I hear the phone slam down onto the cradle and I look up just in time to see Tammy chew on her nails.  She seemed fairly relaxed until a little while ago.  She stares at the ground and I can see her brain working overtime.  She finally pulls her hand away from her mouth and looks at the ceiling.  “Shit.”  I don’t know what’s going on.  She was calling to check in at work and it looks like she should have postponed that call from what I can tell.  She'd been pacing the porch then walked through the living room in front of Tad and me before she disappeared into the kitchen to slam down the phone.

Last night by the time she got Tad settled on the floor between the couch and the coffee table with a blanket over the top of him like a tent, I was already in bed.  It's been a little tense since.  I'd been quiet most of the night, but not tense.  I don’t like that.  It's not as if our relationship is all conversation all the time, but when we sat through most of dinner not speaking that much then I sat on the porch on the phone for almost an hour talking to my friends back home because I hadn't gotten a chance to talk them after the ceremony I think she took it the wrong way.  I can't help but to feel uncomfortable and escaping to the phone seemed like a good way to be there but not be there.  I hate cutting myself off from her since our time is always so limited.  We normally will at least exchange a few glances or comment on the television show that we're watching or she'll be reading something and tell me about it, but tonight our conversation basically drops after we have dinner with Tad.  Our troubles haven’t been solved and at this point I don’t think that they will be solved soon.  I keep telling her to trust me and to wait for me to tell JIVE, but I can’t help but think she doesn’t think I'll end up doing it.

Ohhh!”  Tad says next to me on the couch.  His mouth opens and a bit of cereal falls out onto his shirt.  Gotta love little messy kids.  Thank god Brianna isn’t like this.  Maybe she is, but maybe because I’ve known her since birth I don’t notice so much how dirty and misbehaved she might be.  Tad really isn’t all that bad, but this morning was like pulling teeth trying to get him cereal that he would eat.  Now though, he’s got a bowl of Co-Co Puffs sitting in his lap and has eaten about half of what I poured out for him.  “You said a bad word.”

“I know honey.”  Tammy winces and looks over at us.  Her hand goes to her mouth again and then gets pulled away again.  She keeps her gaze on me for longer than I would have thought, as if she’s trying to work up enough courage to actually explain herself, but doesn’t know how to go about doing that.

“What’s wrong?” I ask and stuff a bite of my own cereal into my mouth as Tad flips channels to Cartoon Central.

“I have to go into the studio, something about YaYa’s car breaking down and him not being able to cover—  She broke off her sentence.  Maybe it’s because I’m staring.  She’s been ok today, nothing too out of the ordinary and she hasn’t mentioned anything about JIVE or Jasmine, which I’m glad for.  She’s been running around in circles after Tad first trying to clean up after him then trying to get him to eat and now it seems that she’s going to have to do that for some of her employees.  I see her smile then clicks back into gear.  “Can you possibly take Tad home in a few hours?”

NO.  Home? My brain jumps at the thought of having to do that favor for her.  I almost choke on what I’m eating.

I cough a bit and Tad moves away as if I’m contagious or something.  Contagious.  Yeah right.  More like I think Tim and Delaney's house is contagious.  What is she trying to do?  Kill me?  If she sends me over there I’ll never come back alive.  Send me into a crowd of screaming teenies instead.  Anything, but going to their house—their turf—alone.

“I know that this is last minute and all of that, but—  She sighs.  Why is she sighing?  It's never been her style to mix up her words.  Yes the other night she waited until later to pull out all the stops so that I would know what was going on, but today she doesn't need to hide from me, censor herself in any way.  “Maybe I can get Delaney to come and get him.”

It would be the most ideal way to get this settled.  Tad would get out of my hair and I wouldn’t even have to go across town in commute traffic.  “Don’t do that,” I find myself saying.  I can’t be a dick about this.  I just can’t.  I’m already in enough shit right now with Tammy and refusing to deliver Tad home isn’t going to help the situation.  Besides, didn’t Tammy mention something about Cassy being ill?  I can’t remember what she said she had, but it didn’t sound like anything good from what I remember.  “If Cassy is sick I don’t want her to have to come all the way across town.”

I love her face when she’s so innocently unsure of herself.  There are a million and one emotions that come from Tammy, but my favorite is that unsure face, almost a pout that comes my way every so often.  She’ll ask a favor or tell me a little clue about how I’m supposed to put the forks with the prongs facing down in the dish rack, but either way she’s got this face.  This amazing face that she gives me that would make me do anything she asked me to.  Anything in the world.  “So you’ll do it?”

“Yes.”  I’ll grin and bear it and pray like hell that her brother doesn’t chop off my balls while I’m there.  I guess I shouldn’t be that scared of him.  I’ve never really even met the man, except in passing and I have no real clue as to his feelings for me about me or about my relationship with his sister other than side comments I have heard from his family members and after Tad's announcement that his father will put me in the ground, going over there is about the last thing I want to do.

She practically jumps for joy.  "Thank you.  I need to get going so are you going to be ok?”

Its pathetic that this is the only thing that she's really smiled about in the last few days which makes me feel even worse.


Timothy and Delaney live in a fairly well off neighborhood considering all things.  If I wasn't in the business that I was in and if I didn't have the money that I have I would be impressed with the size and landscaping of their house.  When I drive up late in the afternoon though I barely notice the extensive gardens and the pristine stucco of the house.

Tad and I make it out of the car in one piece and I bring along his booster seat thing up to the door.  Tad runs ahead, almost falling as he hits the doorjam, but saves himself and yells into the house as he disappears.  "MOMMY!"

Dalaney appears a moment later as I wait near the open door.  I know I probably can let myself into the house, but I don't.  Timothy may be out of town, but I'm not dumb enough to try to enter the house without being invited.

"Hello Lance," she says as she scoops up Tad into her arms.  "Did you find the place ok?"

"Yes."  I calm my breathing, but my eyes still dart around the place a bit.  I've been here on two separate occasions.  Once for a party that was way too formal and once quickly to pick up the kids when we were taking them down to the San Diego Zoo when I was doing charity work for the zoo.  This is the first and only time I've been here without Tammy.

"Would you like to come in?"

"I really should get going and I'm sure Cassy is taking up most of your time."

"No," she says and nods.  She sets Tad down and the little guy disappears further into the house.  "I'd actually like to talk to you a bit."

About what?  My mind screams out in pain.  I don't want to be here.  I don't want to talk to you.  I want to go back to the house and forget I was even over here.  I don't belong here.  We all know that.

"Just for a moment."  Her arm motions towards a very formal living room.  "Can I get you something to drink?"

"No thank you," I say and move to sit on a big couch.  This place reminds me of home.  True I've moved in mostly full time with Tammy here in LA, but I have a house in Mississippi and one in Orlando that are more like this place than the condo where I live now.

"I wanted to speak to you about Tammy."

Oh no.  My stomach turns over.  I sit up in my seat.  "I'm not sure that Tammy would want me to speak to you."

"Probably not," Dalaney sits properly in her chair, head turned a bit though as if her one ear is open to hear the children.  "But--"  She sighs.  "I've wanted to speak to you about her for a while and I've never found the right time so now seems to be the only chance I'll get."

"Your husband--"

"Tim really has put the fear of God in you," Dalaney speaks openly for the first time since I've met her.  I've never hated her, never had a bad thought towards her, but I also have never been comfortable around her.  "He's harmless.  I know that it doesn't make up for his behavior, but Tammy is his baby sister and he's overprotective with her, as are the other boys--"

I sit up and listen when I start to feel as if this is a lecture.  "Have I done something wrong?"

"No," Dalaney speaks slowly.  "Quite the opposite.  I speak for both Tim and I when I say this, even though he won't admit it to you."  She taps her foot.  "We both approve of you and approve of the way that you're treating the situation with her.  Tim won't tell you this probably for a long time, but he does approve, he does like you, but he also needs you to know that you have to be careful with his little sister's heart."

"I'm doing all I can--"  I pause and try to get my words together.  "I'm trying to abide by her rules of our relationship.  The no publicity thing isn't new to me, but normally it's me putting that stipulation on the relationship instead of the other person."

"That part I don't like."  Her lips purse then relax.  "I saw the coverage of the awards the other night and I can tell that she would have rather been your date, but she's stubborn and her job is her life.  She wants to be respected and Tim has ingrained in the whole family that dating people in the business isn't something that will be tolerated--not only by the industry, but by the family standards either."

"It's frustrating."  My head dips and I stare at my shoes.

"What?" she asks.

"I love your sister in law very much."  My mouth moves before I can stop it.  "I hate to see the both of us having to go through all this just to appease the general public, but if that's what it takes to have her in my life then I'm going to do whatever is best for the both of us."

Why am I having a heart to heart with a woman I've only met a few times?  She's very comforting.  Her smile is soft and given easily to me--something I didn't expect.  The cold front seems to be lifted between at least half of Tammy's nearest family which gives me hope that the rest of them, when I get around to meeting them all, will like me too.

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