouldn't keep going back to that, but nothing seemed to help.

            On Saturday morning, JC anxiously waited for George's call.  He should have the paperwork for JC before noon, but somewhere in JC's mind he let himself wonder what would happen if the judge didn't allow her to give up her rights.  JC knew that wasn't even really a possibility, but he held on to what little hope he had until the phone rang with the news.

            "Hey JC, this is George Moreno."  He cleared his throat, and JC knew that he had his answer.

            "Hey, hi George."

            "How are you doing?"  George asked.

            "I'm doing good."  JC scratched at his jaw.  "What's up?"  He didn't need to ask, he knew why the lawyer was calling.

            "I got the paperwork from Ms. Garrison last night."

            "Okay."

            "Did you want to swing by today to go over it?

            "I… sure."

            "We can do it whenever you want.  If you want to set up an appointment for next week…"

            "No, no today's good.  I just want to get it over with."

            "Of course you do."  George nodded.  "Well I'll be here all day.  The office is technically closed, but come on by and we'll do this."

            "Okay.  I'll uh… can I come by at eleven?"  He glanced at his watch, calculating the time he'd need to get Kyle ready and drop him off at a sitters.

            "Eleven is fine.  I'll see you then, JC."

            "Okay, thanks George."

            "Anytime."

            JC hung up and looked down at Kyle.  "Okay kid.  We need to find someone to watch you."

            "You can see me?"  Kyle cocked his head to the side and furrowed his tiny brow.

            "I w – yeah I can see you."  JC frowned back at the little boy.  "Oh."  He laughed and bent to pick Kyle up.  "Yeah I can see you, but I have to go to an appointment so I need to see if Lance and Amy can watch you."

            "I can go wiss you?"

            "Nope, not this time."

            "Yeah."

            "Can't do it, buddy.  But when I'm done with the appointment we can go to McDonalds and get you a happy meal.  How does that sound?"

            Kyle sighed and tried to roll his eyes.  "Okay."  He wiggled from JC's arms and went to his basket of toys beside the TV.  "You cawin dem.  I have Dill."  Kyle lifted his stuffed crocodile from the basket and headed for the stairs.

            "All righty then."  JC said softly as he smiled and watched Kyle for a minute.  With a soft sigh he picked up his cordless and dialed Lance's house.  On the second ring he remembered that they were going out of town for the weekend.  "Crap."  He muttered under his breath, wracking his brain to find someone who would be in town that weekend.

            JC's brow crinkled in frustration, he couldn't remember anyone else's schedule when he used to be on top of everything.  He dialed Chris' number because it came up first on speed dial, and waited as it rang in his ear.  "Hey, you busy?"  JC asked when Chris answered the phone.

            "Not really.  Why?  What's up?"  Chris asked.  No introductions were necessary.

            "I've uh... I've got to run an errand and I was hoping maybe you'd keep an eye on Kyle for me?"

            Chris paused, "For how long?"

            "Two hours.  Tops."

            "Oh sure.  Yeah I was thinking you meant like, all day."

            "No.  No I just have to do something real quick.  It shouldn't take too long."  JC put a bag of crackers into Kyle's backpack.

            "Sure.  You wanna bring him over here?"

            "Yeah."

            "Cool.  When will you be here?"

            "In a half hour?  Is that cool?"

            "That works for me.  I'd better put my porn away, huh?"  Chris laughed.

            "Um, yeah."  JC laughed back.  "I'll pack a movie and you guys can just watch that till I get back."

            "I've got kid movies.  Just bring him here, I'll find some way to entertain him."

            "Okay, thanks Chris."

            "No worries."  Chris laughed then hung up, leaving JC holding the dead phone in one hand and a juice box in the other.

            "Hey Kyle!  Are you ready to go?"  JC shouted toward the stairs.

            "Yeah!"  Kyle shouted back from two steps behind JC.

            "Whoa, there you are.  I thought you were upstairs."  JC laughed and turned around to pick Kyle up.  "You're a sneaky little dude."

            "Yeah."  Kyle giggled.  "I can see Laaaance?"

            "Nope, you're going to go hang out with Chris for a little bit."

            "Joey?"

            "No, Chris."

            "Jussin?"  Kyle looked hopeful.

            "Dude.  You like Chris, what's up with that?"

            Kyle sighed and used his whole hand to brush his hair out of his eyes.  "I lie Chris daddy."

            "I know you do.  So why don't you want to see him?"

            "I see Chris.  I can see Joey and Jussin?"  Kyle asked.  "And Laaance?"  He added as an afterthought.

            "You want to see them all?"

            "Yeah."

            "We haven't been together in a while, have we?"  JC asked rhetorically.  "I'll tell you what, you can go see Chris today and then for your birthday you can see them all together."

            "Is sink?"

            JC blinked and smiled, "Yeah.  Yeah when we're all together we're Nsync."

            "Dats cool daddy."

            He laughed and set the phone back in the charger as he bounced Kyle on his hip.  "Yeah, that's pretty cool."

            "I sink?"

            "Um.  Not exactly."

            "Yeah daddy.  I sink."

            "Okay.  You can be Nsync too."  JC kissed Kyle's cheek.  "Let's go to Chris' house now.  I've got an appointment and I can't be late."

            "Uh oh."

            "Uh oh is right, buddy.  We've gotta go."  He grabbed his keys and they headed out, showing up at Chris' house only ten minutes before JC was supposed to be at George's office.

            "Hey!"  Chris cheered as he pulled the door open.  "It's my most favorite kid in the whole wide world.  What's up Kyle?"  Chris grabbed him from JC's arms, completely ignoring the adult in the doorway.

            "Hey man, I'm running late." JC tried to explain.

            "As usual."  Chris rolled his eyes and looked at JC.  "So go already.  Don't let me hold you up."

            "His snacks are in the bag.  And stickers and… and his toys."

            "Cool."

            "He had breakfast so he should be –"

            "I'll feed him if he says he's hungry."

            "And he's usually pretty good about telling you he has to –"

            "I'll make sure he pees."

            "In the toilet."  JC specified.

            "In the toilet."  Chris sighed and rolled his eyes.  "Go on Mr. I'm-in-a-hurry."

            "I won't be long."

            "Don't worry about it."

            "Bye Kyle."

            "Bye bye!"  Kyle screeched as Chris flipped him upside down to tickle his tummy.

            "Be good."

            "Kay!"  Kyle laughed as Chris' fingers wiggled up his side.

            "You too, Chris."

            "Okay!"  Chris mimicked Kyle's enthusiasm as they raced toward the den at the far end of the living room.

            "Okay."  JC muttered under his breath as he let himself out and trotted to his car.  He had less than five minutes to drive the fifteen miles to George's office.  As he pulled out of Chris' driveway he called George to let him know he was running late, and then he turned the music up and tried to clear his head before he got there.  The last thing he wasn't was to have another breakdown with his lawyer as his audience.

 

            When JC got there, George was waiting with the door open and his paperwork stacked neatly around the edges of his desk.  "Hey Jace, it's good to see you again."

            "H-hi."  JC stuttered as he shook George's hand.

            "How's Kyle doing?"

            "He's good." JC nodded.

            "And you?"

            "I'm alright."  He forced a smile, then sat in the deep leather chair across from George's.  "Do… she sent the paperwork?"

            "Yeah."  George looked around his desk for a minute, almost looking lost, before his eyebrows shot up and he smiled.  "Here you go."  George handed JC the large manila envelope and nodded, "This is for you.  I've made a copy of the legal documentation, but the originals are in there.  You're going to want to get a copy made and put those in a safe deposit box or something."  George nodded at the envelope.  "All of that."

            "Okay."  JC nodded and tucked the envelope under his arm.  He didn't want to open it in front of anyone because without knowing what was in it, he didn't know how he'd react.

            "Why don't you take a look so I can say I covered you on everything?"  George said softly as he tapped the tips of his fingers together.

            JC frowned slightly and pondered his next move.  If George needed to cover him, then he felt he should go ahead and open it.  But if it was going to unleash the anger he'd felt earlier in the week he wasn't sure if he wanted his lawyer to witness that.  "I… sure, yeah…"  JC slowly opened the clasp and pulled out a thick stack of papers.  "There's a lot here."  He said as a smaller, sealed envelope fell into his lap.  "What's this?"

            "It's addressed to Kyle."

            "The letter she wrote him?"

            "That'd be my guess."

            JC held his breath for a moment as he set the smaller envelope on the corner of George's desk.  He rifled through the other pages then stopped and pulled one to the front.  "His birth certificate?"

            "Yeah, that's the original."

            "Wow."  JC read it over quickly, seeing where in the space for the father's information only one word was typed.  "Unknown?  It says his father is unknown?"  JC looked up quickly.  "What… how do I…?"

            "The amended certificate is in there as well, with the DNA results.  That's what we used to get his passport."  George said.

            "Yeah but… but she never put my name on here?"

            "No."

            "So he never would have known?"

            "No."

            "Oh my God." JC whispered as his mouth went dry.  "Kyle James Sczlansky.  And his… his social security card is here too?"

            "Yes, I attached it to the birth certificate so it wouldn't get lost in the shuffle."

            "Sczlansky?  But when… when we went to the doctors and everything his last name was Chasez."  JC looked up at George.

            "When we went to court last time, one of the conditions was that his name be changed to Chasez.  You signed the paper for the name change last time."

            "I did?"

            "Yep.  And Lori approved it.  The change is there."  He needed to the papers in JC's hand.

            "Oh."  He flipped to the next page and saw the amended birth certificate with his name in the box for 'father' and his signature on the bottom.  He didn't remember signing it, but at the time he was sure he had a lot on his mind.  "What's the rest of this stuff?"

            "His immunization records, pediatric dental chart, things like that.  It's everything that she had that you might need for Kyle."

            JC looked down at the papers in his hand again.  "So this is it?"  He fanned the papers with his thumb.  "In two years, this is it?"

            "Kids don't generate that much paperwork."  George shrugged.

            "Yeah but… what about his check ups and stuff.  Don't you… I mean, don't parents have that information?"

            "Not usually."  George shook his head.  "Kids go to the doctor all the time."

            JC frowned, "I have all of his paperwork from when we went to the hospital.  Just in case I needed it or whatever."

            "Good, then you'll be a good record keeper."  He smiled.  "But anything before you got him is going to be scarce.  This is all she sent, and probably all she had."

            "What's this?"  JC held up another envelope about half the size of the large one.

            "Photos."

            JC's stomach dropped.  "Photos of what?"

            "Kyle."

            "And Lori?"

            "I didn't look through them; I just opened it and saw that it was photos."  George explained.

            "Okay."  JC mumbled as he poured the pictures into his hand.  He flipped through them slowly.  They weren't in any kind of order but the first one was of a very naked, red and screaming Kyle on a metal scale covered with a blue sheet.  He couldn't have been more than a few minutes old when it was taken and JC's heart skipped a beat as he looked at the digital read out on the scale.  Six pounds, three ounces.

            The next few pictures showed him on his first birthday.  A chocolate cupcake with a single candle sitting on the table in front of Kyle with his eyes open wide, sitting on someone’s lap. As JC looked through the pictures he saw a resemblance between the little boy in the pictures and toddler pictures of himself.  "Oh man."  JC laughed and held up a picture of Kyle sitting in a diaper on a patch of grass with a matchbox car in his mouth.  "My mom has one just like this of me."  JC laughed and showed George the picture.  "Only I'm wearing a shirt.  How weird is that?"

            "I think we all have pictures like that."  George smiled.

            "Yeah."  JC said softly before he reluctantly slid the pictures back in the envelope.  He'd look at them later when he could do it in private.

            "She also sent a sealed letter to you.  Ms. Garrison said that I was to hold it until you wanted to see it, so I… well I have that as well."

            "It's not in here?"

            "No."  George shook his head.  "She wanted me to let you know that I have it in case you want to see it.  I guess she thought if it was in there you'd think you had to read it."

            "I…"  JC bit his lip and frowned at the envelope in his hand.  "Yeah, I'll take it now."  He carefully slid the birth certificate and photos back into the large envelope leaving only one small set of documents in his hand.  "So this is it?"  He waved the form.

            "That is her petition to terminate her parental rights."  George nodded.  "Signed by herself, the judge and two witnesses."

            JC pursed his lips and sighed through his nose.  For almost a week he'd had a sick feeling in his stomach about seeing the words in black and white.  He sat there for a moment and quickly skimmed it, passing over the legal jargon and skipping right to the bottom.  "So this is all I'll ever need?"

            "I don't foresee you needing that documentation unless she makes an appearance down the road and wants to make claim rights as a parent or go back to court."

            "But for school or whatever?"

            "No."  George shook his head.  "There are millions of single parent families out there.  You won't need to provide any kind of explanation or anything like that.  This is your private business."

            "Nothing with me is private."

            "I'm just saying, this isn't something you need to keep handy.  Lock it up in a safe place and forget about it."

            JC nodded wordlessly.  Holding that paper in his hands meant that everything was final.  Kyle was his, and only his.  Lori was now a stranger.  "Thanks George."  JC looked up at his lawyer and slid the papers into the envelope.  "You know… for everything."

            "It's been one hell of a year, kid."

            JC gave a short laugh, "Yeah, you can say that again."

            "I'm glad things have turned out well for you."

            "Well…"  JC shrugged and closed the flap on the envelope.  "Yeah, I guess since if things went the other way I wouldn't have Kyle at all."

            "Right."

            "I'm glad I have him."

            "I know you are."  George tapped papers into place.  "And I know this doesn't have anything to do with this," He nodded at the envelope in JC's hand, "but seeing as how you're his only legal guardian, you might want to draw up papers naming and alternate guardian should anything happen to you."

            "Like… a will?"

            George nodded, "That too."

            "Do you think…?"

            "I think it's wise to have one.  Especially now that you have a child.  You'll want to make sure he's taken care of."

            "Of course."  JC nodded emphatically.  "I'll uh… I'll have to do that."  He pursed his lips and breathed lightly through his nose.  "Can you do that?"

            "Sure.  But not right now.  You'll want to think about it, I'm sure.  We can work everything out after the New Year.  I can even come to your house and get everything taken care of."

            "Okay."  JC looked around the neat office.  "I just…"  He started to say he just wanted Lori there too, but that was a moot point.  "Thanks George.  Seriously, if it wasn't for you I don't think I'd be half as sane as I am today.  You've helped me so much with everything here."

            "It was no problem, JC."  George stood up at the same time JC did and reached across the desk to shake his hand.

            "I'll call you in a few weeks."

            "Sounds good."  George smiled, "I'll see you then."

            "Bye."  JC managed a small smile as he headed for the door.

            After more than an hour inside the dim office, the sunlight outside was almost blinding.   As he exited the office, JC took a deep breath of the cool and damp air, letting it fill his lungs and sting his nose.  He took a few silent minutes before he climbed in his car and headed back to reality.  In the early afternoon light, JC closed his eyes and tilted his head back.  His life had just changed irrevocably and though he'd had a week to get used to the idea… it was finally real.

            He listened to the few cars on the street and a radio from an office nearby.  A car alarm sounded from the parking lot across the street as JC opened his eyes and ran his hands through his hair.  "I really do need a haircut."  He thought to himself as he tucked the envelope under his arm and fished in his pockets for his car keys.

 

            The drive back to Chris' seemed to take forever with the sudden afternoon traffic on the main road.  By the time he got there he had made up his mind about Kyle's guardians if something should happen to him.  He thought it would be a hard decision, but when it came down to it, it was easy.  JC smiled as he pulled up in Chris' driveway and killed the engine.  He trotted to the front door and knocked before letting himself in.

            The sound of laughter and happy squealing soared through the house from Chris' den.  JC followed the sound and stood in the doorway watching whatever game it was they'd invented in the short time he was gone.

            "Dive bomber!"  Chris tossed Kyle into a pile of couch cushions, blankets and pillows then laughed as the little boy disappeared between them.  "This is the best game ever."

            "When you're three."  JC laughed and shook his head, announcing his presence.

            Chris turned to look over his shoulder, nodding his greeting.  "What're you saying?"  He asked as Kyle crawled out of the blankets and up Chris' body while laughing hysterically.

            "Nothing." JC laughed as Chris spun around and threw Kyle again, the squeals of the little boy were lost in the mound of pillows.

            "You saying I'm three?"

            "Something like that."

            "Yeah okay."  Chris rolled his eyes and stretched his arms over his head.  "Man, I'm not feeling like I'm three today.  I've got kinks all over the place."

            "Well that's what happens when you're kinky."  JC laughed and tucked his hands in his pockets.  As long as Chris was there he knew Kyle would all but ignore him.  "So hey… there's been some new uh… things have changed on the Lori front.  That's where I was today.  Kind of."

            "Yeah?  She decided to step up to the plate for once?"

            "Um."

            "Christ, she's not moving to Florida, is she?"

            "No.  She's – "  Kyle sprang from the pile again and crawled up Chris' body.

            Chris made airplane noises as he spun, then tossed Kyle into the mound.  "Well I know you're not moving to California."  Chris said out of breath.  "Least… you better not be."

            "No.  I'm… we're not moving."  JC shook his head.

            "Okay.  Then what?"

            "She gave up her parental rights."  JC said quickly.

            "Whoa.  Wait.  What?"  Chris ran his hands through his sweat dampened hair and frowned at JC.  "She did what?"

            "She voluntarily relinquished her parental rights.  She no longer has a son."

            "The hell she doesn't."  Chris' eyebrows shot up.  "You didn't just find him under a rock you know."

            "I know."

            "It took two to get him here."

            "I know, Chris."

            "She's trying to say she doesn't have a son?"  He seemed almost amused.

            "She's signed everything and the judge approved it."

            "Wait."  Chris stopped as Kyle climbed up into his arms again.  "Hey buddy, go hide in the land mine, okay?  My arms are tired."  He set Kyle down and gave him a gentle push in the right direction.  "So since she doesn't want a son anymore, she just doesn't have one?  You know how many dead beat dads out there would love to just walk into the court and say 'okay now I don't have kids.  You can't make me do it!'?  I mean, come on.  That's the same thing."

            "Not exactly."

            "Um, yes exactly."

            "She, I guess she was deemed unfit."

            "How many deadbeat dads are unfit?"

            "It's not the same, Chris."  JC shook his head.

            "It's really close to the same man.  So wait, the courts said she was unfit?"

            "I… I guess.  She actually initiated it, but the courts agreed."  JC sighed and shoved his hands deeper into his pockets.  "So no he's… well, he's all mine."

            "Wasn't he all yours to begin with?"

            "Well, no."

            "I mean when you went to court the last time."

            "Oh.  Well yeah, I guess technically.  I had full legal and physical custody because she didn't show up in court."

            "So isn't that the same thing?"

            "Yeah."

            "Okay, so then why…?"

            "I don't know.  I mean, the way it was she could still petition for visitation and she had a legal right to make contact with me or whatever.  But now it's like she's nothing.  She has no more rights then a stranger."

            "Dude.  Someone needs to go to freakin' LA and slap some sense into her."  Chris sighed and shook his head.  "I'll go."

            "No… that's not necessary."  JC tried to suppress a smile.  He knew Chris was mostly serious.

            "Whatever.  That's fucked up though.  You know that, right?"  Chris bit his lip and breathed out of his nose.  "So I have more rights than her?"

            JC shrugged one shoulder, "I… sure.  I guess."

            "That's okay."  Chris reached for Kyle's single exposed ankle and yanked the little boy out as he shrieked with delight.  "I'm probably better for him anyway." Chris swung Kyle up and landed him on his hip.  "Right buddy?"

            "Yeah!"  Kyle shouted as Chris tickled his sides then tossed him into the pile of cushions again.

            "Yeah, speaking of that.  I uh… I have to name legal guardians for him in case…"

            "In case you croak."

            "Right."

            "So well…"  JC blushed.

            "Shut up."  Chris smiled and squinted at JC.  "Me?"

            "Well you're one of them, yeah."

            "After…"

            "My parents are first, but if they're unable to take care of him I'm going to put you and Lance."

            Chris held his hands up in front of him, "Dude.  Lance is cool and all but I'm not going 'mo to raise your kid."

            JC laughed; he should have expected such a reaction from Chris.  "I just mean that between the two of you, you guys will have legal guardianship of him.  If he's married or if you're married –"

            "Ha."

            JC grinned and continued, "Then you guys can decide to let the other with their wife raise him… or whatever.  That'll be up to you."

            "Dude.  Seriously?  Me?"

            "You'll make a great dad someday, Chris.  To your own kids."

            "Hrmph."  Chris made a discouraging sound, but was flattered just the same.

            "And I'd like nothing more than to have you take care of Kyle should something happen to me."

            "That's insane."

            "You're okay with it though?"

            "Okay?  Hell yeah I'm okay with it."  Chris laughed as Kyle bounded out of the pile again.  He lifted the little boy up and kissed his temple.  "Joey and Justin will be jealous as hell though."

            "Joey is going to have a herd of his own kids someday…"  JC shrugged.  "And Justin?  Yeah, he doesn't needs kids.  Not right now."

            "Not ever."

            JC shrugged again and smiled, "If you and Lance decide that Joey would be a good dad, and I'm sure one day he will be, then you can do that.  It's just up to you guys.  I know you'll think everything through.  Or… well… Lance will.  He'll be the brains, you'll be the heart."

            Chris opened his mouth to make a smart remark about being the heart, but it died on his lips as the full impact of what JC said sunk in.  He looked at Kyle, seeing him in a whole new light.  "Well… thanks."  Chris grinned up at JC.

            "You're welcome."  JC said softly as he reached to mess Kyle's hair.

            "Daddy I have kickin ana toy?"  Kyle asked as he wiggled to the floor.

            "Y-yeah.  Are you ready to go get lunch?"

            "Yeah."

            "Did he eat anything?"  JC asked Chris as he looked around for Kyle's backpack.

            "Um, no.  He didn't say he was hungry or anything."

            "Okay."  JC shrugged and caught Chris' look with a laugh.  "It's okay Chris, he didn't have to eat."

            "Okay."  Chris almost looked relieved as he fetched the backpack from under the pile of blankets.  "He went to the bathroom though.  Twice.  And he drank a lot of grape juice."

            "Cool."  JC looked down at Kyle.  "Do you have to go potty before we go?"

            "No."

            "You're sure?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle nodded and grabbed JC's fingers to swing on them.

            "All righty, then lets get out of here."  He led Kyle toward the front door.  "What do you say to Chris?"

            "Bye Chris."  Kyle mumbled.

            "And…?"  JC prodded him with a smile.  Kyle had manners, he just needed coaching sometimes.

            "Thanks you."  Kyle smiled up at Chris and waved before pulling on his father's fingers hard enough to make them pop.

            "See you later, kiddo."  Chris waved and leaned on the wall.  "Have a good lunch."

            "I'll call you later."  JC said over his shoulder as Kyle pulled him out the front door, making a beeline to the car in the driveway.

            "All right.  See ya."  Chris went to the front door and watched them get in the car before he shut the door and sighed heavily.  Never in a million years did he ever think he'd see his friend so domesticated, so focused on someone else, so… paternal.  Chris smiled slowly; he was glad for the change in JC, and for the difference Kyle had made in all their lives.

 

 

 

 Next...

 

 

 

Copyright 2002, 2003 Amy Lynn