The morning light had barely touched the windows of JC's room when the door creaked open and Kyle ran to the side of the bed.  "Daddy!"  He whispered softly.

            JC's paternal ears picked up the barely audible sound and opened one eye.  "Hey."  He reached out and pulled Kyle onto the bed with them.  "Go back to – “ JC started with their usual routine for the mornings when Kyle crawled into bed with him, then stopped.  "It's Christmas."  JC smiled.

            "I sink Santa here."  Kyle whispered as he scooted under the covers in the canyon between JC and Jessica.

            "You think he's here right now?"  JC's eyebrows shot up in mock surprise.

            "Yeah."  Kyle nodded, his eyes wide in a mixture of fear and excitement.  "He have pesents?"

            "I think he already left you some presents.  Should we go down and see?"

            "No, you."  Kyle shook his head.

            "You want me to go look."

            "Yeah."

            "But they're your presents."  JC snickered lightly as Jessica rolled over and placed her hand on Kyle's back.

            She yawned and rubbed her eyes.  "Why don't we all go downstairs and look?"  Jessica asked as she tried to flatten her sleep-tangled hair.

            "No, daddy can go."  Kyle said stubbornly.

            "Okay.  I'll go down and check on things."  JC snickered.  "Make sure everything is safe."  He slid out from under the covers and reached for his sweatshirt, the downstairs was bound to be cooler than his room.  "I'll be right back."

            "You don't want to go see your presents with him?"  Jessica asked as Kyle snuggled close to her.

            "No.  Santa is dere."

            "Ahh, I see."  She stifled a giggle as they waited for JC to come back.

            They heard Candy follow JC down the stairs, then the back door open under the bedroom.  After a few minutes JC stood at the bottom of the steps and shouted, "It's safe to come down. Santa already left.  There's lots of presents down here!"

            "Oh!  Let's go see!"  Jessica stood up and pulled JC's robe on before picking Kyle up.  "What do you think Santa brought for you?"

            "A pesent?"

            "What kind of present?"

            "I doe no."  Kyle shook his head and yawned against Jessica's shoulder.

            They walked down the stairs to JC where he took Kyle from Jessica.  "You're going to freak out, buddy.  You must have been a really good boy this year, there are all kinds of toys down here."

            "For me?"

            "Yep, all for you."  JC set Kyle on the floor and held his hand as they walked into the living room.  He had turned the Christmas tree lights on, so the corner seemed to twinkle over the enormous mound of presents.  Music was playing softly as they stepped up to the pile.

            Kyle's mouth dropped open as he looked up at his dad, "A car!"

            "Wow!  Look at that!  That's a car just like mine!"

            "Is mine!"  Kyle ran over to the little electric car and tugged on the door.

            "I think you can just climb in."  JC picked him up and set him in the drivers’ seat.  "You fit perfectly!"

            "Yeah!"  Kyle turned the steering wheel experimentally.

            "After breakfast you can take it out in the backyard and try it out, how does that sound?"

            "Kay."  Kyle climbed out of the seat and looked at the other presents.  "Wow!"  He ran around and checked everything out.  A pile of Dr. Suess books, a toddlers tool bench with "real working tools", a tricycle with a neon green helmet and a Lego top table with three canisters of oversized Legos.

            "What time is it?"  Jessica asked softly as Kyle pried the top off of one of the Lego canisters.

            "It's like, six thirty."

            "Oh man."

            "I know."  JC laughed.  "Want me to make some coffee?"

            "I'll make it." Jessica smiled and kissed his cheek, "Enjoy this.  You only get to see his first Christmas once."

            "He's had Christmas before."

            "Not with you."  She tilted her head to the side and smiled at JC.  He smiled back and tilted his head just the same, taking in the sight of her standing near the couch wearing his robe.  They broke eye contact at the same moment and turned to look at Kyle.  The little boy was always so full of energy, but that morning there was something different about him.  About everything.  Jessica quietly went to the kitchen and started a fresh pot of coffee as the excited squeals followed the Christmas music from the other room.

            "Oh wow!"  Kyle laughed as he pulled more Santa presents out from under the tree.  "Jessi!  I have pay dough!"

            Jessica cringed at the thought of playdough being mashed into the carpet, but forced a smile as the coffee brewed.  JC watched with wonder as his sons eyes glazed over.  He thought to himself that Kyle had never had a Christmas quite like this before.

            JC smiled as something inside changed.  Ever since Kyle dropped into his life he'd get these pangs where everything went crystal clear for a moment. He'd tried to savor the feeling and remember the moment of each one, but they'd eventually blended into each other.  That moment was one and it joined the others in the haze of his memory.

            "He's so happy."  Jessica whispered, sneaking up beside him with an extra cup of coffee for him.  "Here you go."

            "Thanks."  JC took the coffee and kissed her quickly.  "He's stoked, man.  Look at him."

            "He deserves this.  You both do."  Jessica blew on her coffee then sipped carefully.  "What time is everyone getting here?"

            "Um… around eleven.  I figure they'll all sleep in a little."

            "On Christmas?  That's crazy."  Jessica laughed and took another sip.  The coffee warmed her from the inside out and gave her a little more life that early in the morning.  "Are you going to make him wait to open the other presents until everyone gets here?"

            "Yeah.  He doesn't seem too concerned though."  JC smiled and drank his coffee black.

            "He loves that car."

            "I can't wait to see him driving around in it."  JC nodded then set his mug down.  "Hey Kyle, what do you want for breakfast?"

            "Candy!"  Kyle looked up with a chocolate smear across his lower lip.  He'd found the Christmas stocking and already sampled the chocolate snowman.

            "I don't think so."  Jessica shook her head.  "How about pancakes?"

            "And candy?"  Kyle looked hopeful.

            "You can have chocolate chip pancakes."  She smiled and resigned to making him the sugary sweet, but somewhat healthy, breakfast.

            "Yeah!"  Kyle climbed over his Jeep and tried out some of the tools on the tool bench.

            JC pulled Jessica close for a quick kiss then said softly, "You didn't check your stocking."

            "I have a stocking?"  She looked surprised for a second then spotted the two remaining red velvet stockings hanging on the mantle.

            "Why don't you go see what Santa left for you?"  JC's grin looked almost mischievous as he patted her behind and gave her a gentle push toward the family room.  "I'll start breakfast."

            "What did you get…?"

            "Me?  I didn't get you anything.  Santa must have brought something."  JC feigned innocence as he pulled the pantry door open.

            "Santa hava pesent for you?" Kyle asked as Jessica leaned to get the stocking.

            "I think so."  Jessica took the stocking down and was surprised at the weight in the toe.

            "What is?"  Kyle climbed onto her lap as she sat on the couch.  "Jessi I see?"

            "Yeah, let’s see what it is."  Jessica reached in and pulled out an oblong shaped box that was weighted on only one end.

            "What is?"

            "I don't know."  Jessica shook her head.

            "Well open it and find out."  JC set the pancake mix on the island and came over to join them on the couch.

            "You really didn't need – "

            "Santa likes giving presents.  Come on already."

            "Okay.  Let's see what it is."  Jessica let Kyle help her unwrap the package to reveal a check box.  "A box of checks?"  She raised her eyebrow at JC with a smile.

            "Don't let the box fool you."

            "I can open it."  Kyle pulled the top off the box and gasped.  "A car!"

            "A car?"  Jessica looked at the matchbox car in the box sitting on a piece of cotton beside the garage door opener and a set of keys.  "You didn't."

            "No, I didn't.  Santa did."  JC's eyes twinkled as he smiled.

            "You did not."  Jessica took the set of keys out of the box.

            "There was some commotion on the street in the middle of the night, let's go see."  JC took Kyle's hand and pulled him off the couch.  "Do you think Santa brought Jessica a car?"

            "Yeah!"  Kyle laughed and bounced up and down.  “And me a car!”

            “That’s right, you got a car too.”  JC nodded.

            "JC…” Jessica jumped up and followed them to the front door.  "I can't believe you."

            "Open it."  JC nodded at the front door.

            Almost reluctantly Jessica reached for the handle and slowly turned it.  "JC…" She didn't know why she felt like scolding him; probably because no matter what was on the other side of the door, the leather jacket she got for him wouldn't even come close to comparing.

            "What?"  He leaned over her shoulder and pulled the door open.

            Jessica gasped then smiled and bounced up on her toes.  A shiny dark green car with a bright red bow on top was parked at the curb.  "Oh my God."

            "Go see if the keys fit."  JC laughed as he and Kyle stepped out and pulled Jessica behind them.  They made it to the side of the car and she unlocked the door.

            "It fits." Jessica's smile grew as she pulled the door open and slid into the driver's seat.  "Ooo, a CD player."

            "Of course.  And look in the back."

            "My seat!"  Kyle crawled between the seats and sat in the toddler seat.

            "I can't believe you bought me a car."

            "Well we can't just have one car.  I'll be working a lot and I would feel better knowing you had a car in case of an emergency."

            “But how did… I mean, before last night –“

            “I was counting on you saying yes.”

            “And if I didn’t?”

            JC shrugged as if the thought had never really crossed his mind.  “You’d have a long drive home to Connecticut and a shiny new car to drive around when you got there, I suppose.”

            Jessica smiled and licked her lips with excitement.  “I've never had a new car before."

            "You'll love it."

            "I can't believe you."  She laughed and shook her head in disbelief.  "I feel like I can't accept it or something."

            "Too bad."

            "This is really too much."

            "Jessica, don't argue.  It's a necessity as well as a gift.  What if something happened here while I was at work?  Or what if you were out shopping and I needed to go somewhere?  It's practical.  We need two cars."  JC smiled as he

            "That sounds so… domestic."

            "It is." JC shrugged.

            “It’s kind of…” She paused.

            “What?”

            “I don’t… it’s nothing.”  Jessica shook her head.  She wasn’t going to let the car mean what her mind assumed it did.  It was hard enough for her to decide to move in, but if he was going to make it feel like they were an old married couple with the national average two point three children, he had another thing coming.  He had a panicky Jessica coming.

            “What is it?”  JC asked again as he moved closer.  “You don’t like it?”

            “No, I… I do.  I do like it.”  She forced a smile and turned the car on.  “I can’t wait to test it out.”

            “You’re sure?”

            “I’m sure.”  She pressed a button to turn the radio on, “Hop in, let’s take it for a spin around the block.”  Kyle cheered from the back seat as he fumbled with the restraints in his car seat.  JC helped secure his son in the back, then took his place in the passengers’ seat.

            “Okay, let’s go.”

            Jessica drove them up and down the street then around the block.  She adjusted the seat, set the radio stations and played with the power windows.  When they got back to the house Jessica pulled into the driveway and sighed happily.  “You like it?”  JC asked, unsure of her true reaction.

            Jessica paused then nodded, “I do.  I like it a lot.  Thank you.”  She kissed him and smiled, then got out to help Kyle out.  She promised herself she wouldn’t read too much into it as they went back into the house and headed for the kitchen.  They had a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk before all three of them, and Candy, headed for the back yard to give Kyle’s new Jeep a test drive.

            A few hours later Candy barked once and tore through the house to the front door even before the bell rang.  “They’re here.”  JC waggled his eyebrow at Jessica as he lifted Kyle from the electric car and tossed him into the air.  “Are you ready for more presents?”

            “More?  For me?!”  Kyle’s eyes lit up as he wiggled to the floor and ran towards the front door only a few steps behind Candy.

            Jessica hesitated for a moment at the back door as she let the morning events settle in.  “It’s just his family.”  She whispered to herself.  “It’s Christmas.”  She took a deep breath then shut the back door behind her as the family poured in through the front door.

            Jessica was expecting JC’s family to arrive, but she wasn’t expecting a house full.  “There are so many.”  She whispered to JC when the last finally arrived.

            “I told you my family was coming.”

            “Well yeah but I was thinking it’d be your mom, dad, Heather and Tyler.”

            JC laughed and shook his head, “Nope.  The whole family.”

            “I see that.”  Jessica bit her lower lip as Kyle giggled from the family room where the gifts were being placed beneath the tree.

            “Are you okay?”

            “This is overwhelming.”

            “They actually won’t be here long, I promise.”

            “Well I don’t want to kick them out or anything.”

            “Nah, it’s the way we do it.  They’ll be gone in a few hours.”  He dropped a kiss on her forehead.  “Then we can relax.”

            She leaned into his chest and sighed, “Thank you.”  JC rubbed her back and laughed as the Christmas music was turned up and conversations floated out into the hall.  “I’ll go make some more coffee, you go be social.”

            “I want you to meet them all.”

            “I will.  After I make coffee.”

            “Okay.”  He kissed her again then squeezed her hand and headed toward the voices.

            Jessica took a deep breath then went through the dining room to the kitchen, sneaking in the back to avoid the sudden room full of people.  She took her time making coffee, then helped JC’s mother pass it out to all who wanted it.  Once everyone was settled with their drinks, Tyler donned the Santa hat and passed out the gifts that everyone brought.  Some were small and sentimental and others were large and extravagant.

            An hour into the party the phone rang in the kitchen behind them.  “I’ll get it.”  Jessica said as she stood up.  She quickly ducked into the quiet kitchen and answered the phone on the third ring.  “Hello?”

            "Ho, ho, ho!  Merry Christmas!"  Chris shouted into the phone when Jessica answered.

            "Hey Chris!"  She laughed and leaned against the wall, enjoying her moment away from the crowd.

            "Where's Santa Claus, man?"

            "He's in the other room with his family."

            "Oh man, the family's there?  What'd you do to deserve that?"  Chris laughed.

            "I moved in."  She shrugged and laughed with him.

            "No shit?  You finally moved in?"

            "Yep.  He gave me a key and made it official last night."

            “Awesome.”

            “And he gave me a car for Christmas.”

            Chris laughed and shook his head; he saw where this was going.  “Oh really?  Man, you don't know what you've gotten yourself into."

            "Eh, I think I have some idea."

            "You still gonna tour with us?"

            "Yeah, if you guys ever get back on the road.  And if Sean asks me to come back."

            "He will if he knows what's good for him."  Chris shouted something to someone on his end.  "Anyway, I was just calling to say Merry Christmas and all that.  Are you guys gonna be around tomorrow?"

            "Yeah, I don't think we're going anywhere."

            "Cool.  I'll swing by then.  I've got a car full of gifts for the kid.  And some for Kyle too."  He snickered softly.

            "He doesn't need any more toys."

            "I got him practical stuff.  Clothes."

            "You did?"  Jessica didn’t believe him for a second.

            "No, not really.  I got him lots of toys that make noise."

            "JC is going to hate you."

            "I can live with that."

            "Do you want me to go get him?"  Jessica reluctantly walked toward the family room.

            "Sure."

            "Okay, hang on."  She stepped over an uncle with the phone in her hand, then tapped JC's shoulder.  "It's Chris."

            "Thanks."  He kissed her quickly then took the phone.  "Hey, I didn't know Santa's elves made personal phone calls."  JC laughed.

            "Ha ha, very funny mother fucker."  Chris smiled.  "I was calling to say Merry Christmas and get all mushy with you but forget it now."

            "You wouldn't know what to do if the conversation turned mushy."

            "I can be all kinds of sentimental, man.  Just not when I'm insulted."

            "Whatever."  JC laughed and took another cookie.  "So are you in town?"

            "Yeah, I did the family thing this morning so I'm recovering kind of."  Chris yawned.  "I'm gonna cruise by tomorrow and give you guys your stuff."

            "I don't know what we're doing tomorrow."

            "Jessica said you'd be around."

            "Oh she did, huh?"  JC licked crumbs from his lips.  "Well then I guess we'll be around."

            "Cool, then I'll come see you.  Did you talk to the other guys?"

            "Yeah.  We saw Amy and Lance last night.  I figured we'd all hook up eventually."

            "New Years!"

            "We'll have to see about that."  JC felt tired just looking at the mess in the room.

            “We’ll have to see about what?  You say that like you might consider not partying.”

            “I’ve got a kid now.”

            “You’ve had a kid all year.”

            “And how much partying have I done?”  JC asked as he cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder and passed a gift to his mother.  “I think Jessica and I will probably just hang out here.”

            “Dud.”

            “Whatever.  Listen, I’ve gotta go.  Come on over this weekend or whatever and we’ll talk about it.”

            “And Joey?”

            “I’ve gotta go, Chris.”

            “Joey has to be there if we’re planning a party.”

            “Merry Christmas, I’ll talk to you later.”  JC ignored Chris and before he could start another argument for a party, JC hung up and passed the phone back to Jessica.  “Thanks.”

            “Any time.”  Jessica smiled and took the phone back to the kitchen to hang up, giving her another minute or two of solitude.

 

            When the last present was opened and the family was gone, Kyle collapsed in the corner of the recliner and took a much needed nap.  “I think he’s got the right idea.”  JC laughed as he wadded up a handful of wrapping paper and put it into the trash bag in his hand.

            “I think so too.”  Jessica yawned and helped him pick up the scraps of discarded paper and boxes.  “We’re almost done.”

            “Yeah.”  JC dropped the trash bag and grabbed Jessica around the waist.  “Let’s be done now.”  He nibbled her neck and laughed into the area below her ear.

            “The room isn’t going to clean –“ Jessica stopped arguing as he kissed her.  “JC…”
She said a moment later.

            “The mess will be there after a nap.  Come on.  I promise.”  He tugged as the waist of her pants and pulled her down onto the couch beside him.

 

            Not one to make empty promises, the mess was right where they left it when they woke up an hour later.  Reluctantly, they finished cleaning with Kyle’s help then filled up on cookies and other goodies before JC grabbed the phone and sat down to call everyone he knew to wish them a Merry Christmas.

            He talked to almost everyone on their crew as well as the guys, promising to see them within the next couple days.  Jessica took a few minutes to call her family and Katie before they dragged themselves to bed, silently thrilled that the holiday was over.

 

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

 

            As unlikely as it seemed to Jessica, the next few days were unbelievably calm.  She and JC got to absorb the fact that she was actually living there while they all got back into the groove of being around each other.  Kyle kept himself occupied with his toys while the adults relaxed in the unrushed stupor following the chaotic holiday.  “I could get used to this.”  Jessica drawled softly as she stretched out on the couch.

            JC laughed and shook his head, “Don’t.  We’ve got a birthday to plan then it’s back to work for the old man.”

            “So soon?”

            “We’ve been off for… forever it seems.  We’ve got lots of work to do.”

            “And a tour to plan?”  Jessica closed her eyes and wiggled her toes on JC’s lap.

            He nodded without a word then yawned.  “Yeah.  Probably.”

            “Cool.”

            “Something like that.”

            “Daddy I have a car and a tools?”  Kyle held a plastic hammer in one hand and his play keys in the other.

            “Yep.  You sure do, buddy.”

            “I can ride my car now?”

            “Not right now, Kyle.  Why don’t we wait and then tonight we’ll bring it into the garage and you can drive it in there?”

            “Ina minit?”

            “Later.”  JC covered his mouth and yawned again.  There was something about not doing anything that was exhausting.

            Unfazed, Kyle walked to the far end of the couch and tapped Jessica’s shoulder with the hammer.  “Jessi?  I can ride my car?”

            “Oh!”  JC laughed.  “Okay he’s already learning how to play one against the other.  If dad says no, go ask…” He paused and bit his lip.  “Man, that’s the oldest trick in the book.”

            “It works though.”  Jessica opened her eyes and smiled.  “Come on sweetie, show me how you can drive on the grass.”  She let the little boy pull her up and to the back door.

            “You are such a push over.”  JC called after her.

            “I’m a sucker for a guy with an adorable pout.”  She winked as JC gave her a lager, more adult version of the same pout Kyle had won her over with.  “You take your nap old man, and I’ll go play in the yard.”  Jessica laughed again, then shut the door behind her.

            JC reclined back on the couch and closed his eyes, though any chance of a nap eluded him as he heard his two favorite people playing in the back yard.  He was just about ready to go join them when the doorbell rang throughout the house.

            Joey had talked about dropping by, but JC wasn’t expecting him to do so unannounced.  But as always, JC smiled when he saw Joey bouncing with unbridled energy.  “Hey!”  JC pulled Joey in for a hug and welcomed him into the house.  “What are you doing in this neck of the woods?”

            “I came by to see Kyle, actually.”  Joey slapped JC’s back and grinned.  “Where is the little mini-me?”

            “He’s outside with Jessica.”

            “Ah ha, yeah I heard she moved in.  Way to go.”

            “Good news travels fast, huh?”  JC smiled as his heart skipped a beat.

            “It’s about time.”

            “What does that mean?”

            Joey gave him a look.  “It means it’s about time.”  He shook his head and walked through to the living room.  He paused at the window to watch Kyle and Jessica chasing the dog in Kyle’s new little car, then sat on the couch.  “I mean, you guys have been together forever.  It’s about time she moved in.”

            JC laughed out lout and shook his head, “Joe… Jessica and I haven’t been together that long.  Less than a year.  A lot less than a year.”

            “It’s been longer than that.”  Joey looked at JC like he was a crazy super freak that couldn’t tell time.

            “We started dating after Kyle showed up.  Like, months after Kyle showed up.”

            “Right…?”

            “Well I haven’t even had Kyle for a year.  Ten months, give or take.”

            “Seriously?”  Joey looked legitimately surprised.  “Well shit, it feels like more.”

            “Yeah, I know.”

            “So bring the kid out to my truck.  I’ve got a present for him out there.”

            “Bring it in.”  JC nodded to the door as he stood to go to the back door.

            “No uh, he’ll need to come out.  It’s kind of big.”

            “Joey…” JC sighed and tried not to roll his eyes.  “What did you get?”

            “You’ll have to wait and see.  It’s a Christmas present and a surprise.”

            “Joey.”

            “Oh come on, party pooper.  The box is just big and you’re going to have to put it together in the garage anyway.  What’s the big deal?”

            “Put it together?”  JC looked anxious.

            “Dude, you’re a dad.  Putting shit together comes with the territory, you’d better get used to it.”

            “You suck.”

            “Eh.”  Joey shrugged and jumped up to open the back door.  He called to Jessica and Kyle to have them follow him to the garage where JC opened the big door.  “Sweet.  Who got the new car?”

            “Jessica.”  JC smiled.

            “I did.”  Jessica beamed and bounced up on her toes unconsciously.

            Joey raised his eyebrow but didn’t say anything other than, “Right on.”

            JC scooped Kyle up and they walked to the back of Joey’s truck.  “Joey got you something big for Christmas, buddy.”

            “What is it?”

            “I don’t know.  Let’s go have a look.”  He put Kyle in the back of the truck with the large wrapped box.  “Shit, Joe.”

            “Oh stop it.”  Joey cast a scalding look at JC then laughed.  “Come on, buddy.  Open it up so your old man can put it together.”

            Kyle pulled at the corner of the wrapping paper and peeled it away to show the picture of the bright blue and red bike on the cover of the box.  “Whoa!”  Kyle tried to climb on top of the box.

            “Whoa cool!”  JC grinned and turned the box around to see for himself.  “A Superman bike.”

            “I saw it and man… how could I not get it?  And Kyle’s the only little dude I know.”

            “You’ve got nephews and a brother that’s all about putting stuff together.”

            “They’re too old for a trike.”  Joey shook his head.  “So do you like it?”

            “Yeah!”

            Jessica leaned her elbows on the side of the truck and shook her head. “He’s going to be one mobile little kid.”

            “So I’m thinking he can bring this on tour to terrorize the backstage area.”  He waggled his eyebrows and laughed as he pulled the box toward the back of the car with Kyle pushing as hard as he could.

            “What do you say, Kyle?”  JC prompted.

            “Thank you Merry Chismas.”  Kyle mumbled the single phrase he’d repeated time and time again over the past week.

            “Merry Christmas to you too kid.  C’mon, let’s let your dad put this together, hop on.”  Joey turned around and Kyle clung to his back.  “See you inside.  Don’t take too long.”  Joey trotted back into the house leaving JC in the driveway to put the tricycle together on his own.

            Jessica and JC watched them go back into the house with looks of disbelief.  “He did not just leave me out here to put his gift together by myself.”  JC shook his head.

            “Well… I’m here.”

            “Well yeah.”  JC put his hands on his hips and contemplated the tricycle.  There couldn’t be that many parts.

            “So let’s do it.”

            “But…” JC’s eyes wandered back to the garage door.

            “They’ll be fine.”  Jessica laughed and hauled herself into the back of the truck to help get the box out.  “It’s not really heavy.  Come on.”

            Together they got the box into the half empty garage and popped it open.  JC groaned as he looked at the collection of little bags with little parts.  “Figures.”  He sighed and shook his head.

            “Hmm.”  Jessica pursed her lips and frowned.  “So yeah, have fun.”

            “What?  Where are you going?”

            Jessica pointed toward the house.  “I’m feeling kind of grubby right now.  I think I’m gonna go take a shower.  Or something.”

            “Jess.  Come on.”

            “Sorry.”  She shrugged and laughed.

            “You suck.”  JC shook his head at the pile of parts.  “I’m going to remember this.”  As the garage door swung shut JC ran his hand over his head and went to work organizing the pieces of the tricycle on the floor in front of him.  Luckily, the directions were in English; that would make the actual assembly time a little bit faster.

 

            "So dude, you're having a jungle birthday party?"  Joey asked as Kyle bounced around by his feet.

            "Yeah."

            "That's awesome.  Can I dress up like a lion?"

            "No!”

            “No?  What about a giraffe?  Can I dress up like a giraffe?”  Joey stretched his neck out as far as it would go.

            “No!  You a Joey!"  Kyle jumped onto Joey's lap, narrowly missing Joey's crotch.

            "Whoa, watch it pal."  His hands went protectively to the front of his pants as he winced inwardly.  "Who's coming to your party?  Are you having friends from school?"

            "Um.  Yeah."  Kyle answered, though he didn't know who was going to be there.

            "Am I invited?"

            "Yeah and Chris and Laaaaance and Amimi."

            “Amimi huh?  Amy?

            “Yeah.  Aaaamy.”

            Joey gave him a sideways look and shrugged, “Okay.”  He sighed and put his hands behind his head, “So what about Justin?"

            "Um."  Kyle thought for a minute, then jumped off the couch and ran to the garage where JC was putting the final touches on the Superman tricycle Joey bought Kyle for Christmas.  "Daddy can Jussin come to a party?"

            "Justin?  Yeah he's coming to your party."  JC looked up from the sheet of stickers.  "Why?"

            "Cuz."  Kyle ran back up the hall.  "Yeah Jussin he come."

            "Cool.  So it'll be you and me and your daddy and Lance and Chris and Justin?"

            "Yeah and Candy."

            "Oh of course, and Candy.  It wouldn't be a party without Candy."

            "And my mommy?"  Kyle cocked his head to the side.  "She can come to a party?"

            "Oh, hey… buddy I don't know."

            "I ask daddy."

            "No."  Joey grabbed Kyle's arm and pulled him onto his lap to blow a raspberry on Kyle’s tummy.  "No you don't need to ask your daddy.  We'll have a fun party no matter what!"

            "Heck yeah the party will be fun."  JC said as he walked into the room with his hands in his hair.  "Hey, next time you buy anything that requires assembly you'd better bring a freaking screwdriver."

            "Daddy?  My Jessi can come to a party?"  Kyle asked, craning his neck to look up at JC.

            "Yeah, of course Jessica will be there."

            Kyle looked up at Joey, "My Jessi mommy, she come to a party."

            "Your – “ Joey looked confused as JC blushed.

            "He calls her his Jessi."

            "Mommy?"  Joey asked softly.

            "Yeah.  My Jessi like a mommy.  She my Jessi mommy."  Kyle explained with a shrug to the dumbfounded grown men.

            "Oh."  Joey nodded.  "Well that makes sense."

            "I… yeah."  JC nodded and collected himself quickly.   “Speaking of which, where is she?”

            “I, she went upstairs.”  Joey still fumbled over his words.  “Shower.”

            JC looked toward the ceiling as he listened for the shower.  The water shut off just then and he heard her thumping around overhead.  “Well Kyle, come on out to the garage and check out your new bike.  It’s pretty cool.”

            “Isa supeman bike.”  Kyle giggled as Joey picked him up and threw him over his shoulder.

            “Yeah it is, you wanna know why?”

            “Why?”  Kyle shrieked into Joey’s back.

            “Because Superman is the best super hero ever.  That’s why.”

            “Yeah!  And Boo?”

            “Boo?”

            “He means Blue from Blue’s Clues.”  JC smiled.

            Joey made a face and swung Kyle around to hold him right.  “Dude, man.  Blue isn’t a super hero.  I’m telling you, Superman is the best.”

            “Better’n Boo?”

            “He’s way better than Blue.”  Joey sighed and set Kyle on the floor in the garage.  “There you go, give it a go.”

            “Wow!”  Kyle hopped on and hit the siren in the front sending the loud swooshing sound of Superman soaring through the air.

            “Oh hey, it makes noise.”  Joey looked surprised.

            “Yeah.  Thanks.”  JC kicked at Joey’s shins.  “One day I’ll get you back.”

            “Yeah whatever.”  Joey rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.  They watched Kyle run the bike around for a while before Jessica came down in a warm gray sweat suit.

            “Oh there you are.”  JC put her arm around her waist.  “Did you have a nice shower?”  He asked sarcastically.

            “Yes I did.”  She laughed and jumped as Kyle came close to running over her toes.

            “Watch where you’re going, buddy.”  JC scolded Kyle softly.

            “I watchin.”  Kyle smirked over his shoulder then ran into a storage box.  “Uh oh.”

            “Yeah see, you’re not watching.”  JC walked over and picked him up off of his bike.  “Let’s go inside and see about getting something to eat.  Are you hungry?”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle wiggled out of his father’s arms and ran inside.

            “That kid is like the energizer bunny.”  Joey laughed and shook his head as he watched the heels of Kyle’s feet.  The adults followed Kyle into the house and stood around the kitchen snacking on whatever they could find.

            They made a dinner out of left overs and a box of crackers then they walked Joey out to his car.

            “So man, for real. Are you seriously hanging out at home for New Years?  I mean, I’m sure you could find a sitter or something.”  Joey stood by his truck with his keys in his hand.

            “Nah, were just staying in.”  JC dropped his arm around Jessica’s waist.  “You more than welcome to come over though.  If you want.”

            “I’ll pass.  I’m going to go party out the end of the year.  I figure we’ll spend the better portion of next year running ragged so I’m gonna party while I can.”

            “And I'm going to relax while I can.”  JC laughed.

            Joey shrugged and laughed, “Whatever floats your boat.”

            “Have a good night, Joey.”  Jessica waved as Joey opened the car door.

            “Thanks, you too.”

            “And thanks for the bike for Kyle, he loves it.”

            “Anytime.”  Joey raised his hand in a farewell wave as he climbed into the driver’s seat.  With a single tap on the horn he was gone, and JC and Jessica walked back into the house.

            “Do you mind staying home tomorrow night?”  JC asked as he shut and locked the front door.

            “No.  Not at all.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “I’m sure.”  Jessica nodded with a small smile.  “I’m not exactly a party animal.”

            “Hmm.”  JC stole a small kiss.  “Honestly though, this year is going to be nuts so I’ll take whatever down time I can get.”

            “You don’t have to convince me.”

            “Good.”  He laughed with her and headed or the living room.  With Kyle asleep they decided to spend some time watching movies that didn’t feature cartoon characters.

 

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

 

            For New Years Eve, Jessica, JC and Kyle got snacks and sparkling cider out before they cuddled up on the couch to watch the festivities from around the world.  Kyle was asleep before ten, but then he wasn’t sure what all the excitement was about anyway.  Jessica carried him upstairs and tucked him into his bed then went back to the warm spot she left in JC’s arms.

            “Turn it to Dick Clark.”  She said softly as she pulled the thin blanket from the back of the couch.

            “Dick Clark?”  JC gave her a look and turned the volume down on the MTV special.

            “Yes.  It’s tradition.”  She took the remote from him and turned it to the right station.

            “Fine.”  He sighed and pulled her back against his chest.

            “You’re such a push over.”  Jessica laughed and snuggled close to him, smelling familiar scent of his soap and deodorant mixing into a distinct JC smell.

            “Yep.”   JC’s lips pressed the top of Jessica’s head and his breath warmed her hair.  “But only because I like you a lot.”

            “I like you a lot too.”  Jessica squeezed his knee and fought back a yawn.

            They watched the Dick Clark special while commenting on the guests and talking a little bit about their plans for the New Year.  One thing was for certain; they were in for a bunch of new experiences living together.

            “This is the best New Years.”  JC sighed in content.

            “It has been nice, hasn’t it?  All things considered, I mean.”

            “You mean Lori?”  JC’s smile fell just the slightest.

            “And… everything.”  Jessica nodded and dropped her glance to the floor.

            “It’s been a crazy year.”  He nodded and then kissed her again.  “But I wouldn’t change any of it for anything.”  With a deep breath he paused and considered the past twelve months.  “Everything that has happened has changed me for the better I think.  Getting Kyle, watching him on the road, losing him that one time, taking him to the hospital, the time we had alone when we came home and just… every second.  Even the bad times, I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.”

            “Really?”

            JC nodded and gave her a small smile, “Not a single one.  Because look at how this year is ending.  I’ve got Kyle in my life forever, I’ve got you, I’ve got the guys and a busy year ahead of me.  Life is good.”    He spun Jessica around to hug her from behind and rest his chin on her shoulder.  “All of the low points this year has made me really appreciate the high points.”

            “I’m glad to hear you say that.  Some of these recent lows had me worried about you.”

            JC shrugged and frowned though she couldn’t see his face.  “Me too.”  He said softly.  “Thank you Jessica.  For being there for me and Kyle.”

            “You’re welcome.”

            “I love you.”

            “I love you too.”  Jessica smiled and laced her fingers through his over her stomach.  Fireworks exploded in the sky miles away making the backyard glow in a silent blue and red display.  JC tilted his wrist for Jessica to read the time.  “Happy New Year.”  She said, turning her head to face JC.

            “Happy New Year.”  JC kissed her deeply welcomed the New Year, hoping that this was a hint of what the coming year held for him.

 

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

 

            "Happy birthday to you!  Happy birthday to you!  Happy birthday dear Kyle!  Happy birthday to you!"  The group of people around the small card table in JC’s backyard sang loudly and mostly off key, intentionally.  Kyle's eyes widened, as the alligator cake with three lit candles was set in front of him.

            "Whoa!"  Kyle laughed and stood on the chair.  "My cake a agator?"  His questioning look went from Jessica to JC.

            "Yep, it's just what you ordered.  Blow the candles out.  Ready?  One, two, three."  JC put his hands under Kyle's arms to hold him steady as the little boy bent over to blow them out.  With three quick breaths all of the candles were extinguished and everyone clapped.

            "Yay!  You did it!"  Jessica laughed and reached over Kyle's shoulder to pull the candles out before the wax melted all over the icing.

            "Jessi I can have a cake?"  Kyle clapped and jumped up and down on the chair.  The excitement of the day was almost visible in the air as everyone around cheered again.

            "Yep, I'm just going to go cut it up so everyone can have some."  Jessica laughed and lifted the cake from the table.  "Can you give me a hand?"  She asked Amy as she passed her on the way to the kitchen.

            “Absolutely.”  Amy smiled and followed her in, leaving the pack of boys alone on the patio.  “That’s a great cake.”

            “Thanks.  JC has this bakery he goes to a lot I guess and they make special cakes.”

            “That’s cool.  Green icing though.”  Amy made a face as Jessica sat the cake on the counter.  “Oh well, I guess you’re only three once, right?”

            “Right.”  Jessica laughed and got the cake out, cutting small even pieces and putting them on the jungle plates they’d picked out a few days before.

 

            Together, they passed out the cake to all of the birthday guests then watched as Kyle dove into his pile of presents.  As if there were anything else he could possibly want or need.  He had a wardrobe suited for a king and more toys than FAO Schwartz, according to JC who sat back and wondered where they would put it all.

            When everyone had their fill of cake and the presents were opened people began to head out, shouting birthday wishes to Kyle as he played on the play set with Chris and Justin.  JC busied himself taking out huge bags of birthday wrapping paper and discarded boxes while Jessica sat back in the padded patio chair next to Lance and Amy.  She took a deep breath and relaxed a bit, in a few hours the whole thing would be over and they could all really settle back into real life.  At least until it was time for JC to go back into the studio.

            Jessica watched as Kyle climbed halfway up the slide. He knew he wasn't supposed to go that way, but Chris and Justin were bad influences and he only wanted to be like the big kids.  His right foot began to slip out from under him and as much as he tried to correct himself, he ended up falling over the side onto the grass.  Everything happened in slow motion as Jessica put her plate down and ran across the yard.

            She was at his side before he was able to take a breath in to start crying.  "Chris!"  JC yelled as he ran over.  "You were supposed to watch him." JC reprimanded his older friend.

            "I was watching him."

            "Yeah, you watched him fall right off the slide."  Justin slapped Chris' head.

            "Shut up man, you were standing right there."  Chris shot back as Kyle let loose the cry that had been building up.

            "Moooommmmmyy!  Daaaaaaaaddy!"

            "You're okay sweetie."  Jessica sat in the dirt and cradled Kyle in her lap.  "Did you land on your bottom?"

            "Uh huh."  Kyle continued to cry as he wrapped his arms around Jessica's neck.

            "Is he hurt?  Let me see him."  JC leaned over Jessica's shoulder.

            "He's fine.  He just scared himself."  Jessica shook her head.

            "He scared me."

            "He's okay?"  Chris asked as a small crowd grew around the birthday boy.

            "Yeah.  He's okay.  He's fine." Jessica smiled up at the spectators.  "He's okay, he just scared himself."  She turned her attention back to Kyle as he noticeably calmed down in her arms.  "There you go tough guy.  You're okay, right?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle hiccupped but he didn't let her go.

            "See that's why you need to only slide down the slide.  If you want to go up, you need to use the steps."  Jessica smiled and kissed the top of his head as the party returned to normal.

            "You okay, buddy?"  JC asked as he squatted beside Jessica.  Kyle nodded and wiped his eyes on Jessica's sleeve.  "Here."  He slid his hands under Kyle's arms and lifted him from Jessica's lap.  "You hit your bottom, huh?  You don't have a lot of padding there any more."

            "Yeah and I falled all da way."

            "I know you fell all the way down." JC nodded and brushed the dirt and grass off of Kyle's pants.  "That's why you're not supposed to go up the slide.  You'll fall and hurt yourself."

            "Yeah."  Kyle sniffed and took a deep breath.  "Daddy I can have a cake?"

            JC laughed and reached a hand down to help Jessica up.  "You want another piece of cake?  I think there might be some left over, let's go see."

            "Kay."  Kyle rested his head on JC's shoulder; it had been a busy day and it was well past his naptime.

            "Thanks."  JC said as he met Jessica's eye over Kyle's head.  They stepped back into the house and headed toward the kitchen.

            "No problem."

            "I'm glad you were keeping an eye on him."

            "A lot of people had their eye on him."  Jessica laughed softly.

            "But you got there first."  JC raised an eyebrow at her.

            "Instinct."  Jessica shrugged and tried to hide her unexplainable blush as she looked away.

            "You're lucky we've got Jessica here, kiddo."  JC tousled Kyle's hair and set him on the counter so he'd have both hands free to cut another piece of cake.

            "Yeah.  My Jessi mommy is my Jessi."

            Jessica stood frozen in her tracks as she looked from Kyle to JC, who simply smiled in response.  "Yep.  She's like your mommy Jessi."

            "Kind of."  Jessica added.

            "Yeah."  Kyle stuck his finger into the icing of the cake that JC set in front of him.  "I big daddy."

            "Yep."  JC nodded then smiled at Jessica quickly.  "You're a big boy now.  You're three!"

 

            The party ended shortly after the slide incident and everyone headed home.  Kyle said good bye to everyone with his head resting on JC’s shoulder and droopy eyelids making it hard for him to smile.  Chris was the last to leave and as he waved from the door, Kyle began to snore.

            “He’s wasted.”  Chris said softly.

            “It’s been a long day.”  JC smiled.

            “Yeah, I guess it has.”  Chris nodded.  “Well hey, I’ll see you in the studio in a few days.”

            “Yep.”

            “Have fun with your last few days of vacation, man.  Jess?  I’ll see you later.”

            “Okay Chris.  Thanks for coming today.”

            “Like I’d miss it.”  Chris took a few steps back into the house to carefully place his hand on Kyle’s head.  “He’s such a good kid.  Seriously.  You’re lucky.”

            “I know.”  JC smiled proudly and patted Kyle’s back.

            “Hell, you all are.”  Chris laughed softly then stepped away.  He sighed and shook a thought from his head, “Okay.  I’ll see you later.”

            “Bye.”  Jessica and JC stood at the door and watched Chris go before walking upstairs together to put Kyle to bed in his own bed.

            “Man.”  JC stretched his arms over his head as Jessica pulled Kyle’s door shut.  “I’ll almost be glad to go back to work.”

            “You’ll get to rest.”  Jessica laughed.

            “Yep.”  He yawned.

            “Well before you start thinking about rest, we’ve got some birthday dishes to do.”  Jessica raised an eyebrow at him.

            “I know.”  He tried not to whine, but it came out anyway.

            “Come on.”  She took his hand and led him back to the kitchen.  Wordlessly they filled the sink and started washing them by hand since there was only glasses to wash.  JC began to hum softly as he dried the glasses, then paused and smiled as he held the bright green Hulk fist shaped plastic cup.  “You know…” JC stopped and bit his lip.  What he was thinking sounded too silly even for him.

            “What?”

            “Nothing.”

            “What?”  She bumped his shoulder with hers.

            “I was just going to say that sometimes I can’t believe I have a kid.  But that just sounds so silly, you know.  Since I’ve been around Kyle almost 24 hours a day for the past year.  But still…” he sighed, “I still sometimes see something like this and I stop and go, hey!  I have a kid!”  JC rolled the cup between his hands.

            “That’s cool though.  It’s still exciting to you.”

            He paused and shook his head slowly, “I can’t imagine it never being exciting.”

            Jessica smiled as her answer; no words were needed.

            They washed in silence for a minute before JC put the towel down and leaned against the counter.  “So are you settling in okay?  Do… I mean, did you need to go to your old place and get stuff?”

            “I… yeah, I’ll need to go back for a little bit.  I have to let Katie know and get things settled there.  I have, I mean, the furniture I have I’ll probably leave there.”

            “Yeah?”

            “Well yeah.  I mean, I have a futon and my bed and stuff but…” She looked around.  “There’s not really anywhere to put it here.”

            “We can make room.”  JC followed her gaze.

            Jessica laughed shortly, “Yeah right.”

            “We could put it in the office.”

            “JC, it’s okay.  Katie can keep the futon.”

            “I know, I’m just saying that if you wanted to we could –“

            “I know.”  Jessica interrupted him with a hand on his shoulder.  “But it’ll be easier to leave the big stuff there.”

            “Okay but I want you to feel like this is your home too.  You… you live here now.”

            Jessica laughed, “I know I do.”  Her heart skipped a beat like it always did when she thought about what a huge step they’d taken.

            “So do what you want.  Bring your furniture, pictures, whatever… make this your house too.”

            “Okay.”

            “Just don’t…”

            “Don’t what?”  She raised an eyebrow at him.

            “Just don’t do anything to my bathroom upstairs.  I love it.  I mean, it’s finally the way I really want it.”

            She laughed again at his silliness and shook her head; “I won’t touch a thing.”

            “Good.”  JC kissed her quickly.  “I finally got your toothbrush and soggy towels in there.  I don’t want to change a thing.”

            “You’re crazy.”

            “Yeah, well…” He shrugged.

            “There’s only one thing I’d want to change.”

            “Name it.”

            “The living room.”

            “What’s wrong with it?”

            “It needs some warmth.  It looks very bachelor.”

            “Well, you know.”

            “I know.”  She flicked water from her fingers at him.  “It could use some pillows or candles or something.”

            “Girly stuff.”

            “Yes.  Girly stuff.”  She nodded.

            “Okay.  Tomorrow morning, first thing, we’ll hit Ethan Allen or whatever and get you stuff to girly this place up a bit.  But just a little bit.”

            “Yay.”  She whispered, then kissed him again.  “I love you.”

            “Because I let you do girly stuff to the house?”

            Jessica shook her head, “No.  Because you’re the most perfect boyfriend ever with just the right amount of flaws.”

            “I have flaws?”

            She laughed and nodded.  “And that makes you perfect.”

            JC shook his head and smiled, she was perfect too.

            They finished rinsing the dishes then stacked them in the washer before retreating to their bedroom that Jessica admitted to loving without needing to change anything.

 

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

 

            The next morning as promised, JC loaded Kyle and his stroller into his car then they all headed to the store.  Jessica sat back in the car and mentally added her own touches to several of the rooms.  “I can do anything I want?”  She asked cautiously.

            JC looked sideways at her and crinkled his brow, “Almost anything, sure.”  There was silence as Jessica thought about that.  “What did you have in mind?”

            “Nothing.”  She blushed and shook her head.

            “I’m not big on flowers.”

            “I’m not thinking about going floral, don’t worry.”

            “What then?”

            “JC, it’s not like you’re not going to have a say.  I just want to pick up some little things that I think we need.  That I need.”

            “Okay.”

            “Relax.”

            “I’m relaxed.”  JC rolled his shoulders and smiled.  “See?”

            “You’re strange, sweetie.”

            “I know.”  He leaned over and kissed her cheek quickly.  “Are you ready to shop?”  JC pulled the car into the enormous home furnishing parking lot.

            “Always.”

            “I’m scared.”  JC mumbled under his breath.

            They parked near the front and got Kyle situated in his stroller before heading in to make JC’s house their home.  Kyle sat back in his stroller, reclining like a man in front of the television on Super Bowl Sunday.  He swung his feet and tapped them on the footrest as JC maneuvered the stroller up the curb and out of the way of exiting customers.  "Go fast!"  Kyle giggled from below.

            "We're going as fast as we can."  JC laughed as Jessica stepped in front of them and opened the heavy glass door.

            "There you go."

            "Thanks."  JC pushed the stroller through the doors and waited as Jessica held the door for a couple leaving the store.

            "What a handsome young man you've got there."  The older woman smiled as she passed Kyle in his seat.

            "Thank you."  JC smiled proudly then bit his lip as Kyle stuck his finger in his nose, a new habit JC wasn't very fond of.

            The woman looked from JC and Kyle to Jessica and her smile grew, "Lovely family."

            "Thank you."  Jessica blushed quickly as the woman and her husband stepped out into the cool winter air.  She stepped into the store behind JC and smiled.

            JC slid his arm around her waist and pushed Kyle's stroller with one hand.  "Lovely family."  He whispered into her hair.  "I like the way that sounds."

            "Me too."  She turned to kiss him softly.

            "I love you."

            "I love you too."  Jessica rested her head on his shoulder as they walked toward the elevators.

            "Love too."  Kyle sighed tapped his feet again.

            JC laughed lightly as his heart skipped a beat.  Without any kind of planning or control on his part, he'd managed to find himself with a patchwork family that was all his own.  His eyes moved slowly from Jessica's profile to the top of Kyle's head… they were indeed his family, and lovely at that.  A feeling of home washed over JC as his smile grew and his hand reached to tousle Kyle's hair.  The simple contact proved that he was there and that it was all real… and all he could have wished for.

 

 

 

Comments?   Questions?

 

 

 Back to the stories page

 

 

Copyright 2003, Amy Lynn