"You've got a date tonight."  Chris said when Joey answered the phone an hour after he and Kyle arrived at his house.

            "Yeah I do."  Joey chuckled and watched Kyle pile pillows on the floor in front of the couch.

            "No for reals, you do."

            "What are you talking about?"

            "Dude.  You and me and Justin.  We're going to Baba's ."

            "How is that a date?  Besides... I can't tonight."  Joey shook his head and leaned back to watch Kyle jump from the couch to the pillows on the floor.

            "Yes tonight."  Chris frowned; Joey was never one to turn down a night out.

            "I can't."

            "Fuck off, you can't.  You have to man.  J's got like, a shitload of cash and you know if we can just get two drinks into him the whole night will be compliments of Mr. Timberlake."

            Joey laughed, knowing that was true.  "I can't man, I've got plans tonight."

            "Cancel them.  What could be better than a night of Timberlake's money?"

            "Not much."  Joey agreed softly.  "I've got the little dude here though."

            "You've got a dude over there?"

            "Yeah."

            "What?"

            "Kyle."

            "Wass Joey!  Wass!"  Kyle giggled and jumped off the couch again as the pillowcase pinned to his shirt sailed over his head.

            "That's cool man but be careful, you almost hit the table."  Joey gave Kyle a thumbs up as the little boy climbed back onto the couch.

            "So have Jace take him home."  Chris said with a tone of utter confusion.  "Or have him find a sitter.  That guy needs a night out more than any of us."

            "Nah, JC's sick so I'm keeping Kyle here."

            Chris frowned.  "He's sick and he called you to take care of Kyle?"

            "No I called him to say 'what's up' and found out he's sick and he thinks he can take care of the kid when he's all curled up in bed."

            "What's he got?"

            "Some throat thing."  Joey shrugged.

            "So you're taking the kid?"

            "I've got the kid."

            "And he's okay with that?"

            "He didn't have a choice."

            "Are you okay with that?"  Chris asked with a knowing grin.

            "What?"

            "You're gonna take care of Kyle tonight?"

            "Yeah."  Joey furrowed his brow with concern.  "Why's that bad?"

            Chris paused for second and bit his lip to keep from laughing, “He's two."

            "Yeah?"

            "Alright."  Chris sighed and ran his hand through his hair.  "We'll be over in an hour."  He moved the phone away from his mouth and shouted at Justin, "Hey J!  We're going over to Joe's house tonight."

            "We who?  I'm going to Baba's."

            "Joey's got Kyle because JC's sick."  Chris explained.

            "So?"  Justin's voice sounded closer as he walked into the office where Chris was sitting.

            "You guys don't have to come over, I'll be fine."  Joey argued.  "Whoa!  Hey buddy, get down off there.  You'll break your neck and then your dad will kill me."  He jumped up and reached for Kyle who was perched on the back of the recliner chair.

            "Yeah whatever."  Chris said into the phone.  He looked at Justin, and then smacked him behind his ear.  "Don't be an ass.  We're going to go help Joey."

            "I don't need help."  Joey grunted as he lifted Kyle off the chair and set him on the floor.

            "See you in an hour."  Chris said, ignoring Joey's argument.  Joey hung up the phone and rolled his eyes.

            "Is my daddy?"  Kyle tilted his head back and looked up at Joey.

            "Nope.  That was Chris and Justin."

            "Jussin?"

            "Yeah.  They're coming over I think."

            "Yeah!"  Kyle threw his arms over his head and cheered.  "Anen we pay?"

            "You wanna play with them?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle nodded emphatically.

            "Sure.  Yeah when they come over we'll all play together.  Then it'll be time for bed and Chris and Justin will go home."  Joey collapsed onto the cushionless couch and pushed the pillows back into a pile for Kyle to jump in.

            "And me?"

            "And you what?"

            "I go home?"

            "Nope, you're staying here tonight."

            "My daddy?"  Kyle frowned and sat beside Joey as he pulled his little legs up onto the couch.

            "Your dad is sick so he's going to stay over in his germ filled house."

            "No, me."  Kyle shimmied up on his knees then scooted over so that his knees were pressing Joey's thigh.

            "You're going to stay here with me."

            "No, my daddy."

            "I don't know what you mean kid."

            "I say and my daddy."

            "You want to stay with your daddy?"  Joey asked.

            "Yeah."

            Joey frowned and bit his lip.  "You have to stay here so you don't get sick too.  Being sick sucks."

            "Issucks?"  Kyle grimaced and cocked his head to the side.

            "Yeah, it sucks."  Joey laughed.  "Besides, if you go home you won't be able to play with me and Justin and Chris."

            "Yeah!"  Kyle jumped off the couch and spun around.

            "You're a weird kid."  Joey sighed and used the remote to turn the music up.

            "I can fye and you?"

            "You want me to fly with you?"

            "No me."

            "You want to fly?"

            "Yeah."

            "Go for it."

            "No you."

            "Me what?"  Joey looked down at Kyle and shook his head in confusion.

            "You hode me and fye."  Kyle sighed.  "I fye."

            "Oh!"  Joey slapped his forehead.  "Oh, okay.  I got it." He stood up then picked Kyle up under his arms.  "Like this?"

            "I fye like supeman."

            "Ahh, okay."  Joey adjusted Kyle so that he was lying flat across his arms, then took off running around the living room.

            Kyle screeched and laughed with excitement as Joey tore down the hall, making sure not to get too close to the walls.  They zoomed around the kitchen then out to the backyard and back through the living room.  When Joey's arms felt like Jell-O he set Kyle on the floor and panted lightly.  "You're getting too big kiddo."

            "Gan?"

            "What?"

            "I fye gan?"

            "You want to fly again?"

            "Yeah!"  Kyle threw his hands over his head and tossed his cape over his shoulder.

            "Okay, but give me a few minutes to catch my breath.  I'm too old for this sh - crap."  He caught himself before the bad word left his lips.

            "I two."  Kyle nodded and held up two fingers.

            "I know you are buddy.  You're in the terrible two's." Joey laughed as the doorbell rang.  Before he could even glance at the door the banging started.

            "Let us in!"  Justin shouted to the beat he was tapping on the door.

            "They're here."  Joey made a surprised face at Kyle as the little boy gasped and ran for the front door.

            "I get!"

            "I'll get it… hang on."  Joey walked up behind him and unlocked the door with a quick glance at the security monitor just to be safe.

            "Come on Fatone, its not like you live in an armory.  Open up."  Chris shouted as the door opened and Justin rushed in.

            "Jussin!"  Kyle screeched as he launched himself at Justin's knees.

            "Hey dude!"  Justin picked Kyle up and tossed him in the air.  "What's up?"

            "Wassup."  Kyle giggled and clung to the front of Justin's shirt.

            Chris smiled and reached out to mess Kyle's hair.  "How's it going kiddo?"

            "I think he wants JC."

            "You think?"  Chris raised his eyebrow at Joey.  "I don't think he's spent the night away from JC since we got him."

            "Yeah but he didn't freak about not having his mom around when we first got him, did he?"

            "A little."  Chris nodded, and he would know.  "The first night I think… I remember him crying for her."  He patted Kyle's back then continued down the hall to the living room where he immediately went to the stereo to adjust the controls.

            Justin bit his lip and looked down at Kyle.  "Well no one's crying tonight, are you?  We're gonna have fun!"

            "Fun and my daddy sick?"

            "Yep.  He's got a runny nose and a funny tummy, so you're gonna hang out here with us.  It'll be a lot of fun."  Justin picked him up and ran into the other room where Chris was standing at the stereo.

            "What's this shit you call music?"  Chris asked, without taking his eyes off of the stereo.

            "Uh oh!"  Kyle's eyes grew wide as he covered his mouth and looked at Chris.

            "Chris said a bad word, huh?"  Justin laughed.  Kyle nodded from behind his hand and giggled.  "What should we do?"

            "Say no."  Kyle shook his head and smiled.

            "Tell him not to say that?  Heck no, that won't work.  I think we should wash his mouth out with soap."  Justin laughed and looked over at Chris.  "Come on over to the kitchen Chris, I want you to meet my friend Dawn.  She cuts through grease you know."

            "Shut up."  Chris found music that he liked and turned the volume up.  "You're not washing my mouth out because I said shit."

            "Chris, come on."  Joey sighed.

            "Sorry.  But seriously, you're worse than I am.  You swear like a sailor and do you think JC's any better?"  Chris shook his head and picked up the cushions to put them back on the couch.  He sat in the corner and sighed.

            "I sink we have soap."  Kyle nodded.

            "Kyle thinks we should wash your mouth out." Justin smiled and set Kyle on the counter.

            "I think Kyle's not the boss of me."  Chris stuck out his tongue and hopped on the counter beside Kyle.  "I won't say it again, okay?"  He asked the little boy to his left.

            "Kay."  Kyle nodded.

            "There we go.  Good enough."  Chris clapped his hands together and looked at Joey.  "So what do you have to eat around here?"

            "Eat?"  Joey asked as he squinted his eyes at Chris.

            "You've gotta feed the kid dinner you know."

            "Oh.  Right."  Joey pursed his lips and pulled the fridge open.  "Um…"

            "You hungry?"  Chris looked down at Kyle who just nodded and stepped between Joey and the open fridge.

            "What do you want?"

            "Cheese samich."  Kyle sighed and craned his neck to look around the huge refrigerator.  "And pizza?"

            "I don't think I have left over pizza."  Joey frowned and pushed the gallon of milk aside.

            "Yeah."  Kyle climbed into the fridge and stood on the bottom by the drawers.  "Deres pizza."  He held onto one of the glass shelves and pointed with his free hand.

            "Dude.  He spotted the pizza from down there?  How is he not your kid?"  Justin asked as he leaned on the counter to scope the fridge on his own.  "How much do you have there?"

            "Um."  Joey reached in the back behind a few take out containers and pulled out the plate with two pieces of pizza on it, covered in pink saran wrap.

            "Pink?"

            "Kelly bought it."

            "Uh huh."  Justin extended his long arm and took the plate from Joey's hand.

            "Why would I lie about that?"  Joey frowned and took the plate back.  "That's for Kyle."

            "Both pieces?"  Justin slid off the counter.  "He can't eat two pieces of pizza; they're as big as he is."

            "Fine, whatever he doesn't eat, you can have."  Joey scowled at Justin and guarded the pizza with his body.  "You want it heated up or cold?" He asked Kyle.

            "Um…"  Kyle thought about it for a second and looked at Justin.  "Is my pizza Jussin."

            "Yeah I know." Justin pretended to pout as he opened Joey's pantry.

            "I have it code."  Kyle nodded and Joey and took the paper plate with the saran on it from Joey.  Chris led him to the table and helped him into his chair.

            "Can I have a bite?"  Chris asked.

            "Yeah." Kyle sighed as Chris unwrapped the pizza and took a big bite of the top piece.

            "Good stuff."  Chris said with his mouthful.

            "Can I have this?"  Justin asked.

            "Cup O Noodles?"  Joey smirked.  "Sure man.  Knock yourself out."

            "Ooh, make me some."  Chris said from the table.

            Justin looked at Joey for permission, then laughed.  "They're like, five for a dollar or whatever.  You can each have a dozen for all I care."

            "Cool." Justin pulled three more out of the cupboard and clicked the burner under the kettle on to heat the water.

 

            They ate a smorgasbord of food for dinner.  From Kyle's two pieces of pizza, of which he ate all but the crusts, to the frozen waffles Joey toasted for himself, to the Cup O Noodles Chris and Justin had.  They finished it all off with Otter Pops and laughed like kids at their multi colored tongues.

            It was almost nine when Chris and Justin looked at their watches in unison and stood up to leave.  "Going out?"  Joey asked.

            "Uh..."  Chris looked at Justin who nodded.

            "Yeah.  I mean, the kids going to bed, right?"  Justin looked down at Kyle draped across the couch looking half-asleep.

            "Yeah."  Joey shoved his hands in his pockets.

            "Well hey, if you can find someone to watch him come out to Baba's."  Justin shrugged.

            "Yeah.  Maybe.  Probably not though.  I don't know anyone who would watch him.  Or you know… anyone that JC would want to watch him."

            "You could call Kelly."

            "She's out on a date."  Joey said softly.  "So uh, yeah.  I'm gonna stay in.  Put the kid to bed and stuff."

            "If you change your mind…"  Chris sighed.

            "I know where to find you." Joey nodded and walked them to the door.

            "See ya later Kyle."  Chris called softly over his shoulder in case the little boy had fallen asleep.

            "Bye bye."  Kyle mumbled from the couch.

            "Bye."  Justin raised his voice.

            "Bye."  Kyle echoed.

            "He's wiped."  Justin laughed as he and Chris stepped out onto the porch.

            "Yeah he is.  Which is good man.  I'll go put him down then come back down here and watch some movies or something."

            "Right on.  Jace has got it made, I don't know what he's always complaining about." Chris rolled his eyes.  "Anyway, I'll call you tomorrow."

            "Cool."  Joey nodded and watched them walk out to Justin's car.  They argued for a second over who was going to drive, then Justin climbed in the driver's seat and yelled something at Chris.  He reluctantly opened the passenger side door with a few choice words for Justin, and slammed it shut behind him.  They waved through the windshield before leaving Joey standing in the doorway.

            "Joey?"  Kyle's little voice startled him as the little boy walked up to him rubbing his eyes.

            "Hey little dude.  I think it's time for you to go to bed."

            "Yeah."

            "Where's your pajamas?"

            "Doe no."

            "They're in your bag… where's your bag?"

            "Doe no."  Kyle yawned.

            "You wanna sleep in your clothes?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle reached his arms up for Joey to pick him up.

            Joey propped Kyle against his shoulder and headed for the stairs to put Kyle in the guestroom.  "Uh oh, teeth."  Joey set him down and gave him a gentle push towards the bathroom.  "I can't forget to brush your teeth or your dad'll kill me."  Joey followed him in and opened the medicine cabinet where there was a selection of new toothbrushes.  He opened one and spread a little toothpaste on it.  "You gotta take care of your teeth."

            "Yeah."  Kyle yawned as he chewed on the toothbrush for a minute, then spit into the sink and shimmied off the counter.  "Done."

            "Cool."  Joey rinsed the brush and went out into the room to turn the bed down for Kyle.  The large bed dominated the center of the room with his leopard print comforter and black sheets.  "Okay kiddo, then its time for bed."  Joey said softly as he pulled the covers back.

            "No I go home."  Kyle shook his head and held his ground by the door.

            "Nope, you're gonna stay here tonight."

            "My daddy?"  His lower lip began to tremble and Joey flinched away from the tears forming in the little boy's eyes.  "Peese my daddy?"

            "Oh buddy, listen your daddy is sick.  He's too sick to take care of you right now but we'll go see him tomorrow, okay?"  Joey was willing to promise anything if it meant Kyle wouldn't start crying.

            "I see now?"

            "We can't see him now, nope."  Joey looked at the glowing clock on the table.  It was barely nine o'clock.  "We might be able to call him though, do you want to call?"

            "Anen I see?"  Kyle sniffed.

            "We'll call him, then you can go to bed and in the morning we can get a really cool breakfast or something then go see him."

            "Now?"

            "We can call him right now."  Joey walked around the bed and picked Kyle up.  He sat the little boy on his lap as he picked up the bedside phone and dialed JC's house.  After a half dozen rings, JC answered sounding like death.  "Hey, it's me."  Joey said softly.

            "What's wrong?"

            "Nothing."

            "Is Kyle okay?"  JC's worry showed in his still groggy voice.

            "Yeah, no, he's fine." Joey nodded.  "He just wanted to call to say goodnight."

            "It's after nine."

            "I know."

            "He should have been in bed an hour ago Joey." JC sighed.

            "So sue me. Sheesh."  Joey rolled his eyes.  "Here, he wants to say hi."  He handed the phone to Kyle and said, "There you go pal, that's your daddy."

            "Daddy?"  Kyle asked into the phone as he sniffed softly.

            "Hey buddy, what are you still doing up?"

            "I see Joey."

            "Yeah, you're over at Joey's house."

            "And you?"

            "I'm here at home.  I don't feel good so you're going to stay there tonight.  That's pretty cool though, you're a lucky kid to stay at Joey's."

            "No daddy you." Kyle said as more tears threatened to fall.

            "You can come see me tomorrow. Tell Joey to bring you home in the morning, okay?"

            Kyle raised his eyes to Joey, "I go home morrow."

            "Yeah, I'll take you home tomorrow.  No problem, we'll go see your daddy."

            "But right now you have to go to bed, okay?" JC asked.

            "Wiss Joey?"  Kyle asked softly as he held the phone with both hands.

            "Yeah, you can sleep with Joey if you're worried.  No problem." JC closed his eyes and rubbed at his unshaven jaw.  If Joey wanted to take Kyle for the night, he was going to have to deal with it all.  "Are you okay now?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle said.

            "Can I talk to Joey?"

            "Yeah."

            "Okay Kyle, I'll see you tomorrow okay?"

            "Kay."

            "Be good."

            "Yeah."  Kyle nodded.

            "I love you."

            "Love too."

            JC smiled and sighed, it was amazing how hearing Kyle say that always warmed his heart.  "Okay buddy, give the phone back to Joey."

            "Kay."  Kyle held the phone out to Joey then rested his head against Joey's wide and warm chest.

            "Hey."  Joey cradled the phone between his shoulder and ear as he wrapped his free arm protectively over Kyle's little body.  "He's okay."

            "Yeah, he's fine.  He wants to sleep in your bed though."

            "I've got him in the guest room."  Joey explained.

            "Maybe.  But he wants to sleep in the bed with you.  He's a little kid man and he's in a house he doesn't know. He's gotta be scared."

            "Does he wet the bed?"  Joey sighed.

            "Sometimes."  JC frowned.  He hadn't in a while, but there was always a first time.  "Listen, you can bring him home right now if you want."

            "No." Joey shook his head.  "No it's cool.  He can sleep in my bed and we'll come by tomorrow."

            "Okay."

            "Okay." Joey nodded.

            "Things are okay though?"

            "Yeah."

            "He had dinner?"

            "Yeah."

            "Did he brush his teeth?"

            "Yeah man, I've got it covered."  Joey smiled.  "Go back to sleep.  I'll call you tomorrow."

            "Okay.  G'night."  JC yawned.

            "Is my daddy?"  Kyle asked as Joey hung up.

            "Yep, that's your daddy."

            "I see morrow."

            "Yep, we'll go see him tomorrow or something."  Joey stood up with Kyle in his arms and headed for the master bedroom, making a quick detour into the large bathroom.  "Here, go potty first then we'll go to bed."

            "Kay."  Kyle shrugged and walked up to the large toilet. He did his stuff then flushed and padded past Joey to the large bed in the center of the room.

            "Wait."  Joey's mind raced trying to think of how he could save his bed from a possible accident.  "Hang on." He reached into the linen closet by the sink and pulled out two thick towels.  "Here."  He laid the towels on the expensive sheets then put Kyle on top.  "There, that'll keep… uh, keep you warm."  He smiled and pulled the blanket up to Kyle's chin.  "Okay?"

            "Kay."  Kyle nodded and yawned as his head sunk into the soft feather pillow.

            "Okay."  Joey said softly. He stood up and looked down at Kyle.  "You gonna be okay up here?"

            "And you seep." Kyle nodded.

            "And me?"

            "Yeah you go nigh nigh too."

            "I will later."  Joey said softly.  "You go to sleep now and I'll come in and join you in a little bit, okay?"

            "Ina minit?"

            "Yeah, in a couple minutes."  Joey leaned down and kissed Kyle's forehead like he remembered seeing his father do for his nephews.  "Good night buddy."

            "Good nigh Joey."  Kyle flopped over onto his stomach under the covers and sighed into the thick pillow.

            Joey went to the door and turned the light off, then stood there for a minute watching Kyle's little back rise and fall as he breathed.  He shut the door halfway and left the hall light on so the little boy wouldn't be scared, then hopped downstairs to watch his movies.

 

            In the morning Joey awoke slowly with the distinct feeling that he wasn't alone in the bed. Strictly out of habit he rolled over with his arm extended to pull whoever it was closer to him.  Snuggling in the morning was a guilty pleasure of his that none of the guys knew about.  Instead of meeting the soft and warm body of a lady, he was met with the messed up morning hair of a two year old.  Joey frowned and moved his hand up to feel the top of Kyle's head then opened his eyes.  "Damn."  He grunted under his breath.  "I forgot you were here."  He sighed heavily and fluffed his pillow before closing his eyes again; there would be no snuggling that morning.

            An hour later he felt the bed shift as Kyle slid down and thumped his feet on the soft carpet.  "Joey?"  He asked from the floor.

            "Yergm."  Joey made an acknowledging sound in his throat as he stretched his arms over his head.

            "I have pankays and juice and see a dog?"  Kyle asked as he climbed up onto the bed frame to be able to see Joey.

            "Dude."  Joey squeaked as he stretched again.  "I don't have pancakes.  We'll have to go get some.  You like Denny's?"

            "Dono's?"  Kyle frowned.

            "Yeah Denny's.  It's a restaurant.  We can go get pancakes there."

            "We go now?" Kyle asked as he held tight to the sheets.

            Joey rolled his head to the side to see the clock.  "Damn.  It's seven in the morning kid."  He closed his eyes and wondered how JC did it.

            "Is cosed?"  Kyle asked.  "Joey?  Is cosed?"

            "No they're open.  They're always open."  Joey rolled onto his side to face Kyle and pushed himself up onto his elbow.  "Are you sure you don't wanna sleep for another couple hours?"  He yawned.

            "No Joey." Kyle shook his head.  "We hava bass and go see pankays."

            "You want a bath?"

            "Yeah."

            "Okay."  Joey sat up and slowly got out of bed.  After stumbling into the foot of his bed and bashing his toes on the sneakers he had strewn across the floor he made it to Kyle's side.  "Bath.  Okay.  That's in here." He put his hand on Kyle's head and steered him out of the room and down the hall to the guest bathroom.

 

            By the time they headed out of the house for breakfast it was almost nine thirty and Joey was swearing off all little kids for the rest of his life.  The bath turned the bathroom into a soggy mess with Joey getting just as wet as Kyle and no one told Joey that naked little kids are as slippery as wet seaweed so he practically dropped Kyle on the way to the guestroom.  Getting dressed was another battle since Kyle didn't want to wear the clothes that they had packed and Joey didn't know how to coerce the child into just putting the clothes on.

            When they left Kyle was wearing his shirt backwards and the same pants he had on the day before, but Joey was just glad that he had clothes on period. They went to the Denny's that Joey frequented and had their pancake breakfast in the large corner booth in the back.

            Kyle dripped syrup down the front of his shirt, which was actually the back, so when they were done Joey just flipped the shirt around and smiled, "Good as new.  Okay, what now?  You wanna go play with Chad?"

            "Chad ina school?"  Kyle asked.

            "Oh.  Yeah, I didn't think of that.  Chad might be at school.  What's today?"

            "I doe no."  Kyle shrugged and jumped off the curb in front of Joey's car.

            "Let's call Kelly."  Joey reached into his pocket for his cell phone and called Kelly.  After listening to her laugh when he explained that he was taking care of Kyle, they agreed to meet at the recreation center by her house so that the boys could play together.

            "Dude, girls are whacked.  I hope you know that."  Joey grumbled as he dropped the phone back in his pocket and opened the back door for Kyle.

            "Yeah."  Kyle nodded.

            "Good."  Joey strapped him in, then slammed the door shut.  It was after ten and right about the time he would normally be getting up so he was beginning to feel a little more human.

 

            They spent the afternoon playing in the park with Chad and Kelly, who had thought to pack lunches for the kids so they didn't have to stop playing.  "I forgot about that." Joey admitted as he yawned and laid flat on the grass.

            "I figured you would."

            "Bite me.  We were gonna go grab Mc Donalds or something like that."

            "Oh that's healthy."  Kelly rolled her eyes as she peeled an orange for the kids.

            "Hey I turned out okay."

            "Yes you did babe."  She patted his tummy and laughed.  "You turned out just fine.  Kyle! Chad!  Come get some oranges!"  She shouted toward the playground.

            "You're so domesticated."

            "Yeah, well..."  She shrugged and handed the energetic little boys slices of orange.

            "Joey come slide?"  Kyle asked as he climbed up on Joey's bent knees.

            "No, I'm sleeping."

            "No you're awake!"  Chad giggled and pounced on Joey's stomach.

            "Ugh!  Dude, careful."

            "Come slide Joey!  Is big!"  Kyle stuck the piece of orange in his mouth and chewed as a trail of juice ran from the corner of his mouth.

            "You're gonna get all sticky kid."  Joey sat up and removed the boys from his legs.

            "Like you're one to talk."  Kelly raised her eyebrow at the little daub of grape jelly left on his chin.  "Go play while I clean up here.  We're about ready to go anyways."  She nudged him with her foot and began to get the trash together.  "Don't make me kick your kidney."

            "Okay, okay." Joey stood up and brushed his pants off.  "Come on little demons."  He scooped one little boy up in each arm and ran toward the playground growling like a grizzly bear.

 

            By the time they were ready to leave the park both boys were exhausted and in desperate need of a nap.  Joey loaded Kyle into the back seat, then waved to Kelly and Chad and headed back to JC's house.  Kyle crashed on the way so Joey drove the forty minutes in silence, not wanting to wake Kyle with the music.

            They pulled up in front of JC's house and parked in the driveway.  "Hey buddy, look where we are."  Joey said softly as he leaned into the backseat.  "Kyle.  Check it out man; we're at your house."

            "My how?"  Kyle rubbed his eyes as he peeled his sweaty head away from the side of the car seat.  "My daddy?"

            "Yep.  Your dad's inside.  Or he'd better be anyway.  Are you ready to go in?"

            "I seep here?"  Kyle yawned and reached for the clasp of his car seat.

            "Eh, we'll have to see about that.  If your dad is feeling better then yeah I guess you're going to stay here."

            "Yeah, I say here and my daddy betto."  He nodded as Joey hopped out and opened the back door to get Kyle and his stuff out of the back.

            "Cool."  Joey grunted and set Kyle on the ground, his arms ached after all the playing he did with the boys.  "All righty kiddo, hang on let me get the key."  He tossed Kyle's bag over his shoulder, then leaned into the front seat again to get the ring of spare keys out of the center console.  He flipped to the key with the blue plastic band around it and shut the door.

            "Ringin the bell?"  Kyle asked as he stretched to reach the doorbell.

            "No, no, no… don't ring that.  He might be sleeping." Joey held his fingers to his lips.  "We have to be quiet."  He whispered and turned the key in the lock.  The alarm just inside the door beeped once to alert that the door had been opened, but didn't continue to beep which would require a pass code.

            "My daddy seepin?"  Kyle whispered as he craned his neck to look up at Joey.

            "H'lo?"  JC's voice echoed down the hall from the family room.  "Joe?"

            "Yeah it's us."  Joey raised his voice and started down the hall.

            "Daddy!"  Kyle ran through the house and jumped onto the end of the couch by JC's feet.

            "Hey buddy, how's it going?"  JC smiled and ran his hand through his greasy hair.  He got a good look at Kyle's wild hair and awkward clothes and raised his eyebrow at Joey who just shrugged and sighed in response.

            "I home now."

            "I see that." JC nodded and smiled up at Joey.  "Thanks for keeping him."

            "No problem.  How are you feeling?"

            "Anxious to be kid-free huh?"  JC laughed softly.  "I'm feeling better I think."

            "Kyle's cool and all, but he misses you."  Joey nodded and put his hands in the pockets of his jeans.  "I can keep him again tonight though if you want."

            "No, I'm cool.  I've actually done some writing today, so it can't be that bad."  JC grunted as Kyle climbed onto his lap with his knee in JC's stomach.

            "Well at least let me hang out while you bathe or something.  Because man… no offense but you reek."

            "I reek?"

            "You need a shower in a major way.  And some soap and stuff."  Joey waved his hand around his head indicating a good hair washing was in order as well.

            "Do I smell bad buddy?"  JC asked Kyle.

            "Yeah." Kyle squished up his nose and waved his hand in front of his face.

            "Well all righty then." He lifted Kyle off his chest after getting a quick and smelly hug, then stood up.  "Can you hang out with Joey for a little bit while I go shower?"

            "And me?"

            "You want to shower?"

            "Yeah."

            "You had a bath this morning dude." Joey frowned.

            "No I sower too."  Kyle took JC's hand.

            "You shower with him?"  Joey raised his eyebrow at JC and cocked his head to the side.

            "No." JC sighed and shook his head.  "No, we don't shower together.  I think he just wants to hang out with me.  He missed me."

            "Well there's no accounting for taste around here." Joey laughed and lifted Kyle off the ground.  "Come on, you can show me your cool dog while you r dad gets cleaned up."

            "Daddy say here?"  Kyle cast a worried look at JC.

            "Yeah, I'm just going to shower."

            "Ina minit?"

            "I'll be done in a minute." JC nodded.  "And when I'm done we can go to my office and I'll play you some music."

            "You let him hear your songs?"  Joey asked.

            "Heck yeah." JC smirked.  "He loves everything I do.  There's nothing better than a huge ego boost after being sick."

            "When do we get to hear them?"

            "Next week.  Or never." JC shrugged.  "Depends on what the kid thinks."  He laughed and headed for the stairs.  "Thanks Joe."

            "No problem." Joey mumbled as he set Kyle down.  "Okay. Now what's this I hear about your dog playing ball?  Does she really go get it and bring it back?"

            "Yeah we pay catch and she hava ball." Kyle sighed and walked over to the backdoor where Candy was bouncing happily on the other side.

            "Right on."  Joey reached over Kyle's head and unlocked the door before they stepped out into the backyard.  Candy went crazy sniffing Joey's dog's scent from both him and Kyle, then took off running around the yard.  "Wow, she's pretty excited."

            "Yeah.  Candy's crazy."  Kyle giggled and walked over to the play set where she stashed her tennis balls. He tossed it across the grass and she immediately picked up on the game of fetch.

            Joey and Kyle played with Candy for a while before JC came out with damp hair and clean clothes on.  "Dude, you look better."

            "I feel better." He grabbed the top of the door frame and leaned forward.  "Thanks Joe… really."

            "No problem." Joey shook his head and tossed the tennis ball as hard as he could toward the opposite end of the lawn.

            "Did he have lunch?"

            "It's like, four. Yeah he had lunch."  Joey gave him a disgusted look and laughed, "You think I'd forget to feed him or something?" He didn't mention that Kelly was the one who had brought the lunch.

            "I'm just checking." JC said softly as he swayed back and forth with his arms over his head.  "Hey buddy, are you ready to come inside?"

            "No I pay."  Kyle ran after the tennis ball with a loud laugh.

            "I don't know where he gets his energy man, for real.  We spent like four hours at the park and I chased him around and everything.  He napped for all of an hour and now look at him."

            "Yeah, he's like the energizer bunny or something."

            "Like Chris."  Joey nodded.  "Scary shit man."

            "Speaking of which, he's not gonna be using your colorful language, is he?"

            "Nah, I've been good."  Joey smirked.  "I didn't swear in front of him.  Or I tried not to anyway."

            "Okay."

            "He wakes up at the fuckin crack of dawn though."

            "Yeah… well he's two."

            "I know."  Joey ran his hands through his hair.  "When's his birthday anyway?  I mean, you've had him forever and we've never had a party or anything."

            "I've had him since like, March. His birthday is in January."

            "Ahh cool."  Joey nodded.

            "Uh huh.  So what're you doing tonight?"

            "Sleeping.  I'm running on next to nothing right now.  He wore me out at the park so I'm gonna go home and order a pizza then do absolutely nothing all night."

            "Sounds like a plan."  JC laughed.

            "Dude, you've been doing nothing for three days now."

            "I've been barfing.  That's not nothing."

            "Gross."  Joey crinkled his nose and reached down to pick up the ball again.  "You’re done with that though?"

            "Yeah." JC coughed into his hand.  "I'm better."

            "You're not just saying that?"

            "Nah, I'm really feeling a lot better.  I'm up and walking around, that's gotta say something."

            "True."  Joey laughed.  "Okay then.  I'll let him stay."

            "Great, thanks."  JC laughed back at him.

            "I'm gonna take off though.  If you get sick again or whatever give someone a call."

            "Someone that's not you?"  JC grinned into the setting sun.

            "You can call me if you have to." Joey shrugged and reached down to pick Kyle up and toss him in the air.  "Okay little man, I'm outta here.  Take care of your dad, okay?"

            "Kay."  Kyle screeched between giggles.  "Bye bye Joey."

            "Bye bye Kyle."  Joey set Kyle on the ground in front of JC then squeezed past them.  "I'll catch you later C."

            "All right.  Thanks again Joe."

            "Not a problem."  Joey waved over is head as he walked down the hall towards the front door.  When father and son were alone again, JC sighed and placed his hand on Kyle's head to lead in him inside then shut the door.

            "Okay kiddo.  Are you hungry for some dinner?"

            "Umm…"

            "Because I haven't eaten like, all day, so I'm starving."

            "Kay."  Kyle climbed into his chair.

            "Does a grilled cheese sandwich sound good to you?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle smiled.  "And you daddy?  You sit and have?"

            "Yep, I'll sit with you and have dinner too." JC got out the things for dinner and chatted with Kyle while he made up a plate full of sandwiches and cut up an apple for them to share.  They ate side by side and shared the sandwiches. JC ate the crusts that Kyle picked off and bit each piece of apple in half before giving it to Kyle.

 

            They spent the rest of the evening together with Kyle never more than two steps away from JC.  Wherever JC went, Kyle was right there, whether he went to the bathroom, or to get a glass of water or even to answer the phone.  At first it was almost annoying; he tripped over Kyle a few times almost landing them both on their butts.  The third time JC bent to help Kyle up and said, “Dude, you can’t stand right behind me.  I’m gonna squish you one of these times.”

            “Yeah.”  Kyle sighed.  “I just see you.”  He nodded and looked up at JC with a sweet little smile.

            “O-oh.”  JC stuttered and picked him up.  “Okay, come here little guy.”  He propped Kyle on his hip and walked back to the couch where their movie was playing.  He lay on the couch and put Kyle to his side to they could be together and still see the TV.

            "I missed you buddy."  JC said as Kyle snuggled into the crook of his arm and sighed.  He leaned down and kissed the top of Kyle's head, letting his lips linger for a moment as he inhaled the scent of a soap that wasn't his.  "Did you have fun at Joey's?"

            "Yeah."  Kyle nodded.

            "What'd you do?"

            "I pay wiss Joey."

            "You played with him huh? Did you watch a movie?"

            "Yeah."

            "What else?"

            "Ummm."  Kyle thought for a minute then yawned.  "I pay wiss Jussin and Chris and a dog."  He wiggled deeper to nestled himself between JC's body and the couch.

            "Sounds like fun."  JC adjusted his arm and placed his hand on Kyle's pajama covered thigh.  "Did you miss me?"  He smiled and pulled the blanket over both of them.

            "Yeah."  Kyle nodded and yawned.  "I cry and say my daddy here."

            "You cried?"  JC asked as strained his neck to look down at Kyle under his arm.  Joey hadn't told him that.

            "Yeah.  I was sad daddy."

            "I'm sorry.  I was sick though… Joey was trying to help."

            "Yeah he howp and you hava sick tummy."

            "My tummy was upset, yep."

            "I like Joey but I say here."  Kyle nodded and patted JC's tummy.

            "Okay, you can stay here next time."  JC smiled and turned the volume down on the TV as he closed his eyes and fell asleep with his son tucked up next to him... right where he should be.

 

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

 

            JC skipped breakfast the next morning just in case any lingering nausea decided to kick in.  He made Kyle a bowl of instant oatmeal with raisins in it and sat at the table across from him.  They talked about how JC was going to have to go to work the next week and how Kyle was going to get to hang out with Amy a lot during the day and the dogs.  Kyle sounded excited, as long as he didn't have to sleep anywhere else.

            They made plans to go to the grocery store to get some real food and to pick up some coloring books and crayons for Kyle.  In school they had done a lot of coloring and Kyle said that was his favorite thing to do.  Not one to stifle creativity, JC immediately suggested getting art supplies, and Kyle had insisted on crayons.

            Just as they were getting ready to leave the phone rang in the kitchen.  JC reached around the corner and blindly felt for the handset.  It rang once more when he had it in his hand before he answered it.  "Hello?"  He asked with an easy smile.

            "Hi JC, this is Lori."

            "Ah, hi."  JC took a deep breath and turned to lean on the wall.  Talking with Lori was always more draining than it needed to be and he didn't have time to prepare this time.

            "I just wanted to let you know that I'll be in Florida next weekend and I'd like to see Kyle."

            "I… sure.  Yeah.  Where are you going?  I mean, you'll be in near Orlando?"

            "Yes.  I'm coming to see Kyle.  It would make sense to stay in the same city, wouldn't it?"

            "Yeah."  JC nodded.  "I'm sorry; it just sounded like you were going to be in Florida for something else."

            "Why else would I be in Florida?"

            JC sighed and pinched the skin on his forehead.  "Do not argue with her."  He said to himself as he took another deep breath.  "When do you get in?  We don't really have plans but if I can get some idea about when -”

            "I haven't bought my tickets yet."

            "Oh."

            "But I will be flying in on Friday and I'll be there until the next week."

            "Okay."  JC nodded.

            "So can I see Kyle?"

            "Of course you can."  JC bit his lip.  "When you get here you can give me a call and we can work that out."

            "I'm going to call before I get there."

            "That's fine too.  Whenever you know when you'll be here and what you want to do."  He ran his thumbnail up the inside of his index finger with a sigh.  "Do you want to talk to Kyle?"

            "No, that's okay.  I'll talk to him tomorrow when I call at our regular time."  She said quickly.

            "Oh.  Oh, yeah.  Okay."  JC stuttered.

            "I have to go though, I'm at work.  I'll talk to you later."  Lori said softly.

            "Okay."  JC nodded.  "Bye."  He hung up and frowned at the phone.  Talking to Lori was never what he expected, her moods were so varied it was like talking to a dozen different people.  After a conversation like that he needed someone calming and happy to talk to, so he dialed Jessica's number.

            "Hey you."  JC smiled when Jessica answered the phone.  "I'm glad you're home."

            "Hi."  She laughed and sat at the table, her stomach fluttering at the sound of his voice.  "How's it going?"

            "Okay." JC nodded with a sigh.  "I've been sick this week, but I'm better now. Which is good you know, since we go to work on Monday."

            "You were sick?"

            "Yeah, I had this thing."  JC coughed into his hand.  "I was… I had a fever and I threw up a couple times.  It was nothing really, I'm okay now."

            "What about Kyle?"

            "Oh no, Kyle's fine."

            "He didn't catch it?"

            "No.  No Joey came over and kept him for like, two days."  JC explained.  "Well… he yelled at me first, then took him."

            "Joey took Kyle?  Wow… how'd that go?"

            "I think Joey's going to be the spokesperson for safe sex now… but it went well.  They both came out intact and Kyle said he had a good time."

            Jessica laughed and shook her head; “Well I guess that's good."

            "Yeah.  I'm glad I got this over with now though instead of while we were recording you know?  That would push everything out another couple weeks." JC sighed.  "But yeah… Monday we hit the studio and pull sixteen hour days outta our hats."

            "That will be fun though, I'm sure you've missed working."

            "I actually have, yeah."  He smiled and ran his finger down the bridge of his nose.  "And uh… Lori is coming out next week too.  On the first… Friday."

            "Oh."

            "Yeah."

            "Well… well that will be good.  I mean, that way Kyle can see her and she'll definitely show up, you know?  Since she paid to fly out to see him and everything."  Jessica said quickly.

            "Yeah."  JC nodded. "I hope so anyway."

            "How long will she be here for?"

            "Um, she gets here on Friday and she leaves I think the next week, I don't know when."

            "Ahh, that's a while."

            "Yep.  I don't know what exactly she's got planned."  JC licked his lips.  "So uh… how would you like to come down and visit next week?"

            "Sure I'd -”  Jessica stopped and caught his meaning.  "Ahhh, to play house for Lori."  Her chest tightened for a second as she frowned.

            "Well… well that too." JC said quickly.  "But really, Kyle's been asking for you and I know you were saying you were bored up there in Connecticut and everything.  We'd love to see you again… I would."

            "It's only been two weeks."  Jessica smiled slowly.

            "I know." JC laughed.  "But I still miss you.  I wish you lived closer."

            "Like… in Alabama or something."

            "Nah, closer than that."

            "Jacksonville?"

            "Closer."

            "Orlando?"  She didn't know why she kept playing with the idea… and JC's head.

            "Closer than that."  He said softly.

            Jessica laughed nervously and dodged the comment, “I'd love to come out next week.  When do you want me there?"

            JC noticed how she ignored his last statement and sighed softly.  "Anytime you want.  Like I said, Lori will be out on Friday but it might be fun if you came out for Halloween."

            "Yeah, I love Halloween, that'd be cool."

            "We're going shopping for a costume this weekend I think."

            "Really?  Does he know what he wants to be?"

            "He said he wants to be Nsync, but…"  JC laughed.  "I think we'll try to find something else for him to wear."

            Jessica laughed and shook her head, “Sounds like fun."  She looked at her wall calendar and mentally went over what she had planned for the week.  "How about… hmm, how about if I come out on Wednesday?"

            "That's fine."

            "Will you guys be busy?"

            "I'll be in the studio all week anyway, so yeah I'll be busy.  But Kyle will be there."

            "Who's going to watch him?"

            "Heather and Amy.  Amy is going to take him on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when he has school since she's on the list to pick him up, and Heather is going to watch him all day Monday and then on Friday… I don't know.  If you're here then I guess you can watch him if you don't mind.  And if you're not I might just bring him with me and let him hang with the guys."

            "Ouch, that's busy."

            "Yeah."  JC sighed.  "I was thinking about putting him in daycare for full days all week, but I think that'd be too much for him, you know?  He's still just a little kid."

            "I can try to come out earlier if you want."

            "Whenever you can is fine."

            Jessica pursed her lips and frowned, she had promised her cousin she'd help him move on Monday and Tuesday.  "Okay, then I'll be there on Wednesday.  Do you want me to just go to your house when I get there to relieve Amy?  Or will she be watching him at their house?"

            "Yeah, they'll be at Amy and Lance's place.  We're gonna ride over to the studio together."

            "Okay."

            "Thanks a lot Jess."

            "No problem."  Jessica smiled and curled the phone cord around her finger.

            "Anyway, I've gotta get going.  I'll call you this weekend though, okay?"

            "Sure."

            "I miss you."

            "I miss you too."  She smiled and dropped her voice.

            "Love you."

            "Love you too."

            JC smiled then sighed softly and whispered, "Bye" before he hung up and shook his head.  He'd give anything for her to be there with him.  Anything.

 

 

 

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Copyright 2002, Amy Lynn