86,400 Seconds - 2


Compared to New York City traffic, Los Angeles traffic is a breeze--well at three in the morning it is anyway.  When we pull onto the city streets it isn't at all strange to see the roads deserted and quiet at this time of morning.  Even near the airport traffic isn't that horrible.  At this point of the morning commute, the bars have closed and all the drunks are all tucked into bed for the night and the people getting up to go into the office for the early shift still have an hour or so before their alarm clocks will go off.  Early morning shift usually starts around this time of day, but due to the time change I'm finding myself in need of more sleep.

My eyes scan down from the window and land on my daughter's silent features.  I'm not sure if she's asleep, but she looks very relaxed, something I've been worried about since the moment Vivian pointed her out to me looking out the plane window.  Having a seven and a half year old be up and out and about at three in the morning probably would shock most parents.  It shocks me too despite the fact that it's been common place to have my daughter in not so typical situations in her life.  Its been a while though since I've really pulled her out of her normal routine, I wonder if Beverly knew that plan for Lynn to bring her along to pick me up.  I know if she does find out about it she'll probably yell at me for it.  I deserve it, but at the same time I'm glad that she came with me.  I needed to see her.  Now all I need to do is talk to her a little, spend some quality time with her and see if I can get to know her again after being away for so long.

A man who is nervous about speaking to his daughter in every day life should be shot.  I don't know who ever would be poetic enough to say it, but in plain English I'm feeling horrible about being here with her.  Its not her and its not me.  Its the unknown between us.  Her wanting to know why I've been away from her and me wondering what damage its done to her.  Despite my other responsibilities in life she's always there with me in the back of my head, making me wonder throughout my day if I'm making her proud.  I try to do my best to be what she needs me to be, what Beverly needs me to be and what I feel I need to be.

Somehow I always feel like I'm failing--failing everyone.

"Daddy?" Jayden says sleepily shaking her head a little to rub her cheek against my shoulder before she opens her eyes and blinks a few times.

"What Pumpkin?" I ask as I move her closer into my arms hoping that she isn't getting cold.  I move my hand to move her hair out of the way when it gets caught between her head and the shoulder that she's laying against.  My smile can't be hidden as she looks up at me with those big brown puppy dog eyes.  People always talk about those doe eyes that girls use on their men, well in this case Jayden is already honing her womanly skills by using me as a guinea pig.

"Can you play with me tomorrow?"

A thousand and one arguments with Beverly now haunt my thoughts.  Realistically I know that she misses me, but I try to push it from my mind hoping that all of this won't effect her in the long run, but I know from the look in her eyes now that she's going to miss out on way too much and that I need to start figuring out how to fix that.

"Yeah," I say, "Of course."  My mind scrambles to remember if I have free time tomorrow in my schedule.  One thing I won't do is lie to her.  I know that I say that I can play instantly, but it's more because I don't want her to know all that has to go on for me to have enough time to be with her.

A hand taps me on the shoulder and I move my head as Vivian leans forward.  "Tomorrow afternoon Justin has a few hours off in between his press junket and the party.  You can play with her then.  Actually if she wants to come along tomorrow I'll watch her.  Jive is sending out Barry from the LA office to work with Justin because Sonja is headed off to do something with Joey and RENT were doing in the city."

I nod.  "Thanks Viv."  I take a deep breath and look at Jayden who's looking at me.  "Hear that?" I say, "You get to come with us tomorrow and see Justin and Vivian while they work."

"And you while you work," she says.

"Yep."  My concentration on her is only interrupted with the thoughts of the crowds that we'll be seeing tomorrow and wondering how she'll react to them.  Jonathan and Steven are around her age and they handle most crowds ok.  Jayden on the other hand is a wild card when it comes to crowds.  I know that I've seen her in crowds before, but for the moment I can't remember if my heart was in my throat the whole time worrying about her or if I just went about my business and worried about Justin and Vivian and whoever else I was on duty to protect.

"What are we gonna play?" I ask.

"Tea party," she says.

"Tea party?" I ask, "You still play tea party?"

"Yeah," she laughs at me.  "You got me Tea Party for my birthday."

I feel a hand on my shoulder and I realize that I've forgotten about the shopping trip that I sent Vivian on a few months ago to get Jayden a birthday present.  I didn't exactly forget her birthday, but at the time I was dealing with Justin being moody over Britney and the press going wild over rumors about the breakup so Vivian had saved me and gotten her the present.

"I must have old-timers disease," I say and squeeze her which gets a smile out of her.  "Did you bring your Tea Party over?"

"No," she says with a frown.

"You and I can find some dishes to use," Lynn says from the backseat.  "I'll teach you how to make sweet tea and we'll make cookies too."

"Cookies?" Jayden already sounds as if she's on a sugar high just from the thought of the cookies she'll be eating the next day.

"Here we are," Paul announces.

"Home," Justin and I say together bringing laughs from Lynn and Paul and a confused look from Jayden.  We've only really been gone from the Los Angeles house for two weeks.  We were back in LA long enough for Justin to do laundry and get packed for the promotional tour that he'll be on for the next week or so then we'll be back before we go to Europe for some performances.

The house at night is lit up with tiny lights at the edges of the gravel driveway and the lights near the door are turned on.  The slate tiles near the front door are wet from the sprinklers that have just turned off.  They come on around three in the morning to water all the plants along the front of the house then the back set click on a four in the morning so that the lawn gets watered before the heat of the day hits.

"Don't act like you guys haven't been here in a long time," Lynn says.

"Momma," Justin says, "It's home."  I can't see what's going in the back seat, but the next thing I know I hear Justin stifle a laugh, "Trust Vivian to fall asleep right when we pull into the driveway."  His voice softens and I imagine him tapping her or moving her shoulder or something to wake her.  "Viv," he says in a whisper, "We're home baby."

"Hmm."

I turn a little and can see Lynn smiling at the two of them.

"I'm not sleeping," Vivian said.

"Vivian, you're too funny girl," I say, "Even Jayden stayed awake longer than you."

Jayden yawns.  "Can I go to bed now?"

Paul parks so that we can get out of the car easily.  "I'm gonna leave the car out because the service is coming over in the morning to wash it."

"Dad," Justin says.  Paul is Dad and Randy is Daddy.  I've never really understood how he shares two families like he does, but I've seen him with both of them and they both treat him like their own son and he definitely treats them both like fathers, complete with rolling eyes and trantrums, like the one he's about to throw, "I'll get up and wash it tomorrow.  You don't have to send the service over."

I groan knowing that I'll probably be the one out there helping him do it. 

"But--"

Justin's sigh is clear and I know his reason for it.  "I'm home Dad and I don't want anyone at the house.  I know that sounds shitty to say, but I really just don't want anyone inside those gates unless I invited them over to hang out."

I could tell that Paul isn't thrilled about being told what to do by his step-son, but at the same time Justin wasn't insanely rude about his request, it is a simple fact of life that Justin doesn't get alone time.  Paul nods.  "I can respect that."

Everyone piled out of the car and Justin made the effort to let go of his mother to get the bags to pull them into the house.  I put Jayden down to grab my bag, then felt her hand on my hip for a moment before she found my hand and held onto it.  "We'd better get you to bed Pumpkin.  It's gonna be a long day tomorrow."

Jayden just nods and leans against my legs.

"Come on kiddo," Vivian grabs her up and hugs her to her.

I follow with the others carrying the bags.  My knees are already killing me, but I know that it's all part of the job, part of the life, part of the adventure of being who I am and doing what I do.

Lynn yawns next to me and laughs a little, "Its been a long day.  Jayden wore me out.  I know I've been away from Jon and Steven too long when only one little one totally tires me out."

I turn my head and instantly feel as if she's trying to tell me something more than what she's saying.  "She was good though, right?"

"Yes," Lynn says with a nod and a comforting hand on my arm, "She's always an angel when she's at the house.  That's why we keep inviting her over to visit."

I sigh.  "Lynn--"

"Horce, don't start this again.  We've had this talk before--"  She sighs and yawns again, "You don't owe me anything and there is nothing to repay.  You needed her and she needs you."

I nod and am quiet as I bring in the bags into the house.

In the living room Justin immediately flops down into the huge couch and puts his feet up with a tired sigh.  He pulls out his phone and opens it to check his voice mail.

"Justin, get off your butt and grab up your things and let Tiny take Jayden to bed," Lynn says.

I look at Justin and know that he's basically down for the count.  At this time of the morning it serves no purpose to argue with him.  "I can carry them upstairs."

"No," Justin says and looks at Vivian.  "I'll get them."  He flips his phone closed, mid call, and puts his phone away into his pocket quickly before grabbing the bag from my right hand.  If I know him well enough as I do he'll be taking his bags to the downstairs guestroom at the back of the house where Vivian normally stays instead of upstairs to his own room.  I've heard bits and pieces of conversations and I know she spent the night in his room last night so it doesn't surprise me that they'll be together tonight too.

Young love really is something I haven't been around in a while.  Justin and Britney were like an old married couple when it came time for them to finally get to be physically close to each other, this new nervous energy that Justin shows actually reminds me of myself.  I remember a million and one times when I'd try to sneak away from campus in college to meet up with Beverly to sneak around.  I never slept in the same bed with her under the same roof as my parents until long after we were married, but the idea of Justin and Vivian sharing a bed probably doesn't even phase Lynn.

Jayden is handed back over and Vivian excuses herself, following Justin down the hall to the bedroom with a slightly embarrassed look on her face as she goes.

"Those two ok?" Lynn asks.

"Right as rain," I say and move Jayden a little in my arms, "I should get this one up to bed.  I'll see ya'll in the morning.  I think the plan is to get up at least by eight."

"We'll be asleep, but I'm sure we'll see you later on in the morning if we get a chance, maybe slip over and have lunch with the kids later."

"Sounds good," I say and grab up my bag in my free hand and make my way up the staircase to the two bedroom apartment that spans the expansive four car garage and recording studio on the back of the first floor of the house.

Once inside the apartment I drop my bag onto the floor and move into the bedroom that Jayden always uses.

"No," she says.

"What pumpkin?" I ask.

"I wanna sleep in your room," she says.

"Ok."  I shrug and put her down for a minute.  I know she can't sleep in the jeans and sweatshirt that she's wearing, "Where are your jammies?"

She lays back on her bed and points towards her bag in the corner.

I grab out what I can find, a huge USC football T-shirt that is like a dress on her when she wears it.  She's pulling off her shoes and socks and other clothes and when I've got the T-shirt situated  so I can put it over her head she reaches her arms out for me.

"Better?"

She nods and holds her arms out to me so I pick her up and walk with her in my arms to the other room to set her in bed.  She immediately crawls up to the head of the bed and slips under the dark blue comforter and curls into one of the pillows.  Taking this as my cue that she's ok for a while, I slip out into the living room, grab upmy bag and pull it into the bedroom.  I go to the dresser and find shorts and a shirt to wear to bed then slide into bed carefully so I don't wake her.  I set the alarm then shift a little until I can sleep.  My back and legs protest and I soon find myself out of bed and wanting to pace.  I should be falling right asleep but I can't.  Knowing that I haven't eaten much tonight I slip out of the apartment and down into the kitchen again.  The lights are off, but I find Vivian sitting there with a mug in her hands.  She's changed into pajamas and looks to be half asleep on her feet.

"Hey there you," I say passing her and going to grab a bottled water from the refridgerator knowing that there is always a spare bottle in there.

"Hi," she says.

"Justin punk out on you and go to sleep?"

"Not yet," she says, "He's taking a shower and saying goodnight to his mom.  How's Jayden?"

"Fast asleep by now I'm sure."

"I'm glad that she got to come and visit.  I've missed her this summer.  I wish we could have been out in LA over the break so--"

"Yeah well," I say cracking open the bottle,  "We needed to be in other places."

"I know I didn't ask you this earlier, but what happened in Virginia?" she asks.

"I'll tell you one day," I say, "But for the moment just know that he's a million times better now that you're back around him.  You're his lifeblood these days."

"Lifeblood?" she says and I know I've spooked her.  She loves him with all of her heart.  I've known about it for a while, but it really shows in her reaction.  I know that she's scared of messing things up.  "It's a lot of pressure."

"You'll do fine," I say.

We stand there for a moment and finally hear the sprinklers in the back of the house come on.

"How's Beverly?" she asks.

"Same as always,"  I shrug my shoulders and take a deep breath.  "I guess."

"I'm surprised she let Jayden hang out with you."

"Me too," I say.  Beverly is overly strict about who Jayden spends time with and spending time with her own family, her own father, seems to be at the bottom of that list these days.  My job keeps me away and that now has become a help for Beverly to keep her away from me so it really is a shock to see her here and with me.

Vivian's fingers tap the counter top.  "She hates Justin doesn't she?"

"No," I say knowing that Vivian is very territorial when it comes to Justin and takes it very personally when people aren't friendly with him, "She hates that I love my work and that I'm not the husband that she thought she was marrying."  I shrug my shoulders, "I love what I do Vivian."

"I didn't say you didn't."

"I can see it in your eyes though."  I reach over and touch her cheek in a fatherly sort of way.  We have a strange sister/daughter/friend relationship and sometimes, like now I really feel like she needs the fatherly side of my personality to come out.   "You're doubting a whole bunch of things right now...aren't you?"

"No," she says leaning into my hand, "Over the summer I was.  I really thought about staying in DC, but--" she sighs.  "He needs me and in a way I need him too."

"It's the same for me," I say, "I mean I know that Beverly needed me, but the pull of him and the group and life on the road and all of that really was more than I could handle."

"Daddy!"

I drop the waterbottle onto the counter as my heart shoots into my throat. I rush towards the stairs to find Jayden standing at the top in tears.

"Pumpkin," I say breathlessly as I take the last few steps, "What's wrong honey?"  I don't know how she's gone from normal to hysterical so quickly, but I pull her into my arms quickly when I see the look on her face.  "Baby.  I'm here.  What's wrong?"

She continues to cry and holds onto me before she mumbles, "Don't go away."

"Awe," Tears bite at my eyes, "I'm not going away.  I was just getting a drink of water."

"You ok up there?" Vivian asks.

"Yeah," I say as I take a seat on the stairs.  She's at the bottom of the stairs with a worried look on her face.  I hold Jayden in my lap.  "Go on to bed.  She just got a little scared that I wasn't around when she woke up."

She watches us then turns and leaves, still with that worried look on her face.

“You were gone,” she says in a small voice holding onto me, curling her litter fingers into my shirt and hugging me close.

“I wasn’t sweetie.”  I sigh when I realize what I’m doing.

I’ve had enough counseling over this—another thing that upset Beverly, my inability to make the meetings—so what if I was on a conference call instead of actually there.  Nothing really got accomplished there anyway.  What I did pick up from those sessions was that I needed to make sure to not baby Jayden, but take a fine line with her and sympathize with her about the situation, but not let her justify any outbursts or otherwise immature behavior over it.  I know that I’ve just basically told her that her feelings are worthless and that her concern doesn’t mean anything, in a situation like this I should baby her more than discipline her.

I take a deep breath and push myself up so that I can carry her back to bed.  “You’re getting all big on me Pumpkin.  I’m not gonna be able to carry you soon."

“Yeah you will,” she says with wide eyes looking up at me. “You can carry Justin on your back and he’s twice as tall as me.”

Once in the bedroom I turn the light on and move around the side of the bed, her still in my arms.

“I guess,” I say and move her a little in my arms so I can pull the blankets back to put her in bed.

"Where’d you go before?” she asks rubbing her face with the back of her hand as I pull the blankets up and around her.

I sigh and take a seat on the edge of the bed and push the blankets in around her legs.  “I just was going to get a drink before bedtime.”  I pat her leg, “Did you have a bad dream?”

She nods that she didn’t, but there is something in her eyes that tells me she did.  “I woke up and you were gone and I forgot where I was.”

“Happens to me all the time,” I say with a slight smile, “You’re ok though…right?”

She nods and then yawns.  “Do I really get to go to work with you tomorrow?”

“Yep,” I say, “One whole day with me.”

She nods as she speaks, “Good.”

I love the way she can stop a conversation by just turning over and closing her eyes, as if nothing needs to be said and she’s just bored with your presence.  I wish I could turn off life like that.  When I see her turn over I move around the bed and get under the covers.  I lay on my back for a long time staring up at the ceiling before I turn the light off and close my eyes.

"I love you Daddy,” I hear her say in the dark.

“I love you too Jayden,” I say.

I finally let my eyes drift close and try not to think too much about Jayden or Beverly or any of it.  I need to get up at the crack of dawn and that means I need to get to sleep as soon as possible.