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