Part V: California
JC tuned his guitar. He was in the back room of the bar, that he played weekly gigs in. He waited for the manager to come back and let him know it was time to go on. There was a knock on the door.
"Yeah?" He asked puzzled. It was too early for him to go on. The manager poked his head in the room.
"There's a pregnant lady out here. Says her name is Janie Bradley?" The man raised his eyebrows. JC looked shocked as soon as that name left his lips.
"Ask her to leave please." JC stated. The harshness in his voice did not go unnoticed. He looked back down at the guitar and plucked at the strings. JC looked up and around the room. He let out a frustrated sigh. 'What is she doing here?' he asked himself.
Fifteen minutes later he stood up and walked out of the room when it was time for him to go on stage. He walked up the short steps and sat down on the wooden stool, center stage. JC adjusted the mike and smiled when a screeching noise resounded over the room.
He strummed the guitar a couple of times and then started. JC played a few songs. Without realizing what he was doing, the first cords and words of This I Promise You started.
"When the visions around you / bring tears to your eyes / " JC had always been the closest to Janie. She would never know that he had loved her at one time.
Later that evening he walked into his dark apartment. JC set his guitar down by the door and turned the stereo on. He walked into the small messy kitchen and turned the light on above the stove. His cat jumped up onto the counter and sat down by his dish.
"What could you possibly want?" JC asked the animal as he scratched it between the ears. The cat pressed his head harder into the palm of JC's hand and purred. JC reached over and poured some food into the dish for the cat. He found himself something to eat and then went and sat down in the dark living room to eat.
JC sat down at the sound board in the local studio. He was helping a local band out with their demo. He motioned for the first guy to go in to lay down his part of the track.
"Let's get this done. Studio time is only booked till 4:30," He started and looked at his watch. "It's 11:00 now."
A soft knock resounded over the door and JC walked over quickly to answer it. He immediately slammed the door when he saw who was on the other side. She banged on the door loudly.
"Josh! You open this damn door right now!" Janie yelled. JC let her stand out there for another few minutes, before he started to feel sorry for her. He opened the door and Janie stepped in. "Thank you." Janie looked around the dim apartment and walked over to a lamp where she turned it on.
"Who's the lucky guy to knock you up?" JC asked as his eyes traveled over her pregnant stomach. Janie's face fell at his choice of words. Her arms crossed over her chest.
"I don't think I should have to tell you that, with the way you asked." She huffed.
"Janie don't come barging in here and expect me to be all lovey-dovey with you." His voice met her with equal force. JC turned and walked towards his bedroom. Janie followed every step of his way.
"Sorry," Janie said quietly. Her eyes traveled to the floor and then back up where they met his eyes. "Chris. If you must know," She answered. JC was quiet for a second as he soaked in this information. Janie watched as his face fell.
"You said you would never date one of us." He sounded hurt and sat down on the edge of his bed.
"Things change." Janie took in the state of his bedroom. She rested her hand on her stomach when the baby shifted. "He's wonderful Jace. You know that he takes care of me." He flinched at the old nickname.
"So what about you?" Janie asked.
"What about me, what?" JC asked back not understanding what she met.
"What about you? Do you have someone?" She asked sadly.
"Just for two years. It didn't work out." Janie watched and nodded after he said that. "I have a son. He's three and his name is Jacob."
"I bet he's a cutie." Janie forced a smile. "This place is a mess." She couldn't hold it in any longer at the state of the space he called a home. JC scowled. "You know I was never one for a mess. And with three boys and Chris at home it's always a mess."
"You have three?" He couldn't help but sound shocked.
"Well I adopted James after we got married, and we have a six and four-year old." She paused, "And you know how Chris is. Plus I have this monster in here I have to start worrying about now." Janie smoothed a hand over her stomach with a smile.
"So you have a son huh? When do you get to see him?" She changed the subject so the conversation wasn't on her.
"I already-" He stopped himself and started over, "He stays with me Thursdays thru Sundays."
"So why are you here?" JC was almost afraid to ask. Janie moved closer to the bed. She motioned towards it, asking if she could sit down. JC nodded and she sat. Janie looked down at the floor and then back up at him.
"Well," Janie hesitated for another minute. "We, Chris and I, are having everyone over at the end of June."
"Oh," He nodded, knowing exactly who she was referring to by 'everyone.' JC leaned his arms on his knees and looked down at the ground. "Why?"
"Because it'll be nice to see everyone again," Janie said. "Think about it before you decide anything." She noticed his hesitation to comment about it at all. Janie patted his knee and stood up. "What do you have to eat in this place?"
"Hi James," JC said as he set his stuff down in the recording studio. The teenager was sprawled out on the couch waiting for the rest of his band to show up. "Where is everyone else?" He sat down at the sound board.
"Not here." James shrugged. He looked over at Janie who was just standing in the doorway. James sat up so that she could sit down. "Who's the lady?"
"Janie Kirkpatrick," He answered. "Janie this is James Bradshaw. He is the lead singer."
"Hi," Janie reached her hand out to James. They shook hands. She sat down on the other end of the couch. James was watching her, wondering what she was there for. Janie turned to him and smiled. "I was Josh's PR. Back when *N Sync was still around." She answered his questioning gaze. James nodded. JC didn't say anything from the other side of the room.
The other three members of the band walked into the room shortly after. JC introduced them as Michael, Nat, and Matt.
"Who's first today?" JC asked. He looked at each of the boys. Michael had made himself comfortable on the couch in between Janie and James. Nat was fussing over his guitar, and Matt was offering his input on this activity. No one answered JC's question.
"All right. Matt get in there," JC made the choice for them.
"Aw man," Matt whined and picked up his bass out of its case. He walked into the studio, and JC got him started. Janie watched and felt like she was back with the guys. Almost.
"Josh, this place really is a mess." Janie observed once again. JC rolled his eyes. He watched her look around the living room at a few misplaced toys and various magazines and papers.
"And?" JC asked as he sat down on the couch. They had just got back from dinner after being in the studio all day. He stared as she began picking up papers and stacking them neatly on the coffee table.
"You don't need to do that." He said as she picked an issue of Guitar magazine.
"JC," She started. "You have a son who lives here on the weekends. He does not need to be around this mess." He rolled his eyes when she called him 'JC.' Janie gave him a look that told him she was serious.
"Fine," He didn't want to fight with her. The phone rang in the kitchen and JC stood up to answer it. "Hello?" He asked cautiously.
"Josh," He heard his mother over the line.
"Oh hi Mom," JC relaxed, "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing good." She answered. "What are you up too tonight?"
"Not much really." He became distracted as he watched Janie pick up some of the toys. "Do you think I could call you back? I have company right now."
"And who is that?" His Mom asked curiously.
"Janie." JC answered. He could picture his Mom's face when he said that. Janie looked up when she heard her name. He smiled.
"Oh." She sounded shocked, "What is she doing there?"
"Cleaning." He cringed when he pictured that look as well.
"Joshua." Karen scolded, "I'll let you go."
"Love you," JC said.
"Love you too." They hung up. JC walked back into the living room area and stood there for a minute. "Do you need some help?" He picked up one of the guitars and put it in its case before going back for the other.
"If you'd like too." Janie picked up a few more papers and set them on the stack she had created earlier. JC turned the stereo on and moved to pick up the toys she had set aside a few minutes before. He went and put them in Jacob's room.
When they were almost done, JC stopped Janie.
"What?" She asked looking at his outstretched arms. Janie stepped into them. "What are we doing?" JC's right arm wrapped around her waist and left hand took hers in his. She put her right hand on his shoulder.
"We're dancing." He gave her a look as if to say 'duh.' Janie laughed at the smile on his face. "I'm glad you came out here."
"I'm glad I came to," She paused, "So are you going to come?"
"Janie," JC groaned.
"Fine I won't ask. Sorry," Janie smiled. They were quiet for a few more minutes. "So Chris and I were talking, and we would love it if you would be this baby's Godfather."
"Really?" He sounded shocked, "Why me?"
"You are our friend," She answered, "And we trust you. Just think about it okay?" JC nodded. They danced for a few more minutes before he pulled away and kissed her on the cheek.
"Thanks for the dance." JC smiled.
"You're welcome Josh." Janie smiled.
It was Thursday night, and JC waited patiently for the knock on the door. These days were his favorite part of the week, and he couldn't wait to see his son. Janie was in the kitchen making something for them to eat for dinner.
The knock was quiet and he knew it was Jacob who had knocked. JC pulled the door open quickly, and the little boy jumped from his mother's arms into JC's awaiting ones.
"Hiya Jacob." JC smiled and kissed the little boys forehead. He wasn't paying much attention to his ex-wife standing out in the hall.
"Hello Josh," She said. He watched as her face turned towards the kitchen in a questing look.
"Nancy." JC nodded and reached for Jake's bag as she handed it to him. "Have you been good for your Mommy?" He asked the little boy.
"Yeah." Jacob answered quietly.
"I'll see you Sunday night Jacob," Nancy said rubbing the little boys head. "You take care of him." She looked towards JC condescendingly and then walked down the hall. JC shut the door loudly behind her.
Janie came out from around the corner in the kitchen, and smiled seeing JC standing there with a 'mini-me' in his arms.
"You must be Jacob," She smiled at the three-year old. The little boy smiled back when he realized Janie was going to be nice. "I'm Janie an old friend of your dad's."
"He old," Jacob answered with a nod.
"Yeah, your Daddy's old." Janie responded with a laugh. She saw JC's eyes. This was the happiest he had been since she first saw him. JC's arms pulled the boy a little closer to his body, and he kissed his forehead again. "Do you like macaroni and cheese? With hotdogs?"
"Yeah," He answered enthusiastically.
"Well why don't you sit down at the table with your Daddy and I'll fix you a plate." She suggested. Jacob nodded as JC set him down on the floor. Janie walked back into the kitchen to fix their plates and JC got Jacob settled at the table. This was how his life was supposed to be.
"I wanna play," Jacob stood in front of JC where he was playing his guitar. JC looked up from the instrument and smiled.
"Okay. Go get yours," JC said. The little boy ran off down the hall to his room, and came back a few minutes later dragging the instrument case behind him. JC pulled the coffee table over closer to the couch. He helped Jake put the case on the table.
Jacob sat down on the coffee table and unlatched the hard case. He pulled out a smaller version of JC's guitar.
"Do you remember what we learned last week?" Jacob nodded and put his hands on the right places. He strummed. JC smiled when he got it right. "Good job." Jacob grinned up at his Daddy. JC put his fingers on a different chord and played it. Jake watched.
"How?" Jacob asked.
"Like this," JC leaned over and moved Jacob's fingers on the strings. "Now play." He played the chord at the same time Jake did. "All right." This was what he enjoyed the most about the time spent with his son. Jake already had a passion for music, and all JC did was feed it even more.
"What are you guys doing?" Janie asked coming from down the hall where she had been talking to Chris on the phone.
"Playing guitar," Jacob answered with a smile. He looked over at her and then back at his Dad for more guidance. Janie was happy to see something that JC enjoyed with all of his heart still. She watched as JC bent over his guitar again and moved Jake's fingers. "Like this?" He asked.
JC nodded and watched with pride as his son put the two chords together. Jacob was really advanced in the guitar for a three-year old. Janie sat down on the couch next to JC and watched father and son interact.
JC cringed when Janie walked into the room and Nancy gave her a dirty look.
"Hi," Janie smiled and walked over to where JC was standing. She stopped next to him, "You must be Jacob's mother. I'm Janie Kirkpatrick, an old friend of JC's." Janie held out her hand for the other women to take. But she didn't.
"An old friend?" Nancy scoffed taking in the state of Janie's appearance, "Be careful he'll leave you just like he did me." JC rolled his eyes and looked over at Janie apologetically.
"I'm going to go call Chris. It was nice to meet you. Excuse me JC," Janie nodded towards the two and went down the hall to use the phone in JC's room.
"Ready," Jacob came down the hall dragging his backpack behind him. He walked up to where his parents were standing in the doorway.
"Great," Nancy said and reached down to pick up Jake's backpack. She grabbed his hand.
"I'll see you next weekend Jake," JC bent over and gave the little boy a hug. He kissed his forehead.
"Love you Daddy," Jacob smiled.
"Love you too Jacob," He smiled too.
"Let's go." Nancy said and pulled Jacob out the door. JC watched sadly as his ex-wife and son walked down the hall once again. Like every Sunday. He closed the door and walked to the room Janie had disappeared to.
She was sitting on his bed, and laughing at something Chris had said. Janie looked up and held up a finger to signal one more minute.
"Hey Chris, I gotta go. Give the boys a hug and kiss for me I will I love you too." Janie smiled and giggled at something else he said, "Bye Chris." She rolled her eyes over at JC and hung up the phone. "He said hi."
JC nodded, "Sorry about Nancy."
"Not a problem," Janie smiled and stood up. She walked over to JC and wrapped her arms around him in a hug.
"I really am glad you came out here," He smiled sincerely. "I have a show tonight. Would you like to come along?"
"I'd love to see you on stage again."
"Evening Josh," The man behind the counter nodded. He eyed Janie having recognized her from the other night.
"Hey," JC said. "This is my friend, Janie Kirkpatrick," He introduced. "Janie this is Earl Simmons."
"Nice to meet you Mr. Simmons," Janie held out her hand for him to shake. He took it in his.
"Earl please," He nodded. "The room is open."
"Then I'm Janie." Janie smiled. She followed JC into the back room of the bar. JC set his guitar case down on the table and sat down.
"You can sit down," JC nodded. She sat down next to him and looked around the small room.
"What time do you go on?"
"9:15," He answered opening the case and pulled the stringed instrument. JC started to tune it. Janie watched as he prepped for his performance, in forty-five minutes. He concentrated on playing the right notes and loosening up. He hadn't practiced any of his stuff since Janie showed up.
After fifteen minutes of silence, except for the guitar, JC spoke up, "Will you get me a drink?" He asked not even looking up. Janie stood up.
"What do you want?" She asked.
"Anything is fine with me." He shrugged. She walked out of the room.
JC approached the ticket counter at the LA airport. He had decided at the last minute to fly out to Pennsylvania for the party that weekend. Jacob was sound asleep in his arms, and JC held him close.
"How may I help you today sir?" The lady who was working the ticket counter asked.
"I need two tickets out to Pittsburg. As soon as possible please." He answered.
"The earliest I have is 6:45." She said after a minute of typing on her computer.
JC looked at his watch, "That'll have to do." It would be an hour wait, "What is the arrival time?"
"3:45 eastern." She answered. "Do you still want to book it?"
"Yes please." JC used his free arm to pull out his wallet. Jacob shifted for a minute and settled again. He set it on the counter and pulled out his bank card. JC answered the questions she asked and signed the receipt she handed him.
"Daddy?" Jacob mumbled quietly.
"I'm right here buddy," JC put his card back his wallet and picked up the two tickets she had printed. "Thanks," He nodded. After putting the papers in his pocket, he brought his hand up to cover Jacob's eyes from the bright overhead lights.
His hold on the boy tightened as he walked through the empty airport looking for the gate. After he found it, JC sat down and got comfortable for the wait. Jacob snuggled closer to his father and sighed.
"Where we going?" Jacob asked watching his father grab the backpack from the overhead compartment. He stood on the ground looking up. JC looked down at him after throwing the bag over his shoulder.
"We are going to a friend of mines." He leaned over and picked up Jacob so he wouldn't have to keep up. JC walked off of the plane.
"See Janie?" The little boy asked. Jake had been asking about her since he had met her a month ago.
"Yeah we are going to see Janie." JC smiled and waved down a taxi.
"Cool," Jacob smiled. JC set him down on the ground and helped him get in the car before getting in himself. He set the backpack down on the seat in between them.
"Where to sir?" The driver asked.
"Here's the address," He handed him the slip of paper. Jacob was watching all of the people walk in and out of the airport. JC reached over and grabbed the seatbelt; he pulled it over Jacob's shoulder and snapped it into place. The little boy groaned and put the shoulder strap behind him.
He sat back in his seat and put his seatbelt on as the driver pulled away from the curb. JC closed his eyes and took a few breaths to calm his nerves. Jacob turned to his Dad and smiled.
"So'k Daddy," He grinned.
JC opened his eyes and smiled at his son, "I know." The rest of the trip was ridden in silence. As the car turned into the neighborhood, JC took in the sight of the moderate sized houses with big yards. The car slowed to a stop behind another vehicle parked in front.
One of the plates read 'Tennessee.'
"Here you are. It will be $22.37." The driver put the car in park and turned around. JC pulled out his wallet and handed him twenty-five dollars. Jacob had already unbuckled his seatbelt and was now sitting on JC's lap.
"Keep the change," JC opened the door and had Jacob get out. JC got out. He grabbed the bag and put it over his shoulder. There was a lot of noise coming from the back, so JC closed the door and walked around the other side.
Jacob held onto JC's hand swinging it back and forth as the walked into the back yard. JC could see everyone sitting out on the deck talking with one another.
"Janie!" Jacob yelled and dropped his Dad's hand.