Portrait

By Patricia Brown



~~THIRTEEN~~


He could feel his heartbeat pulsing in his temple as he watched her and waited for an answer. He reached up and rubbed his temple and looked at her trying not to look upset that she wasn’t answering quickly. Her lips moved, opened, closed, then twitched, first once then twice, but there wasn't a response that came from her, just a silence between them that was starting to become more and more annoying.

It wasn’t really that hard of a question. She could make the choice to have him be in their lives or not be in their lives. He figured that if he had been some kind of a bum it would hard to make the decision, but really he didn’t see many drawbacks from them being in each other’s lives. It was up to her. Sure he would be there for them even if she refused his help, but at least she would have the option to tell him how involved or not involved he needed to be in the whole thing.

"Well isn’t that the question of the hour," she said softly turning away from his gaze. He could hear the anger in her voice. The emotion there was thick and for an instant Lance thought that she might cry. Her eyes had watered when she'd spoken to him, but she didn't let on that there would be emotion shown. In one instant he was glad that Willa seemed to be fighting him all the way on this. For so long he'd thought that everything with Brennan and Amy would destroy some of her spirit, but he was glad to see that it hadn't. The only trouble now was that she was turning that spirit on him as she glared at him coldly then continued down the hall when JW started to whimper.

Lance followed closely behind her and watched her every move as she lay JW down on the changing table. He didn’t know what it was but he had the urge to reach out and make sure that she didn’t drop JW when she leaned over to put him down. When his hands reached out for JW he caught himself and put his hands at his sides. He knew that he wanted to help out, but he didn't need her to get angry with him over it.

"Don’t roll off the table pumpkin," she said with a soft voice as she leaned over and kissed his stomach. JW giggled up at his mother.

Lance loved the way that she was so openly loving of their son. It reminded him of a time when they'd been that way with each other. It was something that he desperately wanted back and hoped that would return.

Lance was caught off guard when Willa grabbed up his hand and put his hand on JW’s stomach. Not daring to go against Willa’s instructions to hold his hand there on JW he turned his head and watched her walk across the room. She pulled open the closet doors and stood there for a moment looking at the miniature clothes handing on the railing.

He didn’t know how that young of a kid could have that many clothes. He wanted to laugh. He imagined that Justin’s kids or JC’s kids would have that many outfits, but he never thought that his kids would be fashionable like that.

"What do you say Fred?" Willa said with a sing-songy voice, "How about the blue jumper Spanky got you?"

JW's reaction to the one sided conversation was just to make happy gurgling noises as she spoke. Lance didn't know if he really could understand at all what she was saying, but he seemed to like the sound of her voice. He wondered for a moment if JW would recognize his own voice soon.

While Lance felt important standing there doing his part, he almost felt as if he didn't need to be there. JW didn't move really, not that he would have with Lance's hand across his stomach. He just lay there and smacked his little gums together happily and Willa seemed to know how to do everything that needed to be done to take care of their son. It was a strange feeling to have, but he finally realized that maybe she really didn't need him around. She'd done fine for the nine months she'd been pregnant and it seemed as if he only seemed to stress her out. He didn't want that at all. He wanted things to be back the way that they were.

Silence filled the space between them. It was one of those moments where Lance thought he literally would have been able hear a pin drop. Willa moved around the room comfortably and then returned to the changing table.

"Huh Fred?" she said looking down at JW. "What do you think about this one?"

Finally when he'd had enough of the silent treatment, when he saw that she wasn’t going to talk to him, he cleared his throat and asked, "What’d you call him?"

"I called him Fred," she spoke softly. Her back was slightly turned and she seemed to be acting perfectly normal about all of this as she pulled the outfit off the hanger and went to put the hanger back, "Someone I once was in love with used to call me that." She glanced over her shoulder and he thought that he saw her roll her eyes, "Too bad he doesn’t call me that anymore."

"Willa." Her name came out in a tired sigh. Lance let his gaze drop to the floor. He was tired of this. He didn’t need this kind of stress from her. She needed to just let it go.

"See," she said and came back over to the changing table, "JW loves the blue ones. He always hates anything else I put him in." She set to work, removing Lance’s hand from JW before she bumped him with her hip, moving him out of the way. She began to unsnap the buttons down the front of the outfit he had on and was soon pulling JW out of the clothes.

Lying there in just a diaper JW began to cry a little. His

"I know Fred, I know," she said softly. She kissed the tip of her finger put her finger out and tapped his nose lightly with it. It distracted him a moment and he settled down. "We'll be done soon."

"Willa?" He started to say. Willa shoved a toy into Lance’s hand.

"Entertain him for a minute. He may not be forty thousand screaming girls, but that squeaker thing seems to keep him entertained."

Lance moved the toy and began to squeak the thing while Willa quickly changed JW's diaper. It had been a long while since Lance had been around a baby. The last time he remembered diaper changes was way back when he'd go to Tennessee with Justin to visit Justin's little brothers.

"That's really gross," Lance said turning his nose up as she pulled the diaper away and cleaned JW up.

"It's nothing," Willa commented and reached to tickle JW's stomach when she was done putting him into a new diaper. "Right Fred?"

"Can you stop saying that?" Lance asked with an annoyed tone. He picked up the box of baby wipes and began to read the label, or at least he looked at the words, but none of the information seeped into his brain.

Willa began to slide JW into the new outfit. Lance never realized how tough it would be to dress someone until she saw her struggle to put JW in his outfit. Somehow his arms and legs just didn’t want to go the way that Willa wanted them to go.

"Stop what?"

"Stop calling him Fred," he said firmly.

"Why?" she asked as she quickly snapped JW into the new outfit and picked him up. The baby clung to her and immediately began to stick his fist in his mouth. "It's just a pet name for him I have."

"Willa," Lance sighed. On the one hand it hurt him that she would use that nickname in front of him like that, but on the other hand he liked the idea of JW having that nickname. It meant that she loved their son and he thought that she loved him too. Why else would she chose THAT name for him? "Are you trying to rub it in forever?"

She stared at him with a cold expression. "Rub what in?" she asked.

Lance glared at her finding it hard not to just grab her and shake some sense into her. She was acting as stubborn as she’d been when they first met. This attitude was just to punish him for the months he’d been away. He knew that much but he felt that she shouldn’t blame him now for things he couldn’t go back and change. "Stop being so damned innocent and just come out with it."

"Come out with what?" she said, "Really Lance, you should get some more sleep. You don't sound very coherent today."

"Willa just spit it out. Are you going to be mad at me forever?" he asked.

She blinked at him a few times. "Mad about what?"

"Will you please stop answering my questions with questions!" Lance slammed his hand down on the changing table, knocking over the box of diapers and the baby wipes with his motion.

JW began to whimper and was soon crying desperately.

"Great Lance," she said with an annoyed tone, "Scare him a little more why don't you?"

"I didn’t mean to scare him."

"Well you did," she said.

"What the hell Willa? Do you really think I want to make him cry?" He asked.

"I don’t know what to believe with you anymore," she said.

Finally having enough of the strange behavior Willa was throwing his way, Lance dropped his hands heavily to his sides and left the room. "I can't stand you when you're like this!"

"When I'm like what Lance?" she asked.

He turned around and stared at her. "I'm trying Willa. I'm trying my hardest to be around for you. Don't push me away."

"I'm not pushing you away," she said with a sigh, "I was the one who invited you down here in the first place."

Lance sighed again as they made their way down to the living room again. Willa slid easily into a seat on the couch and held JW against her. She grabbed for the remote and turned on the television and began to hum along with the commercial as she rocked JW.

"Can we talk after he goes to sleep?" Lance asked coming around to sit on the far end of the couch.

"I don't know what you want to talk about," she said.

"We need to make a decision about us. And now before this blows up into something more than it is."

"Well what is this?" she asked.

"I don't know Willa," he said. "I just don't want this tension between us."

"Tension?" she asked.

"Let's not start down that road again, ok?" he said. "I just want us to be like we were. I want to spend time with you again and have fun with you and enjoy being with my son with you."

 



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"Well you have a funny way of showing that," she said angrily clutching JW to her as she glared at Lance. JW had almost had his eyes closed, but came awake with a start when she opened her mouth.

"Can I hold him?" He asked, "He fell asleep with me yesterday."

Willa didn’t look to confident about her decision to give him JW, but she did it anyway and fussed over him for a long time before she sat back and watched Lance.

"So you want to be in his life?" She asked with a mean tone to her voice as she ran her hands through her hair. "I just hope that you don’t run out on him the way you did when you found out about him."

Lance glared at her over the top of where JW was laying against his shoulder. "Willa. I’m sorry. Am I going to have to apologize for that forever?" He asked.

"Maybe," she said. Her eyes met his and he could see the tears in them. "I can’t trust you Lance. I don’t want to be mad at you, but I can’t trust that you’re going to be there for me or for him."

"I’m not some deadbeat dad," Lance argued as she looked back at the television. He grabbed up the remote and turned off the TV. "I’m going to be there for him."

"What if I don’t want you to be there for him?" She asked, "It’s easier sometimes if you have a dad that just isn’t there instead of someone who is there only part of the time."

Lance ran his hand over his face and sighed. "I’m not going to disappear on you," he said, "You have to know that. Do you think that I would have been gone if I’d known that JW was mine? I mean do you really think I’m that big of an ass?"

Willa looked at him again. "I can’t do this," she said, "I can’t go through that again. I was in love with you..." She paused and put a hand out to him. "I am in love with you, but I know that I can’t go through that again. You broke my heart and that can’t happen again."

"I’m not going to let that happen," he said, "What do I have to do to prove that to you?"

"I can’t just take things back," she said, "I--"

"I didn’t think that you would," he said, "I just want a chance. Give me until New Years to prove myself to you that I’m going to be here. I know it’s only a few weeks, but I need that chance."

Willa stared at him.

"If things don’t work out between now and then I’ll leave you alone."

"Really?" She asked.

"I’ll put money away into an account for JW and I’ll pay child support and all that, but if you really want me to be gone then I will be."

She wondered for a moment if this was just his way to keep this out of the press or not. She knew if she put up a fuss about it he would get bad press and the whole roller coaster ride that she’d gone through with Brennan and Amy would resurface.



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~~FOURTEEN~~



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Seattle was a horrible mess that Christmas Eve day.

Not only did curious relatives who wanted explanations for Willa's unmarried status surround her, but the weather wasn't making it a great holiday season for anyone. A storm had blown in a few hours after her plane had landed the day before and she'd been sitting in the window since she'd arrived at the house watching the weather get worse and worse instead of better.

Willa hadn't expected sunny weather, like the southern California weather she was now used to, but she'd forgotten just how awful the weather could get in the winter months. She'd hadn't regretted refusing the ticket that Lance had offered her to come down to Florida to spend Christmas with him until it started to rain down slushy snow in the early evening hours.

"I should be in Florida right now," she mumbled glancing from the snowy scene outside to where JW sleeping peacefully in her arms, "Where you and I belong."

"What honey?" her mother asked from across the room.

"Nothing Mom," she said softly as she looked around the crowded living room.

Every relative she'd ever met had shown up to her parents' house and now the fifteen of them were sitting around the television watching old black and white Christmas movies.

"Are you ok Willa?" her mother asked.

Willa smiled and leaned to place a kiss on her son's head. "I was just thinking outloud."

"Ok," her mother replied.

"Willa honey, maybe you should go to sleep," her grandmother suggested from her seat next to her, "You look pretty tired and it looks like little James is ready for bed."

It wasn't at all late, just after eight in the evening, but Willa could have sworn it was around midnight from the way she felt. She'd been early that morning not only taking care of JW, but also making sure that her mother didn't show him off too much. He had become the trophy of the family and it seemed as if they couldn't get over passing him around and around to show him to everyone.

"That sounds like a good idea," Willa said and carefully pushed herself off the couch and made her way out of the living room.

"Night honey," her mother called to her.

"Night everyone," she said, "Merry Christmas."

Everyone said their good-nights as Willa headed up to her room. She would have turned back to say a more personal goodnight to them, but she was tired and really needed to get away from them.

***

JW was just getting back to sleep after being jostled around a little when her cell phone rang. She grabbed it up from her purse and hurriedly answered so that the ringing wouldn't keep her son up. "Hello?" she said in a soft voice.

"Why are you whispering?"

"Hi Lance," she said and moved across the room to where her pajamas were. She looked at the clock and saw the time then did the conversion in her head, "What are you doing calling me this late?"

"It's not late," he said with a laugh, "Unless you've turned into a little old lady now that you're a mom."

Slowly she stripped out of her clothes to put on her pajamas as she moved the phone to her other ear. "It's only eight your time, right? I thought it was eight."

"Yeah it's eight, but that means it's midnight where you are," she said softly looking over at JW once again. He was starting to look like Lance. His eyes had turned a little greener in the last few days and his hair was a light brownish blonde color like his. "I thought you were going to be with your parents tonight?"

"I was," he said with a sigh, "Don't you just love the holidays? I love my parents to death, but there is only so much bonding that a person can take before they go crazy. All they kept asking about was JW and they wanted to call you, but I told them to do it tomorrow. I thought you would want to handle your own parents before you tried to handle mine."

"Don't say that too loud or they might hear you," she said.

"No they won't."

A car horn could be heard in the background.

"What's that background noise?" she asked, "Where are you?"

"Uh," he said quickly, "I'm on the freeway. I just cut over and didn't signal long enough."

"Freeway?" she asked she checked the clock again, "At midnight?"

"Yeah," he said, "I went over to Justin's for a minute tonight to leave him his Christmas present since he's spending a few days in Tennessee with his brothers."

"Oh," she said.

"What are you up to?" he asked, "And how's my boy Fred?"

Willa's breath caught in her throat when she heard him call JW his boy Fred. "He's fine," she whispered, "I just put him to bed though so I'm trying to be quiet, that’s why I'm talking so softly."

"The phone didn't wake him up did it?"

"No," she said quickly and walked over to the crib where she'd put him for the night. "He's still asleep."

"Shit, I'm sorry. I forgot about that. I'll try and remember not to call so late," he said.

It was surprising to hear him be so concerned about something so little like that. He had been trying hard the last few weeks to be more involved in their lives and she loved the attention he gave JW, especially when he'd insisted upon singing to him over the phone to put him to bed one night.

"Anyway I wanted to call you and tell you that there is a package on it's way to you."

Willa let out a sigh. They'd discussed Christmas and she thought that they'd been clear when they'd decided not to go crazy on gifts. She knew that Lance had the money to buy JW anything in the world that he could ever want, but she didn't want to start off her son getting used to the idea that he would be spoiled. JW wasn't going to be a Hollywood/Rockstar kid. He needed to learn about the real worth of a dollar and that hard work went into the money that Lance and she earned. "Lance, I told you that you didn't have to get JW anything--"

"It's not for him really, I mean it is, but it isn't. It's for the both of you I guess."

"What did you buy?" she asked.

"Why do you automatically assume that I bought something?" he asked.

"Well you're sending a present--"

At that moment the background noise behind him stopped.

"Are you home?" he asked.

"Not exactly," he said.

"Where are you going now?" she asked.

"You'll see," he said.

"You mean hear?" she asked with a smile.

"No," he said.

The doorbell rang downstairs.

"I said you'll see."

"What did you do?" she asked.

"You'll see," he said.

"I'm sure I will."

"Are you going to get the door?" he asked.

"What?"

"I'm standing out here on the front porch freezing my butt off. Go get the door Willa," Lance finally said.

"You're here?" she asked and looked out the window just in time to see a cab pull away from the front of the house.

"Yeah," he said, "Don't make me freeze my fingers off."

"I'm coming, I'm coming." She quickly jumped across the bed, grabbed the baby monitor and made her way down to the first floor again.

"I got the door mom," she said hanging up the phone she pulled open the door to reveal Lance standing on the front porch, as he'd said he would be.

 



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Lance had been nervous when he'd decided to jump on a flight up to Seattle, but the surprised and pleasantly pleased look on her face when she opened the door reassured him that it was the right thing for him to do. He needed to spend Christmas with Willa and JW. He had missed out on so much already that he didn't want to get any more behind.

"That was quick," he said with a smile readjusting the bag on his shoulder. He tucked his phone into the front pocket of his jacket and looked past her. "Can I come in?"

"Willa let Lance in and close the door!" her mother yelled from the living room.

"She knew?" Willa asked.

"I didn't want to crash at the house without a warning so I called her and told her that I thought that her grandson needed to see his daddy on Christmas."

"He's only a few weeks old," she said, "He won't even remember this Christmas."

"Yeah well you and I will and I thought I'd feel a lot better if I was here with the two of you instead of in Florida."

"What about your parents?" she asked.

"I spent this morning with them and we did Christmas together. My parents understand and actually I think my mother was going to kick me out if I didn't come up here to see you."

"Willa!" her mother yelled.

"Sorry mom," she called back and pulled him into the room, closing the door behind him.

Knowing that her mother would want to see Lance and that her other relatives would want to meet the father of her son she reached for his bag. She took it away from him and set it near the wall out of the walkway. "Give the relatives a few minutes then we'll go upstairs and check on JW," she said.

"Sounds fine to me. I haven't made any plans for the time that I'm here. I just have to be back in Orlando by December thirtieth."

"You have plans for new years?" she asked.

Shifting his eyes away from where they might make eye contact with her he shifted his weight from one foot to another then slid out of his jacket. He folded it in half long ways then lay it over his bag. He pushed up the sleeves of his long turtleneck and looked around for a moment. "Yeah. MTV wanted me up in New York, but I've planned something else," he said.

"Party down in Orlando?" she asked, "Like last year?"

"Whoa," he said with a puzzled look on his face, "It's already been a year since that whole Brennan and Amy fight. I didn't realize it had been that long."

"Yeah," she said, "Hopefully this year will be a little less stressful than last year."

Thinking about the plans he made Lance found a smile forming on his face. It would definitely be less stressful than last year. For one he wasn't going to be anywhere near Amy and Brennan if he could help it.

 

***

 

After spending twenty or so minutes meeting the relatives Lance began to fake yawn. He did it more for her benefit than his. She seemed so uncomfortable with him talking to her relatives that he felt he needed to save her, so soon they found their way up the stairs.

They entered her room quietly and she immediately snuck over to JW's crib to check on him.

"Is he still asleep?" Lance asked as he put his bag down and kicked off his shoes and put them near his bag in the corner.

"Nope," she said after a moment.

"Freddy boy," Lance said coming over to where Willa had picked him up and was holding him. He put a hand on JW's back and leaned and kissed his head. "Santa isn't going to bring you anything if you stay up all night."

When he looked up he thought he saw tears in Willa's eyes.

"I think he needs to be fed and changed before we put him back to sleep," she said with a cough and turned away from Lance to take JW over to the bed.

"Why don't you get his bottle, since I feel strange about going into your mother's kitchen, and I'll change him?" he suggested.

"You'll change him?" she asked.

"Yeah. Don't leave your mouth open like that or flies might fly in there," he said.

She immediately shut her mouth from where it had been hanging open a little.

"What? You don't trust me?" he asked.

"No," she said, "I just didn't think you knew how."

"I practiced," he said.

"When?" she asked, "On who?"

"Don't let this get out, but Wes and I practiced on a doll."

"Wes?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, "I have a feeling that he's going to be helping baby-sit for a while so I thought he needed to learn too."

"Well who taught you?" she asked.

"My mom," he said, "Over the phone. It was kinda funny trying to describe how to do this without seeing what was in front of her."

"Are you sure you've got it?" she asked.

"Hand him over," he said and held out his arms.

Willa handed JW over and paused for a moment to put a spit rag on Lance's shoulder. "Well I guess I'll leave you two boys alone. All the stuff is in the diaper bag at the end of the crib," she said, "Don't worry if you mess up. I can fix it when I get back."

"Just go," he said.

Willa smiled at him and left the room.

"Oky-dokey little Fred," he said. He carried the baby over the bed and lay him down on his back so that he could look up. Lance wasn't sure how well the little guy could see, but at least he'd be able to see something while he waited for Lance.

Grabbing up the pillows from the head of the bed he put them on each side of JW to make a little barrier so the little kid couldn't get hurt rolling off the bed then he reached for the diaper bag.

"What do we have here kiddo?" Lance said pulling out a toy he handed it to JW who immediately put it to his mouth. "Not the choice I would make, but whatever."

Lance moved quickly and pulled JW out of his sleeper, put him into a new diaper then was putting him back into his jumper when Willa came back in the door.

"Wow," she said, "I'm impressed."

"Yep," he said, "Good as new."

Willa smiled and held out the bottle to him. "Wanna feed him too?"

"Sure," he said.

Willa set the bottle down on the nightstand and moved the pillows so that Lance could lean back against the headboard. "Lean back a little and hold JW and then I'll give you the bottle."

Lance did as he was instructed and soon he had JW, half-asleep and sucking on his bottle.

"You're a natural."

"This doesn't feel natural," he said.

Willa moved to his side and held onto the bottle for him. "Stretch your arm a little. Once he gets a little older he'll be able to hold the bottle himself, but for now we're stuck doing it for him."

"Stuck huh?" he asked. Her head was close to his and he wanted to lean over and kiss her but he knew he couldn’t. He might be back in her good graces again, but he wasn't about to push the line that still was between them. He needed to take his time and see where things went before he tried to make a move back into her life.

"You know what I mean," she said. She nervously pushed hair behind her ear with one hand.

With his free hand Lance pushed her hair further out of her face.

"Thanks."

"No trouble," he said.

"So where are you going to sleep tonight?" she asked.

"I don't know." He wanted to tell her that he wanted to sleep there with her. He had spent the last few weeks talking to her before he went to sleep at night and he wanted to be able to talk to her again tonight before he went to sleep. He knew though that this would be impossible. "Wherever you want to put me."

JW stopped slurping on his bottle and the two of them looked to find him asleep again. He had a little milk drooling down the side of his face, but soon Lance wiped it away. "Wouldn't want people to think that my little guy is a drooler."

Feeling the tension build between them Lance moved to put him back in his crib, but Willa reached out a hand to stop him. "Don't," she said, "He'll wake up again if you move him."

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, "Stay here all night?"

"Yeah," she said.

"I can't do that," he said, "You need to get some sleep too and I'd feel bad about kicking you out of your bed."

"We can both fit," she said.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

He watched her nod carefully. "Yeah."

"So I guess I just get to stay in my clothes?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Can you do me a favor though?" he asked as he settled back a little into the pillows.

"Sure," she said.

"Well first can you make sure that my phone is off?" he asked. "It's in my jacket pocket."

She got up from her place and found the phone, turned it off then put it back into the pocket of the jacket.

"Can you take off my belt?" he asked. "I'll undo it, but I can't pull it off without moving too much."

Willa stared at him.

"It's not like you haven't done worse," he said with a laugh. He moved his hand and undid the belt buckle while staring at JW to make sure that he didn't wake him.

"Ok."

Soon the belt was off and Willa was back sitting on the bed next to him. When she went to go put the belt on his bag she grabbed out a blanket from the closet and lay it over Lance.

"Snuggle up," he said softly after she reached and turned the lights off.

Willa must have thought he was talking to JW because he didn't feel her anywhere on the bed next to him for a long time.

"Willa," he said, "I'm going to freeze to death if you don't get over here and snuggle up with me. I've been in Florida for the last week. I'm not used to this weather."

Willa hesitated, but soon he had her snuggled up to his one side and JW snuggled to the open side of his body.

"Comfy?" he asked Willa.

She nodded and whispered, "Yes."

"Relax sweetie. We're just going to sleep."

"I know," she said, "I know."

He heard the emotion in her voice. "Are you ok Willa?" he asked.

"I'm fine," she said softly. "I'll be fine."

"We need to talk tomorrow," he said.

"Hmm," was her only reply and soon Lance felt her breathing slow and she snuggled up to him more in her sleep as she fully relaxed for the first time since he'd gotten there.



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~~FIFTEEN~~



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It was early the next morning when Lance heard a small cry in his ear. It wasn’t exactly the way he would have liked to be woken up after a slightly sleepless night, but when he saw his son’s face looking up at him he smiled.

"Morning JW," he said softly as his son blinked and gurgled at him, "I know big guy. I'm up."

Leaning over Lance found the clock in the room and noticed that it was way too early to be up. Normal people usually got up at this time, but he was on vacation and didn't need to be getting up just when the sun was.

Trying not to move he slowly woke up. His back ached and his shoulder and part of his arm were asleep, but other than that he didn't have much to complain about considering all things.

"It’s way too early to be up," Lance said softly. His voice was thick with sleep and his body protested his conscious status due to the fatigue from the flight the day before, but seeing his son there with him put him at ease. He was in Seattle; with them; where he belonged; and that made his day start out way better than it would have been if he’d been stuck in Orlando that morning.

JW yawned and whimpered a little. "I know Fred," he said, "It’s way too early to be up. We’re going to have to work on that one. Rule one in life: Never get up early unless you seriously have to."

JW gurgled happily at him again sticking out his tongue a little.

"Great. A comedian," he said with a nod as he patted his back. JW let out another yawn and gurgled at him.

"Lance who are you talking to?" Willa asked groggily from next to him.

Lance turned his head and readjusted JW on his chest so that he could see Willa. Her eyes were slightly open and she was watching them with a pinched expression on her face as if she were trying hard to stay asleep.

"JW and I were having a bonding moment," he said, "We were learning that sleep is a good thing and that we should never wake up early unless we really have to."

"Can you keep it down?" She asked through her squinted eyes and snuggled into his shoulder more.

Somehow in the middle of the night she'd draped herself over his body and was now practically lying half on top of him with her head tucked to the side of his neck and her arm curled around his chest. Her hand was now tucked just under the edge of his T-shirt and when she moved to get closer to him she grabbed onto his side a little. He had to keep himself from laughing, not because it was at all funny, but because he was a little ticklish in that spot.

In her still sleepy state she didn’t seem to notice how they were lying together and he wasn’t about to inform her of where she was. He liked the idea of the two of them there together and wanted the warm feeling of her against him to last just a little longer that morning.

"Sorry Fred," he said softly. He turned his head and pressed his lips lightly to her forehead. The kiss he placed there lasted only seconds, but he was grateful that she didn’t pull away or make a comment about it. I she had she would have ruined the whole moment.

Finally it seemed that Willa had woken up enough to know where she was and he thought that she’d been shocked by him using her nickname again. She lifted her head up to look at him and was about to open her mouth to say something when Lance leaned and kissed her, cutting off any comment she could have made.

Her lips reacted to his, matching the kiss he gave, but when she pulled back she had a very confused expression on her face.

Feeling the tension between them return Lance coughed a little. "Merry Christmas," he said softly and reached to push her hair back from her face.

"Merry Christmas," she mumbled then looked at JW instead of him.

Seeing that the subject was going to be ignored Lance moved to sit up a little. "JW woke me up. I think he needs to be changed."

"You want me to do it?" she asked and leaned her head against his shoulder.

Lance smiled. It wasn’t a definite answer about how things would go between them, but at least she hadn’t gotten up and run away. He didn’t know if he could have handled that.

"No," He said, "I’ll do it."

Willa reached out and took JW’s little hand in hers. "Morning Mr. JW," she said, "Merry Christmas."

JW gurgled a little then began to start to look like he might cry.

"I should get up," Lance said.

"I love the fact that you’re going to change him, but does that mean you really have to move?" She asked and moved to press her cheek against his chest.

"As much as I’d love to stay like this for the rest of the day, I think that JW would get a little...well a little fussy," he said.

A giggle escaped her mouth and she smiled at him. "You said fussy."

He nodded. "So?" He said with a mock defensive tone.

"I guess we should get up and change him then," she said.

"Yeah," Lance said, "And you have to open your presents."

"I told you that I didn’t think we should go overboard with gifts," she said.

As Willa untangled herself from him to push herself into a sitting position Lance felt a chill go through him. He hadn’t noticed how much he liked the way she was lying with him until the heat of her body disappeared.

"Did you see me bring a moving van with me last night?" He said.

"No," she said.

"Well I only brought one gift a piece," he said.

"Only one?" She asked.

"Did I stutter?" He asked with a laugh. "I love the way you get all sad looking when you aren’t getting spoiled."

"Whatever Lance," she said.

Lance moved to get up and went through the motions of changing JW while Willa sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her eyes as she watched him.

"Done," Lance said holding his hands up when he was done.

"What are you doing?" She asked, "Calf roping? You look like those rodeo guys on TNN when they tie the little cows up then put their hands in the air."

"They’re called cowboys," he said with a smile and picked up his son and held him against his shoulder for a moment.

Willa pushed herself to a standing position. "Why don’t I take him to get breakfast and you get a shower then we’ll see what my parents are up to today?"

"Sounds good to me," he said. He kissed his son’s forehead then handed him over to Willa.

"Grab up your stuff and I’ll get you a towel and you can shower."

Lance nodded and the two of them went to work. It was almost like old times. He remembered them way back when they would work together instead of against each other. He actually remembered that Willa usually the one helping him get out the door or get done, but he still liked the idea of them being a team again.

 



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Willa was just putting JW into his carrier after she'd changed him and fed him when Lance strolled into the kitchen wearing jeans, a T-shirt and socks.

"Your mom's up," he said as he pulled out a chair and sat down next to her. She put her foot up on the edge of his chair from where she was sitting in the other chair. He patted the top of her foot, "I saw her in the hallway."

Willa could see the sarcastic look on his face as if their meeting had been the highlight of his morning. It was that reaction that had kept her from inviting him to Seattle in the first place. She knew her parents were proper people and wouldn't say anything to Lance about their unmarried status, but somehow she knew that there would be tension between them always.

"She didn't attack you or anything did she?" Willa asked.

"No," he laughed. His hand moved to her ankle and encircled it. "You're getting skinny again," Lance said.

"Thanks a lot," she said and rolled her eyes.

"I meant that you're losing the baby weight fast. It wasn't supposed to be an insult."

"I didn't take it that way," she said.

Silence filled the room.

"SO what did my mom have to say to you this morning?" she said softly, "I didn't hear any yelling so it sounds like you survived."

"Yeah well she yelled the other day," he said, "She got all that out the other day on the phone."

Willa's eyes went wide. She knew that her parents weren't thrilled with the whole situation seeing that her father still couldn't get used to the idea that first his daughter had lost her virginity, and second that it was to--in his words--a rockstar. "She did what?"

Lance smiled, "I'm kidding Willa. Your mother loves you and gave me a good lecture, but I don't think she'd actually yell at me."

"Don't get too comfortable Mr. Bass," her mother said coming into the kitchen. She wore a long robe, tied tightly around her as she went over to the coffeemaker and began to prepare coffee for the morning.

When she was done Willa's mother came to her side and gave her a half hug then leaned over and pressed a kiss to her grandson's forehead. "Merry Christmas Angel."

"Merry Christmas Grandma." Willa spoke in a tiny voice as if JW was answering her then looked over and smiled at Lance.

"Grandma?" her mother said and looked over at Lance and pointed a finger. "I should really kick you out for that one."

"Me?" he asked with a smile, "I didn't call you Gran--I didn't call you that."

"Yeah, but it's your fault I'm a grandma," she said with a laugh.

"Mother are you drunk?" Willa finally asked when her mother laughed her way across the room and began to pull out things to make breakfast with. Willa turned to Lance, "What is she smoking? She's never this laid back."

"Willa honey, I am in the room," her mother said.

"Well I want to know what's going on because you're never this informal and you told me the last few times that I saw you that you hated Lance!"

"No reason," her mother said and winked at Lance.

"Mrs. Marviani," he said with a warning tone.

"I'm sorry sweetie, but I can't help to be glad that you to are back together."

"We're not--" Willa looked at Lance, "We're not officially back together."

"You aren't?" her mother asked looking at the two of them with a critical eye.

"No!" Willa said and looked at Lance. "No offense Lance."

He just gave her a look and stood up from where he was sitting. He reached over and picked up JW and without a word left the room. She couldn't tell if he was just not making a comment on the situation or if he had been hurt by her comment so instead of sticking around to argue with her mother Willa went in search of Lance and her son.

She found the two of them on the couch. Lance had stretched out in front of the television and was holding JW on his stomach patting his back.

"Lance?" she asked.

"Hmm?" he said lazily.

"Why'd you leave?" she asked.

"I didn't want to hear you bash me so I thought I'd leave before it got ugly."

"I wasn't bashing you," she said, "Were you really offended when I got defensive about us being together?"

"A little," he said keeping his eyes on his son and not her.

"Lance?"

"What Willa?" he said with a sharp tone. "I thought that we were moving forward, but it seems like I've gotten no where with you the last few weeks. You still don't trust me."

"Lance--"

"It's ok Willa," he said, "Really it is. I didn't expect to come her and have you fall back into my life, but I thought at least we can come back to being friends again…for JW's sake if nothing else."

Willa stood and watched him. His expression was very serious and his tone had been scary. He seemed to have made up his mind about things. She'd thought that they would eventually get back together, but discussing that in front of her mother definitely wasn't that place to be talking about such things.

"It's not that I don't want to be friends or--" She took a deep breath. "My mother likes to blow things out of proportion and I knew that if I told her that we were talking again that she'd tell all the relatives that we were back together. My relatives would have assumed that meant that we were going to get married or something."

"Really Willa," he said and finally looked up at her, "You don't have to explain."

Willa flopped down into the seat across from him. "But I do have to explain," she said, "You and I need to be honest with each other, especially now that we have a child involved. I want JW to grow up in an environment where he doesn't have to be too critical of people and in a setting where lying isn't the norm."

"That's fine Willa," he said, "I don't have a problem with that," he said. He got up and handed her JW.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"To get your present and JW's present," he said.

"Oh."

He smiled at her and cocked his head to the side a little and smirked at her. "I'll be right back."

Willa watched him leave and could tell that the good mood he'd been in that morning was now gone. She didn't know what to do to restore that nice little feeling that had been between them when they'd woken up that morning and it scared her that this "fight" they were in was going to last forever.

"What do you say Fred?" she asked her son smiling at him, "Do you think Daddy needs to stay or go?"

JW gurgled and smiled at her.

"That doesn't help," Willa groaned out.

"Talking to yourself?" Lance asked coming back into the room. He carried two small boxes in his hand as he sat down next to her.

"No," she said, "He and I were just discussing some issues we're having."

"He doesn't need a shrink already does he?" Lance asked.

"No," she said, "We just needed to make a decision, but since he can't really state his opinion, it's been a bit of a struggle."

Lance held up the two boxes, "I'll trade you JW for these."

"You sound like you're playing a card game."

"Give me a break Willa," he said, "I want you to open them and I thought I could hold JW."

Willa's eyes shut as she blushed. She hadn't meant for it to sound like she was upset at him about it. It had been a joke, but he hadn't taken it that way. She never would have really accused him of trying to buy JW's love or her love. She might think it every once in a while, but she never would say it aloud to Lance.

"Fine," she said. She moved JW over into Lance's arms and picked up the first box.

She held the box up so JW could see it. "This one's for you JW," she said and pulled the box open slowly to reveal a CD inside.

She held it up. "He's a little young to start a CD collection."

"Just read the titles," Lance said.

Willa looked at the song titles and smiled, "Puff (The Magic Dragon), This Old Man, Skip To My Lou, House At Pooh Corner, Baby Beluga, The Banana Boat Song--What'd you do? Go on napster and get all these?"

"No," he said, "I sang them for JW."

"You spent studio time singing these for him?"

"Yeah," he said, "It was kinda funny to have JC producing children's songs."

"You guys did that for him?"

"I won't tell you how much it cost to do it, but really I think that at least if I can't see him every day of his life, that he should at least be able to hear my voice."

"You won't see him every day?" she asked in a daze.

"Yeah," he said, "Because I have to be on tour and stuff."

"Oh," she said.

Lance smiled. "Go on and open the other one."

Willa opened the other box and found another CD in it. "What's this one?"

"Just read the titles."

Willa looked at the cover for a moment. It was a picture of New York City. The titles on the back didn't seem to have any connection to anything and she looked at him with a confused look.

"You don't get it do you?" he asked.

"Not really," she said.

"Well, the first song was the song I wanted to dance with you the first time I met you. The second is the one that was on in the car when we went to the photo shoot for the video. The third is the song from the video, and it goes on and on through up until the last time I saw you before I found out about JW being mine."

Willa was shocked that he would remember all those dates and all those songs. When she read through the titles again she began to remember those songs being a part of their lives.

"I thought you needed a reminder of what we used to be like and I figured that the songs would help since I really don't have much of a scrap book or whatever to give you."

"I thought she knew?" she asked.

"I called you that one night and the guys and I sang it to you," he said.

"I know." She wiped a tear away that had formed in the corner of her eye.

"You told me not to spend money on a huge gift so I put my head into it," he said.

Willa put her chin to her chest and wiped her eyes. "How long did this take you to do?" she asked.

"I had to search a while, but it was worth it," he said. He leaned a little and said, "There will be another CD on the way, but it's not quite done yet."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, "I'm going to play it for you on New Years."

"Really?"

"Yes really," he said, "You'll have to wait to hear that one."



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~~SIXTEEN~~



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New Years itself was supposed to be a time for celebration, but when he pushed through the front door of his house he felt like screaming for joy. He normally loved coming home, but after the last week, dealing with his son's grandparents and other relatives, he was truly due for a little rest and relaxation. They really weren't THAT bad, but he needed to be on his own turf to deal with the events that would take place in the next few days. He'd never really believed in home-court-advantage, but that week he was searching for anything that would help him out since it seemed as if he was already behind when he started anything that dealt with Willa.

His phone bill that month was going to be enormous. When he'd gotten the chance he'd been calling back and forth to plan the party that they would go to that New Year's Eve. It was going to be held at Justin's house and it seemed as if all the guys had been excited to help out with the plans. They hadn't all spent the New Years together in a few years and he wanted them all to be present for this year's celebration.

"Are you gonna move out of the way or are you going to stand in the doorway forever?" The sarcastic tone of the man behind him broke him from his daze. He looked back to see the three of them watching him. Wes and Spanky who were both carrying luggage and Willa who was trying not to laugh at him from where she stood holding JW.

The sun was just beginning to rise when they'd landed at the Orlando International Airport and he'd been surprised to see Wes waiting for him there. He hadn't expected the guy to get up to meet their red-eye flight. He'd been there though and had even been excited to see them--well excited to see JW anyway, seeing that he grabbed the little guy from Willa immediately and hugged him so tightly that Lance though his son's eyes might pop out of his head.

That had been one luxury of being in Seattle that Lance was going to miss. He hadn't had a shadow for the time he'd spent at Willa's parents' house, but now Wes was back on his tail and with Willa being with him, Spanky had joined the circus.

Lance pushed the door open the rest of the way and stepped back to pick up the bag that he'd taken out of the trunk after they'd parked the car in the driveway. "Oh, right. Sorry."

"You'd think you were never home or something," Spanky teased as he passed him and disappeared into the house. "You're getting too used to this jet-setting stuff. You're a dad now LB, you need to stay home more."

Wes entered and Lance found himself watching Willa standing on the front porch. "What's wrong?" he asked when she didn't move to come in.

"Nothing," she said peaking into the house before she actually went through the door. "It's just been a long time since I've been here."

"Oh," he said, "Yeah, I forgot about that."

In the living room the fake plastic Christmas Tree that his mother had gotten him was still up, a reminder of the Christmas he'd missed with his family and the one he'd spent with Willa and JW.

His mother had been a saint the last few weeks with all his drama. She and his dad weren't at all pleased with the way that things had worked out with him and Willa, but by their actions no one ever would have known. Having a kid out of wedlock was a big no-no, but they seemed to realize that it was going to be harder on him to deal with things if they didn't support him than if they did.

"Nice tree," she said pulling JW from her shoulder so that he could see the tree. "DO you like Daddy's Christmas tree Fred?"

JW yawned and closed his eyes. After he let out a sigh he went back to sleep.

"Gotta love that," Lance said with a chuckle. "He's only a few months old and he's already a critic."

"Yeah well he's got good taste most of the time," she said, "Other than when he's listening to someone sing in the shower."

"I told you that wasn't funny!" he said defensively. "I didn't really know that I was singing that loud."

"Did you know that you were singing that off-key?" she asked, "I thought you were a professional. I never expected you to completely butcher a song as easy as--"

"I don't usually sing country," he said.

"That Garth Brooks--excuse me--Chris Gaines song isn't at all country," she said with a laugh.

"Whatever," he said and turned around to find both Wes and Spanky watching them.

"We're going to head out for the day," Wes said, "You two have fun. We'll see you tonight."

"Night guys," Willa said.

"Night?" Wes asked.

"You don't think I'm going to stay up all day now do you?" she asked, "If I'm going to party down like a rockstar at this new years thing tonight I've gotta get my beauty sleep."

"You don't need it sweetie," Spanky said.

"Thank you Spanky," she said with a smile, "You're going to be ok hanging out with Wes today aren't you?"

"Yes mom," he said with a sarcastic tone.

"You guys be good," she said and went into the living room.

When the guys left a few minutes later Lance told Willa that he'd carry stuff upstairs while she changed JW.

She nodded and followed up to the second floor.

"Where are you going with my bags?" she asked.

"I'm putting them in my room."

"Why?" she asked.

"I thought I'd put you in there and I'd sleep in the guest room," he said motioning toward his room.

"Why?" she asked, "I can sleep in the guestroom just fine."

"I was going to let you have it since you might need the bathroom for JW," he explained.

"I don't want to put you out or anything," she said.

"Willa, I'm not at all put out by sleeping in the guest room."

"Why don't you just share the room with me?" she asked, "We've done it before."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," she said.

"Ok," he said.

Packing and unpacking was never fun for Lance, but as he put away the things he'd taken with him to Seattle and the other things that had been delivered from the bus he chatted with Willa.

"So did you have a good Christmas?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, "I hadn't expected you to be on my doorstep."

Lance didn't look at her when he spoke next. He just kept his eyes on his packing, not sure if he wanted to see her reaction to his question. She could say one thing, but her eyes would tell the truth. "So was that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Definitely a good thing."

"Really?" he asked and paused to look at her. She was leaned up against the pillows at the head of the bed feeding JW with a blanket thrown over her shoulder.

"Why wouldn't it be?" she asked. "You saved me from my relatives."

"Oh." It was the only response he could think of. He didn't know what else to say. He had hoped she was glad to see him for other reasons, but she didn't seem like she was going to give him what he was waiting to hear.

"What do you want me to say Lance?" she asked rocking JW in her arms.

"Nothing," he said, "I'm going to go downstairs and make some last minute calls about the party. You should take a nap or something."

"Lance are you ok?" she asked.

"Uh, yeah," he said and scooted quickly out of the room. He wanted to avoid that conversation if he could. He didn't need to be sobbing to her about the time they'd spent apart and the way that all he wanted to do was to be with her again. If she had that attitude about it he wasn't sure that he wanted to be with her again.

 



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When she felt the tap on her shoulder she turned around expecting it to be someone else. When she found Justin's mom standing there with a very worried look on her face she got very worried. "What's up Lynn?"

"Honey, I don't mean to bother you, but JW won't go to sleep. He's really fussy and I think he may have a fever," Lynn Harless said into her ear, "He's probably teething or something like that--

"Really?" Her heart beat out of her chest and she looked around for Lance. If something was wrong with JW he should know about it.

"I hate to pull you away from the party, but I think he wants his mommy," she said with a smile.

Willa wasn't sure that she wanted to leave the party just yet. She had heard horror stories about mothers who were too protective when their kids were little and then the kids turned out of be killers or something like that. "Did he take a bottle?" she asked trying to think of any excuse for him not to be going to sleep on time.

"Nope," she said, "I've tried all my tricks, but he's just not cooperating."

"Ok," Willa said with a sigh, "Let me just tell everyone that I'm leaving and I'll come up and check on him. Thanks for coming to find me."

"No trouble," Lynn said and turned and walked towards the house stopping only a moment to socialize before she disappeared into the house.

Willa returned to the group that she'd been talking with and immediately excused herself.

"What's wrong?" Joey's girlfriend Kelly asked.

"Nothing really," she said trying to convince herself of that, "JW is just being fussy and I thought I'd go help him get to sleep. I'll be back though…it's pretty early."

She pushed her way through the crowd on the porch and waved to people as she searched for a way to the back door.

"Where are you going?" he asked grabbing her arm from where he was standing with a group of people talking. They hadn't spoken much since the incident earlier that day and when the party had started it had seemed like Lance wanted nothing to do with her so it was hard for her to see why he was so concerned now.

Willa sighed and tried to stay calm. "Lynn said that JW isn't feeling good so I'm going to check on him."

He looked at his watch then at her with a worried look on his face. "But it's almost midnight."

"I don't care," she said and looked back towards the house.

"Just wait a minute," Lance said pulling on her arm.

Willa was getting frustrated now. This was so immature of him to act that way. Hadn't he just heard what Mrs. Harless had just said? JW wasn't feeling well and she needed to go find him. She didn't need to stay to count down the new years with Lance.

"I'm going to go see JW," she said heading towards the main house where Lynn supposedly had been trying to get JW to sleep, not that anyone could sleep with that kind of noise going on in the backyard.

"Please Willa," he said, "Just five more minutes."

Willa looked back at the pathetic look on his face. "Why is this so damn important?" she asked angrily yelling a little over the sound of the music, "Our son might be sick and you want to go party?"

Lance frowned pulling her close to his body he trapped her against him with his arms leaning his head so that it was next to hers. "That's not what I want…I just want you to stay here for another few minutes."

He seemed antsy about the whole situation. She'd seen him drink a few beers that night and she was worried that maybe he was a little too drunk for his own good. His hands were all over her now and while she normally would have cherished that feeling, her son was not feeling good and she needed to go and find him.

"Fred what's wrong?" he asked.

With groaned out her frustration and stomped her foot. "I'm trying to go figure out what is wrong with our son and you want to party." She took a deep breath and stepped back from him, pushing his hands off of her so that she could get away. "I knew this wasn't going to work. I knew it. I never should have come here!" She tried to pull away but Lance caught a good grip on her hand.

She didn't want to cry in front of him and she surely didn't want to cause a scene in front of everyone else at the party, but she couldn't help it.

"Willa wait a minute."

"Wait?" she asked, "Wait for what?" She turned and looked at the yard full of people dancing around and partying. "What the hell is so important that I can't leave here right now?"

Suddenly it seemed as if everyone had turned and was watching them. She felt completely embarrassed about making the scene that she was making, but she couldn't understand why he was making such a big fuss over the party.

She jerked her hand away and Lance unsteadily fell to one knee.

"Are you ok?" she asked seeing that he wasn't getting up right away.

"No," he said firmly.

"Now what's wrong with you?"

"Come here," he said and reached out for her hand. She looked around again and everyone now was really watching them.

"What?" she asked, "Everyone is staring at you right now."

"No," he said looking around, "They're staring at you."

"Do you like embarrassing me?" she asked angrily.

"No," he said.

"Well then get up."

"I have to ask you something first," he said.

"Ask me what?" she grabbed onto his hand and tried to pull him up, but he wouldn't budge.

"I have to ask you something first," he repeated.

"How many drinks did you have?" she asked, "You're repeating yourself now."

Lance's face suddenly turned completely serious. "Will you shut up for a second Willa? I'm trying to propose to you and well I'm not doing a very good job of it."

Willa immediately dropped his hand and backed away.

"Propose?" she asked.

"Yes," he said. He scooted towards her, took her hand then looked up at her. "Marry me Willa."

"What?" she said looking around. She thought for a moment that she'd heard him wrong. Everyone was still watching them and she figured that they'd all think he'd just had too much to drink.

She would have thought that she'd become a little tipsy, but she hadn't had anything to drink that night. Why does it sound like he's asking me to marry him? I've gotta get a grip here.

"Marry me and I'll do anything to make you the happiest woman in the world." His voice came out sounding desparate, but he was at that point now.

Willa stared at the small box that he lifted up to her. It was open and inside was a ring that seemed to sparkle somehow in the light from the pool. It would be just like him to propose in a public place since nothing in their relationship seemed to happen off the television screens. They were the perfect little couple to everyone.

A portrait of perfection.



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END OF PART THREE



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