Author's Note: Set about four years after "Stay A Little Longer". Lennox and Ryder are both going to university. AU, definitely.

Dedicated to all the people who read, reviewed, followed, or alerted my first published story. You guys make me happy.

Disclaimer: I don't own "Melissa and Joey". All rights reserved to the real owners. I just write for fun.


Ryder

Sometimes I hate Ohio in December. The snow makes walking anywhere a real pain in the ass. I don't have a car here at school, and trudging through (what feels like, but I'm sure is not really) a blizzard to get to class almost makes me long for the way Joe used to drive us to school back when he first moved in with us.

So I'm a little bad tempered as I tromp to the coffee shop nearest my dorm. It's a Sunday afternoon, and maybe I should be getting a head start on studying for my first set of college finals, but I have a visitor today.

My dad's sitting at a table with a huge cup of steaming coffee in front of him. Not my biological dad, you understand. If that particular person were sitting in a Starbucks on the Ohio State campus right now, there would be federal marshal and police and who knows, maybe FBI agents right around the corner.

My father, as I usually think of him, since he doesn't really deserve the title of Dad anymore, is currently languishing in a maximum security prison, where he has been for the last year and a half or so. When they caught him, I was disgusted. When he was tried and convicted, I was relieved. When he went to prison, I felt…nothing.

Aunt Mel says that's okay. He hasn't been part of my life for a long time now.

But anyway. I jerk myself out of my thoughts as the barista gives me a funny look. I order, and head over to the table where my dad grins at me as I sit down across from him.

Hey, Ryder! He sounds…nervous, I think. A little on edge. Which is weird, because I've never seen him truly nervous about anything. Except that time he broke Aunt Mel's favorite wine glass, about a month or so after they started dating.

Hey, Joe, I answer with a slight question tacked on at the end there. Before we can say anything else my coffee is ready and I stand up to hurry over and get it.

I flop back down and wait for him to start. I'm still a little surprised that he drove all the way over here, just to have coffee. He could have just called.

He looks really nervous now. Like he has something to say, but can't quite make himself say it. Sort of like I get when I want to ask a girl out. At 19, I'm still not as smooth as I would like to be. More like….jagged. Ah well.

Maybe I should put him out of his misery for a bit. So I start a conversation about my classes, and how I'm a little worried about my calculus final (who knew that college math would be so much harder than high school math? What a nightmare). As we chat for a few minutes I can see him visibly relax and as a result I relax a little. Maybe he did just come to say hi.

Maybe Aunt Mel drove him out of the house with her predictable pre-Christmas frenzy.

Speaking of Aunt Mel, Joe just mentioned her while I was off in mental LaLa Land. I pay attention now.

So your aunt and I are thinking of having my mom over for Christmas, since she didn't make it for Thanksgiving, he's saying. You okay with that?

Yeah, that's fine, I answer, a little confused. Is that all?

Speaking of your aunt and me…he clears his throat and gives me a serious look. Uh oh. It's never good when he looks at me like that. There was that one time he caught me just before graduation, in the back of his car with Holly.

I shake myself out of that painful memory. Holly and I broke up soon after that incident. Moving on. Back to Joe and Aunt Mel.

Ryder, I know this is…strange, he shrugs a little. But I think you know that Mel and I have been…together for a while now…

At the word together I shudder a little. The first time I walked in on them last July I accidently saw way too much of both of them. In my defense, they were in the kitchen. No one told me that they were going to make out against the counter. I shake off that painful memory too.

And before that, we had lived together and had a working relationship, Joe's continuing. So I know you might think this is a little fast or out of the blue, but rest assured that I have given this a good deal of thought.

You're freaking me out a little here, man, I say, apprehension at his serious tone sinking in.

Sorry, sorry, he shakes his head at me, looking apologetic. That's when I know it must be really important. Joe never apologizes unless he knows it's necessary.

Ryder, what I'm saying is….he takes a deep breath. I hold mine. I'm saying that I'm asking your permission to marry Mel.

Uh….To say I'm surprised would be the understatement of the year. Stunned. Clobbered. Dumbfounded. Those would be more appropriate adjectives.

Joe wants to marry Aunt Mel? As my mind starts swirling, trying to come up with protests, I realize that I don't have any. He's been around for almost 6 years now. But…I wasn't sure until this moment that he loved her. I knew they were dating, that they had basically been in an unofficial, unorthodox relationship since I was in high school, but…it's them. Aunt Mel's idea of commitment is finishing a bottle of wine. And Joe's best relationship is with his weight room. So I think I'm justified with my skepticism.

Dammit, where's Lennox when I need her? She always understood them way better than I did.

I just need to be honest, I console myself. Joe's practically my dad, he has always been reasonable and respectful, even when I was a kid.

Joe, I start. Do you…love Aunt Mel? There. Out in the open. The awkward question.

He stares at me. I feel uncomfortable under his scrutiny. Maybe I should have led with a different question.


Joe

Wow. The kid is brutal. I saw this going differently. I saw him being excited about me getting engaged to Mel. And then he asks if I love her? God.

So I stare at him as I gather my thoughts. I see him shift under my gaze. He's nervous. Maybe more nervous about this conversation than I am. So I decide to give him the truth—in all it's annoying, mind-blowing, exhilarating glory.

Look, Ryder, I know I haven't always been open with you guys about how I feel about you all, I start. Great, give the guy something else to have against me. But I hope that you know that you guys helped me get back on track when I was spinning out of control, gave me something to be responsible for. I love you and your sister…

He's staring at me now. Awesome. I think this would have gone easier with Mel's dad.

And yeah, I love your aunt. Definitely in a different way than I love you guys, I laugh nervously. But I do. I promise you, I love her, Ryder. That's something you should never doubt.

He nods. I breathe again.

Good to know, he says. He sounds relieved. He was worried?

So, how are you going to do it? He asks. It better be good, otherwise Aunt Mel will never let you off the hook.

Is that…a yes? I need to clarify. So sue me.

Yeah, Joe, that's a yes, you can marry my aunt. He rolls his eyes.

I scrub my hands over my face and take a deep breath. Glad that's over. Thanks, Ryder.

You hurt her, I kill you, he threatens. I have to fight both proud grin and an eye roll. Skinny Ryder, trying to take me on? Right. In what universe?

But he's glaring at me, deadly serious. I look him right in the eye and nod.

I won't, kid. Don't worry.

He holds my gaze for a minute longer and I see the man he is becoming. Confident, smart, protective of the women in his life. I like to think some of that's my influence. Maybe it is.

New Year's Eve, he suggests. My eyes widen. Whoa. That does sound good.

Done. I grin, and he grins back.

Just make sure you show me the ring before hand. Gotta make sure it's big enough. Ryder's eyebrow raises in challenge. I accept that stipulation with a nod of my own.

That's my kid, ladies and gentlemen.


Author's Note #2: Should I continue this? I have a little more written, but I'm not sure where it's going and it might turn out to be one of those things that should just stand alone. Review and let me know.