"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.
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.
"Britney! That's it!" I snapped my fingers.
"You didn't even remember her name?"
"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."
"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.
Gently, I put him down.
I picked him up.
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?"
"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?"
"What's it mean if the baby kinda smells funny a little?"