Mason was trying to teach Odin how to reload his gun while Maxwell kept jumping out of the bushes and shooting them. It was comical. He was impressed by Mason’s patience. He’d shown Odin how to load the gun several times now, but he didn’t seem to be getting it. Odin had never played with them before and Kevin had to admit they could be complicated for little hands. Kevin had Saoirse on the patio playing with play dough and out of target range of the older boys. The last thing he wanted to do was explain a Nerf welt to Nick.
Kevin squished the colorful clay between his fingers and rolled it into a ball before flattening it with his hand. He laid it down on the plastic tablecloth he’d put down for her to play on. Taking one of the cookie cutter shapes he pressed it into the clay until the letter S cut out from the rest of dough. He pulled it from the mold and handed it to her. She gazed at it for a long moment before crushing it into her fist. He had to laugh. At least she wasn’t eating it, yet.
“Knock knock,” Kristin called, tapping on the patio door.
Kevin looked up from his place on the ground. “Hey Kris.” he said standing up to greet her.
He kissed her cheek and gestured for her to have a seat in one of the rockers. She smiled and settled into one. He took the one beside her and keeping one eye on the baby settled in himself.
“How’s it going?” he asked, smiling at her.
“Good,” she said, settling her bag on the ground. “Are they ready to go?”
“Yeah. They packed their stuff early. I told them they could play until you got here. Oh, by the way it turns out, they were scared I would put the tree up without them.” Kevin said, turning to look at her.
She laughed. “How silly. Of course you wouldn’t do that. I’m sure they are just feeling insecure with this shit year, and now Nick’s here. It’s a lot of change all at once.”
“Kris.” he started but she interrupted him.
“Stop. I’m not lecturing you on having him here. I understand it. I don’t understand how you can be coping with it, but I understand your reasons behind it. Speaking of,” She said, pulling a wrapped package out of her bag and handing it to him. “Wait until you’re alone to open it.”
Kevin looked at her quizzically but then nodded. “Okay.”
She clapped her hands and stood up, gathering the boys’ attention from the yard. “Okay boys, let’s get our stuff and get outta here.” She bent down to get her bag.
“Take care of yourself. I’ll see you in a week.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek before straightening and heading back towards the kitchen.
The boys gathered up their guns and bullets and dropped them in the bucket they kept on the patio. After several hugs to Odin, Saoirse and Kevin they followed in the wake of their mother, grabbing their bags in the kitchen as they went.
The quiet settled over the house after the older two kids had gone was intense. Odin came up on the patio and joined Saoirse in the play dough fun. Kevin watched them for a while, the package from Kristin burning his fingertips in his curiosity. A few minutes later Saoirse stood up and waddled towards the kitchen door. Kevin figured that meant she was done playing. Enlisting Odin’s help to clean up the play dough, they quickly got all the clay back inside the containers and cleaned up the rest of the mess. Kevin ushered both kids back inside the house and set Saoirse in her high chair. He put the package on the island and helped Odin wash his hands for lunch.
He quickly got some fruit and lunch meat roll ups on plates and put them down in front of the kids. Leaving them to eat their lunch he walked through the foyer to grab the mail and the baby monitor. He stepped out the front door and grabbed the mail and a package that had been delivered sometime after Nick left.
Glancing down he saw it was addressed to the other man. He was curious about this as well, but it was none of his business. He carried the mail and the package and placed them next to his on the island. He tried not to think about how it made him feel to see Nick’s name on a package followed by his own address.
He sat impatiently with the kids while they were having their lunch. He felt guilty for being so impatient, but he was very intrigued by the package Kristin had brought and her cool demeanor this morning. She had seemed very distant, which was unlike their usual interactions. He was curious, but didn’t want to push and start a fight. He wondered if whatever it was she had brought would shed some light on her attitude.
Several minutes later both kids were done with their lunch. Tucking the package under one arm, he picked Saoirse up with the other. “Odin, can you grab the baby monitor and bring it upstairs with us?” Kevin asked, gesturing to the monitor on the counter.
Odin nodded happily and hopped off his chair. Monitor, baby and package in hand the trio headed up the stairs toward the bedrooms. “You go on in your room Odin and I’ll be in to tuck you in as soon as I get your sister down okay?”
Odin gave him a thumbs up sign and skipped off to his room. Kevin continued down the hallway to Saoirse’s room. They had converted her bed to a toddler bed several days ago, taking off one side and installing a toddler rail. She had done well with staying in bed once she was put there so far. Kevin quickly changed her and laid her gently down in the bed. Covering her with the fluffy blanket he knew she preferred, she snuggled in and reached out for her favorite llama stuffy. Kevin had gotten it for her for Halloween, after they had read the llama llama book. She had slept with it every day since. Her sweet little eyes were already drooping. Kevin bent down and kissed her tiny cheek before straightening and leaving the room. He made sure the door was securely closed so she wouldn’t be able to get out of the room on her own and headed towards Odin’s room. He was playing with his cars on the floor.
“Okay bud, your turn for nappy time.” Kevin said walking into the room.
Odin let out a big yawn and stood up. He followed Kevin towards the bed and climbed under the comforter. Kevin pulled the blankets all the way up and tucked him in from all sides, just like Odin liked it. He sat on the edge of the bed and brushed the white blonde hair off his forehead. “Have a good nap little man. Daddy will be back by the time you wake up.”
Odin nodded. “Lobe you Kebin” he mumbled yawning again before rolling over onto his side.
Kevin froze. Had he heard Odin correctly? Had he really just said he loved him? Tears pricked the corners of Kevin’s eyes. He wasn’t prepared for this. “Love you too buddy,” he whispered, rubbing the small boy’s back gently.
He quickly stood, grabbing the baby monitor from the floor and hurried from the room before any tears could fall. Once he was safely alone in his room he sat on the edge of his bed and dropped his head in his hands. The love he had for these kids, kids that weren’t even his was overwhelming. It was then he remembered the package from Kristin. Where had he left it? He retraced his steps and found it sitting on the dresser in Saoirse’s room. Being as quiet as he could, he snuck in and got it. Once he was back inside his quiet bedroom he sat in the armchair in the corner. It was a small reading nook area he had organized after Kristin had moved out. He barely used it, but it took up the space that was left by her things.
He’d been so anxious to open it, but now sitting here, finally alone, he found himself a bit frightened to find out what was inside. He sat in silence for several moments debating on what to do. Finally his curiosity got the better of him and he ripped the kraft paper off the package. Inside was a plain white gift box. He tossed the paper to the floor and gingerly lifted the lid to the box. His breath caught in his throat as he gazed down at the framed photo inside the box. It was a photo Kristin had taken the night of their Halloween party. Kevin was leaning against the banister of the patio, Nick beside him with one arm wrapped around Kevin’s shoulders. Kristin had caught them in a moment of laughter, gazing at each other with looks on their faces that to Kevin could only be described as love. He knew that’s what was reflecting from his eyes, he knew it did every time he looked at the younger man, but there was no way Nick’s eyes were saying the same thing. It was wishful thinking on his part. But still, this photo, it tugged at something in Kevin, an unspoken desire that said maybe this wasn’t as helpless as he’d always thought it was. He lifted the frame out of the box to get a better look. In doing so the bottom fell to the floor. When he leaned down to pick it up his fingers brushed a ripped piece of notebook paper. Frowning he opened the roughly ripped note.
“I spent so many nights hating you for destroying us, for destroying our family. I couldn’t wrap my head around how you could throw everything away for someone who would never feel the same way about you that you felt about them. And then I saw you together, I developed this photo and suddenly it all made sense. I don’t think I ever saw you looking at me in quite this way, and I know I never looked back at you this way either. I don’t hate you anymore, I understand now why the pull of this kind of love is so intense that nothing else can matter. Kevin, I no longer think this is a one sided, hopeless situation. Be careful with your heart. I love you.
Suddenly Kevin couldn’t breathe. He hadn’t been imagining things, well maybe he still was. But if that was the case, then Kristin was imagining it too. It could be though, Kevin rationalized, after all they would be the only two desperately searching for something to be there. He wondered what to do. He felt like he was going to combust. Maybe, just maybe he could send a snapshot of the photo to Howie. Just to see what the other man would say. Maybe give the other man no context, just the shot of the photo. Howie had always suspected that Kevin had deeper feelings for their younger bandmate than he’d let on. He’d asked Kevin about it a few times, but Kevin always had an excuse or a way to dissuade Howie’s questioning. Yes, Howie was impartial, a good judge of any situation. He would be able to decipher if Kevin was just overreacting out of hopefulness instead of being cautious. His mind made up, he dug his cell phone out of his pocket. Taking a quick snap of the framed photo he quickly sent it to Howie before he could change his mind.
Nick got back from the lawyer's office a little after one. It had been an extremely grueling visit. There were tears, frustration and a whole lot of money spent, but Nick was feeling more optimistic than he had in awhile. He felt bad that he'd been delayed so long and had left Kevin with the kids for another extended period of time. He only hoped they had went down easily for their nap and had not driven Kevin crazy the whole time.
He entered the house quietly in case they were sleeping. He glanced into the empty living room as he came in through the foyer. Finding no one inside he headed towards the kitchen. Another empty room, but this time his eyes landed on the package on the counter. He'd forgotten it was supposed to be delivered today. Checking quickly that it had his name on it, Nick grabbed it up. He stopped momentarily to grab a drink from the fridge before heading up the stairs to the second floor. He stopped briefly at each child's door, his ear pressed against it, listening for movement on the other side. Once satisfied both kids were still sleeping he made his way towards his room. He turned and glanced down the hall towards Kevin's room. His door was closed and Nick wondered if he was napping as well. Turning he entered his room and closed the door. Grabbing the baby monitor so he could keep an eye on his kids he stretched out on the bed with his package.
He tore into the Amazon envelope and smiled when the N Sync Christmas CD fell out onto the bed. After that day in the kitchen, finding out the rival group had recorded a song that Kevin had written, he had scoured the internet in vain trying to find out what song it could possibly be. Getting nowhere, he had decided to order a copy for himself to read the liner notes. He'd only ever heard the CD once, and that was during a party, and he'd not really given it much thought. He'd known they had recorded a mix of new and classic Christmas songs. It was driving him crazy knowing that there were songs out there that Kevin had written and he knew nothing about them.
He tore off the cellophane and opened the CD case. Extracting the booklet from the plastic case he laid back on the bed and began flipping through the pages. He reached the end without ever seeing Kevin’s name. Starting over from the beginning, he started again, going much slower this time so he wouldn't miss anything. He skipped over the classic songs at the beginning and began reading the notes accompanying several of the original songs.
There. Track #9. The song was entitled "In Love on Christmas". The writer was credited as Scott Richardson. He'd missed it the first time, his eyes looking solely for Kevin’s name. Of course Kevin wouldn't have used his first name. Suddenly Nick had the overwhelming desire to track down every song Scott Richardson had ever written, now that he'd figured out Kevin's pen name. But how would he go about it? Maybe Howie knew how to find things like that out. He wouldn't have to tell Howie what name he was looking for or why, just a general, how do you do this sort of question. His mind made up, he shot a quick text to his older friend.
He got up and crossed to the dresser where his headphones were laying. If he was going to listen to the words of the song he wanted to be completely submersed in it. He didn't have a CD player, but now that he knew the name of the song he was looking for he could pull it up and play it on Spotify. He found the song easy enough. Taking one last glance at his kids to make sure they were still sound asleep, he hit play and closed his eyes.
To be loved
Because Christmas love gives me that feelin’
To be loved
Because everybody should be in love with somebody on Christmas
The verse and chorus were nice. They were well written and actually sounded like something they would have recorded if they had ever gotten around to that Christmas album.
Last year, Christmas
It happened without us
I was all mixed up and confused
I didn’t know what to do, baby
I never thought I’d feel this way
I always thought Christmas was a happy day
I always prayed that Santa'd pack love on a sleigh and send it my way
The second verse is what got him. Goosebumps formed on his arms the first time through. He backed the track up with his finger several times to hear the words again and again. Why were they affecting him so much? He picked up the CD and looked at the date on the back. Doing some quick calculations he realized the CD came out when he was 22 or 23, depending on when it was recorded and released. Kevin and Kristen had been happily married by then. What could have possibly inspired Kevin to write these lyrics? Nick knew that songwriters didn't always write from personal experience, but Nick knew in the limited exposure he'd had to Kevin as a songwriter that he did in fact write what he felt and experienced.
His heart was pounding. Who was the person that inspired Kevin to write this? Now more than ever the desire to track down Kevin’s other songs was almost too much. He really hoped Howie texted him back soon.