EIGHT:

 

[ the next day... ]

"I thought you stopped smoking in high school."

The voice behind him startled him, but when he turned around he was glad to see that it was just his brother catching him with a cigarette pressed to his lips. He was glad for the sunglasses that hid his eyes. He didn't want anyone to see the worry in his eyes. He took another drag off the half done cigarette, holding his breath until he thought his lungs would explode then blew the smoke out his nose like he'd learned to do in high school. "I did," he said with a dry voice, "This is my first in like three years.

"What brought the habit back?" Steve asked.

"My fucking life," Joey sighed as he angrily flicked ashes into the grass and took another drag from it. Joey directed his eyes to the house and angrily ground out. "Old habits are hard to break even when you tell everyone that you're fucking through with the habit in the first place."

There was a short uncomfortable stretch of silence between the brothers. "That's what Kelly is calling it?" Steve asked, "An old habit?"

"Actually she isn't calling it anything," he said, "She's not saying a word to me about it. I'm cut off now...no talk...no sex...fuck this is MY house and I'm feeling like I haven't paid the fucking mortgage." With that he put the cigarette out and grabbed the pack he'd stashed in the front pocket of his shirt and grabbed for the lighter he'd purchased. "I fucking slept on the couch last night," Joey said, the cigarette moving up and down in his mouth as he spoke.

"Give me that," Steve said ripping the cigarette from his lips. He took it and the lighter then grabbed the rest of the pack and put it on the patio table. Joey wasn't that mad about the cigarettes being stolen from him. What upset him was the look that Steve gave him. The disappointment in his eyes made his skin crawl. He wondered if anyone could look at him normal anymore.

He shrugged off the look and started back towards the house. "You wanna beer?"

"You're drinking now too?" Steve shook his head.

Joey smirked at him and wondered how his brother was so clueless sometimes. Everyone knew that he drank. That was no secret. He was the partier of the group and now everyone was saying that he was the whore of the group, but at least his brother should know that he wasn't a saint. "I always drank."

"Not at noon though," Steve said looking at his watch. "Even for you that's something."

"Oh my god," Joey said narrowing his eyes at his brother, "You've finally fucking done it. You turned into MOM."

"Kiss my ass Joey," Steve said, "I didn't come over here to argue with you."

"Why the fuck did you come over here then?"

"Audrey suggested that we take your kids for a day or so to let you and Kelly talk, but I don't think it would help, not with the attitude that you've got right now."

"The attitude I've got?" he asked, "The attitude that I've got. That's just great Steve...where are your Kelly pom poms. I think you forgot them."

"You think that's why I came out here?" Steve asked, "It make you feel like you fucked up?"

"Isn't it?" Joey asked.

"Joey. Hello? How long did it take me to marry Audrey?" he said, "Blake and Chrissy were almost three when we got married...and don't tell me that isn't what this is all about. I know that's what Kelly is thinking."

"Did she talk to Audrey?" he asked.

"No," Steve said, "She didn't tell me that. She just looks it. She had to in his exclusive relationship and then found out that it wasn't that exclusive."

"I was exclusive." Joey flopped down into a chair and looked over at the house again. "I was dating Yvonne before I got the nuts up to talk to Kelly about being with me. I know that I've known her forever, but I wasn't sure that I could be with her. Actually being with Yvonne made me see that I wanted Kelly and only Kelly."

Steve dropped into the seat across from him. "Well maybe she needs a reminder of that."

"A reminder?" Joey said biting back a scream that he wanted to throw at his brother. Even though they'd shared the same initial experiences with their women, Joey knew for a fact that Steve had been unfaithful in the beginning while Joey knew that he hadn't been. "I tell her that I love her and treat her like a princess...why would I need to remind her?"

Steve looked towards the house and Joey noticed Kelly standing near the sink looking out in the yard. He could tell from the tipped angle of her head that she wasn't really watching them. She was thinking and had just happened to have that happen while she was facing the backyard.

"Clearly because she's doubting you right now." Steve sighed. "I'm not saying admit that you were wrong or right, but you need to reassure her that you're going to be around. I'm not saying run of to Vegas, but at least try to show her that you care about her and that there isn't any other women in your life right now."

"How am I supposed to do that right now?" he asked feeling a headache coming on. He knew that he should go play with the kids or run errands for Kelly, but all he wanted to do was to curl up in a ball and fall asleep for a few days. He knew that his troubles wouldn't disappear if he did that, but at least they'd be put off for a while.

Steve was going to say something, but stopped when Kelly came out of the house. She walked up to them but only looked Steve in the eyes. "The kids and I were going to walk down the road and go to the park. Do you want to come?"

"I actually have to leave and get back to Audrey. She's mad at me for going to LA for a few days so I'm taking her to dinner tonight while Mom and Dad take the kids," Steve said, "But I'm sure that Joey'll go. He needs to get off his ass."


Going to the park down the street was always an adventure. When Joey was home it seemed like he turned into the Pied Piper, leading all the kids to the park. Every kid in the housing area came out to see him and if there were fans around they would eventually end up there. It was a good thing to get to know the neighborhood kids. Most of the time Kelly never left the house when she was home, but sometimes she wished that he didn't draw as much attention that the ice cream man that drove through once every evening after the kids got out of school.

Kelly pulled her hat down a little more and adjusted her sunglasses then looked over at Joey who had Brianna on his shoulders and was making sure that Colton walked between him and Kelly on the sidewalk. There wasn't much traffic on the street, but there had been a few fans on the street earlier so she knew that he would try to keep himself between the fans and the kids if all possible. Kelly had no doubt that Joey would fight anyone who would try to get to them, there had been times when she'd been pregnant that he'd pushed guys out of the way so that they wouldn't even bump into her in crowds.

It was the perfect little family scene: mom, dad, and the two kids. If they had brought Nikita out from the backyard it would have been a postcard scene. Kelly could imagine it being on one of those Kodak commercials. A scene that everyone always wants to capture, at least on the outside.

Underneath the surface of things was a tension that Kelly couldn't stomach. She wouldn't dare let anyone outside of the NSYNC families know about it, but she thought she might be getting an ulcer from the worrying. She'd been so stressed out that morning that she'd thrown up again. She'd eaten a little bit of breakfast, toast and some coffee, and had thrown it up before she'd even finished the piece of toast.

Luckily Joey had slept through the whole thing. She hadn't banished him to the couch, but when he'd fallen asleep the night before she hadn't woken him up to move to bed so she'd found him on the couch when she'd come downstairs with the kids to get breakfast. After getting the kids settled at the table she hadn't bothered to wake him up knowing that she didn't want to talk to him and because he probably hadn't slept much that week.

"You ok?" Joey asked from next to her.

That afternoon he wore long baggy jean shorts, flip flops and a green and black T-shirt that he'd gotten from going to a concert that past year. He looked sloppy and comfortable. He looked normal, if she could get past the fact that he was an international superstar. It was rare that he'd be seen around the neighborhood in shorts. He always seemed to be on his way here or there and most times he was dressed up or at least dressed in longer clothes so that he could hop on a plane and be comfortable anywhere he might land. Today his tattoos showed on his lower legs as they walked and she wondered when she'd have to explain about his legs to Brianna.

"Yeah," she said and gripped the towel around her neck. She looked over and saw Colton staring at her and wondered if the tension was bad enough for him to notice. When he smiled back at her she laughed, "I'm fine."

"Good." Joey put his hand up and took his baseball hat off and placed it on Colton's head. "Don't lose that ok?"

"Ok Joe," he said.

Kelly could see the strain on Joey's face. She herself was having trouble getting used to the idea that Colton was there. Half of her, the motherly part of her, wanted the boys in her family to get along great and have Joey be like he was with Brianna. The other half, the hurt half of her, wanted the boy to disappear so that Joey wouldn't get attached to another woman's child.

When they got to the park there were a few younger kids and the twin thirteen year old girls, Morgan and Mira, from the end of the street playing in the sandbox and on the swing set. Kelly knew the kids and didn't mind Brianna and Colton to play with them so while Joey sat at the edge of the sandbox with the kids she took a seat in the sun and lay back in the grass on her towel.

She heard Joey and Colton figure out that they wanted to build a sandcastle and heard the older girls laughing and joking with Joey about the tour and the show that they were going to get tickets to in two weeks.

"Joey can you get Justin to wave to us," Mira or Morgan said, "We wanna get a picture with him."

"Awe," she could tell that Joey was frowning as he spoke to them, "I thought that you were my biggest fans."

"You are," both girls said then laughed.

Joey took a breath and she waited for him to say his normal speech. He always told her about all the promises that people wanted him to make and how it had been so hard to turn people down, yet most promises ended up getting broken. "Well I'll try and get Justin to wave, but I can't make any promises."

"You can say that again." Kelly found her mouth mumbling before she could stop it and when she tipped her head up to look at Joey he was staring at her. She hated the tension that was between them. Just a sideways glance from him made her stomach jump. Normally it would be because he was flirting with her, but that day it was the anger that was between them that made her stomach churn.

Not wanting to continue the angry electrical connection between them, she put her head down and took a deep breath and let the sun warm her skin. The sounds of the kids playing and Joey helping Brianna and Colton in the sand filled her ears.

"Brianna don't eat the sand," Joey said. She could hear him brushing her hands off and from the sound of his voice he was probably was making faces to show her that it was gross. "Jelly Bean you need to play with it, not eat it."

"K," she said.

"Joey can we come to the park every day?" Colton asked.

"I guess," Joey said, "If we don't have other stuff to do then we can come down here. And if it's not raining."

"What else would we do?" Colton asked.

"Well it's not really you," Joey explained, "I have to work with your Papa Joe and his group this week and I think Kelly is going to do some things so we might not have time."

"Who's Papa Joe?"

"Papa Joe!" Brianna giggled. "I go?"

"No jelly bean. We aren't going to Papa Joe's house right now. Maybe tomorrow."

"Morrow?" she asked.

"Maybe." He laughed. "Good lord jelly bean. You get too excited about seeing your grandpa." There was a pause and she heard digging in the sand and found that Joey had now dug his feet into the sand and was helping Brianna bury his toes. "Papa Joe and Nana live across town. You'll meet them."

A little while later she felt a foot kick her foot then heard Joey's voice from above her. "Don't fall asleep on us just yet."

She sighed and rolled over onto her stomach and propped herself up to watch the kids. She patted the towel next to her. "I'm not."

"You sure you're feeling ok?" Joey asked.

She nodded and felt his hand on her back and She forgot for a moment about how upset she was with him and tried to relax a little hoping that it would let her tense back and stomach muscles ease. She tried to pretend that nothing had happened to break up her family and that Joey had just gotten home from tour and was trying to spend time with her.

His hand made it's way under the hem of her shirt and rubbed the expanse of her back. If they hadn't been outside she would have touched him back, but she knew that she was in public so she lay there and thought about what she would do with him if they were alone. "You're all tense baby," he said in a low voice.

If he hadn't said anything she would have probably forgotten about their troubles, but with his mention of the tension in her back everything came rushing back to her.

*****

"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."

*****

"I wonder why," she mumbled, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

 

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