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