"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.
I rolled over onto my back. "Can't you sleep?"
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."
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."
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.
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," I said.
"He feeling better?"
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.
"Bri?" Nick whispered, "I'm sorry."
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!"
He looked up at me. "What?"
"I'm proud of you."
Nick's eyes welled with tears.