A half hour later Justin was standing at the bottom of the front steps waiting for Jack to pull on his helmet. He'd opted for a skateboard instead of his bike knowing that the bike was up on hooks in the garage and the skateboard had been right within reach when he'd looked for it in the locker he kept in the garage for his basketballs and other sports equipment.
"You ready kiddo?"
"Hook," Jack said trying to get the strap of his helmet hooked underneath his chin.
Justin kneeled down and hooked the strap for him and made sure that the helmet was out of his eyes before he held onto the bike so that Jack could get on.
"Hey buddy?" Justin asked as Jack climbed aboard for his ride.
"What's with the cape?" he asked fingering the electric blue cape that was hooked around his neck.
Jack took a moment to hook his tiny baseball hat over the arm of his bike handle so that he could have his hat with him. It was funny how alike they were. Today for instance, other than the cape they were wearing matching jean shorts and t-shirts. Justin had grabbed one of his old Tennessee Vols shirts and Jack had on a Tennessee Titans t-shirt. They'd matched today, on Jack's insistence, pulling out matching pairs of black and white shell toe Adidas sneakers.
"Isa superman," Jack said and started to ride away from him.
Justin watched his son riding down the driveway towards their front gate and instantly felt old. He could remember a time when Jack wouldn't have been able to raise his head up to look at him and now the little guy was riding a two wheeled bike. The thing had training wheels of course, but it just amazed him that he was growing up so fast. It seemed like lately every time he'd be busy for a few days and not spend the most time with the kids that he could have, that he would come back to spend time with the both of them and realize that there were a million and one new tricks that they'd learned while he'd been busy working.
Sometimes thoughts like that made him a little depressed. He loved his job, lived his job, and he knew that at this point there would be holy hell to pay if he stepped back from it. Eventually he'd have to step back and let someone else take the lead, but for the moment it seemed as if his life was locked into the path of him being a performer, an entertainer, and everything else in his life had to work around that.
"Superman doesn't ride a bike and wear a cape," Justin said logically as he put a foot down on his skateboard to push himself along after his son. It was a nice day--a cooler summer day considering that it was mid-June and he was glad that he'd worn a baseball hat.
"Isa fast," he said looking up as they got to the end of the driveway where the gate was.
The street that they lived on was fairly secluded from the rest of the world, but had enough neighbors for him to feel as if the kids were going to grow up with. As they made their way down to the end of their connecting street a few people were out and about. It wasn't normal for most people to hang out on their front porches, but because the day was so nice a few people were out in their driveways washing cars. He was glad to see that.
"What kiddo?" He looked down and found that Jack was having a really hard time pushing up over a bump in the street.
"Push," he said.
Justin reached down and pushed him a little so that the bike was over the crack and wasn't surprised to see Jack get off his bike.
He held a breath for a moment as if he was thinking of what to say for a moment, then he let it out quickly in a big breath. "All done."
Justin didn't understand how he could go from being totally into riding to not wanting to ride anymore the second later. "Jack?"
"All done Daddy." He started to claw at the strap that was keeping his helmet on. "Off."
He wanted to tell his son that he shouldn't hang out with Chris. This was totally Chris behavior. If he didn't know better he'd think the kid had ADD with the way he switched from one interest to the next. "You're done already?"
Jack nodded and finally got his helmet off. "Yeah."
"Give me your helmet then," Justin reached out and took the helmet, clicked the strap closed again and hung it over one of the handlebars before picking up the miniature BMX bike with training wheels to carry it along with his skateboard back to the house. "You want to go back to the house?" Justin asked.
"Wawk Daddy," he said and started down the street in the same direction they'd been going.
As Meredith came down the street in what they had dubbed as the family car she saw Justin and Jack walking along on the street. She had to laugh at the way Justin was carrying both the skateboard and the bike in his arms while trailing after Jack with a confused look on his face.
"Hey stranger," she asked out the window using a bit more sass to her voice than normal. If she'd had her sunglasses on she would have put them down on her nose and made a face, but she could tell from the shock on his husband's face that he wasn't in the mood for joking around. "Need a lift?"
"You're an angel," he said and immediately motioned towards the trunk. "Open up."
She leaned to pop the trunk. "Come on over here Jack." Justin shoved the skateboard and bike inside while she parked the car and went to grab Jack off the sidewalk. "Come on kiddo."
"We wawkin'," Jack said and turned in her arms to point to the sidewalk. "We wawkin'."
"I think Daddy needs a rest," she said and went to strap him into his car seat next to Tegan, who was already in the middle of watching a cartoon movie in the TV screen in the back of the seat in front of her. "I think the four of us should go shopping for some new shoes for Daddy and for you and Tegan."
Jack smiled and unhooked the velcro across his shoe. "I got shoe."
"I know you have shoes on buddy. It's ok." She put the strap of his shoe back in place and moved to kiss his cheek. "You can have more than one pair of shoes."
"And you?" Jack asked.
"Sure," Meredith said, "Even your daddy loves shoes."
"Daddy's gots a lot of shoes," Tegan piped in with. "Mr. Mike says that when daddy was a kid that he had a whole truck full of shoes."
Meredith laughed, "I think that sounds about right."
"Daddy silly." Jack giggled. "Why? He gots two feet."
Meredith laughed again and straightened up as Justin came around the car. "Your son wants to know why you have so many pairs of shoes since you only have two feet."
"My son?" he said and leaned to kiss her. "He's only mine now?"
She smiled at him and motioned for him to get in the car. "BeeDee, You're blocking traffic honey."
"Sure," he said with a laugh. "Sure." He winked at her.
Justin knew that he should call Mike or one of the guys to go with him. It had been drilled into his head for years that he shouldn't go anywhere without them, but that afternoon there was just something so simple and so normal about the four of them out for a drive in the car that he didn't think twice about the whole thing until they'd parked in front of Sports Mart and were on their way inside.
Each of them took a kid in their arms and walked towards the front door of the store.
"Shoes only honey," she warned as they walked inside.
"I know," he said and looked at Jack. "Sometimes your mommy is pretty crazy big guy. Remember that."
"You're telling this to a kid who is wearing a superman cape," she said rolling her eyes.
"I love you too honey," he said with a laugh. "She's pretty crazy huh?"
"K," Jack said then wiggled. "Down."
Justin looked around quickly then set Jack on his feet. He felt strange having to check his surroundings before he set his son down, but attributed that to the fact that any parent would be overprotective with a three year old. "You have to hold my hand kiddo."
Justin put his hand out and Jack hid his hands behind his back.
"Jack. I mean it," he said. He wasn't about to cause a scene and yell at his son about his tendency to go against the rules just when they need him to follow the rules.
"Play five game," he said holding out his hands, palm up, looking at him with a smile.
"Ok," he said. He slapped Jack's hands lightly with his then flipped his over so that Jack could slap his. Then they curled up their hands into fists and knocked knuckles before Jack reached a hand over to hold his hand as they walked towards the walls of shoes at the back of the store.
"So what color shoes do you want today?" Justin asked as they turned into the kids isle. Meredith was already down the row helping Tegan slip into some red and white running shoes.
"Gween," Jack said when he saw some green and white shoes on a lower rack. He pulled the shoe off the track and immediately plopped down on his butt and began to pull off his shoe while trying to keep the new green shoe in his lap.
"Sounds good to me," Justin said then looked at the shoe. Laces. He wasn't sure what the deal was with little kids and laces. Jack had mostly shoes without shoelaces, but he knew that the ones that he'd gotten from Nike that matched his own size thirteen's all had laces. "Hey Mere?"
"Yeah?" she asked looking up as she pressed on the toes of the shoes that Tegan was now wearing.
"Is Jack doing shoes now with laces?"
"If he likes them enough," she said shrugging. "It doesn't matter to me."
Justin sat down on the floor across from his son. "Ok."
Jack had managed to take off his one shoe, but his sock was falling down and he couldn't get his foot into the new shoe. Justin reached for the shoe and looked at it. "Kiddo, this shoe is too small for you." He turned back to the shelf then realized that he didn't know what size Jack was wearing these days. He took his shoe and looked at the size then grabbed the right size for Jack.
"Come here buddy," Justin got Jack to his feet and somehow managed to get his other shoe off him then get the green shoes on him without too much trouble.
When the shoes were on Jack did of course what all kids do when they get new shoes on their feet. He decided he needed to run so he ran down to Meredith, showed her the shoes then ran back. "Wace daddy," Jack said.
"Race you?" he asked.
Jack nodded. "Now."
"Where are we gonna race to?" he asked picking up Jack's shoes and putting them in the shoe box. It was small enough to carry in one hand so he got to his feet and watched his son.
"Dere," he said pointing towards the far side of the store.
"You want to race me all the way over there?"
Jack nodded. "Dere!"
Justin nodded. "Get ready."
Jack somehow seemed to know about crouching down like a track star so he did just that.
"Get set," Justin said with a smile.
Jack looked back. "Go Daddy."
"Go!" Justin said and watched as Jack took off down the isle and started to weave through some of the displays in the store. He jogged after him and caught him right where he thought he might find him, near a bin of plastic bouncy balls just underneath a basketball hoop.
Just as he was catching up to Jack a girl came around the corner and seemed to recognize him. "Oh shi-shoot," she said then looked down at Jack.
"Jack come here a second," Justin immediately said.
Jack turned around towards Justin and came over to him. "Isa ball!"
"I know big guy," he said and leaned down to pretend to fiddle with the shoes before the girl could say anything else.
"New shoes?" the girl asked. She sounded nervous, a little giggly, and he could feel her staring at him.
Justin nodded and kept his eyes on Jack. He wasn't sure how Jack would react in front of someone who was clearly a fan. When they were on the road Jack was around tour people all the time, but they tried to keep him away from fans as much as possible.
"Isa gween," Jack said moving away from Justin to go to talk to the girl.
"I see that," she said only glancing at Jack for a moment before she looked back at Justin. "I saw you on Leno the other night with your daughter. That song she sang was great."
"Thanks," Justin said.
The girl looked around. "Is she here?"
"Wook!" Jack turned back around and started to run towards Justin, caught his foot on the floor and there was a slapping noise as he hit the floor face first.
Justin immediately reached for Jack as he let out a scream. He stood up and hugged Jack to him for a moment before he took a look at his son, seeing that the fall had only scared him and hadn't scarred him. "You ok big guy?" he asked.
"Ow-we," Jack cried putting his hand to his mouth.
"Did you hit your chin?"
Jack nodded and rubbed his hand against his chin.
"Let me see your teeth buddy," Justin said moving his mouth so that all his own teeth were showing. He didn't have crazy amounts of experience when it came to dealing with the bumps and the bruises. That was more of Meredith's department, but if he wasn't bleeding from his chin and his cheeks then he was probably ok for the moment.
Jack showed his teeth, still crying.
"You're ok," Justin said with a smile moving to kiss his forehead. "I think maybe those shoes are a little big for you. They made you run so fast that you fell down."
Jack, still crying curled himself into Justin's neck and started called for Meredith. "Mo-o-m-my!"
Justin looked at the girl that was standing there and nodded before leaning down to get the shoe box and Jack's shoes so that he could find Meredith and get out of there with Jack to calm him down.
Meredith heard her son cry across the store and looked up to see if she could see where they'd disappeared to. It was funny how she'd slipped so easily into motherhood. She figured that most women, by their second child, would have learned out to be a mother, but it still amazed Meredith at how she'd so easily fallen into thinking like a mother. Being on the road had something to do with that. When they'd decided to take Tegan on the road the whole tour had basically had a meeting about it to plan and re-plan the way that their schedules would go during any given day.
By the time that Jack was ready to go on the road they were prepared to travel with children, but now that there were two of them they'd had to rethink things yet again. At one point Meredith had almost given up and taken the kids to Orlando to live, but Justin had been persistent in his request for them to be on the road with him, not that he wanted to torture them with the traveling, but because he'd finally broken down and told Mere that he wouldn't have been able to tour at all without them.
It was funny how even when the kids were in Justin's care she needed the reassurance that someone was there with them, not for their sakes, but for Justin's. He hadn't fallen into fatherhood as easily. He was good at everything he tried in life, but the anxiety of the unknown, first with Tegan and again now with Jack seemed to weigh on his mind. He was a doting father, almost to a fault, and she needed someone to be with him so that he didn't scare himself. He did an excellent job with the kids, but there was always that doubt in his mind that he was going to do something wrong and she didn't like him to have that kind of anxiety.
Soon she was put at ease as Justin came into view with a very upset little boy in his arms. She stood up from where she was looking at shoes with Tegan and he smiled at her. She took the shoes and the shoebox away from him and set them with Tegan's shoes before reaching out to pat Jack's back.
"He tripped a little, but he seems to be ok. He just scared himself I think."
"I checked his teeth and his chin." Justin bounced a little bit to try to soothe Jack. "I think he'll be ok."
Meredith smiled at her husband then whispered. "Are you ok?"
He took a deep breath and winked letting her know that he'd been able to handle the situation without much trouble. She could tell that it had upset him, but true to form, Justin looked as if it was any other normal day in his life. She envied that in him. He was the only person she knew in the business that could go from a screaming kid in his arms to dealing with the public without flinching.
"Mo-om-my," Jack said with a few hiccups in between as he turned around in Justin's arms and immediately reached for her.
"Did you fall down Jack?"
Meredith was glad for the distraction that Tegan created next. "Daddy? Do you like my shoes?"
Tegan turned from where she was standing in front of her father and ran towards where Mike had appeared in the store. "MR. MIKE!"
"What are you doing here?" Meredith asked.
"You guys are too much," Mike said picking up Tegan.
"What?" Justin asked.
"You didn't seem to notice the crowd that is basically surrounding the store right now?"
"What?" Meredith moved Jack to her hip and looked past Mike to see that there were about fifty people now standing there watching them. Her jaw dropped for only a moment before she hugged Jack to her. "How'd you know?"
"Darren was down at the studio and drove by and saw the car. He gave me a call to see if I wanted to get dinner with him later thinking that I was down here. I was home so I dropped down here to see if you guys needed some help and it seems like I got here before this got out of hand."
"Sorry about that Mike." Justin took a deep breath. "I didn't mean--
"Look," he said keeping his back to the people. He spoke in a fairly soft voice. "Why don't we get the kids out to the car and we'll make sure that we pay for those shoes." He leaned and tapped Jack's shoe. "New one's big guy?"
"Gween," Jack said and smiled.
"Good job buddy," Mike said, "You've got a lot of clothes that will match those."
Somehow the thrown together plan worked. Justin headed towards the front of the store with Tegan in his arms and as he passed the cashier he motioned that Meredith would be paying for the shoes. She had Jack on her hip and watched Mike escort Justin out to the car before he came back to stand with her while she paid for the shoes.
It was a hassle that she didn't like to deal with, but at the same time everyone seemed work around the hassles in their lives. Take Mike for instance. He'd actually gotten the day off for once and yet there they were pulling him back to work when he didn't need to be.
"I'm sorry," she said as they walked out towards the car.
"No troubles at all Mere. You know it's all good with me."
"I know," she said with a nod, "But I still feel like I should apologize."
"When they start ignoring you then is when you need to start worrying about things. Ok?"
Meredith nodded and Mike helped her into the car that had been swarmed with people.
"I'll follow you all up the hill," he said then shut them into the car to go home.