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It's okay to pretend

By Mickey

Response to my own "True Love Challenge"

Disclaimer: Don't own them never claimed too. The name Risi was used with permission from my loon friend Risi (duh). I thought since it was her nickname, I better ask her even though I gave her the nickname. Better safe than sorry.

A/N: This is a stand-alone; there will be no more chapters and/or additions. Sorry. I'm just in a stand-alone mood. Please leave feedback Also this has NOT been to the beta, so all errors are my own. I'm sorry if this fic totaly sucks, I am still very new at this whole fanfic writing thing.

The oven-timer dings and I stand from my place on the couch and head to the kitchen, stopping momentarily at the bottom of the stairs to request the presence of my dinner companion.

"C'mon Squirt! Pizza's ready, don't make me eat it all without you!"

A loud thump can be heard through the floor above my head and I know that she's jumped from her bed and is running down the hall. Soon enough, I hear a response.

"Coming! You can't eat a whole pizza by yourself, anyway."

Her tiny figure appears, bounding down the stairwell, and I watch as her soft brown curls bounce around her baby-smooth face. She looks just like her mother.

Her eyes have a sparkle in them that can only be attributed to her mother.

We take our places around the kitchen table and I set a slice of cheese pizza on her plate, making sure she puts her napkin in her lap before even attempting to take a bite of the greasy mess.

"So, how was school today, squirt?"

The 6-year-old cherub sitting across from me just looks up and smiles, mouth full of pizza and says fine.

"What'd you do, then?"

She takes a sip of her milk and sighs.

This is Sydney-drama. She can never just tell a story. She has to tell a story. She has to make sure that it's taken with complete seriousness and understood for all of the value that it has to her life.

Even if she's just telling you about the color of the pen she decided to use to write her ABCs in class that day. It's important, that pen color. She always has an exaggerated reason.

This kid is something else.

So I watch her intently, excited to see what tonight's daily re-telling holds in store for me.

"Well," she begins boldly. "Mrs. Morgan brought her new baby into class today. And her husband came with her. She told us all about what it's like to have a new baby, and how our mommy's and daddy's used to hold us and look at us the way she was staring at that baby."

I smile, remembering a time when Sydney was just an infant and all we could do was stare at her.

"I don't know why she was staring at it, though," she continues. "The thing just screamed and cried the whole time she had it in there. Not like we learned anything today, with that crying baby in first grade instead of baby grade where it belongs."

Laughing, I reach over to take a sip of my water and ask, "You don't like babies, squirt?"

"I don't know. I'm sure I'll like our new baby, once it finally gets here. That one today just cried too much. It was better once Mrs. Morgan took it out into the hall to show the other teachers. Then we got to talk to the baby's daddy."

The look on her face tells me that this is actually the part of her day that she found most interesting, and that she's itching to fill me in about what was discussed. I raise my eyebrows at her and she continues.

"I asked him if Mrs. Morgan was his first true love. This morning during Imagination Hour, me and Kate and Jess were talking about true loves. Like in The Lion King, how Simba and Nala are true loves. Jess says that Jacob Hunter is her true love. But I think she doesn't even know what true love is. So I asked Mrs. Morgan's husband who his true love was."

The child never ceases to amaze me. She's completely audacious and open, never shy to speak her mind. She has so much of her mother in her.

I stare at her momentarily, again taken by her youthful beauty. Such a precious child, too smart and extroverted for her age. Trying to grow up much too soon.

I try to keep her young and on her toes, but this Russell child will have none of it. She wants to be sophisticated and grown, a true treasure to the Russell Family.

Not that she has any idea that a future awaits her little mind. All she knows is that she gets to dress up and go to a party called a benefit once a year. The benefit however, has caused this young one to sprout an intellect beyond her age and an etiquette that most children of her age-group are lacking.

It drives her mother crazy, this insistence upon being lady-like and well-mannered. She never intended to raise a snobbish heir.

Not that our Sydney is a snob. She's a joy to be around. Playful, funny, and incredibly smart and talented just like her father. But you put her into a party dress and you're suddenly in the presence of a true Russell - The pretender bloodline running right through her. It's slightly disturbing at times, as cute as it may be.

We love her anyway, though. How can you not? She's the most adorable child in the universe, inside and out. Her personality just shines.

I realize I've been staring at her for over a full minute, so I go back to my pizza and smile to myself.

Apparently, however, the mind of Sydney Russell is not yet satisfied for the evening.

"Daddy?" she asks as she reaches for her milk again.

"Yeah Squirt?"

"Was mommy your first true love?"

She looks at me, eyes wide, and I find myself thinking back to a time - years ago - when my first true love was a part of my daily life. I smile slightly at the memory before responding.

"Ya know what, Squirt? She wasn't. Before I married your mommy, I was in true love with someone completely different from your mommy."

Her face looks slightly confused, and I can tell that this wasn't the answer she was hoping for.

"You were? What was her name?"

A smile sneaks across my face as I begin to respond, and my mind is flooded with memories of the girl that I once knew.

"Miss Parker."

"What made her your first true love?"

I think back and let the memories waft through my mind, remembering a time when it was just the two of us - Me and Miss. Parker. The two of us, we were always together whenever we could be. There were so many great things about Miss. Parker. We had our share of bad times I'll admit. But, we also had a lot of good times too. And I loved her. He loved her so much.

But things are different now. I'm married, and not to Miss. Parker. I have a beautiful daughter and a baby on the way. And I'm more in love now than he ever was with Miss. Parker. I'm happier without her, now, too. Things have changed, and definitely for the better.

"Well, squirt, she was my best friend. We helped each other through a lot of problems, and we were always somehow there for one another when one of us needed help. She made me feel good. I loved her very much, and deep down I know she loved me, too."

The look of confusion has grown.

"Then why didn't you marry her instead of my mommy? Aren't you supposed to marry your true love?"

"Squirt, I loved Miss. Parker very much. But she made me cry a lot. And I made her cry. She had a lot of things in her heart that made her hurt inside, and that made it really hard for me to get close to her and love her forever. I needed her to find out who she really was, what she really wanted out of life. And Miss. Parker - as much as I loved her - she was just lost and confused. She didn't feel like she was strong enough to make me happy forever."

"And my mommy is different from her, right? That's why your married her?"

"I would have married Miss. Parker if she would have let me. But she didn't want me to. She wanted me to marry someone more in control of her life, someone who could feel secure enough to give him everything that he deserved."

"That was mommy, right?"

"Yep. See, one day I looked at your mommy and he saw someone completely different from Miss. Parker. Your mommy doesn't drink, she doesn't smoke those nasty cigarettes…she tells your me that she loves me everyday, without hesitation. And she never wonders why I love her. That was something that Miss. Parker could never do."

"Do you miss her?"

I think about this for a few moments before responding, a smile playing on my lips.

"I don't really think so. I think about her sometimes, but I love your mommy very, very much. I love your mommy in ways I could never love Miss. Parker."

At this moment, the front door opens and I hear her voice calling out to us.

"Jarod? Squirt? I'm home…"

Sydney jumps from her seat and takes off toward the entry way, leaping into her mother's arms.

"Mommy! Did you have a good trip? What'd you bring me?"

She laughs and hugs her tightly, then smiles at me as she sees me enter the hallway.

"I had a nice time, Squirt. And if you go outside and help your uncle Ethan with some of the bags, I think he can help you find the presents I have hidden in there for you somewhere."

She quickly places her daughter back on her feet and watches as she bounds out the front door and into the driveway where the SUV is parked, all doors open widely.

"So it was good, then?" I start, taking the bag from her shoulder and placing it at the bottom of the stairs.

"It was amazing. Best trip I've ever had."

"Better than our anniversary trip last month? I ask

"Well maybe not that good she laughs."

"Ten years," I sigh. "I still can't believe we've been married for ten whole years."

"It's pretty amazing, isn't it? Guess I really picked the right husband, huh?"

"Ya know, your daughter was just asking me about that…"

He gives me a questioning look, but before I can continue, Sydney comes running back into the house with a an armload of souvenirs, followed by her uncle Ethan, and heads straight up to her room.

"Risi," I say slowly, eyeing her with suspicion. "Your daughter just asked me who Miss. Parker was…and how come I married you instead of her."

Now she's looking at me with the same questioning glare, and I can't hold back the laugh.

"What? "

"She asked who my first true love was, so I told her about Miss. Parker."

"So you told her your first true love was Miss. Parker, but you married someone else entirely?"

She's placing more bags at the foot of the stairs, listening intently as I think of my response.

"Well, I did, didn't I? I think so…this," I say, pointing toward her "You are not Miss. Parker. You're someone completely different, from her except for when you get mad at me. There you are very similar"

She walks over to me and winks, smiling a little before looking back at Ethan who has just come down the stairs.

"I suppose your tastes have changed a lot over the past twelve years, huh? I mean Miss. Parker and I are certainly different."

I turn her, wrapping my arms around her waist and pulling her so that her back is against my chest. Her head resting on my shoulder, I gently place my hands directly on top of her slightly-protruding stomach. Another child awaits us in 4 months time.

Ethan smiles as he watches her lean in and kiss my cheek then looks back toward me and waves goodbye.

"I guess you're right, Risi. Miss. Parker is a girl from another time. Can't really say that I miss her, honestly."

She spins around in my arms and smacks me lovingly on the chest. "What? You better watch it…"

"No, it's just…I definitely think I like Marisia Russell a lot more."

"Me too," I chime in before watching her head down the hallway into the family room. She stops mid-way and turns back around. "Marisa Russell is much less dramatic, at least."

As I head up the stairs to see what squirt is up to, I start to think, while yes, Miss. Parker was deep down a great girl someone I'm sure I'll never forget, I know in my heart Risi as I call her is my I guess you could say destined true love.

I peek into Sydney's room and see her sitting cross-legged on the floor, playing with all the gifts that she received from her mommy and uncle Ethan.

"Hey squirt," I whisper as I enter the room and pick her up into my arms. "What do you say we go downstairs and get your mommy to tell you the rest of that story?"

"You mean about how mommy became you true love instead of that other lady?" she scoffs as she looks at me with disgust.

I can't help but laugh at her reaction. If she only knew…

"Yep. That's exactly what I mean. Maybe she'll even tell you how you got your name…"

Carrying her down the stairs and back into the living room, we find Risi curled up on the couch, gently caressing her belly.

Sydney wriggles from my grasp and runs to the couch, plopping herself directly beside her momma's belly. I grab her and cover her with kisses, tickling her while she laughs in protest.

Once the tickling and the kissing has ceased, she looks to her mother and smiles.

"What?" Risi asks her quietly, expecting that her daughter has a secret.

"Mommy…are you Miss. Parker?"

Risi throws her head back and laughs, wrapping her arms around her daughter and pulling her into a tight hug. I glance toward her and smile.

Can't get anything past Sydney Russell.

I told you this kid was smart.

"Yeah, baby," she responds. "I am. That's who I used to be, anyway."

"But you're not her anymore?"

"Not really, no." She shakes her head slightly as if contemplating how to best explain the situation to a 6-year-old.

"Then how can you be daddy's true love, if you're not the girl he was in true loves with first?"

Sydney is highly confused at this point, and I reach my arms out to her. She crawls across the couch and sits upon my lap, giving us the room we need to snuggle a little closer whilst we retell the history of their romance.

"Syd…a long time ago, my name was Miss. Parker. And while at the time I would never of admitted it I loved your daddy so much. Back then, all I wanted to do was be with him forever. But I wasn't happy with myself. And I couldn't understand for the life of me, how he could ever be happy with me."

I burrow my face into the crook of her neck and listen intently. She smiles at my actions, knowing that this is my silent way of reassuring her that I am now and always have been happy with her.

"I wanted daddy to have someone to love that was worth loving. Someone who wouldn't make him so sad all the time and someone who wouldn't make him cry as much as I did. But at the same time, I wanted him to be with me. One day your daddy showed up at my house and told me how he felt about me, and that I needed to face up to my fillings for him, and tell him how I felt or he was going to disappear completely. I knew that if I didn't tell him how I honestly felt, I would lose him forever. So I decided to stop being Miss. Parker - stop being the cynical, scared little girl that couldn't believe daddy when he told me how much he loved me."

"Your mommy was quite the stubborn drama queen back then, Syd," I add. "Not unlike a certain little girl I know now…"

She turns and gives me a look of mock-pain. "Hey! Be nice, daddy!"

Pulling her closer to my chest, we both turn our attention back to her mother.

"So I started living my life," she continues slowly, "as Marisa Russell. Just…living my life as the woman that I wanted to be when I finally married daddy. I didn't tell daddy that I was doing it, because I knew that it was really weird. But I had to get used to the idea of it, before I could see myself the way that daddy saw me. And I wanted to be everything I could be for him."

She turns and brings her face to me, staring lovingly into my eyes. I place my hand back on her stomach and whisper.

"You were. You are."

"You see, baby," I start, "I asked Miss. Parker to run away and disappear with me one night, and she told me that she wasn't ready. That I didn't want her, I needed someone better."

"Did you cry, daddy?"

"Yeah, baby. It hurt a lot."

I notice the tears forming in Risi's eyes as she remembers that moment of their past. She's never truly forgiven herself for the pain she caused me over that time period, no matter how good the end-result turned out to be.

"But one day your mommy being as smart as she is, tracked me down, walked right up to me after I had been gone for three months, and she smiled and said that if I still wanted her that she was no longer Miss. Parker that she was Marisa "Risi" Russell. And two years later we got married."

Syd glances up toward me and smiles a little, a look of slight confusion still in her eyes.

"No matter what her name is, baby, your mom always was and always will be my first true love. Okay?"

"Okay," she replies happily, climbing off my lap and squeezing herself back between us.

"Squirt, you mommy and I want you to know that even though you're going to have a little brother or sister soon, you'll always be our first love."

She giggles and says I know daddy, but it's ok if you wanna pretend to love the new baby just as much as you love me."

I look at Risi and chuckle. Pretend. Hah. Oh if Sydney only knew.


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