What to Expect When You're NOT Expecting by Pengi, evergreenwriter83
Summary:

Who would give Nick a baby? That's what Brian wants to know when Nick calls him up one day during the tour claiming an infant that looks ridiculously like him showed up outside his bus door. And boy is Nick clueless about baby-care! From boo-boos to poopy pants, Nick's about to take a crash course in Parenting 101 and solve the mystery of where the hell the Mommy went at the same time... all with a (screaming) baby strapped to his chest in a kangaroo pouch.

Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Brian, Nick
Genres: Drama, Humor
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 20 Completed: Yes Word count: 23627 Read: 34708 Published: 07/09/11 Updated: 07/19/11
Story Notes:
All of Nick's parts are written by Evergreenwriter83, all of Brian's parts are written by Pengi.





1. Chapter 1 by evergreenwriter83

2. Chapter 2 by evergreenwriter83

3. Chapter 3 by evergreenwriter83

4. Chapter 4 by evergreenwriter83

5. Chapter 5 by Pengi

6. Chapter 6 by evergreenwriter83

7. Chapter 7 by Pengi

8. Chapter 8 by Pengi

9. Chapter 9 by evergreenwriter83

10. Chapter 10 by evergreenwriter83

11. Chapter 11 by Pengi

12. Chapter 12 by Pengi

13. Chapter 13 by evergreenwriter83

14. Chapter 14 by evergreenwriter83

15. Chapter 15 by Pengi

16. Chapter 16 by evergreenwriter83

17. Chapter 17 by evergreenwriter83

18. Chapter 18 by Pengi

19. Chapter 19 by evergreenwriter83

20. Epilogue by Pengi

Chapter 1 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter One

Ding-dong.

I rolled over, moving my mouth away from the wet spot I had formulated on the feather pillow. If I was more conscious, I would have thought about what soggy feathers looked like. Instead, I tried desperately to go back to my dream. It was something about an all-you-can-eat carwash...

Ding-dong.

I threw the top of my Egyptian cotton sheets over my head. I could feel the sleep crunchies attempting to glue my eyes shut. It was a sign. It was--

Ding-dong.

It was one ding and two dongs too many. I threw off the sheets and ran a hand down my face. The hard yellow gobs at the corners of my eyes felt rough under my fingers. I got out of bed and looked around at the floor for the boxers I had dropped last night.

I saw nothing but carpet.

Ding-dong.

"Shut the fiz-uck up," I muttered under my breath. I yanked open my dresser and pulled out the one clean pair of boxer-briefs I had. They were bright, mustardy yellow with bright red stop signs running every witch way. They triggered a vision of what Big Bird would look like if he was caught in a gang shooting. I jumped into them, almost catching my leg and headed for the front of the bus.

Ding.

My doorbell quit suddenly, before the symphonic dong. Whether the person got tired of ringing or whether the bell malfunctioned, I don't know. Either way, I yanked open the hydraulic door with a scowl.

"Wha--"

I stopped. No one was there. I ran a hand through my hair, feeling the stiffness of the gel I hadn't washed out the night before. It had been a club night. It was an 'I'm thirty-one years old, single, and partying my brains out in L.A. with Donnie Wahlberg kind of night.' It was--

"Ahh bababa cogh."

The noise seemed to come out of nowhere...unti l I looked down. The moment I did, I quickly looked back up. I looked right. Then I looked left as far as I could.

"Hm ka pa?"

I looked back down. It stared up at me, a big line of drool traveling down its face. The tequila shots from last night threatened to come back up.

It was a practical joke. It was a fake baby. Fake drool. Some dipshit kid had infiltrated our bus haven and left his home economics project on my door-er-bus step. Maybe the thing would run out of batteries. Maybe--

"Fo wa qat."

A chubby hand grabbed at something sticking up out of the carseat. It looked like a note of some sort. The baby brought it to its mouth and began to chew on the corner, producing even more drool. I thought I was going to faint. There was only one word, written in black, on the front.

All it said was...

Nick.

**********


"Baby."

Nick's voice was shrill.

"Nick? It's Brian. You hit the wrong speed dial again." He'd been doing that. Vodka or whatever it was he was pounding in the clubs at night with Donnie was really messing up his perception of his iPhone. He kept hitting my speed dial instead of Lauren's.

"No, Brian," Nick squeaked, "Baby."

I winced as I stepped on a handful of Lego bricks Baylee had left out on the tiled bus floor. Those things could puncture a foot, I swear it. I sucked in a gasping breath and hopped, holding my foot in my hand. "What?"" I hissed at Nick through pain-clenched teeth.

"BAY---BEE!" Nick wailed.

I was about to ask him what in the hell he was talking about, when I heard a shrieking cry.

"Make it stooooooop," Nick wailed, almost at the same decible.

"What the hell was that?" I demanded.

"BAY---BEE!" Nick wailed again.

"Wait, you mean that's an actual baby?" I demanded.

"YES!" Nick's voice was pinched.

I bent down and started collecting the murderous Lego bricks from the floor and tossing them into the big yellow bucket they'd been evacuated from. I laughed. "Who the hell left a kid with you?" I demanded.

"Too pearl bocker sup!" He said. But that didn't make sense.

"What?" I asked, not really being able to hear him over the screaming kid. Whoever's kid that was -- it had some big ass lungs.

"THE GIRL I KNOCKED UP!" Nick bellowed.

Like it knew the weight of the words, the baby silenced just in time for his holloring. I froze, the bucket of Lego bricks hanging from my now limp fingers. "I'll be right over," I stammered.
Chapter 2 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Two

"He looks just like you."

"Maybe it's not real."

Brian reached forward and swiped at the drool. We stood side by side staring down at the carseat I had hoisted on my dining table. Bri lifted the wet evidence.

"This is real drool."

I pressed my hand to my face so fast it was almost like a slap. The white 'Nick' note was laying right beside the carseat. I had already read it once, but denial seemed to fit me like a glove.

"Lauren's gonna kill me," I moaned.

Bri undid a buckle and lifted the drooly thing out of the seat. "She can't kill you because she isn't here. She broke up with you the night you and Wahlberg decided to visit the real Coyote Ugly, remember?"

"Wahlberg's gonna be the death of me," I muttered.

"I think you have more important things to worry about than Mr. Rise and Grind. What's this?"

Let me pause here to say that Brian is a natural with babies. He propped the baby on his side and reached for the note with his free hand. He cleared his throat and began to read out loud.

Nick,

You probably don't remember me, but a year and a half ago, you and I hooked up in Tennessee while you were working on your solo album; right before you left for Japan for the This is Us tour.


The first time I had read it, I couldn't get past the screaming baby to even begin to process who the baby mama might be. Now, it was like the lightbulb had come on. "Oh crap. Starbucks girl!"

Bri stopped reading. "Starbucks girl?"

"There was a Starbucks like a block away from the recording studio. I was working long hours and needed caffeine. But I got overly caffeinated one night and I was like a friggin' rabbit. And espresso girl looked so good that we did it behind the counter."

Bri opened his mouth than clamped it shut. The tips of his ears turned a little red.

"GAH BE DO!"

The baby's face was dry now after the meltdown, but I could still see tear trails. Bri looked back at the letter.

This is the result of our week together. I'm no longer physically able to take care of Bentley. After a lot of soul searching, I thought he deserved to have his dad in his life. His birthday is January 3. His favorite cereal is Cheerios and his favorite fruit is bananas. Please take good care of him; he is...was my life.

Sincerely,

Brit


"Britney! That's it!" I snapped my fingers.

"You didn't even remember her name?"

"Well..."

"Hap sa tak a!"

Little baby fingers reached for the letter again. My initial joy at remembering the girl's name disappeared. I stepped back and eyed the kid wearily.

"Bentley. What kind of name is that?"

"Someone obviously watched a little too much Teen Mom," Brian offered. I snorted. He looked at me in confusion.

"How would you know? Do you watch Teen Mom?"

His blush indicated yes, but he tried to play it off. "No, I see supermarket tabloids. Everyone knows who Bentley is."

"Not me."

"That's because you only read comics."

"Nu-uh," I said. "I read--"

I didn't finish my thought. Brian put Bentley back down in the car seat. Between that and the baby's inability to get the letter to gnaw on, this obviously was unacceptable. His little face screwed up and this time I was prepared. I hit the ground and covered my ears.

The little dude tipped his head back and let out a howl.

**********




I lifted the howler out of his car seat and pulled him to my chest. Bentley instantly stopped crying. "See that's how it's done, Nick," I said. I turned to look at Nick. He wasn't there. "Ni--" I stepped on him. I looked down. He was laying on the floor in the fetal position, all curled up around himself in his stupid traffic sign boxers and naught else. I glared at him. "Get up."

He had his ears covered so he couldn't hear me.

I kicked him in the arm. "Get up," I said when his hand lifted off his ear from my kick.

Scowling, Nick got up.

"Here," I shoved Bentley at him. Nick jumped back as I held the baby out at arm's length. "Nick, you gotta hold the kid, I gotta call Leighanne and ---"

"You hold it," Nick snapped, holding his arms up in protest.

"Nick, he's your kid," I snapped.

"Nuh-uh, he's Bethany's," he said.

"Her name was Britney and she didn't inseminate herself," I hissed the last part of the sentence. Bentley might not know what inseminate meant yet, but... just in case.

Nick kept his hands raised protectively.

"Fine," I said thickly. I put Bentley down in his car seat.

"NNNNNNNNNNNNNN NNNAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOOooooooooo oooooooooooooo OOOOOOOOHhhhhh hhhhhhhhh!!!!!"

"SWEET JESUS," Nick yelped, covering his ears again.

I plucked Bentley back up.

Silence.

Gently, I put him down.

Screaming.

I picked him up.

Silence.

I looked at Nick. "Hold him," I snapped, and before Nick could reassume the protective position, I'd shoved Bentley against his bare chest and the baby had smooshed his fat little drooly cheek against Nick's skin. Nick paled noticably.

"NOW what?" he demanded.

"Just hold him," I answered. "Jeekers, Nick, you're the oldest of how many siblings? You act like you've never seen a kid before."

"I was a kid last time I was around babies," he answered.

Bentley cooed and bit at Nick's nipple. Nick looked scared. "Dude, he's trying to milk me," he whined.

"It's a comfort thing," I answered.

Nick looked up at me. "Brian," he said in a whimper, "I am not cut out to be a dad. I don't get this stuff like you do, I make babies cry. I break babies." His eyes were actually a little watery.

"Nick," I said, "We'll figure it out, okay?"

He nodded.

"Okay. I gotta call Leighanne."

I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and wandered towards the bus door, where I could get better reception. Nick's voice floated after me, "Umm... Brian?"

"Yeah?"

"What's it mean if the baby kinda smells funny a little?"

Shit.
Chapter 3 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Three

So, I lied to Brian a little bit. I wasn't totally clueless about babies. The thing was that I didn't know if I liked babies. And I wasn't sure I wanted to find out that I did like babies. My own mom and dad excelled at making us, but raising us? That was a whole 'nother story. Besides, I didn't want to see if the crappy ass parenting gene had been passed down to me.

Except now it seemed like I didn't have a choice. I couldn't believe I had been dumb enough to go in without a raincoat. I might have been reckless in a lot of areas in my life, but baby blockin' was my speciality.

Until now.

Bentley continued to slobber on my chest as I rooted around for clothes to wear. The stench coming from his bottom meant a diaper change was in order, but I was desperate to play dumb and have Bri do it. I heard him talking to Leighanne, his voice becoming more and more animated.

"...looks just like him."

"...nine months."

"...miss him that small."

I rolled my eyes as I shook out a ratty t-shirt. I walked into the bathroom, propped the baby up on the sink and, holding him with my knees, wiped off my chest. Bentley's hands went to his diapered crotch.

"Fuuu?"

"Yeah, you're telling me," I said. I wormed my head through the neck of the shirt and pulled it down. I scooped him back up and looked around for a pair of jeans. I was trying not to think of the sagging I was feeling in the white plastic ass sack pressed into my forearm.

Just as I found a pair of jeans, hanging over the shower head and smelling only slightly like AJ's cigarettes, Igby chose that moment to emerge from between the shower and toilet. His ass shook side to side in excitement. Bentley pointed.

"Ack!"

At the sight of the chubby finger pointing at him, Igby let out a bark, crouched down low, hopped up, twirled in a circle, and for the grand finale, crapped right in front of me. It was too much shit for me to handle. Literally and...meta...metta...metabolically?

"BRIAN!" I wailed.

"WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

"What's w--oh god, it reeks."

"Here!" I said. I thrust the baby out. Brian took him and began to make automatic 'shush'-ing noises. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper.

"You can pick up dog poo but you can't change a diaper?" Bri asked.

"It's different! This is flushable!"

"LeighLeigh and Baylee are going for emergency supplies. Diapers, formula, baby food and---

"Unless it's Starbucks girl, it won't be good enough!"

"We'll figure this out."

I purposely took my time with Igby's shit. I wanted to crawl back in bed and pretend this never happened. The little blonde baby with the bright blue eyes was starting a whole new wave of freak out in me.

"I found one diaper in the seat. You done? He needs changed."

I pouted. "I don't know how," I lied. Well, half-lied. I knew the general mechanics, but I didn't know how to figure in a squirming being into the equation.

"Can you do it?" I pleaded.

"Nick."

"How do I know he's mine?"

"How do you know he's not? Changing a diaper doesn't seal the deal!"

I stifled a groan. Igby's stench left with the flush. The little dude's lingered. It was getting too much even for me, the King of Stank.

"Fine," I said.

"Walk me through it."

**********


You know in the movies when they're about to do a military task and they're preparing the weapons and all how they play those leading drum beats? Da-dadada-duht-da. Da-dadada-duuht-da. The camera kind of alights on the barrel of a gun, on the bullets being loaded. The boots of the soldier being pulled on to his feet. The click of the buttons on his coat.

Replace the gun with a diaper...the bullets with powder...the boots with purple latex gloves we hijacked from the cleaning supplies under Nick's bathroom sink, and the buttons with the tape on the hips of Bentley's dirty diaper... and you've pretty much got the image of the moments leading up to the incident.

"Okay, prepare the new diaper," I instructed once the tape had been pulled off Bentley's hips. "Don't pull down the old diaper until you--"

Nick ripped the old diaper off, "Jesus, it smells, though," he complained, haucking the old diaper into the shower stall and slamming the door.

I stared at the diaper, limp in a pool of left over shower water.

"Nick, you wanna get that new diaper on the baby really qui--"

"Gross," Nick's eyes were focused downward, "Dude he's got poo all over his--"

It was an arch of shiny gold, travelling through the air. One minute, Nick was talking, disgusted by the overflow of diaper contents to certain anatomical parts, and the next moment he was gargling with a well aimed stream of urine.

He spit.

He hacked.

He doubled over onto the floor, choking, holding his heck with his hands, scratching at the skin, gurgling.

Bentley let out a shriek that rocked the walls of the bus.

"Oh dear Lord," I gasped. I jumped over Nick's flailing form and grabbed the face cloth we'd dampened, swiping it over Bentley's skin, grabbed the powder, expertly poufed it on, and slid the diaper under him, over him and sealed it shut.

Nick was still moaning on the floor.

"You might want to -uh- to - to use some - uh - mouthwash."

Nick gurgled and grabbed at his neck again.

I swooped Bentley off the counter and rushed out of the room, leaving Nick on the floor. "C'mon, Benters," I whispered, "Let's give your poor dad a break. He's had a rough morning already."

I grabbed the car seat from the table and out the door.
Chapter 4 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Four

The bus was quiet.  My mouthwash was empty. I pressed my hands against the sink and looked at my reflection.

Last night I was one half of the Wahlberg-Carter wild-and-crazy guy troupe.

Today I was a...a dad.

My tongue burned from the power of the spearmint wash. For the first time in my life, I had a fear of penises. I had never seen anything like it. The kid was possessed. Who peed in another person's mouth?

Okay, so there was that one porno I saw...

Shivering just from the thought of the golden stream drenching me, I grabbed a cup of water, tilted my head back and gargled. I spit out into the sink  and then opened my shower.  There was no way in hell I was touching the contents of the diaper. I headed out to the living room and grabbed a NKTOBSB glow stick and a Wal-mart bag. Using the glow stick as a skewer, I dumped the diaper and ran nilly-willy to the door.

"You son of a bitch."

I skidded to a stop. AJ was standing right outside my bus, his hand propped up on the side. His eyes were narrowed.

"What?"

"I just heard, no saw, the news."

I decided to play dumb. "What news?"

"The kid! You asshole! I was supposed to be the next one in line. You ruined the order!"

Now I didn't even have to play dumb. I just was confused. "Hunh?"

"It's like Final Destination. Ro and I were the next ones in line to have a baby. Now you've messed up the earthly order."

I shook my head. "You don't understand. It's not my fault."

AJ stopped glaring.  Instead, his nose wrinkled in disgust.

"What's that?"

I lifted the bag. "Dirty diaper."

AJ's hand clamped over his nose. "That's gross."

"Tell me about it!"

He suddenly turned curious. "What are you gonna do with it?"

"What am I gonna do with it? I'm going to throw it away!"

J lowered his hand and smiled. "I have a better idea," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper.

He had my attention. "What is it?"

AJ turned his head. I followed his gaze and grinned.  He was staring right at Danny's bus.

"Now that you're a dad, you probably wouldn't appreciate the humor," J said lightly.

"First off, I don't know that I'm the kid's dad.  And secondly...I so appreciate the humor. Let's do it."

We both hunched down.  Halfway across the lot I saw Leighanne leaning over Brian's shoulder. He was holding Bentley.  For a second I almost felt jealous.  Brian was so perfect at that kind of stuff.

"Nick?"

I shook my head. I was on a mission.  Feeling very Tom Cruise-esque, ala Mission Impossible, AJ and I flipped and crawled our way through the busses. AJ got there first. He pried open Danny's door.  We listened for a moment. Empty. I darted inside.

"Where should I put it?" I called out in a loud whisper.

"Under his bed!"

Thankfully all of the NKOTBSB busses were laid out the same.  I quickly scampered to the bedroom.  I didn't waste any time kicking the bag under the bed. The first thing I saw was a large stain on the covers that sent an image into my mind that I couldn't get out.  I turned around and hauled ass back outside.

"Success?"

"Success," I confirmed. We high-fived. J gasped.

"Woody, four o'clock!"

We took off away from the bus.  I wanted to go lock myself back in my own, but AJ tugged me in the direction of Brian's. As we walked, he sniffed the air. "Why do I smell pee?"

"The kid peed on me. In my mouth."

A loud laugh filled the air.

"That's great. No need for a DNA test. That's something only a Carter would do."

He slapped me on the back.

"By the way, you owe me a cigar, Carter."

**********


"He is so adorable, Nick," Leighanne cooed, running her fingertip across Bentley's cheek. I stared down at the baby, wanting to agree but not being able to get my mouth around the words. He was heavy in my arms, that kind of heavy babies get when you've held them a long time but still don't want to put them down just yet. I smiled and made my best Donald Duck face down at the little baby. He reached a chubby hand up and grabbed my lips.

"Yeah he's great," Nick answered, "Look, don't get attached to it."

I looked up. "Bentley, Nick," I said, "His name is Bentley."

"Okay first of all, I don't know that kid is mine," he said without reacting to my name correction. I scowled.

AJ glanced over the end of Bentley's toes at his crop of wirey blonde hair and wildly blue eyes. AJ looked up at Nick. "Dude he's so you," he said, "Look at his goofy ears."

Nick glowered. "Look I don't know that 'til I get an eternity test."

"Paternity," I corrected.

"What-the-fuck-ever," Nick answered. "I don't know it's mine until I get - get that done." He stared at me as I dipped my nose against the baby's nose. "Second of all no matter what either way I can't keep it," he added.

Leighanne and I looked up in what seemed like one motion. "What?" we both demanded. "What are you going to do with him?" Leighanne asked, her hands hovering over Bentley protectively.

"I dunno, there's tons of like adoption places or whatever," Nick replied with a shrug, "Someone is bound to be interested in a kid with my DNA in it."

"Him, Nick," I snapped, "Bentley is a him, not an it. Stop calling him it, it's disturbing."

"It's not like he understands what I'm saying," Nick growled, "I don't wanna get attached. I don't want this kid."

As though on cue, as though he could understand, little Bentley broke into sobbing wails. Nick covered his ears again and stomped his feet. "This is what I'm talking about," he shouted, "I can't fucking stand children, why the frig would I want to keep one that shows up in the mail?"

My heart felt heavy. I stared down at Bentley and something welled up in me. I looked up at Nick. "You're a fucking coward."

"Brian," Leighanne hissed. Her eyes traveled from my face to the baby, who continued to cry.

I pushed Bentley into her arms. Nick was staring at me wide-eyed. "That's right, Carter," I snapped, stepping up to him, "You're a coward. You're scared because your old man was a fuck-up that you're gonna fuck-up, too. Well guess what? You aren't gonna fuck-up, you aren't. This kid needs a father. Just because you didn't get one doesn't mean he doesn't need one. He doesn't need adoption, he needs you, he needs his father."

Nick's eyes had travelled down to the cement at some point during my miniature speech. He studied the toes of his stupid construction boots. After a long moment, he looked up at me and our eyes connected. "I can't do it alone," he muttered.

I put a hand on his shoulder. "I didn't expect you to."
Chapter 5 by Pengi
Chapter Five

"My credit card hurts."

"Your credit card doesn't hurt when you buy a shots for the entire club, does it? Besides, this is an investment."

I was lucky that this had been one of our rare off days. Bri was lucky that I loved him enough not to drop the huge ass box we were carrying on his foot. Bri took a step backward onto the bus step, juggling his end of the box. "C'mon, I can't do this alone," he complained.

"Sorry," I sighed. I hoisted the end of my box up more and we made our way up into the bus.

"If you need some of James' baby things, I can call my mom and have her send one of the boxes in our attic," Leigh called out.

"We have all of Baylee's things too," Leighanne piped up. The girls were on our heels, their arms loaded down with bags.

"Monkee, he's so heavy. Feel him!"

"I already felt him three times, babe. His ass is like lead. That's why there's no need for a DNA test. Pooh butt's dad could only be King Pooh Butt."

My teeth slammed together as Bri and I stumbled in and dropped the box. "Shut up, J."

"Sha foo lo!"

I eyed the kid--er, Bentley warily. He hadn't fallen asleep yet. It didn't seem normal. I was pretty sure Baylee and James had slept a lot when they were that little. I watched the girls drop bags of baby stuff down on the couch.

"I'll help you set up the crib," Bri offered.

"I'll go get D. He set James' crib up. He'll help," Leigh said. She stopped to give the drooly boy a kiss on his cheek before heading down the stairs.

What was WITH women and babies? Sheesh.

Bri and Leighanne had come with my to pick up supplies. About twenty minutes in, I was ready to scream. I didn't know what half the shit I bought was even for. Leighanne just kept tossing.

Meanwhile, Leigh and D had offered to watch Bentley. If it wasn't for having the saintly Littrells in the car, I probably would have kept driving until I hit the ocean. Then I probably would have swam the ocean.

I was a desperate man.

"Give me a knife," Brian instructed.

"We're going to take him to our bus. I want to get some pictures," Ro cooed. Leighanne looked up, a maternal worry on her face, but I waved at the door.

"Thanks. I'll pick it, uh, him, up later," I said. With her free hand, Ro grabbed the front of J's shirt. He gave me the finger as he was tugged off the bus. Once they were gone, Leighanne sat on my couch and started unloading bags. That was when the weirdness of it all sank in. Leighanne never came into my bus. She talked about it like it was contamined. She--

"Nick? Knife?"

I lost my train of thought. Bri's fingers wiggled in the air. I took two giant steps over to a drawer and opened it. I stood there and fidgeted.

"Where's Baylee?"

"With my sister and his cousin on our bus. Bri, look at these socks!"

Bri's head snapped up like a puppy and mushy-eyed his wife. "Aww, such wittle feetsies."

I picked up a knife and pretended to stab myself before turning around. I handed it to Bri who quickly sliced open the crib box.

"Don't you think I should call the police?" I asked. "I mean," I paused. I didn't want Brian to de-nut me again. He had never yelled at me like he had earlier. I didn't want a repeat. "I mean, there are a LOT of blonde kids in this world. Yes, he looks," I paused again, my tongue feeling growing cottony. "he looks like me, but I'm not uncommon looking."

I held my breath. Bri pulled out a side of the crib and ran his hand over the smooth wood. "No, you're right. You should put in a police report..."

"But until the mystery is solved, you need to do the right thing and keep him."

**********


I hovered in the doorway to Nick's bedroom on the bus as Leighanne made up the little crib set. It had tiny hippos and zebras and giraffes on it, a litte African safari. It was so cute. My arms tingled to take Bentley back again, but Nick was having a rare moment of actually holding his kid, and, even though Bentley hung from Nick's arm like a sack of potatoes, I didn't want to relieve Nick.

Nick hoisted Bentley up in his arms. "So... what, I stick it-him in there and he goes to sleep?" Nick asked.

Leighanne smiled.

Baylee had used his crib for probably about an hour in total. Honestly, we didn't have a clue what babies did in the crib. One of the two of us had constantly been doting over him. Even at night, more often than not, Leighanne had been in the rocking chair in the nursery, rocking him and singing lullabies quietly.

She looked up at me and I could see tears in her eyes.

I tried to muster a smile for her. I had to be the strong one, didn't I?

"Is it natural that he hasn't slept yet?" Nick demanded.

Leighanne laughed, swiping her hand over her eyes and catching the tears before turning to look at Nick. "Be thankful for it, Nick," she said, "It means he's going to sleep tonight."

Nick stared down at Bentley's head. "You mean they don't always sleep at night?"

Leighanne and I looked away as panic crossed his face. Leighanne stood up and rolled up the plastic bags the bedding had come in. "There we go," she said, smiling at the completed crib. Nick stared at it.

"It looks so..."

"Cute?" Leighanne supplied.

Nick nodded, but I know that wasn't the adjective he had been thinking of.

Leighanne went over to him and started blowing raspberries on Bentley's cheeks, telling him goodnight. Nick's eyes connected to mine. "Bri," he said, "You're staying, right man?"

"I..."

Leighanne turned and looked at me, her eyes full of baby lust.

"I can't," I said quickly.

Nick scowled.

"Goodnight Nick," Leighanne said. She stood up and passed by me, her hand grabbing mine and slipping through it as she walked out. "See you in a couple minutes, Bri."

When she left the bus, Nick gave me puppy eyes. "Don't leave me."

"I'm sorry Nick," I said, "I just --"

"I don't care if she's gonna screw your brains out," he whined, "Please, isn't my sanity worth more than sex?"

My cheeks felt hot. "I--"

"Please?"

"Nick, you gotta do this," I said. "Just try. If it doesn't work out, you can call us and we'll come right over. Just remember, when all else fails, hold him... Hold him close to you, rock him, talk gently, sing quietly and --"

"Sing what?"

"Anything."

"I can't sing anything to a baby," Nick argued.

"Nick, anything."

"She lick me like a lollipop," he started.

"Anything but that," I interrupted.

Nick raised an eyebrow. "I like big butts and I cannot lie..."

"Or that."

"See, I can't sing anything."

"Nick --"

"Fine. Abandon me. Leave me here, all alone..." Nick dramatically swooned, almost dropped Bentley and we both reflexively tried to catch him. Nick moved quicker, swooping down and catching him expertly. A worried look cross his face as he looked at Bentley's bright blue eyes. Bentley sucked on his fist, staring up at Nick. Nick's eyes calmed, the panic draining the way the bathroom sink does. He looked at me. "Go get laid," he muttered.

"Good night, Nick."
Chapter 6 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Six

Midnight

Asleep. Breathing. Check.

1:00 a.m.

Asleep. Turned over on side. Still breathing. Check.

2:00 a.m.

Arms thrown above head. Snoring. Snoring = breathing. Check.

I pressed my head against the rail of the crib. Sometime not long before midnight, the bus had started moving. After having the most stressful day of my life, I irrationally thought Bentley had crawled out of the crib and was moving the bus. Instead, I jumped up to find him sleeping peacefully. But I couldn't fall back asleep. Every hour I checked on him. Now the kid was snoring.

At three o'clock the snoring stopped. I had fallen asleep standing up. Hearing the silence, I panicked. I ran to the bathroom, grabbed a mirror, and hovered it by his face until it fogged up. Satisfied he was breathing, I backed up and crawled back into bed.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!"

"AHHHHHHH!"

I swiped at the covers and bolted upright in bed. My heart was pounding against my ribcage so hard that for a second I thought I cracked something. I patted down my body.

"WAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

My body swung over the crib. Bentley's body flailed as I scooped him up. Snot dripped from his nose. His head fell back and he screamed right in my ear. I took a hesitant sniff.

No foul odor.

My mind blanked. No crap. So then what? I pressed him to me to the point where I felt like anyone peeking through the window might mistake the scene for me trying to smother the kid. I relaxed my grip. At the same time, my stomach growled. Lightbulb.

"Hey! Are you hungry?"

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHABAAAABAAAAGAAAABAAA!!!"

I didn't know a lot about babies, but I knew how to make a bottle. Of course, I had pretended not to know when Leighanne showed me early. She had sat there cooing at him while he sucked as I stared longingly at my XBox.

But now, no one was around. And I couldn't exactly stop moving busses to go get Brian. (Well I could have...) I put the formula in the bottle, did my shake-shake thing, and sat down on the edge of the couch. I adjusted his weight against the whole length of my arm and plopped the bottle into his warbling mouth. Instantly, his hand reached for it and he let out a sigh.

"Rough day, right?" I asked. His blue eyes looked up at me and I swear he nodded. I leaned back a little, trying to detense. My head fell back against the cushiony couch. I was exhausted. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep again while he was sucking away. The set-up would have worked perfectly...

Except the bottle soon became empty.

"WAAAAABAAAAAAAAHAGGGGGGABUUUUUUUUU!!!"

The bottle hit the ground. A 9-month old fist hit my chest. I almost choked on my tongue. I blinked rapidly, disoriented.

Bentley's face had turned a shade of purple. Large milk stains formed on his sleeper after running down his double chin.

"What now?" I whined aloud. I scooped him up and peeked into his diaper, doing two quick inhales. It was fine. Bentley's face slammed into my neck.

Sing, Brian's voice commanded. I wiped my sweaty palms on his pajamas, the one with the running giraffes all over is. I wracked my mind for a lullaby, but I came up empty. I closed my eyes and just sang the first thing I could think of.

I keep on sinking in this black hole
Somehow we gotta rise above
No Captain Kirk here to save me
Stuck in this vortex love


The cries faded to little snuffles. The little baby body bounced back slightly with the help of chubby legs. I put him back in bottle position and kept going.

I think I’ll put my space suit on
So I can jump into my rocket
Call ground control ’cause something’s wrong


I stopped. Something was wrong.

He was smiling at me. One little bottom tooth jutting out of raw pink gums and all.

**********


"I feel pregnant." Leighanne was standing in the bathroom door way, staring at her profiled stomach in the full length mirror. She glanced at me. "Do I look pregnant?" she asked.

"It's been thirty minutes, wifey," I said. I was laying on my back on the bed, watching her, my head propped up on my arm and the pillow.

"But I feel pregnant." She ran her hands over her flat spanse of abdomen. She looked at me. "I could be pregnant, couldn't I?"

I looked away.

She sighed. A moment later the light of the bathroom clicked off and she crawled onto the bed next to me, her head laying across my bare chest. We laid there like that for a long few minutes, then she looked up at me. "Why do people that don't want a baby get a baby?" she whispered, her voice thick.

"I dunno," I whispered back. I reached over for the lamp switch and cast us into darkness, interrupted only by the pale blue light of the moon sneaking in the blinds.



Nick was laying in the crib, Bentley resting in the crook of his arm, his legs hanging out of the side of the crib. He had a line of drool hanging over his cheek to the mattress. Bentley, too, had drool. I snuck closer and reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. I held it up.

Click.

Nick's eyes fluttered at the bright flash. He groggily stared up at me, squinting. "What the hell time is it?" he muttered, running a hand across his face. He looked at Bentley. "Ugh." He looked up at me. "It wouldn't stop crying like half the night," he complained.

"Did you sing?"

"Did I sing?" Nick demanded, "Did I--- YEAH I SANG!" He struggled to sit up, rolling Bentley off his arm. The moment skin contact ended, Bentley's eyes flew open - and that's not all that opened.

"NNNNNNNNNNNNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOOAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

"I sang our entire catalogue," Nick wailed over Bentley.

I reached quickly into the crib and pulled Bentley up into my arms. "What?"

"All of them. Every song. Name a Backstreet Boys song, released or b-side and I sang it last night."

"Larger than Life?"

"Yes."

"Quit Playing Games?"

"Yes."

"Color My World."

"Yep."

I went for the big guns. "If You Want It To Be Good Girl Get Yourself a Bad Boy?"

"Twice."

I looked at Bentley. "Jeez, lil man, you got your daddy to do stuff the fans have been asking for for years." Nick sighed. I studied him a moment. "How'd you end up in the crib?"

"I..." Nick hesitated.

"You...?"

"He wouldn't stop when I put him down, and I was falling asleep standing up."

"So you climbed into the crib?"

Nick looked at his feet, still dangling over the side of the crib, the little giraffe blanket pulled across his chest covering about a square foot of him. "...I guess I climbed into the crib," he answered.

I rocked Bentley back and forth, my hand carefully patting his bum.

Nick climbed out of the crib a bit sheepishly.

"Your daddy's a weird one," I muttered to Bentley, "Yes he is... yes he issss..."
Chapter 7 by Pengi
Chapter Seven

"You can't get the police involved."

I held my arms out to my side. In any other circumstances, having two women pawing around my body would have been a dream come true. Unfortunately, the two women mother-henning me were Leighanne Littrell and Leigh Dorough and they weren't pawing me because I was sexy.

They were attaching some sort of torture device to my body.

"Well for one, we left the state of Kentucky where Bentley was dropped off. You've taken him over state lines. So you could be in trouble there," Leighanne explained.

"If the kid's mom's in Tennessee, whoever brought him to me is in trouble!" I argued.

"Yes, but if you get the police involved, they'll tell you to stop you traveling with him. They might even send him to a foster home," Leigh added.

The women exchanged worried looks. I sighed. Brian fell for Leighanne's watery eyes way more than I did, but then again I wasn't usually the cause of the tears. I needed Brian's help; ergo, I needed to keep his wife happy. Oh my god, did I just say that?

"So what am I going to do?" I asked.

Leigh headed down the hall. I could hear Brian talking to Bentley in my bedroom. Leighanne tugged on the kangaroo pouch thingy they had affixed to my chest.

"Rush a DNA test. If he's yours you can call the police and they can't say anything about you traveling with him because you have rights. And if he isn't..." she trailed off, her eyes focusing on the little dude Leigh was carrying towards me. She didn't finish her sentence, as if she was afraid she might traumatize him or something.

But let me tell you...I was kinda already traumatized.

"Here we go!" Leigh said. I think she was taking secret delight in this 'dress Nick up as a daddy' thing. She held open the pouch.

"All you have to do is put this leg here and this leg there and then you kinda wiggle him on in and---voila!"

Bentley grunted against my chest. The plastic pacifier he was sucking on was making dents right below my nipples as he sucked in and out. My face contorted in pain.

"This isn't comfortable," I complained.

"Once you get used to it, it is!" Leighanne said. She smiled and pressed her face uncomfortably close to my armpit. "Brian loved carrying Bay around in his wittle ittle kangaroo pouch. Do you wike your pouch Benters? Benny, Wenny, cutie pants?"

"I don't think there's anything cute that comes out of his pants," I said. I had done two more diaper changes. Sure, I hadn't gotten pee in my mouth, but I know I fried a few nose hairs along the way.

Leighanne didn't respond except to dive her face into the fabric-ky folds and give Bentley a kiss. She stood up and leaned in close to my ear. I had never had this much Leighanne contact in my life. It was unnerving.

"Since we're in Orlando today and it's your home state, I'll try to see if I can get a center to send someone out to the busses between soundcheck and the concert. You can keep it strictly confidential that way."

"Question," I said outta the corner of my mouth, matching her 'Mission Impossible' attitude. "How is he strapped to my chest keeping it confidential?"

"This is as subtle as a freight train taking a detour through a Dunkin' Donuts!" As if to prove my point, Bentley spit out the pacifier. Snagging a strand of chest hair, he freaked out. He gagged.

"Oh no," I groaned.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHHH HH!!!!!!!"

**********


"Who is this person again?" Nick asked for about the twelve millionth time.

"Her name is Dr. Bailey, she's a paternity specialist," I explained.

Nick stared at me. "Why do you know a paternity specialist?" he demanded.

"She's helped me out before."

Nick's eyes widened. "Brian, have you had a --"

"No," I answered firmly. "I am not a baby daddy." I took a deep breath. "Leighanne and I... we've... had some... some trouble with the... the whole... baby... making... thing." His face was concerned. I shook my head, "Whatever. Look, I just know Dr. Bailey, and she was able to squeeze you in as a favor to me, okay?"

"So she helped y'all make Baylee?" Nick asked.

I stared at Nick for a long moment. "No. Baylee came naturally."

"I was gonna say, 'cos you said Baylee was, like, from that time y'all did it on the eleva--"

"Nick," I snapped. He shut up. I glared at him.

Bentley cooed against Nick's chest. He looked down. Bentley looked up. Bentley's eyes glistened happily as he stared up at Nick. Nick's eyes did not glisten back. He looked back up at me. "So, like, what do they do anyways?" he asked, "Like Xrays and shit?"

"Basically it's a Qtip you rub around in your mouth," I answered.

Nick raised an eyebrow. "That's it? They can tell from a spitty Qtip if I made the deposit that acrrued the interest?"

"How many euphemisms do you know?"

Nick grinned. "A lot."

We walked through the front doors of the DNA Testing Center. I felt my stomach turn. It smelled the same as it always had, with the pristine white walls and marble blue and grey floor. Large green plants blocked off waiting areas and a round receptionist's desk was across a vastly open foyer. I led the way, my stomach doing somersaults. Last time I'd been here had been when....

I'm not gonna think about it.

"We're here to see Dr. Bailey," I said when we got to the desk. The receptionist, a perky thing that had been there for years whose name always slipped me, grinned when she looked up and saw me.

"Mr. Littrell," she said. She stood up and reached over the desk to hug me. I forced a smile and pet her back. "Oh my gosh, it's so good to see you again. Where's Leighanne?" she ducked to one side and spotted Nick standing behind me, Bentley's legs dangling from the kangaroo pouch on his chest. Her eyes widened. She looked at me. "Is that --"

"No," I said, "Bentley here is -- well, that's why we're here to see Dr. Bailey," I said.

She nodded and picked up a phone, "You can head up to her office, I'll let her know you're here."

"Thanks," I muttered. I turned to Nick, "C'mon."

We started up the stairs toward Bailey's office. Nick grabbed my arm and stopped me for a second when we were in the hallway. He looked into my face, concern plastered across his. "Bri?" he asked.

"What?"

"Obviously I- I missed something somewhere," he stammered, "I - I - At some point, at some point during all my - the drinking and the drugs - I -" Nick bit his lip. He stared at me. "Brian, I obviously missed something big."

I could still hear the outgoing message on his voicemail the night it happened. I'd wanted to talk to him so bad but he'd been out pounding shots with his glommer buddies in LA and didn't answer his phone. I'd ended up dealing with it all alone.

"It doesn't matter," I said.

"It does matter," Nick answered, "It does, I can tell it does. Your eyes say it does."

"We... lost... a baby," I whispered. "We'd been trying for two years and we came here and got some help, some fertility help from Dr. Bailey, and--" I took a deep breath. "When she got pregnant, we were so excited..." I licked my lips. "It was gonna be a girl, we had a name. Sarah."

Nick looked like he'd been punched in the stomach. He looked away.

"It's stupid the way they say it," I said, a coarse, not-from-humor laugh erupting from my gut. "Lost a baby... Like she was misplaced, like if we'd been vigilant we would've been able to keep it from happening, like we didn't care enough."

"Bri..."

"C'mon Nick," I swiped my fist across my eyes to stop the tears. "You're gonna be late for the appointment."
Chapter 8 by Pengi
Chapter Eight

I felt like a donkey's butt. Otherwise known as a jackass. Here I was, with a kid (that okay, looked so much like me the Q-tip thing was just a formality), and Brian had been working like a little hamster in a wheel to get another one. And yet all I had to do to get one was to drink frappes until more than my bladder exploded.

It really was a Weird World.

Dr. Bailey was a woman in her fifties that looked like she could double in the winter-time as Mrs. Clause. She greeted Brian first before turning to me. Her gaze drifted down to the kangaroo pouch.

"Nice to meet you, Nick. This is Bentley?"

She held out her hand; I shook it. I nodded towards the pouch. "That's what the note said." I paused. Since she was a doctor, I figured I could ask her a couple questions and get a professional opinion.

"Hey doc?"

"Yes?"

"What kind of nicknames are there for a name like Bentley? Something that sounds less...car-like?"

Brian made a noise in the back of his throat. Dr. Bailey tapped a pen on my chart.

"Ben? Benny? Lee?"

"I like Ben. It sounds smart. Wasn't there a Ben dude that invented money?"

"You mean Benjamin Franklin?"

I smiled. Bri always knew what I was talking about. "Yeah!"

"He didn't invent money. He's on money because he was a famous inventor and--"

"Shall we take the samples?"

"Fsssssttt."

Little Ben took that moment to spit out his pacifier. Spit soaked through my t-shirt. Brian reached over and wrangled him out of the pouch.



"That was easy."

"Yup."

"The doc's really nice. Easy to remember name, too. Bailey. Just like Baylee but spelled n--different." I had almost said 'normally.' I figured Bri wouldn't appreciate me calling his kid abnormal. Not when--

"She said Ben's big for his age. Do you think she specifically meant his--" I gestured underneath the kangaroo pouch to my own crotch.

"Nick."

"What?"

He didn't answer. We got to the car and I scooped Ben out of the pouch without thinking. I paused.

"Hey, you know how to use one of those things."

"No I don't," I lied. "It was a fluke."

"Nick--"

"Bri, I can't do it myself," I burst out, adding back in my whine. Ben's legs kicked in the air as I held him away from me. Brian came around and took him from me. He drew him close.

"You're cutting teeth aren't you?" he cooed as he put the lanky boy into the car seat. "Maybe LeighLeigh will give you a cracker when we get back. Would you like that? You can chew on it while you watch soundcheck."

Soundcheck. I glanced at my watch. "We're going to be late."

"No, we're not. We always have a cushion."

"For the pushin'?"

"You should refrain from pushin' any cushions for awhile. Unless you haven't learned your lesson."

I glanced in the back window before I climbed in the car. Ben's attention focused on the dangling keys and rings attached to the carseat. He swatted them happily.

"Oh I've learned my lesson," I vowed.

"I'm not looking at another woman for a very long time."

I spoke too soon, of course. Bri and I spent the entire ride back doing some wicked duets to 80's tunes while Ben babbled along. Bri had just glided the car past the gates and was slowing down to park in the middle of the circle of busses when I spotted a flash of long dark hair and long legs.

"No!" I cried.

"What?"

I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hands. I took another look. My heart plummeted. I had been calling her every day for three weeks without getting any response. She had chosen possibly the worst time to come back to give me a second chance. I whipped my head around so fast I almost got whiplash.

"Bri, you've got to pretend Ben's yours," I said quickly.

"What?"

"Lauren's back. You've got to pretend Ben's yours until I have a chance to talk to her."

"You want me to pretend he's mine? How is that going to work?"

"Tell her you and Leighanne went to one of those baby buildings and picked him!"

"Nick, you don't pick up babies like you pick up dogs from a pet store! Besides, you've got a crib in your bus, remember?"

I knew Bri and I must have been an odd sight. He was waving his hands around, I was taking turns grabbing my hair and neck. I gave up and pressed my forehead against the dash.

"You promised me you'd help," I reminded him.

"Fuck," Bri said.

"Fuuuuuu," Ben spat from the back.

My door opened.

"Nick?"

With my head still on the dash, all I could focus on was Lauren's bare, short-short clad legs. Her voice hovered somewhere over my head.

I did the only thing I could think of.

I pretended to faint.

**********


When Nick pretends to faint, he makes a real show of it. He's used this tactic since he was - well I'm gonna assume Bentley's size because he's done it as long as I've known him. I remember when we were first getting started and Kevin would announce that it was time to clean the bus and Nick would make this big dramatic act of passing out. He'd swoon, slap the back of his hand against his forehead, and drop like a rucksack to the floor, where he would lie limply until someone kicked him in the balls or until the matter of cleaning was dropped.

What the hell was he gonna do now? Lie limp until Bentley turned twenty-four?

"Ohmigod, Nick!" Lauren's mouth dropped open and she sprang forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Nick's head rolled limply against Lauren's breasts and he lolled there.

Such a freaking pervert.

"Oh my God, what's wrong with him?" Lauren looked frantically at me.

I opened my mouth to answer her, but Bentley chose that moment to let out a screech.

Lauren's eyes darted to the backseat. To Bentley. To Bentley's wide, blue eyes and the wild, electricuted-looking blonde hair that so ridiculously matched Nick's own of each... Her eyes widened. "Who- whose is that?" she hissed.

Nick groaned into Lauren's chest and reached up his hand, feigning weakness, and grabbed onto her other breast. He rolled his eyes up at her. "Lauren?" he whispered, "Lauren? Is this - Are you --" he paused dramatically. "Am I died?"

I rolled my eyes, but Lauren didn't notice.

"Dead? Why would you be dead?" she asked.

"Because you... you're a... an angel... right?" he whispered.

Lauren's eyes melted.

Bentley continued screaming.

"Oh for the love of Carter," I grumbled to myself and climbed out of the car, pulling open the backseat and crawling across to get Bentley.

Lauren continued to dote over Nick, ignoring me and the loudest baby known to mankind. I glowered at the back of Nick's head. I felt like hitting him in the skull, calling him a pansy or worse. Using the actual word.

"Come on, Nick," she whispered quietly, helping him out of the car. He wobbled dramatically.

"Yeah, no don't worry about your kid," I muttered as Nick staggered across the parking lot toward his bus. "I'll get him out of the back of the car, no worries..." I unbuckled Ben from his seat. I sighed. "It's okay, buddy," I whispered, "Your dad... he's got a lot to learn yet, you know?" I ran my hand over Ben's head. He'd silenced and was now staring across the parking lot at Nick's back as he walked away, big crocodile tears in his eyes. "You love your dad, huh?" I whispered, scooping Bentley up into my arms.

As I backed out of the car, Leighanne came up behind me. "Where's Nick?" she asked, seeing Ben and glancing into the car.

"Did you know Lauren's here?" I asked.

Leighanne's eyes widened. "Oh no," she whispered. "Now what?" she asked quietly.

I rocked Benny back and forth gently, bouncing him on my arm as he started to cry now that Nick was out of sight. "I think we just adopted Ben for the day."

Leighanne sucked in a deep breath, her eyes widening with excitement. "Really?" she whispered, and without waiting for a response, she stole Ben from my arms and tucked him against her chest, silencing him once again, and cooing into his face with a look of euphoria on her own.
Chapter 9 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Nine

Sometimes God has a funny sense of humor. I don't mean 'haha' funny, more like 'God doesn't like a liar so I'm gonna make you squirm' humor. I had managed to successfully steer Lauren right into the venue after my faux-faint. I had apologized for being a drunk asshole, promised to spend less time around Wahlberg, and swore to her I didn't sex up any of the Coyote Ugly girls. And, to my credit, that was the truth. I didn't sex up any Coyote Ugly babes.

But I had sexed up a Starbucks barista a year and a half ago. I couldn't bring myself to tell Lauren about that. And since I couldn't tell her about it, I couldn't tell her about Ben.

So back to the reason why I'm all up on God's humor. I was on the shaft of the penis stage staring out at all the cute, giggling girls and Brian was asking if anyone had a song request. A few of the girly goobers shouted out songs we were going to perform that night. Over the ding of those requests rose a louder voice.

"WEIRD WORLD!"

"Weird world!" Brian said. He gave me a look. "Perfect!"

My mouth dropped open. Yes, I had just thought about the song earlier. But I had thought about it by song title only.

The lyrics were a little harder to swallow - er - sing.

Sent a message to a G.I. in the desert
Said thank you man for bringin’ another dawn
Back here it's her and me
And we're having our first --


I choked. Bri gave me a little fingertip wave. Damn him.

baby. And he's out there takin' em on.



"That was dirty," I hissed under my breath as the line of girls waiting to take a picture continued to dwindle.

"Dirty? Don't even talk about dirty," Bri hissed back.

"SMILE GUYS!"

I wrapped my arm around Brian's neck, smashed him close and grinned like Freddy Krueger. Bri's elbow connected with my side.

I would have killed him had it not been for the next fan walking up. She was all sparkle-eyed for Brian.

"Leighanne just walked by with a baby. Did you guys adopt?"

The five other girls waiting got deadly quiet. My neck prickled. Bri's eyes bore into the side of my head. I got cotton mouth again.

"No," Bri said smoothly. "She's just watching him for a friend who's too busy today."

Ouch. To make matters worse, AJ had caught onto the conversation.

"Yeah, Bri's friend is too busy with his cantaloupe plantation. Do you think it's planting season again, Nick?"

My face flamed. I needed a distraction. I grabbed the bottom of my shirt. The lingering girls squealed.

"Who else thinks it's hot in here?"



**********


"He ripped his shirt off," I said, throwing my jacket against the wall.

"Shhhh," Leighanne hissed. She was sitting on the bed in the glow of the TV set, Ben sprawled across her chest fast asleep. He had an almost worried expression on his face, and he clutched at her shirt's neckline with his chubby fingers. "I just got him to go to sleep," she whispered, barely above a breath.

I crawled across the bed and laid on my back next to her. An episode of Barney was on the TV set. I stared at the dancing purple dinosaur before glancing back at Leighanne. "They think he's ours," I said quietly.

"Who?"

"The fans."

Leighanne looked at me, a wild expression on her face. "The fans know?"

"Some girls saw you with him outside the bus earlier," I explained, "They asked at soundcheck if we'd adopted."

Leighanne looked down at Bentley. She looked up at me. "Do you think Nick would consider..."

I sighed. "He would if we asked," I answered. "He'd give him up in a heartbeat if I asked him." Leighanne's eyes went hopeful and mushy. I shook my head, "I'm not asking him, Leigh-Leigh," I said quietly.

"Why?" She sounded like Baylee when he asked why we weren't going to McDonald's for dinner.

I waved my hand at Bentley. "Look at his face," I whispered. She looked, her eyes softened. "When Nick ditched him in the car earlier... he watched Nick walk away. He watched him walk all the way across the parking lot. When Nick touches him, no matter how much he's screaming, he stops. Instantly stops. Nick's not experienced, and he might be reluctant to start a family. Especially like this. But..." I smiled at Bentley's sparsely haired head. "This lil guy loves and adores his father, by instinct alone." I looked at Leighanne. "There's a really special connection there and... I don't want to be the one to break it."

Her eyes had filled with tears.

"What if he decides to give him up anyway?" Leighanne asked, "What if he decides he can't do it and --"

"Then I'll ask him," I answered.

Bentley wriggled a little bit and I leaned over and kissed his forehead softly. Leighanne stared down at him and sighed. "She would've been four," she said.

I swallowed.

Leighanne looked up at me. "I'm sorry I couldn't give you more babies," her voice cracked.

I pulled Leighanne and Bentley closer to me, pressing my cheek into her hair.



I woke up an hour later. Leighanne was still fast asleep but Bentley was making the beginning of crying noises. I reached over and slid him out of her arms gently and rolled off the bed. Nick was supposed to have come by for him already. I hugged Ben close to my chest as the whimpering began to increase. He needed a diaper. He needed a bottle. He needed his crib.

I kicked my feet into my sneakers and snuck across the parking lot where the buses were parked to Nick's bus, clutching Bentley close. I knocked on the door of Nick's bus, but no response came from within. I glanced at Donnie's bus. It was lit up like a disco ball and music was pounding out the doors. Cries for booze rang out from the open slider windows. Nick was probably over there.

I pulled the bus door open, cooing quietly to Ben as I staggered up the steps and turned on the light.

But Nick's bus was not deserted.

Danny Wood was standing in the doorway to the bedroom, and, as someone caught in the act of doing something of questionable intent, he was staring at me, wide-eyed... like a deer in the headlights of an 18-wheeler.

"Brian," he chuckled in that thick, woody voice of his. His awkwardly shaped face flushed. "I was just -er-"

I raised an eyebrow.
Chapter 10 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Ten

"Nick, the show's over. It's two in the morning. Why are you stalling?"

I looked at Lauren, hands on hips, and tried to put on my best dumb face.

"I'm not stalling."

"Then why aren't we going back to the bus to talk?"

I scuffed the toe of my sneaker into a sidewalk crack and worked my jaw side-to-side. I had promised Bri that I would pick Bentley up by one. I exhaled.

"Nick, my bags are packed. I'm ready to give you another chance and come back."

I looked over at her, her dark hair falling around her shoulders. She really was beautiful. "Really?"

She smiled. "Really. As long as you've respected our look, no touch policy--"

Ah, there it was. I had to tell her. There was no way to hide the bolted down baby crib or the fact I'd be getting a call soon with DNA results. I wrapped my hand around a nearby light pole and swung my body around it. It was fun the first time, so I did it again.

"About that," I said. "Remember when I was recording in Tennessee and we had that little fight?"

"The one where you threatened to kill yourself with a butter knife?"

I scowled. "Only after you threatened to stab me with a spork!"

"Well, you were being a douche."

I swung around the pole a third time. I couldn't even remember what had started our disagreement. I just knew what I had done afterwards.

"Yeah, so," I paused to swing a fourth time. "I did a couple all nighters in the studio. I needed Starbucks to stay awake and I kinda...did the girl behind the counter."

She grabbed onto my flannel shirt, stopping my fifth spin. "What?"

I clung to the pole with the feeling that keeping a huge hunk of metal between us was wise. "I slept with the Starbucks girl," I repeated. I slid my foot backwards and found where the sidewalk dipped off into the street.

"Why didn't you tell me when we made up?"

"Because I couldn't take it back," I reasoned (which was also the understatement of the century). "And we had broken up for those few days. So I didn't really cheat."

Lauren's eyes narrowed and she stuffed her hands in her short vesty jacket that stretched across her chest. The silence was thick.

"Okay, well, it sounds like we just need to regroup and work more on the trust thing," she said slowly.

My heart melted. No girl ever gave me more than one do-over. She was perfect. I felt my courage building. I let go of the lightpole.

"There's one more little thing," I said. Before she could ask, I continued. "Yesterday morning someone dropped a baby off by my bus door. Turns out Starbucks girl says I knocked her up. I've done a DNA test to make sure because I figure out what to do with him." I paused to laugh. "Can you believe i--"

I didn't get to finish my question. Lauren's purse connected with my crotch. She carried one of those gigantic suitcase things that I'm pretty sure had a brick in the bottom. I grabbed at my junk and fell to the ground, sure I was going to throw up blood.

"Goodbye Nick," she snapped. I watched her heels click down the pavement through watery vision.

I knew I should have kept the lightpole between us.



After getting my nuts shoved into my throat, I decided to go back to the busses. We were due to leave soon. Part of me wanted to chase after Lauren, but the smarter part of me told me not to press my luck. I grabbed a cab and hunched down, poking at my extremities in misery as we headed towards the arena.

It was pretty quiet in the lot as I limped back to the bus. I got the door open and hobbled up inside, wincing at the upward movement. The interior was dark and I thought I was alone until I heard Bentley's babble. I reached up and clicked on a light.

I froze.

Down the hall going towards my bedroom, Brian stood there holding Bentley. Beyond him, in my bedroom was Wood. Standing beside him was a midget. In a lime-green mong. Otherwise known as a man thong.

And to top it all off, the midget was holding a pie; a pie that permeated spoiled tuna stank all through the bus.

"What the hell is going on here?" I yelled.

Ben let out a shriek.

"TTTFFFFFTT!"

***********


"Nick?"
He had the weirdest expression on his face, somewhere between illness and drunken stupor and... I dunno what. He blinked. He blinked again. "Why the hell is going on here?" he asked.

I ignored the fact that he'd said why in a sentence that should've asked what. "Nick, Danny was just --"

"Inviting the freaking circus over for brunch?!" he cried.

I glanced at Danny. He was holding a swiffer mop with a lime green scrubby head. Granted the room still smelled like fish and diaper, but... "The circus?" I asked, confused. I leaned closer to Nick to get a whiff of his mouth. "Oh holy crow Carter," I gasped, "How the hell much did you --"

"WHY IS THERE A MIDGET ON MY BUS?!" he screeched.

Ben immediately began to scream, too.

Danny's face erupted into an expression of absolute pissed-off-ed-ness. "Midget?" he growled, "MIDGET?"

"YOU HEARD ME, WOOD!"

"Nick, why don't you calm down? You smell like you drank the entire Jack Daniels' factory and..."

"MIDGET!" he bellowed over Bentley's screams.

"I'm short but I'm not a midget," yelled Danny, throwing the rank mop onto the floor with bravado. He glowered at Nick, "I could wreck you, you hulking... crane..."

"Danny," I gasped, "Please! Someone here has to be the mature one."

"MATURE ONE?" Nick shrieked. "Who the hell brought the midget?!"

I turned and looked at Nick, "THERE ARE NO MIDGETS YOU IDIOT!"

"Then what the fuck is that on the floor?"

"A mop," I snarled, "And maybe if you weren't so shit faced you'd be able to see that it's not a---"

"OFF MY BUS!" Nick screamed.

Danny happily obliged, muttering something about the taller they stand, the harder they fall as he went out the door, but I stood my ground. I stared Nick down. "Get the fuck out of here," Nick slurred.

"No," I answered firmly.

Nick glowered at me. "Go away," he said, "Leave me alone."

"I can't," I responded, "Ben is here, so you wouldn't be alone, and I'm not leaving you alone with him in your current state."

"I'm not drunk," Nick growled.

"No? Then expalin why a Swiffer Wet Jet looks like a freaking midget to you then, please. I'm quite interested in this one," I retorted, then added before he could speak, "You always complained when you were younger about how horrible your Dad was for getting drunk and letting you down but right now Nick --- right now, you're exactly like him."

Nick, who'd been on the war path thirty seconds prior, now froze and his face fell and he stared at me with wide, deeply hurt eyes. Tears started to fall down from the corners and he dropped onto the couch in a defeated way as Bentley screamed from the crib. Nick looked up at me, "She hit me in the crotch," he whispered, "Really... really... really hard."

"You cheated on her, you deserved it."

"Yeah, I know," Nick replied.

"Where is she now?" I asked. I sat down next to him.

"She left," he whispered.

I sighed and pulled Bentley out of the crib and sat down next to Nick. Ben struggled against my grip, trying to climb onto Nick, but I wouldn't let go of him. I imagined him getting some sort of contact high off Nick's breath from all the JD. Nick leaned back into the cushions, but rolled his head to look at Bentley. "She was okay when it was just the Starbucks girl," he said quietly, sadly. "She was gonna give me a do-over. Til she found out about Benny."

I glanced at Nick.

He reached out a hand and let Ben grab onto his finger. Bentley pulled Nick's finger into his mouth and started teething on Nick's knuckle. Nick smiled in a sleepy sort of way. "I thought women were supposed to like babies?"

"When they come from their wombs or when they belong to complete strangers," I answered, nodding, "Not when they come from the girl your boyfriend knocked up."

Nick sighed. "Am I really like my dad?" he asked after a long moment of Ben sucking on Nick's finger. Ben pulled the finger out and analyzed it, staring at his own drool hanging off it, before sticking it back in his mouth.

"You don't have to be," I answered.
Chapter 11 by Pengi
Chapter Eleven

I woke up the next morning and smiled at the feel of an arm around my chest and a soft head pressed into the crook of my neck. Lauren had changed her mind. Things had just spiraled because we were both a little drunk. That was all.

"Mmm, baby," I mumbled. "Closer."

The hand that was on my chest slid up and tried to squeeze at my flat chest. It tried again.

A grunt of frustration filled the air. A very non-female-ian grunt.

My eyes flew open. Two things made me want to scream. First was the light pounding into my sensitive retinas.

The second was Brian Littrell cuddled up to me in bed.

"AHH!! Get off!"

His eyes flew open. I stopped screaming. We stared at each other.

"This is awkward," he said. I swiped at the hand still on my chest.

"Stop grabbing me!"

Once he realized what he was doing, he did a tuck and roll off the bed. I scrambled to my feet and held my head.

"What happened?" I asked.

"When?"

"With the midget."

"There was no midget. It was a mop. I caught Danny pranking you in retaliation for you putting a dirty diaper on his bus. I was making him clean up."

"It looked like a midget," I mumbled.

"Anyhow, there was no way I was going to leave Bentley with you like...that. You passed out on the couch and I fell asleep in here on the bed so I could hear Ben if he started to cry. You must have staggered in here sometime during the night.

A foggy memory of Brian telling me I was a fuck-up for a dad surfaced. I scratched my stomach and looked towards the crib. A blue eye peeked at me from between the bars.

"Ha!"

Brian whirled around at the sound of the happy baby laugh. "Hewwo Benner," he simpered. "Did you sweep well?"

I grabbed a pair of sunglasses and looked down at the floor. "It looks like Wood sweeped well," I joked. Bri gave me a look. Behind the darkened lenses my head started to throb less. I held up my hands.

"What?"



"No, I need these."

"Unh."

Ben leaned forward, his right hand pressing into the blanket, his left reaching up towards my face to the glasses he had already yanked off four times.

"No, my eyes hurt."

"UNNNNNHHHH!" His face squinched up and his cheeks turned pink.

"Hey drunky, get that ball behind you," Bri commanded. He was doing something in the kitchen; I couldn't tell what. I turned around and grabbed a mini-basketball. I tossed it lightly at the baby. It hit his forehead and rolled a foot away from his chubby foot. Rok gasped.

"You idiot, you don't throw it at him!"

Ben froze in place for a second. Then he grinned.

"HAHAHAHA"!

I smiled. "Well, he likes it!" I shot back. I picked the ball up again and tossed it again. Ben watched as it hit his leg.

"HAHAHAHAHA!" He grabbed it with his fat fingers.

"Gimme," I said, wiggling my own towards his.

He paused for only a second before letting it go. I've got to say it was the best baby throw I've ever seen. And I've seen quite a few. Baylee had nothing on this guy. I caught the ball and grinned.

"Good job!"

Ben's hands smacked together in a clap, his face crinkling in delight as I hit him in the cheek at the same time.

"BWHAHAHAHAHAHH AHAHAHAHHAHA!"

"Who's hungry?" Bri called out.

I lifted my arm. "Me!"

"Not you," he responded. He came out of the kitchen. He handed me a black apron and smiled googly-like at Ben.

"I'm giving your daddy his first lesson in baby food. How bout it Ben?"

The future Celtics MVP grinned right at me.

"BWHAHAHAHAHHAH AHAHAH!"

**********


Bentley sat in the highchair with wide eyes as Nick waved a spoon in front of his nose. "Eat Ben," he begged. He looked up at me, narrowed his eyes, then turned back to Bentley. He hissed the words under his breath, "Please, you're making me look bad."

I put my hand on my hip.

Nick had the freshly smashed veggies still in a pan and was waving around a Goliath-sized spoon. "Don't make me do the plane, Benny, please," he begged.

Ben stared at Nick, eyes almost crossed as he pushed the spoon against Ben's thick lower lip. He bounced the spoon and Ben's little lips wiggled unvoluntarily, but his gums didn't budge. His eyes were skewed as tightly in toward his nose as he could possibly get them, staring at the spoon in Nick's hand. Nick warbled the spoon. "Please, Bentley."

"Seriously, doing airplane noises is embarassing to you?" I asked for like the fiftieth time.

"Yes, actually..." Nick snapped. He pulled the spoon back.

"You, whose farts could cause tsunamis if you were in the ocean... You, who whines like you're younger than the kid you're trying to stuff food into... You, who... are you," I said, "Are embarassed to go vroom?"

"Vroom," Nick said, in a very matter-of-a-fact voice, "Is not a plane, it is a car."

I raised my eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yes, for your information," he answered.

"And what do planes do?"

He opened his mouth, about to answer, when Bentley said, "Phooo."

Nick looked at Bentley. "Did he just call me a foo'?" He looked at me.

"Probably," I answered.

Nick's eyes widened. "His first words to me is to call me a fool?!" His cheeks pinked and he looked at me, panicked.

"Relax, Nick," I said, "He was just babbling."

"But his first word was fool!" Nick stood up, taking the spoon and pan with him. Bentley's fat arms reached up after him, waving his fingers like June bugs toppled over on their backs. "His first word was to make fun of me." Nick looked devastated.

"Po me noppffff!" Bentley cried, but not loudly. He kicked his feet, trying to make contact with Nick.

"His first words weren't to make fun of you, will you please calm the H- E- double hockey-sticks down?" I said, "He didn't say fool. He made a sound like fool."

Nick leaned against the counter, completely out of Ben's range of motion now. That didn't stop Benny, though. He reached as hard as he could, practically folding himself over the side of the highchair. "Baaaahhh!" he begged.

"Just 'cos he can't say the word, doesn't mean he doesn't have the emotion!" Nick said dramatically as he waved the pan. "I knew this would happen. The kid resents me."

Bentley's fingers jiggled and his lower lip quivered.

"I don't think he resents you," I said, "Other than for taking the food away."

Nick looked at Ben and realized he'd migrated away. "Oh." He sat down on the chair in front of Ben's high chair again and stared at the kid. "Sorry," he added awkwardly. He held the spoon up to Ben's mouth but, once again, Bentley clamped his gums shut and all Nick succeeded in doing was jiggling Benny's lips.

"Fine," he said, "Ok. Fine. Here. Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnnn-rooom..." Nick waved the spoon around in the air, "Heeeeeeere comes the plane," he said, waving the spoon around, "Open up the tarmac, lil man." Ben opened his mouth, giggling as Nick made the noise, and Nick brought the spoon down...closer... closer... and into Bentley's mouth. Ben took the bite, gnoshed it with his gums. He looked happy for point oh-two seconds, then pulled a face and violently spit the food onto the high chair's tray.

"BEH!" he cried.

Nick smashed his face against the tray.

"BWAHHAHAHAHAHA!!" Bentley clapped.

Nick looked up. "You enjoy torturing me?" he asked, "Dude, if you don't eat, you're gonna look like one of those kids in Eat-me-ophelia --"

"Ethiopia," I corrected.

"-- with the distemper."

"Distemper? What? Dogs get distemper."

Nick looked up. "Maybe he juts doesn't like the food?" he asked.

I rolled my eyes. "Please," I said. "I made this stuff for Baylee every single day. He loved it."

Nick looked at the pan. "It looks like throw up. Chunky throw up."

"It's cucumbers and squash and --"

Nick lifted the spoon to his mouth and swallowed a large mouthful of the food.

"NICK!" I yelled, "That's for Bentley!"

Nick chewed for point oh-two seconds, then pulled a face and spit. "BEHis right!" he shouted. Bentley laughed and clapped in utter delight. He grabbed the spit up cloth from the counter and, ignoring - or not noticing - the fact that there was bright white spit up marks all over it, rubbed it across his tongue, which he'd stuck out like he was Gene Simmons or something. "Ughhhh," he groaned. He threw the pan onto the counter and used the spoon to push it further away. "No-the-fuck-wonder!"

"You are being ridiculous."

"RIDICULOUS?!" he wailed. He pointed at it, "YOU eat it, then, you think I'm being ridiculous!"

I grabbed the spoon from his grasp and spooned a large mouthful of the concoction into my mouth. Chewing. "Oh Lord," I gasped. I spit into the pan. I looked at Nick. Bentley's face was screwed up in laughter. "Okay so he doesn't like the taste of the food."

Nick grinned and looked at Ben. "High five, lil dude." He held up his hand and, amazingly, Bentley pressed his palm to the center of Nick's and gave a great guffaw of joy.
Chapter 12 by Pengi
Chapter Twelve

One week later

"Mmmmm."

"No, none for me, thanks."

"Mmmmm!"

Ben wiggled a banana slice towards my face. I shook my head.

"Nope, all those naners are for you."

He squished it between his fingers, swiped it along the tray and picked up a Cheerio. He held the little round oat out towards me.

"Mmmmm!"

"I bet that is 'mmmm,' but you need to eat it," I said.

His lower lip began to quiver. I didn't fall for it when anyone was around. I usually hid my face behind my phone or a magazine. But mornings like these, when we were alone, I tended to give in. It didn't ruin my image if no one saw, right?

"Okay," I said. I opened my mouth and leaned forward. A rush of banana-y oat taste flooded my mouth as he practically ran his finger all around the inside of my mouth before dropping it on my tongue. I chewed with vigor, even though the one Cheerio had dissolved quickly.

"Mmmm," I said with a smile. I reached down and shook the bowl. "Now eat."

For the past week, Brian had tried a different baby food concoction that he swore Baylee had loved. Every day, Bentley about threw up in his mouth. After day one, I had just learned to take his word for it. The kid was happy just with bananas, Cheerios, and bottles.

How easy was that?

I sat back in my chair and watched as he alternated between the two foods on his chair. I was just contemplating giving him a bath solo (something I hadn't done yet), when the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Mr. Carter?"

"Yes?"

"This is Michelle from Dr. Bailey's office. We have those test results you requested."

As if he knew, Ben looked up and grinned. A top tooth had now joined the bottom in their race of popping out through his gums. My heartrate sped up.

"Okay," I said stupidly.

"The test results show that Bentley is your son."

As if to send the point home, Ben chose that moment to ram a Cheerio up his nose. His eyes bugged out of his head when it didn't drop right back out.

"NO!" I yelled.

"Mr. Carter, we know these decisions can be overwhelming. If you just take some t--"

I disconnected, tossed the phone behind me and grabbed Ben's hand out of his nostril. He began to cry.



"Okay, Baylee did this a couple times. Kevin told me Mason stuck a marble up his nose one time. This is a common accident. We can handle this. Nick, press your finger against his unclogged nostril."

I hesitated. "How's he supposed to breath?"

Brian looked at me strangely. "Through his mouth?"

"Oh. Right."

I pressed my forefinger against Ben's nostril. He tried to turn away, grunting in frustration. Leighanne had a hold of his hands so he wouldn't keep ramming his hand up there. Tears welled in his eyes from being pinned down. He gave a little wounded animal moan. It killed me.

"Now what?" I snapped.

Bri and Leighanne did this weird couple's jedi mind trick thing. After a second, he nodded and dove in. He lifted Ben's shirt and blew a giant raspberry on his stomach.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

The momentum of Ben's laughter caused him to snort. With the snort came a booger-covered Cheerio. It landed on Bri's nose as he sat back. I snorted. Ben re-snorted. Bri swiped at it and just looked proud. Weirdo.

After the snorting ended and reality set in, I grew sober. I looked at Leighanne. I looked at Bri. Now that I knew Ben was really my son, I was legally responsible for him.

And I was doing a shitty job.

"I got the phone call from Dr. Bailey's office this morning. He's my son," I said numbly. "He could have died this morning," I said morosely. "I can't do this. What am I suppose to do when tour's over? I can't call you guys all the time. You live in Alabama."

"Atlanta," Brian corrected. "In Georgia."

"Same difference," I said.

"You could always--" Leighanne began to say, but Brian cut her off.

"No, babe."

Her face crumpled. "But..."

I looked between the two of them in utter confusion.

"What's going on?"

**********


"HE'S GOING TO GIVE HIM UP!" Leighanne screamed, slamming the bedroom door. She started unbuttoning her dress, her arms lobster-clawed behind her and flailing in anger. I hurried behind her and she dropped her arms and I unbuttoned her. She was sobbing, her shoulders shaking, only making the unbuttoning that much harder. "If he doesn't keep Bentley he's going to go to into social services," she gasped, "He's going to end up tossed around the system until somebody takes him and they'll be complete strangers..."

"Honey, we don't know he's going to give him up yet," I answered.

Leighanne whipped around. I swear about five buttons had popped off because of my grip on the fabric, but she didn't seem to notice or care about the riiiip sound. She stared into my eyes, her eyes solemn. "Oh my God," she whispered, "You don't want a baby."

"Leighanne it's not that, it's just that I --"

"AFTER ALL THIS TIME," she wailed. She grabbed the hem of her dress and ripped it off, threw it across the pile of suitcases we had in the corner and stood there in her lingerie. "After all this time, you - you've - you've given up, you..." Her entire body shook as she cried it out.

"Leigh, he's gotta call the police, okay? That's all he's doing. He's gonna try to find Ben's mom, find out what's going on. Leigh..."

She was seriously shaking.

"Please, trust me," I whispered, pulling her into my chest, "I know Nick. I know he can do this... and deep down, whether he realizes it or not, he wants to do this."

"What if he doesn't realize it in time?" Leighanne asked.

I rubbed her back, "He'd ask me before he let Ben go. He'd ask me." I looked into Leighanne's eyes. "You have to trust that I know he would ask me."

Leighanne nodded and pressed her eyes into my chest. "Mmhmpphfffpmmmh," she said. I pulled her back, holding her out at arm's length. She laughed through tears. "I can't believe I'm this upset we don't have a genetic manifestation of Nick Carter to raise."

I laughed loudly.



Nick was fidgeting.

I smoothed Ben's t-shirt and tried to swipe his cheek with a paper towel to get a stain of God knows what off his face. I wondered what Nick had been feeding him besides potential choking hazards. I glanced at Nick but he was busy staring at his sneakers, his knee bouncing with stress. I looked at Bentley and tried swiping his cheek again. "Pohhhff," Ben cried, whacking my hand away. He looked at Nick, too. "Gaba bah," he whimpered.

Nick looked over, alert. "What Ben?" he asked.

"Gaba bah!" Ben reached out his arms for Nick and stretched towards him. Nick plucked him up from my lap and set him on his own lap.

I raised my eyebrow.

Nick looked at me. "What?" he asked.

I shook my head.

Nick turned red. "Gaba bah means he wants me to pick him up," he said.

I smirked.

Nick turned back to Bentley and noticed the stain on his face. "Ben what the hell do you got all over you?" he spit onto his hand and, like my mom used to do to me at the mall, used the spit and his thumb to wipe away the food stain.

And this is why I hadn't let Leighanne ask. Nick would've agreed so fast to letting us keep Ben, and we would've but just a little bit longer and maybe he'd actually care about the kid.

Nick sighed, "How the frick long does it take a cop to drive across town, I mean Jesus they've got the lights, right? He probably stopped at frickin' Starbucks."

A throat cleared and we looked up to see Donnie Wahlberg standing there with a fully uniformed cop behind him. "Look what I found in the lot outside," Donnie said as he lowered a pair of those polarized sunglasses and stared at Nick over the top of the lens. "You've got company, Carter," he said in a low I feel like I'm on the set of Blue Bloods so I'm gonna talk dramatic sort of voice.

The cop held out his hand, stepping around Donnie, "My name is Officer Welsch," he said, taking Nick's hand. "I'm here to talk to you about your son."

I tried not to laugh at the Starbucks cup he had in his oather hand.
Chapter 13 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Thirteen

"What is Britney's last name?"

I had given the officer the note. He glanced over the top of it at me. I grabbed Ben's fist; he had been attempting to stuff the entire thing in his mouth. He grunted and smacked the front of his diaper. Since he had so much plastic ass sack covering his lower half, I'm sure his baby nuts didn't feel a thing.

"Her last name?" I repeated. "I dunno."

The officer's mouth twitched. Wahlberg was straddling one of my chairs, observing the cop's mannerisms closely. I tried not to roll my eyes.

"What does she look like?"

"She was wearing a Starbucks smock."

Wahlberg laughed. Brian just looked at Ben in sympathy. The officer didn't write down my description.

"I meant, physically. Not..."

"Wardrobe-ly?" I filled in. Wahlberg mouthed the word. The cop took a sip of his coffee. "Sure."

I thought back. It wasn't like I had memorized every feature. There were only two important things that I remembered. Large rack and smooth--

"She was blonde," I said. I bit my lip. "Tall. Not as tall as me, but still...leggy. I don't remember anything else."

"Any birthmarks or tattoos?"

"N--wait! She had a butterfly on her left ass cheek."

"Nice," Wahlberg said.

"It might be stretched out now though," I said.

"I hate to ask, but...why?" Bri asked.

"Don't women's asses get bigger when they're pregnant?"

"I like big butts and I cannot lie..." Donny sang.

"Nick, you're an idiot," Bri said.

"FOO!" Bentley giggled.

"Again, he calls me a fool!" I cried.

"She worked at the Starbucks in Nashville right by Music Row?" the officer asked, ignoring my whine.

"That I know for sure; yup."

"Okay," the officer flipped his Steno pad closed. "We'll see what we can find out."

"What happens after you do find her?" I asked.

The officer reached out and rubbed Ben's fuzzy head.

"Then it's up to the two of you."


**********


It was three o'clock in the morning.

Bang, bang,bang,bang.

I groaned.

"Brian," Leighanne whispered.

BANG,BANG,BANG,BANG.

"Bri!! Dude open up!" Nick's voice was muffled.

"Brian, Nick's banging on the door."

I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my face.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzt.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzt.

"Brian." Leighanne's voice was low.

BANG,BANG,BANG,BANG,BANG.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzz zt.
"BRIAN!"

"For the love of Carter." I threw my blankets away and got up.

"If he doesn't need anything, can you grab me a yogurt on your way back?" Leighanne called after me.

I don't think she heard me grumble unmentionables under my breath as I waddled to the door of the bus. I could literally feel that my hair was on end. Sleep crumbs clogged my eyes. I whipped the door open.

Nick was standing there with Bentley. Bentley had a trail of oozy snot coming out of his nose. "He's leaking," Nick said, his voice panicky. "He was coughing." He shoved Bentley into my arms. "Fix it."

I blinked.

"FIX IT!" Nick wailed.

"Are you kidding me?" I asked, "You woke me up because he's got a snotty nose?" I pushed Bentley back to Nick. "Dude, wipe it with a Kleenex."

"But he's coughin'," Nick explained.

I reached out and felt Ben's forehead. I woke up a little bit. "Oh Lord he's sick."

"SICK?" Nick's voice climbed a couple octaves.

"Go back to your bus and lay him down. Wipe off those boogies and I'll be there in a minute. Let me give Leighanne her yogurt and grab the thermometer."

Nick nodded and scurried away quickly.

I turned back to the bus and snagged a yogurt out of the fridge before going to give it to Leighanne. She was sitting up. "What's the matter?" she asked.

"Ben's running a temp," I answered. I smiled as I tossed the yogurt to her. "He's panicking."

She raised an eyebrow. "Why are you smiling then?"

"He gives a shit."



"I know Carters are supposed to be hot, Benny, but this is ridiculous," Nick was whispering, "Don't take it so far, buddy. You'll have plenty of time to be hot later, when you're grown up. I promise... yes I do..." He wasn't aware I was there. I cleared my throat. Nick jumped about 12 gazillion miles and whipped around to look at me. He cleared his throat back. "I was just... talking... to.. to calm him.. down." He cleared his throat again.

I shrugged. Inside I was doing a hula dance. Maybe Nick would get the hang of this after all.
Chapter 14 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Fourteen

"I'm taking him to the hospital as soon as we get to our next stop."

"Nick, babies get colds. Baby Tylenol, Kleenex, and lots of TLC is all he needs."

I looked down at Bentley, sprawled in my arms, doped up on baby Tylenol, and breathing heavily and frowned. "Brian, let me tell you a story."

He rubbed the topped of his head and sank down wearily on the floor. "Oh Lord."

"It's about goldfish."

"Goldfish?" I nodded. "When I was seven, I wanted a pet."

"Nick, your family had a freakin' zoo."

I shook my head. "No, you don't understand. I wanted a pet that was just mine. I didn't want to share."

"That sounds like you," Bri muttered under his breath.

"I heard that."

He grinned.

"Anyhow, mom decided that I could have a goldfish. I got a little, round plastic bowl and we went to the pet store and I got this awesome orange and black goldfish that I named He-Man."

"He-Man?"

"Awesome show."

Bri nodded. "Agreed."

"Anyhow, I had He-Man for three days before I found him belly up in the water. I cried so hard, but mom wouldn't let me get another one. So my grandma took me to the pet store and we got this white and orange goldfish."

"He-Man 2?"

I stared at Bri like he was crazy. "No. She-ra."

"Of course."

"I watched her like hawk. On the second day, I thought her bubbles looked a little funny. On day three she died. I wanted another goldfish, but no one would get me one. So I saved my money and got a third goldfish."

"Skeletor?"

"No, dummy. She-ra 2."

Bri fell back on the ground. "Nick, what's your point?" he asked, staring up at the ceiling.

"I'm just saying that I don't want Ben to be like my goldfish. So I'm going to take him to the doctor. Bri, I seem to kill everything. Goldfish, relationships. .."

"That's because you probably overfed the goldfish and you cheat during relationships."

I scowled. "You're not helping."

He sat up. "Sorry. If it makes you feel better, then once we stop take him in."

I looked back down. Ben's eyes opened. He looked confused. His hand went to his nose and he started to cry.

"Oh, buddy," I whispered. I leaned down and kissed his forehead.

"Y'know he probably got the Nick disease."

"The Nick disease?"

Bri grinned. "I heard a couple girls talking about it at soundcheck the other day. They were even carrying Nick hand sanitizer."

"What? That's insane! I'm not germy!"

"You don't wash your hands after you go to the bathroom."

I squirmed. "I do to. Most of the time." Ben drooled on my shoulder. "Do you think I really did make him sick?" I began to sweat. "God, I suck at this!"

Bri scrambled to his feet. His legs were chicken-white again. He scratched his stomach.

"Nick, you don't suck at this. You don't give yourself enough credit."

My eyes darted down to the floor. I wanted to believe him, but I had a nice dose of insecurity that reared its ugly head at the worst of times.

"He's be better of with you and Leighanne. I mean, you guys want a baby. I don't even deserve him."

**********


My blood ran cold, and I swear the air got thinner. Did the air get thinner? Maybe oxygen just disappeared from it. I couldn't breathe. I stared at Nick. I could hear Leighanne screaming in my head to prod his logic forward, to encourage what he was saying. I stood there like a total idiot, my tongue feeling swollen in my mouth.

Nick stared down at Ben, his eyes glistening. Ben stuck out a hand - a tiny, chubby hand. His fingers connected to Nick's nostril and wiggled around inside, gripping the wall of his nose. Nick smiled as Bentley gurbled and grinned a wet, snotty-nosed smile up at him. A tear ran down Nick's cheek. "I wish I was better for you Benny-Ben-Bentley," he whispered.

I opened my mouth to tell Nick he was being good at it, but my throat seemed to constrict. What was I doing? Why was I encouraging Nick to keep a baby? This was Nick Carter, the partier, the crazy, single man who liked to bounce from woman to woman. He was a manwhore. He'd done the girl behind the Starbucks counter. He was no father.

And yet he was.

But I'd been wanting a kid for years, since Baylee was born, we'd been trying again and again. We'd tried and seen specialists, and we'd had so much sex it'd felt like a job. We'd done embarassing tests and I'd jerked off into a cup and we'd had eggs and sperm cocktails made in petrey dishes and in vitro fertilization treatments done and... and for what? For a miscarriage, for a night of horror and loneliness and years of couple's therapy to get over it... and Nick, what'd he done for the kid? Opened his front door?

I deserved Ben. I'd earned Ben.

"Dada," Ben cooed, tugging Nick's nostril.

Nick froze. His eyes widened. "What?" he whispered.

"Dada," Ben giggled.

Nick looked up at me, wide eyes full of shock and... hope.

My throat closed off even more. I might've deserved and earned... but Nick... Nick needed. I took a deep breath. "Sounds like Ben thinks you make a good dad, Nick," I said.

"Dada!" Ben agreed.

A smile spread across Nick's face, and he looked down at Bentley. "You're not a goldfish," he said quietly, "But you'll do."
Chapter 15 by Pengi
Chapter Fifteen

"Oh my goodness, isn't he just too cute for words. Aren't you a handsome little guy?"

I was standing at the pharmacy counter, waiting for the clerk to get Ben's prescription. One long night and one early morning's visit to the doctor proved that I had caught Ben's bug early.

I couldn't help but be a little proud.

As the feminine voice continued to coo, I turned around, my eyes going right to Ben strapped chilling out in his carseat in the car. A pretty girl with light brown hair was leaning over talking to Ben.

"Gabehala!"

"I think that means good morning," I said.

The girl, no woman, whirled around. She was even prettier from the front.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," I said.

She smiled. I saw her gaze drift to my toes and back up. Ha, she SO checked me out! "No, you didn't. Is this your son?"

It was the first time anyone had ever asked me that. I hesitated for a second. I hadn't been kidding when I had told Brian he and Leigh would make better parents. But then he had called me dada. Even now he was looking at me, gnawing on a soggy blanket and sniffling.

"Yup."

"What's his name?"

"Bentley."

"Aww like Maci's son on Teen Mom?"

"Does everybody watch that show?"

The woman laughed. "Probably. Does your wife watch it?"

Wife. That was a scarier word than dad.

"I'm not married."

"Oh...girlfrien d?"

"Nope," I glanced over at Bentley. He was making eye contact with the woman's boobs and I swear his drooling had increased. I looked back at her with sad eyes.

"No, his mom just left him."

Jackpot. Her face softened. "Oh my god, that's so sad."

"Yeah, it's been rough." That wasn't a lie. I held out my hand. "Nick."

She smiled. Her hand felt all little as she put it in mine.

"Kelsey."

"Mr. Carter, your prescription is ready."

I dropped her hand and turned to look at the pharmacist. I don't know how many people remember the game, but there was a Nintendo Tetris game called Dr. Mario. The dude looked just like Mario.

"Thanks," I said. I took a step away from the cart and Kelsey. I paid for the prescription and watched as she continued to coo over Bentley. As Dr. Mario went back to his word of red and blue colored pills, I had inspiration.

"Kelsey, how would you like to have lunch with the two of us?"

"Foo!" Bentley squealed as she ran her fingers over his stomach. For good measure, he sneezed on her hand. She didn't flinch or run for the antibacterial soap. She looked up, her eyes sparkling.

"I'd love to."

**********


"I can't believe he all but handed you the baby and you said enouraged him to keep him," Leighanne complained, almost in tears. She stared out the window of the car. Baylee kicked the back of my seat in a steady drum beat. Thump, tha-thump-tha-thump...

"It's not like he's ours to try to comandeer, Leigh," I answered, steering through rush hour traffic to the restaurant we'd selected out of the book at the hotel. I gripped the wheel.

Thump, tha-thump-tha-thump...

"But what is Nick going to do with a kid?" Leigh whined. She looked at me, her lower lip protruding sadly. She wiped at her eyes, then turned away again.

Thump, tha-thump-tha-thump...

"You didn't see his face when Bentley said dada, Leigh," I said back, "It was like the sunshine got turned on in the dead of night or something. His eyes just lit up and -- Baylee, knock it off," I said, glowering at him in the rearview mirror. Baylee's eyes leveled with mine and crossed his arms, but his legs dropped and my back had some relief.

"What do you need a stupid baby for anyways?" Baylee demanded, "We don't need another kid. You've got me."

Leighanne turned in her seat, "Of course we have you, sweetie, but wouldn't you like a little brother?"

"No."

"Leighanne, seriously, we're not gonna get Bentley because Baylee agrees to it," I said. "Look, really it's Nick's choice, it's his kid. How would you like it if you had a kid and --"

"I'm a mother," she said, "Nick's -- Nick's a playboy. What happens the first time he realizes he can't go partying because it's Thursday and the little guy's favorite TV show's on Thursday? What happens the first time Nick's got a woman over and he can't ---" she glanced Baylee's direction, "---play Monopoly with her because Ben's still awake."

"I'm like practically nine mom, I know what sex is," Baylee groaned.

Leighanne's eyes widened. "WHAT?"

I gripped the wheel even tighter as Baylee explained about the health textbook's write up and Leighanne's face turned several shades of puce. He started kicking the back of my seat again. Thump, tha-thump-tha-thump..

By the time we'd arrived at the restaurant, I was almost too exhausted to eat. I followed Leighanne and Baylee through the doors nonetheless, though, and once the smell of steak and potatoes hit my nostrils my stomach growled. I was starving, I was gonna eat a half of a cow! I was gonna --

"Oh. My. God." Leighanne's voice was awestruck and angry at the same time.

I looked up and promptly wished I hadn't.



"She smells like soap Brian," Nick said two minutes later. We'd walked into the restaurant and found Nick at a booth with a leggy brunette wrapped around him, Ben chilling in his seat next to Nick gnawing on a cloth napkin, and Nick's tongue halfway down the chick's throat. Leighanne's point proven, I knew I'd be forced to listen to her complain the entire way back to the hotel.

"So you felt the need to inspect her tonsils with your tongue?" I demanded.

Nick looked bashful.

"Seriously Nick," I leaned against the sink counter and crossed my arms. "Where the hell did you pick her up from?"

"The pharmacy. I was getting Ben some meds and --"

"Ben's still sick and you're here? Nick, Ben needs to be home, resting, not out gallavanting across the --"

"Ben IS resting," Nick argued, "How much work does it take to sit there in that lil carry-aroundy-chair?" he demanded.


"Leighanne's right," I muttered, running a hand across my face.

Nick raised an eyebrow. "Right? Right about what, exactly?"

I didnt' know what to say, because I didn't really mean to say the Leighanne is right part. I swallowed. "Nevermind," I stammered, and I quickly made my way out of the bathroom.
Chapter 16 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Sixteen

"Can you believe him? Can you? He was practically accusing me of not caring. Yes, I pretend not to care, but..." I leaned close to the crib. Ben kept staring up at me. "I do care."

I swear he nodded. I smiled and pressed my lips against his forehead. After only the second dose of meds, his fever had faded.

"Night night. Don't let the giraff-ies bite."

With that, I stood up and clicked off the light. I crawled into bed and smashed my face into the pillow. Brian's attitude was still irking me. Yes, I had found myself in a liplock with Kelsey. And yes I probably would have slept with her if I was given the chance. But I hadn't.

And why not?

Well, truthfully none of the reasons were really initiated by me. Kelsey had explained she didn't go farther than a kiss on the first date. And seeing that we were already headed to the next city, who knew when the next date would be? All I had was a phone number.

"Babagofalata."

I rolled over onto my back. "Can't you sleep?"

"Foo."

I crawled back out of bed. Ben sat up and rubbed his eyes with a chubby fist. "Foo," he repeated.

I lifted him out of the crib. "You hungry?" I asked. He didn't respond. He clung to my shoulder, nuzzling his head into my neck. I walked out to the kitchenette, but the sight of a bottle didn't get him to stop clinging. We headed back to the bedroom.

"It was a long night last night, Benny," I said. The bed creaked as I sat down. "Your daddy needs his handsome sleep."

"Pfffftt."

I laughed and lay back against my pillows. Ben let go of my neck and I slid him by his legs down my chest. His eyes sparkled. He propped himself up on his hands and knees.

And he crawled back up.

"You stinker!" I said. "I didn't know you could crawl."

"BWHAHAHA!" His arms gave out and his cheek slammed into my chest.

"Then again, I haven't given you much chance to practice have I?" I asked. "Brian's pretty much insisted I keep you clinging to me like a blonde, hairy mole."

"Maaa."

I yawned. He still hadn't lifted his cheek. I rubbed my hand over his soft, fuzzy head.

He wasn't what I usually fell asleep under (that would be a naked woman), but it wasn't a bad change.

Not at all.



A hungry cry woke me up. There's nothing quite like a infant-toddler, ergo a infaddler, screaming right against your own lips.

"Dude!"

The cries lessened to a frustrated whimper. Just from the smell, I could tell he had left me a present. I held onto him and did a roll off the mattress.

I was half-way through his diaper change when Brian walked in. I had figured out the key to changes was to occupy him with a bottle while changing him. He was so distracted he forgot to shoot pee into my mouth.

It was a win all around.

"Hey."

"Hey," I said.

"He feeling better?"

"Yup."

Bri came into my peripheral view. "Listen, Nick...I'm..."

"You let your wife rip up your man card."

I don't think Bri was expecting that. I secured the sticky tabs and patted the clean ass sack. Ben rolled side to side. I grabbed the bottle and he sat back up. With a loud, happy 'plop' I stuck it back in his mouth. Only then did I turn to see just how bad I had pissed Brian off.

**********


"My man card is perfectly healthy," I snapped. I could feel my blood pressure pounding out a tattoo somewhere near my ears and eyes. Like in my temples. Leighanne hadn't stopped the entire way home from the restaurant. Baylee had resumed kicking my seat, whining we didn't need a baby, while Leighanne kept saying all this stuff about me getting looked at... and now Nick was saying I was inept, without a man card. "Just because you can't keep your man card in your wallet doesn't mean that I don't have one," I yelled.

Nick looked completely taken aback, a bewildered expression on his face. "Brian I didn't mean that," he said. Bentley was clutching Nick's shoulders, staring at me with wide eyes. Despite the fact that I could tell by the shocked expression on Nick's face that he hadn't, my head was still on the breaking point and my fists balled and unballed with tension at my sides.

I turned and stormed off the bus into the lot. Nick scurried after me, carrying Bentley. I was vaguely aware that he'd grabbed a man bag with the curling W on the corner, and was stuffing it with diapers even as he ran after me. I jogged just a little bit, feeling better as my body moved, and also in knowing that, with the added weight of Ben, Nick was barely able to maintain my pace, and was completely unable to catch up or surpass me. Without Ben, he could've done circles around me. I could hear Bentley babbling absently.

Nick's sneakers plodded the sidewalk behind me. "Brian," he called out, panting at one point. But I didn't slow.

Ten minutes later, I couldn't keep going, either, even without the baby weight, and I dropped onto a patch of grass in front of a neon sign for an auto glass repair shop. A moment later, Nick dropped down beside me and plopped Ben onto the grass between us. Nick clutched his chest and laid down in the grass, wheezing just ever so slightly. Ben grabbed a handful of grass and picked it before spreading it over Nick's thigh.

A lump rose in my throat.

After a long moment, Nick sat up. "I was just kissing her," he said, "It wasn't going to be anything else."

My hands came to my face and I buried my cheeks into my palms, staring down at my toes. "It doesn't really matter, Nick," I mumbled, "It's really not any of my business, is it?"

I felt Nick shrug. "You're Unkie Bri-Bri," Nick said quietly, "Of course your opinion matters." He nudged me.

I sighed.

"Bri?" Nick whispered, "I'm sorry."

"For...?"

Nick hesitated. "I dunno exactly," he said honestly after a long moment, "But I feel like I should be sorry. For something." He paused. Then, "For not being there the night you lo-- the night your baby died."

I looked at him. The fact that he'd remembered not to use the term lost struck something deep within me.

"And I'm sorry too," I said back.

"For what?" Nick laughed.

"For wanting to steal your kid."

Nick looked at Bentley. "You wanted to steal Benners?"

"In the worst way," I answered. "Leighanne keeps begging me to ask you but..." I looked Nick solidly in the eyes. "You, Nick, are an amazing father."

"I am?" Nick looked up, surprised. "Me?"

"This kid adores you," I gestured at Bentley.

Nick looked at the kid. "You adore me?" he said in a googly voice.

"Dadadadadadada!" Ben cried. He belched an amazingly large saliva bubble, laughed and threw the remaining grass in his hands at Nick's chest like confetti. "Hahahaha!! DADA!"

Nick smiled.

"Nick?"

He looked up at me. "What?"

"I'm proud of you."

Nick's eyes welled with tears.
Chapter 17 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Seventeen

"Do you know how hard it is to get kids into a good preschool in L.A.?"

Brian and Leighanne shared a look, a look that was half smirk and half eyeroll. It was a...a...smoll.

"Yup."

"Bentley's not even one and these sites are telling me I'm behind. The friggin' Beckham's had their daughter whatever-Seven registered for this one place before she was even born."

"Harper Seven," Leighanne offered. She looked at Bri. "Isn't Harper a cute name?"

Bri didn't answer. I looked down at Ben, fast asleep, his mouth open and his lips slick with his own baby spittle. I smiled.

"Listen, I have something important to ask the both of you. I've been thinking and--"

Brrrrr-ing

The sound of a non-addressed book call danced through the room. I picked up my phone and checked the display. I recognized the Nashville area code. I met Leighanne's gaze, her eyes as big as saucers, and held up a finger.

"Hold that thought," I said as I connected. "Hello?"

"Nick Carter?"

"Yes?"

"This is Officer Sampson from the Tennessee Prison for Women."

"Prison?"

"I've been contacted by an Officer Welsch. I understand he's been working on your behalf to track down a Ms. Britney Fare?"

Fare. It was like a million little dingers went off in my head.

"Yeah, that's her last name!" I said, more enthusiastical ly than I wanted to. That enthusiasm waned after just a few seconds. "Did you say prison?"

Bri and Leigh exchanged worried looks while I waited for the response.

"Yes, sir. She's currently four months into a two-year sentence."

"For what?"

"Robbery."

"Robbery?" Thoughts of the pretty blonde stealing money to afford diapers and formula went through my head. Shit.

"She was an accomplice. Her boyfriend got more time."

Boyfriend. I doubted a boyfriend would rob a bank for diapers. Especially a boyfriend that wasn't Bentley's dad. I felt myself getting mad. What stupid girl...no, what idiotic mother would go along with a stupid idea like robbing a bank?

"I have something that's sorta hers," I said. "I need to talk to her."

"Visiting hours are Saturdays and Tuesdays, 8-2. Forty-five minute visits."

It was Sunday. We didn't have to be in Ottawa until the fourth. I glanced back over at Ben.

"I'll be in town tomorrow," I said. "Make it Tuesday, one o'clock."

The officer took down more of my information before I disconnected. I looked at the couple across from me. Leighanne looked like she was going to explode if she didn't find out what was going on. The problem was that I didn't even know the whole story.

"I need a favor," I said quietly. I reached over and snuggled Bentley's blanket right under his chubby chin.

"Can you watch Bentley for a little bit?"

**********


It'd started at the airport. Ben had slept all the way over, and through the bustling crowd as people shoved past Nick and I. Nick had on the kangaroo pouch and Ben's little legs had wobbled like jell-o the whole time. Then we'd gotten to the security checkpoint and it was time to say good-bye. Nick had pulled Benny out of the pouch and Ben had cooed up at Nick with a big, happy grin and grabbed at his father's lower lip happily. "Dadadada," he'd babbled, laughing.

Nick kissed Ben's forehead. "I'ma miss you Benny-Ben-Bentley," he murmured, his eyes getting misty and voice lowering sadly. "But I'm gonna go see your momma..." he added.

Bentley tugged Nick's earlobe.

While Nick got his face abused, pushed, and pulled by the baby, I'd strapped the kangaroo pouch onto my chest. "Okay Nick, you're gonna miss your flight," I pointed out.

Nick's lower lip puckered out and he kissed Ben again, then said, "Don't forget me, lil dude, okay? I pwomisshhh I'll be back in no time. It'll be like peek-a-boo." He dropped Ben into the pouch, then covered his eyes. "Uhoh, Benny, where did you goooo?" Ben babbled and laughed and kicked. Nick pulled his hands away. "PEEK A BOO!" he said, leaning in and kissing Ben's nose.

"Nick, your plane?"

"I know.. I know..." Nick stared at Bentley. "Shit," he laughed, shaking his head. "When I found him on my door step, I didn't want nothin' to do with the lil guy and now..." He smiled and pet Ben's head. "Be good for Uncle Bri-Bri, Benny." His eyes focused on me. "Thanks, Frick."

"No problem, Frack."

Nick turned and walked away.

Ben's hand went out, stretching for his dad.

Nick stopped at the corner by checkpoint and waved.

Ben's lip quivered.

Nick disappeared around the corner.

And that's when the screaming began.



Bentley was like an exorcist baby.

Leighanne was near tears, sitting in the rocking chair, moving rythmically, humming and rocking, her eyes bloodshot. Baylee was sitting on the floor at her feet, his eyes drooping, hands clamped over his ears. He'd given up holding his arms up and, like Moses in the Bible when God commanded him to hold high his staff high over a war, Baylee had propped one arm up on the sofa's cushion and the other up on the shelf of an end table, and was glowering in the direction of the baby. Leighanne looked up at me, all but begging me with her eyes. "He won't stop," she cried, "He won't stop, I don't know what to do."

"He's screaming because Nick's gone," I answered, "I don't think there's anything to do."

Leighanne started crying.

"WHY DO YOU WANT A BABY AGAIN?" Baylee hollored over the noise.

"Well they aren't usually this noisy," Leighanne answered, struggling as Bentley started swinging his little baby fists as though he were Rocky. She looked up at me. "Did Nick leave any blankets or toys or --"

"No," I answered. I'd been rooting through the Wylee diaper bag Nick had given me, thinking the same thing, and found nothing.

"I NEED SLEEP!" Baylee wailed, "I can't sleep with that thing screaming!"

I sighed. "Lemme see him, Leigh."

For the first time ever, Leighanne handed off a baby without any hesitation. She looked like she was about to pass out from exhaustion. "What're you gonna do?" she asked. At that moment, she probably would've been okay if I'd suggested chuckin' the kid out the window.

"I'm going to head over to Nick's bus so yall can sleep," I answered, "Maybe the smell will help."

Baylee shook his head, "The smell of Uncle Nick?" he asked, "That'll just make him madder."

"Brian you're a saint," Leighanne answered, and she pecked my cheek before I could change my mind.



I set Bentley down on Nick's bed by the pillow and he laid into the smell, still screaming, legs kicking like he was a beetle turned on his back. I sighed and rubbed my forehead, trying to think of what the hell to do to make him stop. I picked up my phone.

"Huh-lo?" I'd definitely woken him up from a sound sleep.

"Nick?"

"Is that Ben?" Nick's voice rose, "Oh my God, what's wrong with Bentley? Oh shit is he okay? Is he hurt?"

"No he's fine, he just --" Ben let out a particularly loud squealing screech at this moment and I paused 'til he'd stopped. "--he just hasn't stopped screaming since you left. He... he misses you."

"Aw Benny," Nick's voice was sad.

"I need to know what you do when he screams at night."

Nick paused. "He doesn't."

"What?"

"Ben doesn't scream at night. He sleeps right through."

How is it that Nick got miracle child?

"Sometimes I sing to him if he does wake up though," Nick suggested, "But he never screams."

"Sing to him -- duh, of course. Okay sorry for waking you up. Go back to bed." I hung up on Nick before he could say anything else. I looked around frantically and found Nick's stereo and CDs and, of course since he's Nick, he had a copy of Taking Off sitting right on the shelf there. I quickly pulled the CD out. Bentley was screeching still. "It's okay Ben," I called, "It's okay, listen."

Ben's screaming ceased somewhere around the first bom-bomp-bomp beat of the song.

I'm burnin' up...
You... you are the g-g-game that I li-li-like to pla-ay...
And I... I-I-I- ju-ju-just wanted to know your na-ame...
The way you dance-dance-dance on the flo'...
While everybody driii-driii-drinks s'mo'...
You got me thinkin' ... Damn... I wanna take ya back home with me-ehh
In this cluuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuu b
Its so hiiiiiiiiiiiii iiiiiiiiiiiiii iiiiiigh
And you light it up it's ready to blooooooooow.. ...


I stared, incredulous as Bentley Carter fell asleep to the boomin' sounds of Nick's turbo-charged club song.
Chapter 18 by Pengi
Chapter Eighteen

"Put your arms out."

I did as I was told. The male officer patted me down. I jumped when he ran his hands a little too close to the man purse.

"Okay."

I put my arms back down. The officer walked back around and glanced at his clipboard.

"Did you bring anything for the prisoner?"

I blinked. "Was I supposed to?" I had a momentary vision of a large bouquet of flowers. Do people bring prisoners flowers?

The officer smiled. "Nope. Makes my job easier."

"That was my plan."

He didn't catch my bad joke. He pointed down a hall. "Head down this hall and go into the room at the very end at the right. A guard will bring Britney in."

"Thanks."

I felt my nerves spike as I headed down the hall. Yes, I wasn't a stranger to jail. But prisons? This was new for me. It wasn't a place I wanted to visit on a regular basis.

I just wanted answers.

When I got to the end of the hall, I opened the door on the right and entered. It was a plain room, save for the two padded chairs placed in the center. I sat down on the edge of one, folded my hands, and stared at the floor. I thought about Ben. Benny who had been screaming like he was being murdered when Bri had called. I hoped my suggestion on singing worked. I had never felt more miserable about leaving something in my life.

The sound of the door opening broke my worry cycle. I looked up just as Britney walked in. A female officer was in front of her. The officer undid Britney's cuffs and pointed at a clock on the wall.

"A half hour," she said. Britney nodded. The officer stepped aside. It was all I could do not to gasp.

My attention had gone right to Britney's protruding stomach. She didn't speak until the officer closed the door.

"So you found me," she said. She didn't sound angry. More...I dunno...resign ed?

"You're pregnant," I said. She lowered herself, as pregnant women do, awkwardly in the chair. "Tell me about it."

I pointed. "That's not mine."

"No shit. Why are you here?"

I stared at her dumbfounded. "Why am I here? You left Bentley in front of my bus!"

"Is he okay?"

I detected worry, but at the same time, a detachment. How the hell could anyone detach themselves from Bentley?

"He's fine," I said. "Why didn't you tell me about him?"

Britney smiled. "How was I suppose to do that? You're kinda hard to get a hold of! It's not like you left your number."

"Then how'd you find my bus?"

"I didn't. I've been in here forever," she said, a scowl forming.

"Then who?"

"My sister. She got knocked up too and couldn't take care of him anymore. So she hired someone to get Bentley too you."

I felt nauseous. "She just gave him to some strange guy? Did she check his credentials? Did she--"

"Listen, it worked out didn't it?"

"You tell me. Why are you here?"

She stretched out, sitting manlike in the chair. Her arm rested above her belly. She tilted her head and looked at the ceiling.

"My boyfriend and I were short on cash. He had the brilliant idea to rob a bank. We were going to take the money and head to L.A. We were going to have enough money for me to try to get an agent and for me to record my first album."

"You seriously thought you'd get away with robbing a bank?"

She looked back at me. I noticed her eyes were shiny. "We didn't have a choice. I was sick of eating Ramen Noodles and serving up frappes for famous artists who dumped my demo CD in the trash on their way out."

"You didn't give me a demo CD," I said.

"No, I didn't. It was because of you that I got to record that CD."

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. During that whirlwind week, I had brought her to the studio. I remembered recording a couple tracks in between--

"I'm sorry," I said. She shrugged.

"Not a big deal."

"Ben's a big deal."

She smiled. I don't know if it was because she was preggo, but she looked incredibly shiny and pretty when she smiled. Even in a jail jumpsuit. "You like him?"

"Of course I do. I--I love him."

"So you'll take care of him."

"Yes," I said, surprised as how strong my answer came out. "But what about you? You're still his mom. You--"

She shook her head. "I love Bentley, but I'm not mom material. It just feels like a job. Diapers, feeding. He's fussy all the time. He deserves better and you can give him that. If you're here for me to sign some paper dropping rights, just gimme a pen. I meant what I said. I love him, but I can't take care of him. Not now. Not ever."

I couldn't believe I was hearing a woman talk about a baby that way. It kinda reminded me of Lauren. Why did I pick women whose maternal instincts were the equivalent of a can of lima beans?

"Well, what about that?" I asked. I pointed at her stomach. She glanced down, almost in surprise. She opened her mouth and a cross between a sigh and a groan escaped.

"Yeah, I can't wait until this is done."

"Done?" I had visions of a turkey.

"My fucktard boyfriend knocked me up. He's doing time at the men's prison. He only wrote me once after I told him I was pregnant and that was to send me a form waving his rights. He had it made up by a lawyer and everything. That's when I knew I had to send Bentley to you. I mean, I don't have someone like you to take care of this one. I'm working with Family Services to at least get this little girl adopted out. Someone's got to want a little girl, right?"

It was as if I had a symphony. Wait, a cacophony. No, an...an...epiphany. I wanted Bentley. Britney didn't want anything to do with Bentley. Britney was pregnant. Brian and Leighanne wanted a baby, but couldn't make a baby. Britney, evidently a fertile mertle, didn't want this baby either.

"Listen, I want to help you. When you get out of here, if you decide to go to L.A., I can see what I can do to get you in to talk to the right people. As for Ben, I don't have papers for you to sign today," I found myself saying slowly. "But I can get them to you." I took a deep breath.

"And I might be able to help you with your bun situation, too."

**********


"WWWWWWWAAAAHHHH!" Bentley pushed the cheerios off the tray. "BBAAA!" The banana flew away. "WAAAAAAA!" Kick, kick, kick. More screaming.

I'd put Nick's CD on repeat. It was still playing. I knew every breath he took on the whole record. Every gasp for air, every syllable. I felt like I could've gone to town against our most obsessive fan and beat her in trying to recite Nick's lyrics. I'd love to do a Don't Forget the Lyrics rematch using I'm Taking Off for the finale.

But Bentley was not stopping. Apparently Day Three of Where's-My-Daddy was as much as Ben could take. I don't know if it was my imagination or not, but Bentley's screams were much louder than they'd been the last two days.

"Ben, you gotta eat... Please..." I tried shoving a spoonful of mashed carrots into his mouth. He deflected the spoon, sending orange mooshy matter across the room, spattering on the cabinets.

Suddenly the door to the bus opened. "Benny!" Nick's voice was excited.

Ben instantly stopped screaming and whipped his head around to look at Nick, his eyes wide. He struck his fat arms into the air. "Dadadadadadada!!" he screamed. Nick scooped the kid up from the high chair and Bentley grabbed onto his shirt in his tight fists and clung for dear life.

Nick looked at me. "You look like crap," he said.

"Thanks." I stood up and hit the stop on the stereo. I sighed a heavy breath of relief. "Oh praise the Lord. No offense or nothing, but if I heard Special one more time I was going to have to strangle you."

Nick laughed.

"I'm going to my bus, and I'm going to bed."

Nick eyed me. "Don't you wanna know about Britney?" he asked.

I was so exhausted I could barely stand up, I'd completely forgotten about why Nick was gone, only that he wasn't here to make Ben stop screaming. I stood half suspended between my desire for information and my desire to collapse onto a mattress and count sheep.

Nick's smile spread slowly, like an infectious disease. "I have something for you," he said. He slipped Ben into the high chair, where he cooed and grabbed at one of the Cheerios that hadn't take a kamakatzi dive off the side, and unzipped the duffle bag he'd dropped onto the floor by the door. He reached inside and pulled out a plain, non-descript envelope and handed it to me.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Look at it," he answered.

Cautiously, I opened the envelope. With Nick and his practical joker ways, one can never tell what might be in an unmarked envelope handed to one by him. I slit the top with my finger, and peered inside. There was a small photograph. I pulled it out. It was an ultrasound.

The black and white ultrasound image swam before my eyes. The curling shape of a baby, whose little face was silhouetted against amniotic fluids and swirling darkness, with a precious button nose and little fingers and little toes... I stared at it, then I looked up at Nick. "Who's is this?" I asked.

Nick smiled. "Yours... if ya'll want her."
Chapter 19 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Nineteen

Six Weeks Later

"Isn't he just the cutest thing!"

"Well, most people say he seems to take after his dad."

The nurse gave me 'the eyes.' Y'know the ones I'm talking about. Bedroom eyes.

"I can see that."

"Dada!" Ben said happily. He tossed the block he was holding right into the nurse's cleavage.

Nothing but net.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," I said quickly, but secretly I was glad it gave me an excuse to look. The nurse plucked the red plastic cube out, clicked her pen, scribbled something, and handed the block back to me.

"I'm not," she said. I'm pretty sure Ben and I both watched her wiggle out of the room. I glanced down at the block. I had another phone number.

"You," I said, bouncing my boy on my knee as he began to giggle. "are a babe magnet. Bri, look what the nurse just gave me."

Bri didn't answer. He and Leighanne were wearing tracks in the carpet. Leighanne was uncharacterist ically biting her nails. Her eyes flickered to the clock.

"It's been forever. Something's wrong."

"Nothing's wrong," Bri said quickly.

"We haven't heard anything."

"We're sitting in the medical ward of a State Prison," I said. "It's not like this is Birthing Suites, U.S.A," I pointed out. She turned to me.

"Thanks for being here," she said.

I shrugged. "Tour's over. I didn't have anything else to do. Anyways, me and Ben were getting tired of chillin' on a boat. And," I kissed the top of Ben's head. His hair was coming in thicker now. He was beginning to look Beiber-ish. "I thought he should see his mom at least one more time."

"Boogaaafooooooo."

"You don't think she'll change her mind do you?" Leigh asked, her voice filling with worry.

"About Ben? She already signed over full ri--"

"No. The baby."

It was all she had talked about since I had come back with the belly picture. The last few days of the tour I had seen her bring nothing but pink stuff into the bus. Bri had been bombarded with hundreds of names from those baby books.

"You know," I had said to the room-at-large the last night of tour. "To keep tradition alive you should call her Lexis. Bentley and Lexis. Ha!"

I was pretty sure no one heard me.

"I don't think she'll change her mind," I said in answer to Leigh's question. "She's still got to finish out her jail time. Besides, she said she really liked you guys when she met you a couple weeks ago."

Again, Leighanne stuck a nail in her mouth. Bri passed by her on his lap and wrapped an arm around her waist. He stopped and they just stood like that, kinda like the farmer and his wife in that creepy pitchfork painting that was, for some reason, so famous.

"Mr. and Mrs. Littrell?"

They both whirled around. Ben grabbed the red block and smashed me in the nose. "HA!"

I grabbed the block from him. At that moment I heard a cry. The prison doc was holding the baby.

"Meet your daughter."

**********


She was heavy. She had a little face and lips like a rosebud. Her eyes were the softest shade of green I'd ever seen, with these big long lashes, and her head was covered with tight, tight, tight little black curly hair that clung to her head as though it'd been painted on. My fingers ran along the curve of her wrist, where her skin dimpled. She cooed, a sound barely above a whisper.

"I wanna see," Baylee tugged at the knee of my jeans. He'd gotten on board after he'd seen the picture of the ultrasound, after he'd met Britney and felt the baby kick into his palm. Leighanne's face turned to worry as I bent, taking the baby with me, for Baylee to look at.

Nick came over, Bentley on his hip, and looked over Baylee's shoulder. "Damn," he muttered, "She's gonna be fiiiiine when she grows up!" I glowered up at him. His cheeks turned pink. "I mean... she's... she... I..." he glanced at Ben. "Help me out little guy."

"GABADAABOOOO!" Bentley cried.

"Gabadaboo," Nick repeated, "You heard the man." He grinned. I turned back to look at Baylee's awestruck face as he gently touched her hand.

"Reagan," I said. Leighanne put her hand on my shoulder, beaming. "We're naming her Reagan."

"What? No hybrid yours-and-hers name?" Nick teased.

Leighanne looked up, "Actually Reagan is part my name - Renee - and part Brian..."

I cheesed up at Nick, who looked thunderstruck. "How the hell," he muttered, "Do you keep comin' up with friggin' names that're a hybrid? Seriously..."

"Reagan Jacqueline Wylee Littrell," I said, turning back to the baby.

"REEEEEEEGAA!" cried Ben.

Nick's eyes widened.

Leighanne's did, too.

"Ben? Did you just say Reagan?" Baylee asked, turning around, "That's my sister!"

Nick's mouth split into a huge grin. "Dude... DUDE," he gasped, "They are so gonna end up married!" He paused. "Unless... Wait..." he scratched his head. "Arent' they technically brother and sister?"

"Technically, yes," I answered.

Nick frowned. Then he grinned again. "It's a good thing ya'll are from Kentucky where that shit's legal! Cos they are so gettin' hitched in twenty years!!"
Epilogue by Pengi
Chapter Twenty

One Year Later

"Happy Birthday dear Reagan, Happy Birthday to you!"

The little girl, dressed head to toe in pink, including two pink rhinestone barrettes stuck in her outrageously curly raven hair, giggled as Brian helped blow out the one candle sticking up from a silvery sugared pink cupcake. When Bri pulled back she stuck her fingers in, squealing in delight before stuffing the crazy-inducing stuff in her mouth.

"MINE!" Bentley complained.

I held out a little plastic baggie of chocolate Teddy Grahams. He looked up at me with a look that screamed - are you SERIOUS?

It was a perfect late summer day in Atlanta. I hadn't been to Bri and Leigh's often, mostly because the Victorian decor freaked me out. There was nothing like getting lost looking for a bathroom upstairs and bumping into a statue of a naked dude holding his weiner.

"Here's a cuppy for Bentley!"

Leighanne, dressed in a pink dress that looked like an adult version of her daughters, held out a pink fairy-ed up cupcake. Ben reached for it greedily.

"Yum nummm," he said.

"Don't you have any in maybe, blue?" I asked. Leighanne looked horrified.

"Rea's theme is pink!"

I rolled my eyes. I held the cupcake steady as Ben took a bite. He pulled away with a pink 'stache.

"Good?"

He nodded. I swiped a little taste for myself. I had just pulled my saliva-soaked finger out of my mouth when Bri started walking by. I looped my finger around his beltloop and tugged. He looked down, saw me, and cheesed it.

"Hey Nick! Hey Benners! Thanks for coming."

"Like we'd miss it," I said. "Ben picked out his half-sister's gift all by himself."

"It's not a ring is it? Because I keep telling you, we folk from Kentucky don't do that anymore."

Ben put his shaggy head against my chest and kept smacking at the cupcake. The older he grew, the more he looked like me. Currently he was an almost-two version of my 2002-rocker self since he freaked out at the sight of scissors. His hair was long overdue for some TLC. I squeezed him gently and rolled my eyes.

"I was joking you know," I said. "Besides, he has his sights set on someone new now. He still likes the black haired girls, but he seems to like his ladies as young as he can get."

"Wha--"

"Hey Rok, you got any of those wipe thingies? I'm dying here."

Bri looked to his right horrified. "She left you alone with the baby?"

AJ bounced his head, sliding his shades down his face just enough to squinty-glare back at him. "I'm responsible, y'know. But right now I can't handle this shit. Literally."

"Mimi!" Ben said in delight. He began to squirm and I set him down. He squished the last hunk of the cupcake in his fingers and started to head towards the five-week old baby. Michelle "MiMi" McLean got a forehead full of icing.

"Nick!"

I looked up guiltily. Kelsey pointed at Ben. "Don't let him rub icing on a baby's head!"

"He's annointing her," I said. "It's like a biblical thing. Now they're pink fairy soulmates."

Kelsey scooped him up and tipped him upside down. Ben's hair fanned out and he began to laugh hysterically. She swung him carefully side to side. "What am I going to do with you boys?" she said. Bri made a praying motion her way, winked, and stepped inside, no doubt to find AJ some wipes. I leaned forward.

"I know what you can do," I said, my voice dropping low, conspiratorial ly. "You can sleep with me."

She pulled Ben upright and grabbed a napkin. She spit on it and began to wipe his fingers. "I told you Carter," she said. "No sex before marriage."

"Ha!"

It was my turn to glare at AJ. I looked back up at Kelsey. Ben adored her. I adored her; I was actually being FAITHFUL to her. We had been living together the last six months. I wanted, no needed, to get laid. Bad.

But marriage? It was one thing to figure out what to expect when I wasn't expecting...

Figuring out how to de-flower a woman without taking the plunge?

Now THAT was a whole 'nother story...
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