One week later
"No, none for me, thanks."
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.
"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.
"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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.