ONCE IN A LIFETIME 3
Lance knocked on the door with a half smile praying that he could work his magic on her and get back into her good graces. He'd been away for two weeks and was now hoping that he hadn't made a complete mess of their relationship. He had to know because if not there was someone else who might be interested, although he prayed that the latter of his choices wasn't the one that he would end up picking.
There wasn't anything at all wrong with Amber, he'd known that from the start, but she and Ana were so different and he liked them both. He had to find out if he and Ana had a future or if Amber and he could get things started.
He remembered how nervous he'd been four days before when Amber had walked into his life for the second time just the way he was feeling now that he was trying to walk into Ana's life for a second time…
"Is your phone broken?"
Lance whipped around in his chair to face the girl that he'd seen in the hallway. For a moment he thought it was Ana since he'd spent the last few days avoiding her calls, but realized that it wouldn't be her. She'd never fly up to Tennessee to see him.
After the initial shock of being interrupted he found that he was confused. He hadn't expected that anyone would come into the studio. Meredith and Willis had left a few hours before after a full day of recording, but Lance had stayed behind. The room hadn't been scheduled to be used after their session that afternoon so Lance had taken it over using it as his office after everyone had gone home for the night.
"Excuse me?" he asked recognizing Amber. The room seemed to suddenly get smaller and he felt as if they were too close to each other.
"You didn't call," she said softly walking in the room.
He watched her move with wide eyes. She was leaner and more model-ish than he'd remembered and she seemed to know what she was doing by the look she gave him when she walked in. Here eyes were sparkling and seductive like her choice of outfit. That evening she was wearing a black skirt that showed off more leg than Ana would have ever dared to and a shirt that definitely left little to the imagination.
Stop obsessing over Ana. You and her don't click. Never have; never will.
Amber leaned against the counter that he was sitting near and said, "I assume that's because your phone is broken."
"Oh really?" he laughed. He'd never been the playboy of the group, but he was starting to think that he was missing out. The smile she gave to his flirtatious question made his stomach flip flop.
He readjusted himself in his seat hoping that he wouldn't embarrass himself in front of her. The sexual tension between them in the small room was a definite turn-on.
"Well you seem like a really smart guy so I know it's not because you're dumb enough to lose my number."
"Whoa!" Lance said when the door was flung open. Maybe I should have remembered to call her. Ana--not Amber.
The wooden door hit the wall with a bang startling the both of them. He watched Ana's face go from shock to anger and instantly knew that he was in trouble with her. He hadn't expected a warm welcome home, but she looked almost crazy with rage and it was all being directed at him.
"What the hell are you doing here?" she sneered.
So much for things going smoothly.
"I got back in town and wanted to see you and the kids." He smiled and hoped that she wouldn't throw anything at him. He watched her hands closely almost expecting to get swung at.
"Hey Ana!" A voice called from in the house.
Lance stiffened at the sound of the voice. It wasn't any of the guys and for a moment he felt territorial. No guy should be in her house unless he or the others knew about it.
"Yeah Craig?" she called.
"The lawyer wants to talk to you again," the voice said.
"Lawyer? What lawyer?" Lance asked looking straight at Ana for an answer.
"It's none of your business," she said throwing the door closed.
Lance caught the door with his foot and pushed his way in. "What happened?" he asked, "Why are you talking to a lawyer? Where are the twins? Are they ok?"
Ana ignored him and walked further into the house.
"Ana? What's wrong? Where are the twins?" His voice rose as she walked away from him.
"Stop yelling. I do have neighbors you know. The twins are at my mother's house," she said and flopped down into a chair at the dining room table. She took a breath then took the phone from Craig and began to talk.
Lance noticed Craig sitting at the table staring at him. He recognized the guy through their recording experiences together then asked, "What are you doing here?"
Craig tapped Ana's shoulder, leaned and kissed her on the cheek then said; "It was nice to see you again Lance. Tell her I'll call her later."
Lance nodded due to the lack of another reaction to give to the guy. He took a seat next to Ana and tried for the life of him to find out what was going on.
Ana looked tired--really tired. The kind of tired that shows days of fatigue, not just moments of it. There were circles under her eyes and he thought that she looked like she'd been crying.
"No," she said into the phone. "I understand. I'll be there. Yes, tomorrow at ten in courtroom 304."
When she hung up the phone Lance pounced on her with questions. "Court room? What is going on Ana and why are the kids at your mothers? And why is Craig over here with you alone?"
Ana held up a hand and let tears spill from her eyes. "Lance. I want you to get up and get out of my house right now. This has nothing to do with you and I'd appreciate if you'd not come over here anymore."
"Anymore?" he said, "You can't mean that."
"I said it and I do mean it."
"What the hell is going on?" he demanded to know.
"If you want to know go ask Justin or JC or someone. I'm sure they'll tell you, but as for me and you I don't want you near me or my kids again."
"What?" he said. "I know I've been gone for a while and I didn't say good bye and all, but really don't you think that it's kind of a harsh sentence for me?"
Ana got up from her chair and walked towards the door. Lance followed not knowing where she was headed to and found himself a moment later standing outside the front door staring at the keyhole that had just been slammed in his face.
"Justin I need you," she whimpered into the phone. She curled up into a ball on the couch and began to cry. This was now becoming a ritual. Something would happen and she would call him instead of Lance for support. It was the third night in a row that she'd reached out to Justin for help. The events of the last week had taken their toll on her. While Craig tried to help out, it was hard to put her trust in him fully since they barely knew each other.
"Ana calm down ok," Justin said with a smooth voice, "Just take some deep breaths. I'm on my way over."
"Ok," she said and closed her eyes against the tears. "Hurry."
"It'll be a few minutes," he said. She could hear the engine noise of his car in the background as he shifted gears then it slowed and stopped. "Ah shit."
"What?" she asked.
"I got caught at a light. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"Ok," she said.
"Are you gonna be ok or do you want me to stay on the line with you?"
"I'll be ok," she said.
"While you're waiting why don't you curl up on the couch and try to relax."
"I'll be there in a minute or two," he said calmly.
"Bye," she said.
Ana hung up the phone and went to get a drink of water. Every moment she made hurt her and every motion in life reminded her of the trouble that had been thrown into her lap that week.
"A supena?" she asked looking at it. "For what?"
"I'm not sure ma'am. I just need your signature. They don't tell me what I'm delivering."
"Well thanks, I guess."
"No troubles," the man said and left.
"What is it?" Justin asked as she walked back into the room. She'd been getting ready to leave and meet Craig for coffee, their second date that week when the doorbell had rung.
"I just got served a supena." She walked into the kitchen and leaned against a counter to open the letter while keeping an eye on the time and an eye on Justin and the kids hoping that their movie would turn into naptime.
"For what?" Justin was on the floor lying with the kids on either side of him. He was going to baby-sit that night and had already settled in.
"I don't know." She ripped open the envelope to reveal a small stack of papers.
She remembered the moment she realized what it was for. Her heart broke into a million pieces and if she hadn't already been leaning against the counter she would have fallen to the floor.
Richard never had good timing and this was just another case of his knack for ruining the serene life she led.
"What is it?" Justin asked. He was now in the kitchen with her standing looking at the paper upside down.
"Richard is petitioning for custody of the kids," she said.
"What?" Justin asked and ripped the pages from her hand.
The knock at the door brought her back into the present and she went to answer it, hoping that it was Justin at the door and not Lance returning to harass her.
By the time she got to the door tears were in her eyes again.
When she opened it this time Justin was there. He pulled her into a hug and held her as tears streamed down her face and her body rocked with emotion.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Lance was here and I told him to get out."
"Damn." Justin walked with her into the house shutting the door. "Where are the twins?" he asked.
"At my mothers," she said, "I haven't discussed any of this with them."
"That’s probably a good thing," Justin said. "Tell me what happened?"
She took a deep breath. "Well he came to the door and acted all normal and I couldn't handle it so I slammed the door on him, but not before Craig called out to me and said that the lawyer wanted to talk to me again."
"How's that going by the way?" he asked.
"I have my court date set and the lawyer is setting everything up."
"I wished you'd let me call in a few favors," Justin said as they took seats on the couch. He cuddled her to him carefully and hugged her as she began to calm down.
"I told you that I have to do this on my own."
"Well at least they could help your guy out a little. If Richard wants those kids there are more people than just you and your lawyer that would stand in his way."
"It's a sweet offer Justin, but really I can't be running to you all every time I need something. Crying on your shoulder is one thing, but calling in favors like that is another. It's not your place or anyone else's place to protect me like that."
"I don't understand, but if you want it that way then I'll obey your wishes," he said softly hugging her. He took a breath. "I know you don't want me to be there with you in court, but I really think that its going to get out of hand if I'm not there."
"I want you to be with my kids Justin. They're gonna need you if this keeps up the way its going."
"Can't Izzi take them?" he asked.
"No," she said, "I want you there and the others. They need you guys around them more than anything now." She started to cry a little. "They needed Lance, but God knows where he'll be when I'm in court."
"Hey, don't say that," he said, "Lance was working. He wouldn't have been away for so long if he'd known all this was going on."
"It still hurts Justin."
"I know sweetie. You just have to stay strong for a few more days then we'll get you out of this."
"We?" she asked. "I think you mean I'll get myself out of this."
"Does it really matter how it gets done?" he said, "I think the important thing is that you and those kids are separeated. I don't care if that guys is their biological father. I've been a better dad to those kids than he has. I would hate to see him win because I know that Lance won't stand for it either."
Ana cried at the mention of Lance. She hadn't meant to kick him out, but at the moment she had too much to deal with to be spending time having a disagreement with him.
"What the hell is going on?" Lance said as JC opened the door to the apartment.
"What the hell what?" JC asked with a shocked and slightly confused expression on his face. He scratched the back of his neck and stared at Lance.
Lance normally wasn't the yelling type and he could see that JC was as shocked about his entrance into the apartment as Lance was about finding Ana at her apartment on the phone. He didn't know why he'd come over to JC's. He should be at Justin's, but at the moment he figured that "Daddy C" would know more about the situation than anyone.
"I leave town for a few days and all hell is breaking loose." He threw his keys down on the table next to the door and walked into the house with a rush. "Ana's talking about lawyers and there is this guy over at her house. What's going on?" He plopped down into the a seat next to Bobbie.
"Nice to see you too Lance," Bobbie said with a little attitude.
"Whatever," Lance snapped and looked at JC.
"That's my clue to leave," Bobbie said. She got up and walked past JC giving him a kiss before she disappeared up the stairs.
"That was horrible Lance," JC said.
"I'm sorry. I'll apologize to her later." He sat forward in his seat. "Now tell me what's been going on."
"Why don't you start by explaining why you skipped town on all of us," JC said leaning against the edge of the table. "Then maybe I'll tell you about the court case."
"Spill it LB or I'm going to call your mother on you."
"Had to pull the mom card," Lance said.
"Spill it," JC warned.
"Meredith needed me in Nashville so I've been in the studio with her for two weeks."
"Is that it?" JC asked, "It doesn't take two weeks to record."
Lance wondered if he should tell JC about it. It was all still too jumbled in his head to try to explain to everyone. He still wasn't sure why he'd stayed away so long. In the beginning it had been to stay away from Ana and it had ended up being so long because of Amber. "Ana and I got in a little disagreement and I had to get away," Lance said.
"Disagreement about what?"
"It wasn't really a fight or anything. We just got our signals crossed and…" Lance took a deep breath before he continued. "Anyway the only solution I could come up with was to leave town."
"They were all worried about you," JC said.
"You leave town and you forget about JJ and Olivia that easily?" JC shook his head disapprovingly.
"What do JJ and Olivia have to do with this?" Lance asked. He didn't like JC's tone. It was an accusing one and Lance wondered what exactly JC was getting at.
"Those kids worry about you too," JC said. "We all went over there after the supeana arrived and all they could ask about was you."
"Supeana?" Lance asked. "What the hell is going on?"
"Richard showed up and wants his kids," JC explained.
"He's petitioned the court to have full custody of the kids. He clamins that since Ana has been working freelance that she's not stable enough to take care of the kids."
Lance jumped to his feet and angrily paced the room. "Has she talked to a lawyer?"
"Yeah she hired somebody."
"She's not using our team?" he asked.
"No," JC frowned. "She said she wanted to do this on her own."
"Have you researched the lawyer she hired?"
"Yeah. Seems like a good enough guy."
"Is he going to win?"
"I don't know Lance. Richard does have a good point about those kids needing stablity."
"Stablility my ass. They have their college accounts," Lance said.
"College accounts?" JC asked. "How can she afford to save money for them."
"SHE didn't," Lance said, "I set up an account for those kids about three years ago."
"You did what?"
"Back when Ana was thinking about moving out west. I offered her money to help her out and when she didn't take it I put it into an account for the twins."
"What'd you think I'd do?" Lance asked. "Those kids deserve everything in the world and until Ana finds someone to help her give them all that I'm the one who's been their--"
"Does Ana know about the money?" JC asked.
"Do you think I'm crazy?" Lance said, "I had planned to leave that out of their lives until it was time for them to go to college."
Lance paced some more. "So tell me about this lawyer?"
"He's ok I guess," JC said with a distracted look on his face. It seemed as if Lance's little revelation was more of shock than he'd expected.
"And she won't take our help?" Lance asked.
"Nope," JC said.
"When's the court appearance?" Lance asked.
"Tomorrow morning," JC said.
"Do you have our lawyer's number?" Lance asked.
When JC nodded Lance pulled out his cell phone and readied himself to make the most important phone call of his life.
"So LB is back in town?" Justin asked.
"Yeah," Ana said holding onto him tightly as they sat on the couch.
Ana had finally stopped crying after almost fifteen minutes of hysterics after Justin had arrived at the house and was now trying to rest up a little before the case started in the morning. She could have called Craig back to stay with her, but Justin had decided not to leave her alone so she'd settled into the couch with him.
"Did you tell him about Richard?" he asked.
"No, not really. He heard me on the phone with the lawyer and he saw Craig over at the house." She buried her face into his chest as tears sprang up in her eyes again.
"I take it he's pissed off?" Justin had been serious with her since he'd gotten there, but his tone now seemed to be a little sarcastic.
Ana laughed a bit at his comment then took a deep breath to help her calm herself before she explained what had happened earlier. "I kicked him out," she said, "I wanted to tell him about it all, but I couldn't. I'm too tired of trying to explain it all to myself." She started to cry. "Why can't this all just be easy?"
Justin squeezed her tightly.
The sounds of her sobs filled the room for almost five minutes before she paused and asked, "Will you go with me tomorrow?"
"I can't," he said. He hugged her. "I wish I could but it would just bring more drama to the situation, you know…you'd get the tabloids all in your face about the case…it's better if you just go alone…or I could have Craig go with you."
"I'll give him a call in a minute," she said.
"You know I'd be there if I could, don't you?" he asked.
She nodded and hugged him tightly for the last time then reached for the handle of the door.
"The kids are going to be over at my mother's house tomorrow, will you visit them, maybe take them out to the park or something?"
"Defintitely," Justin said. He kissed her forehead.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" JC asked.
"Yes," Lance said, "I'm not letting that ass take away my…" He stopped and breathed heavily for a moment as the adrenaline rushed through his veins. "I can't let him near those kids."
"You've never met the guy Lance, how do you know that he needs to stay away from those kids."
"Damn it JC! I know." Lance slammed his hand against the table hard. "I know that I saw Ana's heart breaking after those kids were born and she had no one to have be their dad. I saw it when JJ or Olivia would call one of us Da-da. She tried to hide it, but I know it bothered her."
"You gotta calm down Lance," JC warned. "You can't go in there and try to help without explaining to Ana what you're doing. You're gonna push her away."
"I don't think I've done enough pushing," Lance said. "I've known her for five years now and not once have I asked anything of her, but I'm going to ask for this. I want her and those kids in my life and if I have to do it by force then I'm going to. She'll understand it all after the whole hearing."
"You better be careful," JC said.
"She'll thank me later when those kids are still hers."
"I'm just warning you to be careful. You should call her and talk to her."
"She won't talk to me."
"She won't talk to me. I know it sounds crazy, but she told me to stay away from her."
JC picked up the phone. "I'm going to call her ok?"
"So you can jump all up in her business, but I can't help try and stop you from ruining your relationship with your best friend?"
"That’s what I'm saying."
"Have you thought about what Johnny is going to say about this?"
"I think he knows how much I love those kids and how much they need me."
"Have you told the others in the group about your plan?"
"No, but I think they'll back me up. They want them to be around too."
Ana woke up the next morning with a headache. She showered and made her way downstairs just in time to meet Craig at the door. He wore and suit and tie and although he looked really uncomfortable in the suit he smiled and hugged her.
"You ready to go?"
She nodded and bit her lip.
"Come on, you'll be fine." He slid an arm around her. "Is the lawyer meeting us there?"
"Yeah," she said as they made their way to the car. "Thanks again for going with me."
"No trouble," Craig said, "Justin really wanted to go with you, but well you know how that goes."
"Nothing is normal in my life. That wasn't the first time something like that happened."
They drove to the courthouse and found the assigned courtroom without another word to each other. If it had been Justin or Lance in the car with her she would have rambled on about how extremely nervous she was about the situation, but Craig seemed to respect her silence and didn't ask her about it.
Lance checked his watch again. The hearing was going to start in a little while and the lawyers hadn't shown up yet. He swore under his breath and fixed his tie again. He wished that he could be there with someone, but the lawyers would have to do. He couldn't drag anyone else into this. There were too many people involved in this already.
Lance turned around to face the team of suit-clad lawyers that had helped the group fight their recording and management contracts a few months before. Jefferson Shoppe, Carlson Whitfield, and Edgar Weaver smiled at him. They were going to eat the other lawyers to pieces. He smiled.
Everything was going to be ok. The lawyers had helped him once before and they were about to help him again.
"Yeah," Lance finally replied.
"Good." The shortest of the men, Jefferson walked next to Lance down the hall. "We've filed the papers with the court and the judge should be getting them just about now. You, as the third party will be asking for custody of the children. We stated in the documents that both the mother and the father are financially unfit--."
"What?" Lance asked. "I didn't want that to be said."
"There's a method to my madess here. If we can prove that her free-lance work isn't bringing in enough money to support those kids then they'll have to give custody to you. It's also a good thing that you've set up college accounts for those kids. That'll work on our behalf as showing that you have a vested interest in those kids."
"I don't want her name to be drug through the mud."
"She won't be," Jefferson assured him.
When she heard the door open at the back of the courtroom Ana turned around. To her surprise she saw Lance coming through the door. She hadn't expected him to show his face and she didn't expect to see him coming into the courtroom with a bunch of suit-clad men.
"What's wrong?" Craig asked.
"Lance is here…" She sighed. "What's he doing here?"
Craig shrugged and took her hand. "I don't know."
The judge entered the room and everyone turned their attention to the front of the court room.
Lance stood in the front row that was right behind Ana and waited for the judge to settle himself into the desk. He watched Ana's back nervously hoping that he could explain this all to her. He wanted her to know that what was about to go down was for her own good. She looked horribly nervous and although this Craig guy was trying to be helpful he wanted to kill the guy for holding her hand.
"Have a seat everyone," the judge said.
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