FOUR:

 

"I told you this would happen."

Joey opened his eyes and looked around for a moment trying to figure out who was talking. It was late in the evening and he was on the couch in front of the television with a blanket over him. He could hear people in the kitchen and could smell the food cooking, probably dinner, but he didn't recognize the voices that were all around him.

"Mother," he heard Kelly say, "It's something that happened five years ago. He just found out about it now. It's not something that he could have happened."

Joey turned his head and looked over in the kitchen to find Mrs. Baldwin and Kelly standing next to where Brianna was in her high chair looking as if she was eating Cheerios. He sighed and turned his head away and tried to not get sick to his stomach smelling dinner being cooked.

"How is this going to look Kelly?" her mother continued, "He's cheated on you, had a child and from where I stand I don't see this as any different from his pattern in the past." Her sigh could be heard from where he was laying, "I told you that you should have gotten a ring out of that boy. At this moment he has no legal obligations to you or his daughter. Actually I'm surprised that he stuck around this long."

Joey shut his eyes for a long moment and took some deep breaths. From the way her mother described it, he seemed to be a player. He knew that he could have offered to marry Kelly, and he had, but she'd seen it in his eyes that he wasn't ready. He'd promised her before Brianna was born that they would get married. He was going to keep that promise to her if he could only find the right time to propose again. He wanted them to be together for the right reasons and not force a life on each other that he knew he wasn't ready to live.

To him commitment wasn't just putting a ring on someone's finger. It was being there for them when they needed him and so far he'd thought that the last three or so years had gone fairly well. There had been times where he'd messed up, but he'd always made it up to them by moving schedules around so that he could be with them more than the group would let him. He'd realized that early on his time with them was more precious than any gift he could buy or any ring he could put on her finger.

"Kelly your father and I are worried for you. We know that Joey will take care of Brianna, but we want to know that you're going to be taken care of too. Your father and I are about to retire and we need to know that you're going to be ok."

"Why do you think of me as this damsel in distress?" Kelly asked, "I may not have gone to a four year college, but I have enough smarts to get along in life."

"Your father and I don't just want you to get along," her mother replied.

Nikita started to bark and he heard Kelly move across, pick him up and set him outside again then came back to her mother. "If you and Daddy are so concerned about me then why is it you always delivering the news? I know he's busy with work and everything, but if he has such a problem with me and the way I'm raising my daughter then why hasn't he come to me?"

"Your father is caught," the older woman said, "He loves you and Joey very much and he would never want to see you apart, but he also doesn't want to see you two together like this. It hurts him to see that a boy you love sooo much and wrap your world around hasn't come to the conclusion to marry you."

He could hear the tension in Kelly's voice and heard her start to cry. "Joey loves me. I have to believe that. I know that everything has changed because of this sudden intrusion into the little plan I had for us, but he loves his daughter and he's taken care of me this far."

Joey pressed his face into the pillow and squeezed his eyes closed. He needed to get out of there because the arguing between them really wasn't helping him feel bad. Finally he got up enough courage and decided that he'd go at least pee and see if that would make him feel better. If they were still arguing when he got back then he would talk to her mother, but if they weren't he wasn't going to put in his two cents. It wasn't going to be worth arguing his case to Kelly's mom. He needed to convince Kelly that he was going to be there for her.

He pushed himself up and felt a cold sweat cover his face and neck. His stomach lurched and he leaned over and stuck his head between his knees and sat there. He could feel his whole body protesting every movement that he made, every breath he took. He groaned as his head pounded. "Kelly?" he called out.

She appeared in front of him, he could see her bare feet near him and he felt her hand move to his shoulder. "Joe? Are you gonna throw up again?"

"No," he said, "I don't think. I gotta piss and I just can't stand up right now."

"Joey maybe we should take you to the hospital," she said.

"No," he said, "I'm fine. Really. I just need to eat something. All I had today was a bagel and part of Brianna's sandwich."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," he said, "I just need to pee then I'm going to try and take a shower and go to bed."

She pulled him up to his feet and held onto him, slipping an arm around him. If he wasn't so sick and wasn't in a fight with her he would have hugged her to him and not let go, but he restrained himself and thought about the dizzy feeling that was making him feel like he was going to pass out.

"I think you should just go to bed."

"Lemme pee then we'll talk," he said and looked over and saw her mother staring at them. "Hey Mrs. B."

"Hello Joe," she said and turned to take Brianna down from her seat. "I hope you're feeling ok honey?"

"Hi jelly bean," he waved to his daughter as he bit his lip keeping back the thoughts that he really wanted to say to Mrs. Baldwin. He leaned against Kelly to make it to the bathroom. He could have reamed her for the things that he'd heard her say to Kelly, but he saw that Brianna was looking at him.


An hour later Kelly moved from her seat next to the couch and grabbed up Brianna from where she'd falling asleep against the bunched up comforter on the other side of Joey. Joey plopped his feet down onto the floor from where they were on the coffee table and took a deep breath then started into a fit of coughing.

"Are you ok?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said and grabbed up the glass of water that was on the table.

"I'm gonna put her to bed," she said cradling Brianna against her shoulder, "Are you gonna be ok?" She looked at the half-eaten bowl of soup. "You want some more soup?"

"No thanks," he said, "I'll be fine down here." He paused for a moment. "Goodnight."

"I'll be back in a little bit," she said, "We need to talk."

"Ok," he said sounding a little weary of their upcoming conversation. Instead of looking tense though he leaned back and looked to be trying to relax.

She carried Brianna through the house and up to her room. She was a like a rag doll now, being so tired so she undressed her, changed her, then lay her in bed. Normally Kelly wasn't extremely religious, but that night she sat with her after tucking her in to bed and said a little prayer for her daughter. The future wasn't looking that bright for them and with a new addition to the family Kelly could see a million and one things happening to them that had the possibility of pulling their little family apart.

She returned to the living room and found Joey sitting up and drinking more water. She wanted to scream at him for so many reasons, but the fact that he looked so sick made her think twice about yelling at him.

"Is she ok?" he asked looking up at the ceiling as he flipped off the television and put the remote on the end table.

"Yes," Kelly said and took a seat again in the recliner next to the couch. She hated the feeling that she had to stay away from him. It wasn't just that she didn't want to get sick. She felt as if he might try to hurt her, just sitting there. She didn't understand why

Joey seemed very careful as he spoke next. "Can we talk now without screaming at each other? I know you want to leave the whole subject alone, but Colton is going to meet up with me in New York and I'm going to keep him with me for a few days before I come home."

Kelly sighed and ran her hands through her hair then began to pick the link from her shirt and jeans. It wasn't that she didn't want to talk about things, but she needed time to take everything in. It wasn't simple to add another person to a family. Joey seemed to think that it was a simple thing, but he didn't realize that Brianna had gone through some difficulties just being introduced to other children. Adding a brother to her life might not go so smoothly. "Joe. I don't know how this is going to work. I know it may seem selfish to not want him in our lives, but I didn't expect to have a four-year-old son soon. I barely can keep track of Brianna some days and I know that I'm going to be the one taking care of Colton."

"We have to make this work," Joey said sitting forward, moving so that he was closer to her. "Colton lost his mother Kelly and we--"

"I don't know if I can replace her," Kelly said, her voice coming out shaky.

"I'm not asking you to." His glass was placed down on the table again and Joey tried to push himself up to standing.

"Joey," she said, "Just stay put ok? I don't need you falling over and cracking your head open. I've got a whole bunch on my plate right now and taking you to the emergency room wasn't something I wanted to add to my list of thing to do."

"Just think about Brianna. If she lost her mother and I started to see someone else--"

Kelly's eyes filled with tears and her mother's voice entered her head. Kelly your father and I are worried for you. We know that Joey will take care of Brianna, but we want to know that you're going to be taken care of too. She stared at him and was scared when he even look different. She didn't know how just a few words could change her whole world, but they had and she needed to let him know that it wasn't going to be easy to fix it. "How do I know that it's not going to happen now?"

His whole body stiffened and he stared at her with a shocked look, but this time it wasn't a joke. He really couldn't understand why she was acting this way. "Kelly what are you talking about?"

"Right now Joe all I know is that you love our daughter. I don't know where--" She paused and looked away from him choosing to stare at the blank television screen. "I don't know where I stand with you."

"You don't know where you stand with me?" he repeated, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You've lied to me Joey--"

"Don't call me Joey Kelly. You never have called me that so don't start changing now!"

"I'm sorry Joe," she said in a half-scared tone. She feared at that moment that she might be digging a hole that she might not be able to get out of. On the one hand she needed to tell him how she felt, but at the same time she didn't know if she should tell him the truth because she wasn't sure what the ramifications of her words would be.

"I'm sorry for snapping baby," he said, "I didn't mean to get upset with you, but I don't know why you think that my feelings for you or your place in this house have changed."

"You lied to me Joe."

"Do you want me to tell you everything I've ever done?" he asked, "I mean that's ridiculous."

"You told me that you'd be faithful to me, to our daughter and to our family."

"I was," he said, "I love you more than life itself and I didn't go back on that. Colton's mother and I were together way before I made that commitment to you."

Kelly began to cry and pushed herself out of her seat, "I can't do this right now. I can't talk to you about this. I thought that you loved me and were going to marry me and we were going to live happily ever after, but I can't live like this. I can't be a mother to our child wondering if someone else is going to show up and tell me that you're the father of their children. it's not fair to me. It's not fair to Brianna."

"I'VE NEVER CHEATED ON YOU LIKE THAT. THERE AREN'T GOING TO BE ANYMORE SURPRISES LIKE THAT."

"How do I know that Joe?" she asked, "How do I know that some woman isn't going to walk in here and take you away from the life that we've fought the last six years to live. I've been with you forever and nothing will take that place, but I'm not sure how I see our future."

"You've been listening to your mother," he said, "Is it the whole ring thing? The marriage thing? I told you that I'm going to marry you, but I want to do it for the right reason. I want to do it because I love you and the time is right not because your mother thinks I'm a player and that I'm going to run out on you."

Kelly sighed. Her head had begun to hurt and her heart felt as if it was breaking all over again, the way it had felt that morning. "When you love someone Joe you tell them that and I'm sorry if the tradition of marriage is uncomfortable for you, but I won't believe that you love me until that moment. If that makes me a bitch or whatever I'm sorry, but I have to protect myself and our daughter."

"Kelly."

"I take care of Colton for you Joe. I know you're going to ask me that, but not because you want me to make him a part of our family, but because I feel like now that I need to pay you back for letting me stay in this house and live with our daughter here."

When she saw that her statement had shocked him into silence she turned on her heel and left. She made it to the top of the stairs before having to sit down and rest. When she did she found herself not being able to stop crying. Tears flowed not only for the past, but also for the future that seemed so unplanned now that she wasn't sure that she saw herself and Joey together any more.

Finally, when she thought she'd got most of the tears out, she pulled herself up from the carpet and checked on Brianna. Her daughter was still asleep so she closed the door and shuffled her way into the master bedroom.

She slowly undressed and pulled on her pajamas. She stayed in the walk in closet for as long as she could, wondering if she would soon hear his feet on the stairs and him entering the room. She wasn't used to having Joe in the house and not have him in bed with her. Even when he'd been sick in the past she had at least been beside him during it. She wasn't sure if he would come up to bed that night, but she expected him not to, if he hadn't come already.

Finally when her fatigue got to her she moved to the bed and chose to get into bed on his side that night. She pulled back the sheets and climbed in and covered herself, taking deep breaths and surrounding herself with him. Normally she would do this the first night Joey would be gone on the road, but this was the first time she'd done it while he was actually still in the house.

To her surprise, a while later she heard him on the stairs and then he made his way to check on Brianna and entered their room.

She heard him in the walk in closet, heard him change and heard his steps coming closer to where she lay in bed, but instead of getting in bed with her he turned and left the room, and again tears filled her eyes.

 

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