86,400 Seconds 12


Traffic somehow isn't as bad on the way back up to the house or maybe that everyone is so quiet makes the drive seem go faster.  With no radio on and no one talking it's left me a lot of time to think.  Of course I pay attention to the cars around us, but at the same time I'm totally rocking out to a song I've got stuck in my head.  Part of one of Justin's that he's been singing on his TV appearances and somehow it's mixed with the latest commercial for McDonald's with a little bit of the MASH Theme Song in there too.  I find myself smiling because it's so absurd to have all that in my head.

"What are you grinning at?" Vivian asks from her seat.  She had been leaning her head up against the window, half sleeping, but I guess I've made a fool of myself nodding my head to music that isn't playing.

"Nothing," I say and look out the window, wiping the grin from my face.  I don't smile enough anymore.  When I catch pictures of myself in magazines, that side half picture of me walking with Justin into MTV or out of the gym here in LA, I never am smiling.  Squinting in the sun that curls up my mouth a little, but not smiling.  With work, it's better not to, and when I am smiling it's normally a rushed kind of thing, when I'm not working.  It doesn't seem comfortable anymore for some reason.  I smile in private sometimes, in the house here in LA, or in Tennessee when Justin's Grammy stuffs me to the gills with peach cobbler and pecan pie and homemade bread, but a good ninety percent of the time I've got pretty much no expression on my face.  The only people that see me smile anymore are hotel staff and the odd flight attendant when I'm trying not to look so mean since I've got that big bad guy reputation now.

Traffic being light always seems to happen on the way home.  You're late getting somewhere or the place you have to go is really important and it takes you hours to get there and then all of a sudden when you're done the highways open like floodgates and everyone seems to get off the road and out of your way.

When we arrive, I park the car outside, knowing that we're just going to have to get back in again in a bit.  Lynn's car hasn't moved from where it was and it seems that only one of the Harley's has been taken out, Paul probably took it down the road to get cigarettes for Lynn.  Couple stuff.  Sometimes that stuff is lost on me.  I remember when I used to do things like that.  I'd go out in the middle of the night for fast food or even just to rent a movie.  Times like this, when we're around the family in the house, when I feel the most alone.  I know that I've got too many friends and a huge extended family as well as my own family, but without that partner person in my life, I can't seem to get that part right these days.

Justin immediately gets out of the car and walks through the open garage into the house, leaving Vivian to give me a confused look before she takes Jayden's hand.  He's being moody and I want to tell the little punk to smarten up, but with his own parents in the house, I get to sit back and watch him be himself.

And poor Vivian gets to sit and watch.  I guess it's payback for all the times I was moody with Beverly.  She knows that I didn't mean to be that way, but at the time with the pressures of the NFL then the pressures of traveling.  I took time off to be with her when Jayden was born, but really she knew my heart was somewhere else.  I love my job.  I'm obsessed with it.  I'm good at it.  Sitting at home with her and a baby just didn't compete with what I had been doing.  "How about you come and help me pick out what I'm going to wear tonight and I'll sit and do your hair while we wait for everyone to get ready?"

Jayden looks at me for approval of the invitation.  With that sweet little face watching me for guidance I can't say no.  I can't do anything.  She's got that look in her eye.  That hopeful look in her eye that makes my heart stop.  Her mother had the same look on her face so many times in our relationship and I remember instantly just how that look faded quickly when my career took over our lives.  Trying not to get too nostalgic, I look away quickly before turning back for one last look.  I take her in, do that corny take a mental picture for myself, before I give Vivian a glance letting her know to not let things get too out of hand and hold the keys in my hand for a moment before I follow them inside.

Inside the house, or rather beyond the outer walls of the house, Lynn is sitting out on the pool deck in shorts and a tank top, phone in one hand, cigarette in the other with tumbler and ice perched on the edge of the lounge chair she's taken over.  I don't know if she hears us come in, that is until I see Justin sliding back into the house from the back porch.

"Hey dad," Justin says flopping down on the couch next to Paul, who is watching a movie on the big screen TV there.

I truly don't want to eavesdrop.  I overhear too much of his life as it is, it's part of my job to be that third person in the room to make sure that nothing wrong is said or done.  It's been this way for years, but I still haven't gotten used to it.  Instead of hovering, as my job sometimes calls me to do, I move into the kitchen.  I'd love a beer right now, but since I can't drink on the job, I pull out a ginger-ale, pop it open and start to sip on it, listening only halfway to the conversation in the living room.

"How was your afternoon?" Paul asks, turning down the sound on the TV.  Why do parents always do that?  The first time I did that with Jayden I seriously had to stop myself and take a deep breath.  Milestones like that get to me.  Sounding like your parents or acting like your parents really puts a weight on your shoulders.  You realize that all those times

"Fine," Justin sighs out with a huff.  I know this voice.  Hell, I think I invented this voice.  It's that I want to talk about it, but don't ask me questions about it voice.  Justin doesn't mean to play victim here, just as I never wanted to play victim when it came to the things that were going on in my life, but at times like these, with the day that we've had I can see how he'd be ready for a break.

I'm just about to go find myself a seat up on my bed upstairs when the doorbell in the front rings.  Well actually it's the doorbell on the gate that is outside.  We go in and out of it so often that I forget that it's even there.  Most people who Justin knows have the code to get in and out when they want to so it's strange to hear the tiny doorbell type alarm ring in the house announcing that someone needs to be let in.

Shuffling across the floor, I walk out into the living room motioning for Justin and Paul to keep their seats as I move towards the front door.  I'm not sure who all is coming over this afternoon, but its about an hour too early for them to start arriving either way.  Lynn specifically made Justin take a break this afternoon, just an hour with nothing to do.  It's a long standing tradition that he take time off when he's home and if his mom has to mess with his schedule herself, it gets done.

"You expecting anyone?" I hear Paul ask then hear him get up and slide the back door open a bit and call out to Lynn with the same question.

"Hair and make up for Vivian," Justin says from the couch with that "God dad you're over reacting again" tone of voice that all children seem to inherently be born with, "I think."

Paul closes up the door to the back and comes back into the living room and sits down again.  "You really should talk to her more--"

Paul's truly one of the nicest guys I've met.  He's done is own thing through all the tough years around here and basically has been a part of Justin's life without trying to change the kid, as far as I can tell.  Word has it that he's been married to Lynn forever and basically was Justin's step-dad for most of the time of Justin's life.  He made due with the schedule and the travel and all the things that have pulled his family all over the country.  He's not that much older than me, but at the same time, he's got years on me.  Somehow he's managed to balance life and love, something that still eludes me, something I wish I could train for, like I trained for football or studied like with school subjects.

"Dad--"  I hear Justin groan as I'm opening up the door.  Again, the teenage Justin Timberlake rears it's ugly head.  I know I shouldn't care how the guy acts as long as my paycheck is getting put in the bank, but I can't help it.  I guess one day that'll be my downfall.  I'll have to step away from all of this because I'm sure I'll end up caring too much and getting myself into trouble.

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