SEVEN:

 

The sun was bright and high in the sky when the car pulled up to Joey's house. They'd been loaded onto a plane at nine that morning and had made good airtime and had landed on time. He'd been sitting in the back seat of the Escalade with Colton half asleep against him until the car stopped. He shoved his sunglasses down over his eyes from where he'd perched them on his forehead.

Slowly Colton opened his eyes when the car slowed. He looked up at him and yawned then scratched his head, knocking off the baseball hat that Laura had given him at the airport. "Where are we?"

"Home," Joey said with a nervous smile, "You ready kiddo?"

Mike jumped out of the driver's side and came and cracked the door open for him. He stood in between the street and the door and waited until Joey and Colton had gotten out of the car before they moved their way up to the house. There were a few people standing around the street and for a moment Joey thought about moving, due to the noise that the girls at the curb made when he and Colton walked hand in hand to his house.

"This is your house?" Colton asked dragging his teddy bear along. He had his bag over his shoulder like Joey did, but was walking slowly due to the weight of the thing.

"It's your house now too," Joey said looking at the little boy. He'd dressed him in a white T-shirt and jeans that morning and had made a mental note to taking him shopping. He had a bag of clothes, but from the looks of them Joey knew that they were second hand. He still hadn't gotten the full story on where his son had lived for the last four years, but he was sure that he was going to make up for it in the next few weeks.

"Really?" Colton asked, "I never lived in a house before."

Joey paused for a moment as he reached for the door then looked at Mike who seemed to only be able to shrug at him. He wanted to tell his son that it was strange that he'd never lived in a house, but decided not to get into it. Having to explain to him that he had a sister and a new mother figure to take care of him was going to be hard enough.

"Hey Kelly!" Joey called, "We're home!"

"Like I didn't know Joe," she said coming around the corner from the kitchen. She wore jeans and a T-shirt and slippers and was wiping her hands on a towel. "The screams kind of gave you away."

Joey looked towards the door as Mike closed the door then turned back. "Sorry about that."

"They've been here since yesterday."

Joey frowned. "Yesterday?"

"Yes," she said then leaned down and looked at Colton. "Are you Colton?"

"Yes," he said putting his finger in his mouth. He stepped closer to Joey so Joey put a hand on his shoulder. "Who are you?"

"Take your fingers out of your mouth Colton," Joey said, "That's Kelly. Remember how I told you that she's gonna live with us?"

Colton nodded then pressed his cheek against Joey's leg, "I forgot."

"It's ok," Kelly said, "It's nice to meet you."

Colton nodded and put his hand in his mouth, pulling on his upper lip, as he watched Kelly with wide eyes.

"Where's jelly bean?" Joey asked.

"Naptime," Kelly said in a soft voice not looking up at him. "It's almost lunch time though. Do you boys want some sandwiches?" Her question was directed at the both of them, but her eyes never left Colt's face.

Colton looked up at Joey as if asking for permission. "Yeah," Joey said, "What do we have?"

"Peanut butter and jelly or I've got some ham and cheese."

"Ham and cheese please," Joey said with a joking tone and watched as Kelly smiled. She was putting on a good show for Colton, but he could tell that she was still upset with him.

She leaned down and touched his shoulder and he shied away. She frowned then took a deep breath. "And for you Colton?"

"Ham and cheese please," he said mimicking Joey.

Kelly stood up and smoothed her hands over her jeans. "Why don't you grab your stuff and put it upstairs in Colton's bedroom then wake up Brianna and we'll have lunch out back."

Joey nodded and grabbed up the bags and started for the stairs.

"You staying too Mike?" Kelly asked.

"Naw," he said, "Shanice is picking me up in a minute. I called her on the way over."

"Well tell her to come in and say hello when she gets here. I haven't seen her in a while."

Mike nodded.

"You want a drink or something?" she asked.

Joey looked at Kelly and hated the fact that she was being nicer to his bodyguard than him. He hated the feeling that he'd pissed her off so badly that she wouldn't be normal with him. After all, she'd been the only normal woman in his life other than his relatives since his career had taken off. He didn't want to lose that.

"Sure," Mike said and followed her into the kitchen.

Moments later as they entered the guest bedroom Joey sighed a sigh of relief. He saw that Kelly had taken out some of the adult type things that had been there and replaced them with a red bean bag chair and a plastic toy chest that looked like a football.

"Here's your room," Joey said and set his bag on the bed. "Let's get Brianna and we'll go get lunch."

"Brianna?"

"Yeah," Joey said with a smile, "Brianna is your little sister."

"I got a sister?"

"Yeah," Joey said, "She's tinier than you so you have to be careful, but she's a nice girl so I'm sure you'll get along."

"Is she a baby?" Colton asked.

"She's two and a half," Joey said, "She's about half as old as you. Isn't that cool? You get to be a big brother."

Brianna's room was hot even though the air conditioning was on and the blinds were closed. Joey walked in the room, flipped on the overhead fan then went to grab her up. She wore shorts and a pink tank top, but he could tell that she'd been sleeping hard in the heat considering the sweat that had formed on her forehead.

"Jelly bean," Joey said shaking her a little, "Jelly bean wake up. It's time for lunch."

Brianna finally opened her eyes and as she pushed herself to sit up she looked at Joey and then at Colton before she fell back onto the bed. "Seepies."

"Come on jelly bean," Joey said lifting her from the bed. He lifted her up to lay against his shoulder and she held onto him and sucked her thumb. He could tell that she wasn't awake yet by the way that she whined when he picked her up then basically plastered herself against him and wouldn't let go when he got over to the changing table. "Let's change your diaper and then we'll go get lunch."

"A jeey one?" she asked.

"I think Mommy said you can have a jelly sandwich," Joey said as he removed her shorts and started in on getting her a new diaper.

"Diapo?" she said with her thumb in her mouth. He watched how her little finger curled up around her nose as she sucked on her thumb. He didn't know if Kelly was trying to break her of the habit, but he thought he'd mention it to her later.

"Yep jelly bean." He watched in amazement as his hands did all the work without thinking about it. He hadn't changed a diaper in a few days, but it was something that he thought a person just learned and never forgot. He hoped that would be true with the way Kelly was feeling with him. They'd fallen off track a little, but he wasn't sure that it should mean that they break things off for good.

"Just like riding a bike," Joey mumbled.

Brianna popped her thumb out of her mouth and wiped it on her shirt. "Ina a skooter?"

Joey made a silly face. "No honey. No scooter. We can maybe go on a ride later, but right now we need to get you changed so you and your brother can have lunch."

Brianna's thumb popped out of her mouth. "Bowther?"

"Remember I told you that I was going to bring home someone to meet you?" he asked.

"No," she said.

"I remember jelly bean," he said, "You know when we were playing before I left to go to New York. We drew a picture of our family?"

"No," she whined.

*****

"Let's draw Mommy and daddy and Brianna," Joey said taking a crayon to the blank sheet of paper he'd pulled out of the spiral notebook he'd found in Brianna's toy drawer.

"Mommy ina dress," Brianna said and drew a rough circle.

"Why don't I draw and you can color in the other stuff like you do in your coloring book?" Joey said wanting to make sure that there was enough room to show the three of them with a little space over to draw her brother.

*****

Joey scratched his head. He remembered distinctly that he told her about Colton. He'd drawn them and written their names. He'd made sure that she understood what was going to happen, but maybe he'd only dreamt that. It seemed that everything was surreal these days.


Kelly practically ran for the door when the doorbell rang. She'd been dealing with the phone ringing off the hook, but when she thought that Shanice might be outside she ran to answer it. She didn't even know her that well, but she was starved for some attention that didn't have to do with Joey's TRL announcement that day.

"Well hello there Miss Thang," Shanice said coming in the door. She pulled Kelly into a hug and held onto her for a moment then pulled away, "I hear that my hubby is here somewhere?"

"Yeah," Kelly said and pointed towards the kitchen. "I got him to get a drink, but he's refusing lunch."

"I'm sure he's not being rude. We have early dinner plans with my parents and the kids. They're over there already."

"Oh," Kelly sighed out wishing that they didn't have plans. She had the urge to beg them to stay with her and Joey. She didn't think they needed security help, but being in the house and being alone wasn't something she thought she could handle. She normally would kick people out for coming over to bother them, but at the moment she was tempted to call every number in her phone book and plan a party so they didn't have to sit together in the house alone.

"Neesy," Mike said when they came around the corner.

Kelly watched the couple embrace and found her eyes moving to look at the ceiling. She wished that Joey and she could be like that, but she knew that there were things in the way of them being normal now. She had questions about his commitment to her and she now seemed to doubt even the simplest things that came out of his mouth.

"Sorry Kelly," Mike said, "I didn't mean to slobber all over your kitchen?"

"Its ok," she said, "I've got a two and a half year old and a dog. Slobber is my life."

"Speaking of that," Shanice said, "Where is the devil dog?"

"Probably digging up my flowers out back. He's been banished for the afternoon after I found him chewing up my running shoes."

"Oh," Shanice said, "You should send him to doggie boot camp or something."

"Definitely," Kelly said with a sigh. "I've got a boyfriend on the road, a kid in diapers and a dog going to school? Is this really my life?"

Shanice laughed, "It's not THAT bad."

"Oh wait...it gets better. I now have a four and a half year old too," she said.

Mike gave her a stern look. "Leave that alone Kelly. That boy is a sweetie. He's already got everyone on tour singing the wheels on the bus. THAT takes talent."

Kelly was about to say something else when Joey came in carrying a very sleepy Brianna in his arms, while holding onto Colton's hand. She paused for a moment taking in the sight of her family and took a breath. Here went nothing, and everything.

"We should head out," Shanice said pulling on Mike's hand.

"You guys need me just page me," Mike said.

"You know it."

Kelly watched as Shanice and Mike both said hello to the kids then she busied herself with making the sandwiches. She brought out the deli provolone that Joey liked and the American cheese for hers then grabbed out the honey baked ham she'd gotten the day before. Tomatoes were added to the lettuce she'd gotten and she began to cut them into slices.

"Hey Colton?" she called, "What do you want on your sandwich?"

Colton appeared at her side, still carrying his bear and started to stand on his toes to see the counter. "Is that ham and cheese?"

"Yeah," she said and watched as Joey brought Brianna into the kitchen and put her down, going through the motions of getting her some juice. She could feel the electricity coming from his body as he moved behind her to the refrigerator.

"That doesn't look like ham and cheese," Colton said, "My mommy always had the round kinda ham."

"That's the packaged stuff," Kelly explained looking at the little boy as he watched her make the sandwiches. His eyes were wide like he'd never seen food before. "This stuff I got from the deli."

"Like Sam's deli?" Colton asked.

"I guess," Kelly said, "Is that were you used to eat sandwiches?"

Colton put a hand on the counter and looked at her working. "Mommy got sandwiches and I got to have potato chips."

"Hey Colton are you allergic to anything?" Kelly asked wondering how she might deal with that kind of a thing. Brianna seemed to be able to eat everything even if she didn't like everything they put in front of her.

"I don't like pickles," he said.

"You aren't allergic though are you?" she asked.

"No," he said with a shy voice and stuck his hand in his mouth, "I don't know. I don't like pickles though...I forgot."

Kelly wanted to ask Joey if he knew, but she doubted that he would know. He knew stuff about Brianna, but mostly it was because she'd told him about things, rather than him knowing about it from experience.

"Why don't you wash your hands Colton and we'll eat those sandwiches?" Joey said.

Kelly could practically feel his breath on her neck from where he stood next to her. She turned just as he went to grab some lettuce. She turned to him and was about to put the knife she used on the tomatoes in the sink, but he stopped her. "Thank you for making the sandwiches," he leaned and kissed her neck where she'd felt his breath then stepped back.

 

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