Part 6

Marty dressed with particular care that Sunday because she wanted to look nice for the party. She felt incredibly light and care free for some reason. Of course the day of your birthday party is always supposed to be fun, but she had a feeling she was so happy because Julie was feeling so much better.

Julie's fever had broken Saturday morning and now she barley even had a runny nose. Not to mention Julie wasn't as cranky as she had been while she was sick. Not that Marty had blamed Julie for feeling miserable while she was sick, but you could only take so much crying and fussing before getting frustrated.

She clipped her hair out of her face and pulled Julie from her crib, letting her toddle around the room. Marty kept a weathered eye on Julie making sure she didn't find anything to stick in her mouth or bang against anything.

When Marty had determined that the baby gate was blocking the stairs and that only Devin's and her parents doors were open she let Julie wander out of her room.

"Is Julie out on her morning walk?" Jessica asked sleepily from Marty's bed.

"Yeah, she can't get into too much trouble up here. Zach and Steve have been under strict instructions to keep their toys off the floor since she was born."

"I bet that took a while," Jessica said before rolling over and going back to sleep. Marty could hear her mother down in the kitchen and from the sounds on the TV she knew where Zach was but she thought everyone else was asleep.

Marty went into the hallway and determined from the sound of giggles that Julie had gone into Devin's room, probably since it was closer then the other open door. She stood in the doorway watching Julie as she stood next to Devin's bed, clutching at the blankets and trying to see him.

Julie had already determined that the other bed she could reach was empty and she wanted someone to play with.

"Devy! Devy up!" she ordered her oldest uncle. She could hear something grunt and laughed joyously. Marty stepped inside the room long enough to lift Julie up on the bed and retreated to the doorway again.

Julie fairly screamed with excitement and crawled on top of her uncle, bouncing happily on his back.

"Ge'r off," Devin mumbled into his pillow, his voice slurred and muffled.

Julie clapped her hands and crawled closed to her uncle's head. Devin woke up fully when Julie grasped a handful of his hair and tugged, hard.

"Julie, stop that," he said reaching awkwardly to grab her as he rolled over. Julie now bounced happily on his stomach, pounding his chest playfully. "Why aren't you asleep?" he demanded of the baby.

"Up! Up!" she demanded and Devin grasped her tightly before raising her in the air.

"Be quiet," Steve moaned from the top bunk as Julie's laughter woke him. Devin lowered Julie back to the bed, letting her sit on him again. Of course Julie wasn't ready to stop playing yet.

"Gin! Gin, gin!" she said bouncing some more.

"Not again," Devin said holding Julie like she was a teddy bear. "It's time to sleep," he told her and rolled onto his side. Julie laughed some more trying to wriggle out of his grasp. Devin didn't let her go though because she was close to the edge of the bed and in danger of falling.

After a minute Devin got up and carried Julie with him.

"You should probably wake up too," he told Steve wondering if he had just imagined seeing someone in the doorway or not. It had probably been Marty making sure Julie didn't get hurt if they had been asleep. Then it occurred to him that Julie wasn't big enough to climb onto his bed on her own.

"How did you get on my bed?" he asked Julie, not expecting an answer as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Mama help," she confided leaning close to Devin's cheek as he stepped over the baby gate and went down the stairs.

"Did she now?" Devin asked arching his eyebrows as he spotted Marty.

"You weren't supposed to tell him that," Marty told Julie as she took her from Devin. "Are you hungry Julie?" Julie shrieked in delight as Marty put her in her high chair and got her some breakfast.

Julie spent the better part of half an hour eating and playing with her cut of pieces of banana. Just as Marty was getting ready to take Julie upstairs for her bath Shannon came in the house. She didn't bother to knock since the door was unlocked and she had practically lived there since she was six.

"What's wrong Shannon?" Mrs. Barranco asked seeing the distraught girl. She considered Shannon to be one of her own kids and treated her just the same.

"I'm okay," she assured her the women she considered to be her mother ever since her parents had divorced.

"Then tell me what happened."

"Lisa, Lisa was hurt last night. She's okay too, but I just can't believe it happened. And it's been happening, and she's been keeping it a secret," she said, looking truly shocked.

"Shannon, what are you doing here?" Marty asked as she and Julie emerged from the kitchen.

"I wanted to talk with you."

"Come on then."

"You tell me what happened later Shannon," Mrs. Barranco said as she went back to the kitchen to make some oatmeal for Steve and her husband, who had finally made their way downstairs.

Shannon followed Marty to the bathroom where she held Julie while Marty filled the tub with warm water. Shannon was guessing it was banana smeared all over Julie's face hands and hair.

"What's up?" Marty asked watching Shannon undress Julie.

"Lisa came home last night, from a date and her lip was split. It was still bleeding as she walked through the door and she was trying to pretend nothing had happened. Dad and I hounded her all night until she admitted Fred had hit her. Then she made excuses for him!"

Marty took Julie from Shannon's lap and placed her in the warm bath water, keeping one eye on her as she splashed the water happily.

"She made excuses for him? Like what?"

"She was trying to say it was her fault at first, and then that he hadn't meant to, it had been an accident."

"Was that the first time it ever happened?"

"No," Shannon said unhappily. "But before she went to bed she told me he only does it because he loves her and she's completely convinced she's in love with him."

"Maybe she is," Marty said gently though she felt the exact same way Shannon did. "But just because she's in love with him doesn't mean she has to let herself be hurt." She took a cup and poured some water of Julie's head. Julie laughed and splashed some more, getting the girls wet.

Shannon couldn't help but laughing with Julie.

"Dad forbid Lisa from seeing Fred again, and she threw a fit, but when she remember her lip had split she didn't seem as upset."

"That's good," Marty said taking some Baby Johnson's shampoo and washing Julie's hair, taking care to get all the banana out. "You would think I would quit giving her banana's because she does this every single time, wouldn't you?"

"Knowing you as I do, no I wouldn't," Shannon said grinning when Marty looked surprised.

"So what are we doing tonight?" Shannon asked. "After the party I mean."

"Not to much, what do we normally do when you spend the night?"

"I was wondering if you'd thought about calling Carl."

"I already told you I wasn't going to call him," Marty said sharply, ending the subject.

"Sorry, I was just asking," Shannon muttered, half to herself. "I'll see you later at the party. Bye Julie," she said placing a kiss on Julie's damp curls.

"Bye-bye!"

Shannon stopped in the kitchen long enough to explain what had happened to Lisa to Mrs. Barranco. Then she went to the store, wanting to pick up some tampons.

Once she had acquired them she went into the store next to the grocery and started to look at clothes.

"Shannon!" called a desperate sounding voice.

"Oh hey, Christian, what's up?"

"I need some help finding some gifts for Marty and Devin."

"I'm sure they wont mind if you go empty handed, you were invited last minute after all." Christian had only been asked that Friday.

"I'd rather not," Christian said with a frown. It had been so long since he had been invited to a party he wanted to get them something to say thank you.

"Alrighty then," Shannon said rubbing her hands together and cracking her knuckles. "Where do you want to start?"

"I don't have a clue."

"What's your budget?"

"48 dollars."

"Marty is fairly simple to shop for, just buy her a bottle of bubble bath or body wash and she'll be happy for weeks. Devin on the other hand is almost impossible to shop for, probably because he's a man. But I've figured out mostly what works for him because every body always asks me and Marty what to get him."

"Cool," he said and he had to hurry after her when she headed off in some direction. Minutes later Christian found himself staring up at a large display of bubble bath and bath salts and lotions of all kinds. "Uh, what kind does she like?"

"Just pick one for her yourself. You have to put some thought into it."

Christian opened several bottles and sniffed at them, finally deciding on Country Apple Hand Lotion from Bath and Body Works.

"What about Devin?" he asked warily, having received more then his fair share of strange looks for checking out the bubble bath stuff. Shannon looked thoughtful for a minute before gesturing Christian to follow her.

"In all honesty he could do with a new tie. That one he wears is starting to look frayed."

"I'm not buying him a tie," Christian said trying to picture Devin even wearing one. He juts couldn't see it.

"It was just a suggestion, but I'll have you know the average American man owns 22 ties."

"Nice to know, I think." Shannon shrugged, not really caring that he didn't seem to appreciate her trivia.

"Now that you've made things a little more difficult," she teased, "we'll have to think of something else. Devin's a sports buff and he'll like anything in that area, like cards or gear. Or you could get him the latest edition of Sports Illustrated."

"Ok." Devin liked sports, Christian hated them, but that was all right, surely they had to have something else in common.

"Christian, if you want to get him something, ya know thoughtful and all, he collects those toy cars." Shannon didn't want to give herself away, she simply knew Christian liked Devin, and wanted to get him something special. She'd help best she could, because she thought they would make an extremely cute couple.

"Toy cars?" Christian repeated, making sure he had heard her right.

"Yeah, those little Hot Wheels things. If you want I know almost all of his collection, I'll help you find one he doesn't have." Shannon hid her grin as she told the little white lie, she knew exactly what was in Devin's collection and how many of each one he had.

Christian bit back a smile as he pictured Devin's face lighting up in joy because Christian had managed to find him the perfect gift; and then throwing his arms around Christian's neck, and then Devin would kiss it gently, and… Christian's cheeks warmed and turned a bright shade of pink and he forced his thoughts away from the fantasy.

"Won't that make me seem cheap though?" Christian asked after a minute.

"So get him something else too," Shannon told him with a laugh. The little toy cars were 59 cents each. Maybe they would seem like a cheap present but she knew Devin would like the addition to his collection. "How's Sam?"

"Huh?" Christian asked searching his memory almost frantically trying to figure out who she was talking about. "Oh yeah, Sam, she's fine. We broke up last night."

Shannon bit back a frown, knowing he was lying but still not sure how to get him to admit it. Obviously he wanted it kept secret if he was lying about a girlfriend, but she didn't want to ask him yet. Just because there was the chance he was bi, or straight, and had just broken up with his girlfriend.

"That's too bad," she said trying not to sound too rude or off-hand about the subject. She stopped in front of the racks where the toy cars were stocked and gestured her hands expansively. "Take your pick and I'll tell you if he has it or not."

"Wouldn't it just be easier for you to pick out a few he doesn't have and let me chose from there?"

Shannon chewed her lip as debated the issue in her head before nodding, almost decisively and after a search found five cars Devin didn't have. Christian picked out the three he thought had the most flare and put the other two on the rack. He didn't want to complete Devin's collection in case he couldn't think of anything else next year.

"Thank you Shannon," he said taking her hand and kissing her knuckles. "You have been a wonderful help."

Shannon couldn't help blushing or stop the giggle that managed to escape her tight throat.
"Anytime."

"See you tonight then," Christian said setting off to find the second part to Devin's gift.

"Bye," she sighed. Oh Shannon simply hated that Christian was gay. She would have loved to have him as a boyfriend, and she was sure he would have treated her right. After a second she squared her shoulders. She was just going to have to set him and Devin up soon, Devin could do with someone like Christian.

*~&~

Devin stared almost listlessly at the TV as it blared on but he wasn't really paying attention to it. He thought it was MTV but it very well might have been VH1. He felt the couch shift as a new weight was added to it and glanced over to see it was Jessica.

"Hey," she said in greeting and smiled when he merely grunted his acknowledgment. "Why are you watching this crap? It's only going to rot your brain." Devin grunted again.

"Wasn't this your favorite show?" he asked turning to face her.

"Still is, but it's a rerun."

"Oh. Do you want something or did you just come to bug me for old time's sake?"

"As much as I wish it were the later I'll have plenty of time for that later."

"Then what do you want?" he asked, slightly apprehensive.

"To talk. How's life little brother?"

"It's going good I guess," he said wondering what she was about to ask. They had gone over how life was last night.

"That's always good to hear. Any new love's, girls?" she asked far too innocently.

"No. Why?"

"You're my little bro, I have to ask these things, make sure whoever it is your with is good enough for you."

"Uh, thanks. But I can take care of myself, believe it or not, and I would have told you if there was anyone."

"Of course you can't take care of yourself, you're a man for god's sake. You people screw up so many things with that macho image of yours, you're lucky me and mom and Marty are looking out for you."

"Hey!" he cried indignantly hitting her arm lightly.

"Well its true. So tell me about Christian." Devin stared at her for a minute, in pure unadulterated shock.

"What do you mean? There's nothing to tell."

"Then think of something to satisfy my curiosity and I'll leave you alone."

"He's the new kid in school," he said at a loss for how to describe Christian. "What exactly is it you want to know?"

"Why you're blushing."

"I am not," Devin denied hotly even though he could feel the heat in his cheeks.

"Yes you are. Devin, I know you, and I saw how you were looking at him the other night."

"What are you trying to say Jessica Lynn? I'm not gay if that's what your implying and I would appreciate it if you left it alone. He's my friend and he's a good guy, OK?"

Jessica stared at him for a minute, knowing just how upset he was at the use of her middle name.

"Ah, I understand, you have to look out for your manly image. Dev, you can talk to me about it later if you want, I wont hold it against you or anything like that. But in case you're interested, I think he feels the same way." She stood and retreated to the safety of the kitchen, leaving him glaring after her.