Time Of Your Life by evergreenwriter83
1. Prologue by evergreenwriter83
2. Chapter 1 by evergreenwriter83
3. Chapter 2 by evergreenwriter83
4. Chapter 3 by evergreenwriter83
5. Chapter 4 by evergreenwriter83
6. Chapter 5 by evergreenwriter83
7. Chapter 6 by evergreenwriter83
8. Chapter 7 by evergreenwriter83
9. Chapter 8 by evergreenwriter83
10. Chapter 9 by evergreenwriter83
11. Chapter 10 by evergreenwriter83
12. Chapter 11 by evergreenwriter83
13. Chapter 12 by evergreenwriter83
14. Chapter 13 by evergreenwriter83
15. Chapter 14 by evergreenwriter83
16. Chapter 15 by evergreenwriter83
17. Chapter 16 by evergreenwriter83
18. Chapter 17 by evergreenwriter83
19. Chapter 18 by evergreenwriter83
20. Chapter 19 by evergreenwriter83
21. Chapter 20 by evergreenwriter83
22. Chapter 21 by evergreenwriter83
23. Chapter 22 by evergreenwriter83
24. Chapter 23 by evergreenwriter83
25. Chapter 24 by evergreenwriter83
26. Chapter 25 by evergreenwriter83
27. Chapter 26 by evergreenwriter83
28. Chapter 27 by evergreenwriter83
29. Chapter 28 by evergreenwriter83
30. Chapter 29 by evergreenwriter83
31. Chapter 30 by evergreenwriter83
32. Chapter 31 by evergreenwriter83
33. Chapter 32 by evergreenwriter83
34. Chapter 33 by evergreenwriter83
35. Chapter 34 by evergreenwriter83
36. Chapter 35 by evergreenwriter83
37. Chapter 36 by evergreenwriter83
38. Chapter 37 by evergreenwriter83
39. Chapter 38 by evergreenwriter83
40. Chapter 39 by evergreenwriter83
41. Chapter 40 by evergreenwriter83
42. Chapter 41 by evergreenwriter83
43. Chapter 42 by evergreenwriter83
44. Chapter 43 by evergreenwriter83
45. Chapter 44 by evergreenwriter83
46. Chapter 45 by evergreenwriter83
47. Chapter 46 by evergreenwriter83
48. Chapter 47 by evergreenwriter83
49. Chapter 48 by evergreenwriter83
50. Chapter 49 by evergreenwriter83
51. Chapter 50 by evergreenwriter83
52. Chapter 51 by evergreenwriter83
53. Chapter 52 by evergreenwriter83
54. Chapter 53 by evergreenwriter83
55. Chapter 54 by evergreenwriter83
56. Chapter 55 by evergreenwriter83
57. Epilogue by evergreenwriter83
Prologue by evergreenwriter83
June 19, 2014
The Night Before
The clock reads 10:45. The glass of iced tea in front of me has grown warm. The air conditioner is completely failing at cooling down my apartment and I'm tired, really tired, but I can't sleep. There's absolutely no way I can sleep knowing...correction: not knowing...what will happen.
I could potentially cease to exist by this time tomorrow.
The thought crosses my mind again and my heart twists, my stomach leaps, and for the millionth time I think I might throw up. I can't figure out if it's fear or excitement. I'm pretty sure it might be a combination of both. One of my professors told me once that the feeling of heart-twisting spewing was a natural reaction to the unknown, but that was when I was facing a potentially mis-mixture of chemicals that might have oozed out and over the counter at worse. The stakes were bigger this time. The unknown was astronomical.
The great unknown.
Of course, my plan isn't completely unknown. Josh and Kal know what's going to happen...or I guess I should say what we plan to have happen. There's always the chance that something could go wrong. Completely, utterly, hopelessly wrong.
My thoughts are going to kill me before the experiment actually can. I stand up, shaking my arms out at my sides like an exercise instructor warming up before an intense session. My tank top clings to my back by a thick layer of sweat. I look around and inhale.
If I never come back I don't really have a lot to lose. I'm the owner of a pathetically small 1-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Yolo, California, a town so small that the whole thing's an outskirt. I don't even have a pet. Me, the girl who grew up with a small herd of dogs and cats and fish and gerbils has no living, breathing thing to worry about leaving behind. It's almost enough to make me want to do a midnight run to the nearest Wal-mart to get a fish that I can pretend would miss me. Then again, Wal-mart fish don't exact have the longest lifespan either. The fish probably would only get 36 hours of really good mourning time in before heading to the giant fishbowl in the sky.
"Pathetic," I say out loud to no one. I'm tempted to put on music, but that would send me into a level of nervousness never charted before.
I toss the warm tea and head to my bedroom. My apartment consists of three rooms. The living room/kitchen, a tiny bathroom that has barely enough room for a toilet, sink, and shower (no tub), and a bedroom that I'm fortunate enough fits my King size bed. The King bed allowance is the only reason I bought the apartment. My bed is the best thing about life. I've spared no expense on the mattress or the sheets. It's like sleeping on a cloud. Except I know even the most comfortable bed in the world isn't going to make my brain shut off. I crawl in at the bottom, a habit from my little kid days, and grab my pillow, hugging it into my body. It's cool as silk, fighting against my fiery, sweaty skin. Another pillow greets my head, cradling it perfectly.
If tomorrow goes perfectly, it will be the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. It will be the pinnacle of my career. The thought of reaching my career pinnacle at 35 is mind-boggling. I could potentially receive a Nobel Prize. Okay, so the Nobel Prize would be the pinnacle of my career. Or maybe they'd invent a whole new award and name it after me. Then that would be the pinnacle of my career.
Or I could be dead. Y'know, it could so go either way.
While all the other little kids I grew up with did reports on how they were going to be a firefighter/teacher/doctor (insert other public servitude here), I was the one who stood there in my lab coat and announced that I was going to be a metaphysicist. Not just a scientist. No, smartass seven-year old me was going to be a met-a-phys-i-cist. My mom was sure I'd be a teacher. My dad wasn't around to have an opinion. My grandpa thought I'd be a metaphysicist.
My grandpa had been my favorite person in the whole wide world. God, I miss him.
It probably isn't a good idea to be thinking of my grandpa and my own potential death. Tears are a bitch to get out of the fabric on my pillowcase. I feel a renegade tear start going and wipe it quickly away.
The TV I have in my room is about three thousand years old and the cable service in good old Yolo is pretty pathetic unless you're willing to pay good money. I think it's pretty sad to live such an archaic life as a Californian. Even my cellphone bars go in and out like they've had one too many drinks. Even still, I try the TV thinking that maybe it will lull me into such a dead stupor that I will end up asleep.
Instead, it sends me into a highly uncomfortable panic.
The face isn't the one that I really wanted to see, but he wasn't even one degree separated from the face I love to look at more than any other face in the world. I watch in disbelief. Then I watch in horror. He isn't serious. Is he?
The 'he' in question is Nick Carter. It's not the most relevant name today, but rewind time and you wouldn't find a girl who didn't know it. Nick Carter, Backstreet Boy. I stare at him laying on a medical table in teeny tiny blue undies. It's like a train wreck; you just can't turn away.
It's my own fault that I left the TV on VH1. It wasn't like I didn't know he had a show coming out. I just didn't expect a preview for his reality show so soon.
The experiment tomorrow has an additional element to it that I haven't told Josh or Kal. I'd never hear the end of it if they knew. Plus, I'd have to listen to Kal's warning again about the fact that this is just an extremely quick test. I'm not even supposed to look at anyone let alone talk to someone. It has a high probability of not working. Like, to put it in laymen's terms, I could probably win the lottery twenty times before what I wanted to have happen would happen. Truthfully, I've done as much research on the additional element of the experiment as I have on the actual experiment. I feel kind of like a creeper, but I'm pretty sure that in my vast knowledge of Backstreet Boy history that I have pegged the incident down to the ideal date. I even know exactly where they were on the date in question.
Okay, I am a creeper. I'm a pathetic 35 year old creeper who loves Brian Littrell.
And I'm going to try to find him.
Chapter 1 by evergreenwriter83
June 20, 2014
The Day Of
"State your name for the camera."
"Josh, I don't think that's--"
"This is groundbreaking research! State your damn name, Court."
The camera makes a slight whirling noise and I know he's zooming in obnoxiously on me. "Courtney Standiford."
"State your age."
"I will n--"
"I'm 34 years old."
I give Josh the dirtiest look I can. I already feel ridiculous. I'm dressed like it's....
"Birthday," he repeats. His look is deadpan serious. His glasses are getting fogged up from his sighs.
"August 1, 1979."
"I don't know! I'm to nervous to remember!"
He laughs then and the tension I'm feeling lessens. Not by a lot, but I'm still grateful for that tiny increment of relaxment.
"I think everything's ready."
Kal steps out and the tension rises again. She's twelve years older than I am and a million times smarter than I'll ever be. This whole thing had been my idea two years ago, but without her it would never be at the point it is now. She looks at me now like a mother about to send her child off to kindergarten.
The kind of kindergarten where the kindergartener might never come back alive.
It was a loaded question. Here we are, the three of us, standing in front of something that would have given Doc from Back to the Future a raging hard on and I can't talk. I'm speechless. I've got on a ridiculous bright tank top, matte lipstick, and a skirt that I could not have gotten away with in high school. I look like a freakin' Spice Girl.
For a minute, I'm sure the words came from another person with a similar voice. Then Kal smiles.
I'm ready. I guess.
Josh springs into action. He's at the panel in a milisecond and my pulse picks up. The entire thing looks like a vertical MRI machine. The panel's more impressive than anything I've ever seen: a touch screen with a great array of LED lights that flash different colors depending on the action. It isn't like we needed it to do that, but as sci-fi fans we felt like doing a basic gray keyboard would have been blasphemous.
"Date?" Josh asks. I don't know why he asks. He knows. It's all we've talked about for the last six weeks.
"February 20, 1998," Kal and I say in unison. The date is burned into our brains.
"Location?" Josh asks. Kal looks like she wants to smack him. She's wringing her hands and jiggling so bad that I'm sure the screwdriver is going to fall out of her pocket. She glances at me. I know she knows. She knows I know. She's stepping back. She's letting me lead. I lick my lips.
"Lake Buena Vista, Florida," I say.
Josh nods. I turn my head and scan the room. My eyes stop at the mirror.
I'm wearing my hair in a messy bun. My hair is a combination of light brown and summer honey-kissed blonde. The earrings I'm wearing are ridiculously colorful and match my tank top way too perfectly. CK One perfume, long ago demoted from its reign as perfume queen, radiates from my pulse points.
"I still say we should do something like the 1800's," Josh says. "Don't you want to see the Civil War?"
"No, she doesn't," Kal says for me. "We're starting small. It's a little more than a decade and a half. If that works..."
"If this works then we'll send you to the Civil War," I say. My joke falls flat since my voice is shaking. Josh gives me a gentle smile. If it wasn't for the Urkel glasses he might even be cute.
Did I really think that? Now I know my nerves are irrepibly damaged.
"Your money," Kal says, the first true panic showing through. Silently, I hand her my wallet, a plain black thing that no one could say was popular in any particular decade. I watched her fan through the bills, each one no older than 1997. She repeated the process with the coins. Satisfied, she handed the wallet back to me.
"Your ID." This time it's Josh's turn. I slide the fake ID out of my wallet. We're not sure how my appearance will work in a time with a younger version of me around, albeit in a different geographic location. Either way, a fake name and birthdate just seems safer. Josh glances at the plastic and smiles. He flicks it back to me with ease. "Okay, step in. Kal will take you the rest of the way. I'll take notes."
I felt like I had just passed the biggest exam of my life. Clumsily, I take one wobbly step forward. I hear a couple sounds indicating the various sound and video devices of the iPads being activated. We placed a big strip of gray tape in front of the machine three days ago. Once I cross the tape I'll be in position. My toe barely touches the tape. I pause.
"Today," Kal says, her voice unnaturally loud. "Courtney Standiford will become the first metaphysicist ever to break the mystery of the space-time continuum. Voyage 001-2014 is hereafter logged as February 20, 1998, Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Courtney, on behalf of all watching, we wish you a safe trip."
I can't see her, but I know she's smiling.
I step over the line.
It happens fast. I don't think Kal can take it any longer. She presses the button.
And I am gone.
Chapter 2 by evergreenwriter83
February 20, 1998
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
I'll be your dream
I'll be your wish I'll be your fantasy
I'll be your hope I'll be your love
Be everything that you need
The first thing I hear is Savage Garden. Someone is blaring it out their car window. The Plymouth Breeze zooms pass me and I notice the new dealer plate on the back. The car rounds the corner and the next thing I realize is that I'm standing outside a hotel separated by the beach only by a small road. I inhale the salt water when it hits me.
Savage Garden. Plymouth Breeze. Hotel. Beach.
It actually worked.
Or, at least I think it has. The House of Blues is behind me and I can smell the ocean. It smells different than the Pacific, yet I can't explain exactly why or how. My brain is moving in a million directions and I feel faint. Luckily there's a bench overlooking a rocky beach line and I sink down onto it, grateful that I know longer have to hold myself up.
I don't know how long I sit there, but it's enough time to realize my pants are uncomfortably tight. The shirt isn't much better. I wonder if space travel has a bloated Elvis effect. I laugh. As the first ever time traveler, I have the power to call it the bloated Elvis effect (scientific classification: elvi bloaticus) if I want.
The extra weight reminds me of the freshman fifteen I put on the first year of college. Unlike other girls, that extra weight had settled into my boobs and butt making me quite popular with the college guys...but I hadn't had time for them. My life revolved around a laboratory from the second I donned my first lab coat. It still does.
As I inhale another deep breath of ocean air, I realize that the world around me just feels different. It feels happier. It's a post 9-11 world. Gas is cheap, Clinton's in office...
I think then about Kal. Just the thought of her reeks me back in. A true scientist hypothesizes and then tests. I've hypothesized that my journey is a success. Now I need to turn that guess into fact.
I turn around and look at the landscape behind me. My stomach flips as I study the logo for the House of Blues. A nearby hotel looms up behind it looking clean and fresh with balconies jutting out to give its guests the perfect ocean view.
My legs feel surprisingly strong as I stand. I walk with purpose, noting an inline skater out of the corner of my eye. She has a Sony Walkman CD player attached to her. It's another small reassurance that I have returned to the days of anti-skip protection.
I see a few people walk into the HOB restaurant and I mark it as my destination. A young guy hovers just outside the door, a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. He looks like an Eminem wannabe with his backwards ball cap pulled somehow low. He smiles as I get closer. I notice his arms are too scrawny to pull off the white tank top he's wearing.
"Hey," he says. He has a cute smile that strikes me as familiar for some reason. So does the voice for that matter. He can't be any older than 18. I smile back, but I don't reply. I think saying anything else to this boy would make me a cougar. Even so, I feel his gaze on me as I disappear into the building. He totally checked me out.
"Hi, how many?"
The waitress looks frazzled, but she's on the ball, spotting me as soon as I step in. She's pretty enough to work for Disney instead of being a waitress and I wonder if she was one of the not-talked-about Disney rejects. Perhaps she had a nose piercing I couldn't see in the dim light.
"Where's your restroom?" I ask.
"Right there," she points. "But it's for paying customers."
"I'm a customer," I assure her. That seems to be enough for her. My feeling that she's a Disney reject grows stronger. She's still smiling as if the 'customer is always right' policy has been brandished into her brain by the man with the ears himself. She points down a hall where a wooden blackboard spells out 'restrooms' in pink chalk.
"Thanks," I say. It's a short walk to the restroom and I'm relieved to see that the place is empty as I make my way towards the wall to wall sinks and mirror. I turn on the water and focus on my reflection. My eyes, growing wider by the second, reflect back out at me.
Kal, Josh, and I had theorized that if the time space continuum was successful that I would be my older self visiting a past realm in which I existed. We assumed if any of us made a trip even farther back in time that the same rules would apply.
We were wrong.
The Courtney staring back at me was my college-aged self. I was carrying the extra fifteen pounds. The scar on my right temple from a small chemical backfire two years ago was nowhere in sight. I shake my head in disbelief.
This was why the kid outside had talked to me! The kid...
Like a rubic's cube, the squares in my brain twisted and aligned. He had been standing in the shadows and his hat had been pulled low. Still, that smile...
I had to be wrong. Even so, I left the restroom quickly. I'd just go outside and check...
Except I didn't have to. There he was.
And he wasn't alone.
I'm not sure if it can be considered good luck or bad luck that the situation I hadn't expected to happen, but that I wanted to happen, was actually happening (and quickly). Kal never failed to tell me I was the queen of educated guesses. This was no different.
"If your mom finds out you're smoking, she's gonna kill me."
"Why would she kill you?"
"She just would, okay? If Kevin finds out..."
"You're not going to tell him..right?"
"Smoking is horrible for your voice, Nick."
"AJ started it."
"For some reason, AJ thinks he's a thug right now. I think he's humped the stage one too many times. Don't be like AJ."
"You wouldn't be saying that if you had seen the girl coming out of his hotel room earlier. Her boobs were..."
"I don't care."
"But you love boobs."
"This isn't about boobs!"
"Yes it is! It's your birthday!"
"Nevermind. Can I at least come with you? I'll buy you a birthday drink. Or we can go play basketball. Or that new video g--"
"You're not 21. Besides, I think you've already had your fill of bad habits today. I'm drinking alone. Just go back to the hotel. We've got rehearsal early tomorrow morning. And try not to get mobbed."
"I'm in-con-cheeto right now. Some hot girl just walked by me and didn't even know who I was."
"Probably because you smelled like a smokestack."
"Ugh. You know what I think?"
"What do you think?"
"I think you should just do the surgery. As much as I don't like her, at least you're not a dick to everyone when you're getting some. Besides, she has a point. You kind of need a heart to be alive. I think."
"Go back to the hotel before I get Lou after you."
"You can't handle the truth!"
"But it's your birthday! You can't be alone!"
"I've already talked to my mom and dad. Kevin and I had lunch. Best birthday ever. I don't need her and I don't need her opinions. I also don't need yours so just go away!"
"Fine! I'll just go be Howie's best friend!"
"Aw, shit. Wait. Nick---"
Whatever Brian Littrell was going to say to Nick Carter was interrupted by the sound of a side door slamming. Brian tugged at his hair and turned. I am treated to a close-up look at a face I've memorized, now so youthful again. The sadness that radiates from him about kills me. This is the Brian I had fallen in love with, the Brian that had covered the walls of my dorm...the Brian that was the whole reason for me choosing this particular day and place...
In the official space time continuum guidelines Kal, Josh, and I created, we have about a million rules. Up until this point, I have been nothing but cautious about having the correct money, ID (even though it obviously won't help me since I don't look the age on the card), clothing, knowledge of current events, top songs, etc. Yet, the number one rule, especially with so many things unknown about time travel, is to make the smallest footprint possible. Be an observer, not observed. This is without question the most obvious rule. The most important. The most--
But then he notices me and I am pulled into the eyes that are the bluest blue even though the room is too dark to really see the vibrancy of them. He smiles and the sadness diminishes slightly.
I find myself smiling back.
Chapter 3 by evergreenwriter83
February 20, 1998
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
“Hi,” he says, drawing out the word.
There is no turning back unless I want to pull a Cinderella. I imagine leaving a Skecher behind as I haul ass back outside and return to present day with what little information I already have.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
He’s wearing basketball shorts, a white tank top and his giant gold cross that I haven’t seen since, well, the 90’s. His shoes are Nike, not the bright colored sneakers that I’m so used to seeing. His hair is also darker and fuller. He’s still waiting for my answer.
“I’d love one,” I say, my voice shaking.He steps close, so close that I can smell the subtle scent of Ralph Lauren’s Safari for Men. I try to look like I’m not sniffing him to death as I take a deep inhale. His arm extends and my heart stops. I have only touched this man’s hand twice before, at two concerts amidst hundreds of other girls fighting for an elusive hand hold. Yet, this time it is just him and me and the arm is all mine. Greed seeps into my blood threatening my common sense.Be an observer, not observed.
I touch his arm and he folds my hand up into the gesture like the most perfect Southern gentleman. His smile produces a slight dimple.
“I’m Brian Littrell, by the way,” he says. I almost say ‘I know,’ but I rewind. I think he already knows that I know. I think about smiling and then I realize that I haven’t stopped smiling. I have a split second to decide whether or not to use a fake name.
His eyes crinkled. “Thank you Courtney Standiford for agreeing to share a birthday drink with me.”
I try to look surprised, but I know that acting is not my forte. I also know that I need to walk away, but my body is not letting me. Neither is my mouth. “Then I should be the one buying you a drink.”
He laughs. “Maybe we’ll just have to have more than one drink, then.”
As he leads me towards the bar, I am suddenly reminded of my youthful appearance. I’m still smiling, but I am nervous. I am now the observed and the license in my wallet does not match my actual facade.
I am screwed.
“Do you like tea?”
“I love tea,” I say, relieved. My mind had immediately gone to alcoholic dr--
“Two long islands,” Brian says.
My heart plummets. He fishes his wallet out of the basketball shorts. I let go of his arm and tentatively reach for my purse. The Cinderella method is looking better by the second. I fiddle with the zipper. Brian and the bartender both look at me. Brian smiles again. I’m pretty sure that I would walk off a bridge for that smile now that I’ve seen it from inches away. I pull out my wallet and hold out my ID, trying to cover the date. The bartender, not to be fooled, takes the entire thing. He squints. He looks at me. He squints again.
“How old are you?” he asks. Brian is staring at me. I feel my face grow warm. The ground could swallow me up. If I say thirty-five I’ll be lying, but if I say twenty-one I’ll also by lying.
“Okay, she’s not twenty-one,” Brian says, holding up his hands. He leans towards the guy. “We’re doing the show here tomorrow. Can’t you hook my girlfriend up? I’ll make it worth your while.”
I am sure that I must be dead because I could not have heard him right. He did not just tell the bartender that I was his girlfriend, did he?
There is some sort of exchange because the bartender smiles at me and bottles start pouring. “No problem, man.”
Two tall long island iced teas are the result of the masterful mixing. Brian takes them both, leading me to a small booth that’s tucked away from the rest of the bar area. I slid in, still not believing my luck (or my stupidity). I expect him to slide in across from me but his shoulder touches mine as he scoots right beside me. I am caught off guard with the feel of his lips so close to my ear.
"Tell me you’re at least eighteen or else I’m going to burn in hell.”
I laugh. If he only knew…“I’m eighteen, I promise,” I assure him.
He lifts his glass. “A toast?”
“A birthday toast?” I ask. His eyes crinkle and I resist every urge to go all crazy fan-girl over him. I’m sure it should be illegal for a guy to look this good.
“I was thinking more along the lines of ‘here’s to a cool drink and a hot lady,’ but a birthday toast works.” He’s a giant flirt and it catches me off guard. I’m used to the crazy, goofy, reflective guy portrayed in interviews and onstage. This is…
This is a 23-year old boy, I remind myself.
I lift my glass and our glasses touch. I take the first sip. Long islands have long been my weakness. I will go well out of my way to avoid the smell of coffee, but I will cross the dryest desert if I know that a glass of tea awaits at the end.
"Are you from around here?”
"California,” I say. I don’t think it’s important or wise to give too much history.
"Really?” he sounds surprised. Does the Midwest brand a person for life? I wonder. “Where?”
“Sacramento.” It isn’t a total lie.
I can hardly wait
For another taste of honey
Honey I can't describe
How good it feels inside
Honey I can't describe
How good it feels inside
"I love this song,” he says. It takes me a moment to remember who it is.
“Mariah Carey,” I nod. “She’s good, but not as good as yo--” I stop, horrified. Has the liquor gone to my brain already?
His arm brushes against mine. “So you know my secret? It’s not as good as Bruce Wayne’s secret mind ya, but considering you didn’t rip Nick’s clothes off I figured maybe you weren’t a fan.”
I look at him, less mortified. The thought of him in a Batman costume is appealing. “Why would I rip Nick’s clothes off?” I ask.
Brian full on grins.“It happens almost every place we go. Every girl loves Nick.”
"Not me. He’s not my favorite.”
“But you have a favorite?”
This conversation wasn’t going to end well. I blush. He’s enjoying this.“Who’s your favorite? Kevin? It’s the eyebrows, right?” I laugh. I take another sip of tea and shake my head.
"Howie? It’s the wink, right?” He takes a sip of his tea and leans in closer. I shake my head.
"AJ? It’s the sunglasses by day, sunglasses by night effect, right?” I laugh louder. I shake my head. He’s so close…We both sip our drinks silently. He meets my eyes and I take it as a challenge. I don’t look away.
“I like where this conversation is headed,” he says softly. I catch a glimpse of his left hand. Empty.
"Me too,” I reply.
Chapter 4 by evergreenwriter83
February 20, 1998
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
I can’t dance. It’s one of those things that most scientists are not good at. There are too many thoughts about physics that play through a scientist’s mind that prevent the body from just naturally picking up a rhythm. I’ve always shied away from a dance floor.
I guess alcohol changes all that. I’ve never danced so much in my life. The songs are just so good. I know every word. I’m doing every single movement to Quad City’s The Train and the applause is directed towards me. Well, me and Brian. He can ride the train better than I can. I reckon that’s because of all of the grueling choreography sessions. The bartender, our new best friend, has spread the word it’s Brian’s birthday and there’s been more alcohol passed around than I’ve ever seen in my life.
I wanna take you home with me, to be alone with me
And I can see you wanna hide it, come on, just divide it
And please don't knock it, until you ride it
My hair has totally fallen into disarray. It’s a sweaty stringy mess of dual color. Brian’s hand has slid across my abdomen so many times I’ve lost count. I feel a little bit like Austin Powers when he is finally thawed from his cryptogenetically frozen state. The 90’s are to me like the 60’s are to Austin Powers. I have the opportunity to actually be popular the second time around.
“This is the best birthday ever!” Brian shouts in my ear, his arms around me, his pelvis grinding into me. I toss my head back and laugh. Everything is funny. I turn around, wrapping my arms around his sweaty neck. I look up into his eyes and he’s so real I could die.
And then he’s kissing me. It isn’t just a cheek peck. It’s a full on kiss with tongue and I think the train is going to derail. My fingers brush the curly sweaty tendrils at the back of his neck and I don’t pull away. I could drink him in for the rest of my life and die a happy old lady. I think people start to catcall, but I don’t fully hear them. My hearing is clogged by this kiss. He only pulls away when the oxygen becomes dangerously depleted. He pulls me closer and I can feel him hard against my leg. His fingers brush the hair that’s clinging to my neck. His lips are on my ear.
“Come with me,” he whispers. I nod. At this point there could be no other answer.He takes my hand and we make our way through the crowd. The music is still thumping as we exit the bar area. I barely notice the ‘Closed for Private Party’ sign that someone had placed right outside. The thought of me being in a private party would have been the epitome of cool had I not been so totally wasted. We exit out of a side entrance into a deserted area that’s so quiet that my ears protest. I’m sure that Brian will lead the way to the hotel, but instead my back meets the exterior of the building and he is over me, his lips on mine again. His hands are on my ass and our bodies grind against each other like they need to drink of each other or die trying.
I don’t know how long we are like this, but eventually my equilibrium begins to totally give out. He holds me close to him and we stagger along, giggling like two little kids. The hotel is right by HOB and the guy at the desk doesn’t even look up when we walk in the employee entrance. I’m sure he’s used to seeing drunk people practically crawl to their room. Even the idea of coming in through the employee entrance probably does not surprise him. I fleetingly wonder why we didn’t go through the front door but then I hear the noise. A column separates us from a full on view of the doors, but the noise is distinct. I have been part of that noise before. A crowd of girls is outside hoping for a chance to spot one of the boys.
But Brian is mine.
Brian is mine and he leads me towards the elevator, his hand brushing against my breast. We enter the metal box and he squints at the numbers. I’m not sure that he remembers what floor he is on, but eventually he presses a number and we ascend up, up, up.
It is a short ride but long enough for our lips to meet again. His hand slides up my tank top and I shiver as his thumb finds my nipple, strumming across it like a guitar. We are still in this compromising position when the doors open. I am sure my entire boob is hanging out of my shirt. I am also sure that I do not care since my boob is in Brian’s capable hand.
The rush of cooler air seems to register in Brian’s brain and he pulls me out of the elevator. It is a process to withdraw his room key and several failed attempts follow. I almost collapse to the floor. It is the first time in my life that my legs have ever felt like rubbery Jell-o.
Finally, the door opens and we stumbled inside. I grab his shirt and yank it over his head. It is not a smooth process but the result is a reward. My palms slide over his skin and his chest. I press my lips against his shoulder and start down. I rationalize that my knees were about to give out anyhow so this position will be infinitely better no matter what. His fingers slid through my hair and a moan escapes his lips as I kiss him through his basketball shorts. His length is impressive.
My sexual history is embarrassing, but I’m confident in my assessment. He tugs me back up for a second and I my tank is gone. Undressing while drunk takes much longer than it does when two consenting individuals are sober. With anyone else this slow down might be annoying, but with Brian it is like unwrapping a present that you’re sure no other present will beat. My hands are allowed everywhere and I’m sure that my little gasps are worse than a child spotting Santa in the mall for the first time.
“If I don’t get you to bed I’m going to die,” he suddenly declares as my tongue runs the length of him. He grabs my hands and drags me a foot before picking me up. It is a dangerous move but the bedroom is not far and we make it. My back sinks into the comforter and my front is warmed by his body sliding along me. His lips are on my neck, my breasts, my thighs and I close my eyes, arching up in need against him. I have never felt the need for sex so badly in my entire life. This is the type of ache that could drive someone crazy.
His lips are back to my neck and my hands are in his, placed firmly above my head. My legs are wrapped around him and we are kissing madly again, our tongues touching and then darting away in a game of cat and mouse. The game is only paused for a second as he enters me. The sound that rises from my throat is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. His eyes close and he breathes into the crook of my shoulder.The sex is good, but fast. The sound of his breathing fills my ears. I don’t have time to climax before he is done and as he rolls over, his eyes closed, he pulls at me, keeping my body close to his.
My head is swimming. The intensity of this day, the lack of sleep from the night before, and the lack of sleep does me in. I look at him, his face slightly cloudy to my eyes. I’m sure that he has succumbed and is out. I know that I cannot still be in his arms come morning. I cannot still be in this world. I have caused too much trouble. I have relished every minute, but reality will hit me hard.
My thighs still tingle as I gently slide out of his now slack embrace. I cannot stand, but I slide to the floor and manage to gather my tank top and panties. I cannot find my pants and I do not care. I search around more until I find what I really need: my purse. I withdraw a small compact and flip it over, sliding a panel that is naked to the human eye. The digital display makes me want to scream. The harshness of the red makes my head feel like it is being chopped open with an axe. I take my time at typing in the date: June 20, 2014. Before I press activate, I crawl back over to the bed and stare at Brian’s face.
My intent had never been to sleep with him. Or had it? Now that it is fact, I know I can’t answer that question. What I do know is that I would have never guessed that I would have even gotten to meet him let alone... I stretch up on the bed and kiss his lips. I know it will be the last time. He smiles in his sleepy stupor. I sink back down off the bed and onto the floor. I clutch the compact and take a deep breath.
My finger touches ‘activate' and I am gone. The return trip is a blur. I am standing in the dark and I can make out the shadow of a giant bed. My bed. My trip has returned me to my apartment. I crawl in without turning on the lights, salvaging my sensitive corneas and grab at my pillow. I can still smell Brian’s Safari. I close my eyes and inhale. I am asleep. I vaguely sense an extra weight collapsing on my bed, but my brain is too depleted to feel concern.
Morning will come quickly.
Chapter 5 by evergreenwriter83
June 20, 2014
The first thing my body registers is the large hand sliding up my leg. It takes a second for my brain to organize the sequence of events from the previous day and I at first think that I must have dreamed my return trip. Perhaps I am still in bed with Brian. This thought makes me smile.
I open my eyes and see my phone laying on the nightstand. It’s the newest iPhone and I realize that I am back in the present. I also realize that the hand on my leg can’t be Brian’s. If it is mot Brian's then I have a home invader. A home invader that is about ready to rape my passed out body. My reflexes kick in. My mouth opens.
The hand flies away. “COURT!”
The intruder knows my name. The voice sounds vaguely familiar but I can’t place it. I tear at the comforter. The door to the bedroom, a bedroom that isn’t mine, flies open. I am sure I have gone insane. Brian is standing in the doorway, except it isn’t quite Brian. He’s much too young. Younger than the Brian I left last night.
Now I know I am insane. My shoulder hits the floor hard as I’m still jumbled up in sheets. I scramble to my feet breathing hard.
“Court, what’s wrong?”
I have trouble looking away from the concerned looking Brian in the doorway, but I do.
I wish I didn’t.
Nick Carter is looking at me. His chest is bare, his hair's a mess like someone has spent a whole night tugging it, and he is sitting up looking extremely confused, but I’m sure not as confused as I am. He reaches his large ape-like hand out towards me. Seriously, he has giant hands.
“Calm down. Bad dream?” He looks away from me. He looks at young Brian.
“Go get her something to drink, Ben.”
Brian turns and disappears.
I don't answer Nick. Instead, I immediately begin to look for my compact. I pick up a pillow and shake it. I get to my knees and crawl halfway under the bed that is bigger than my entire studio apartment. In an attempt of desperation I grab my phone and check for the date, sure that I am being punk'd.
June 20, 2014.
"Court, what the hell is wrong with you?"
I glance at him just in time to see him stand up, yanking a pair of boxers on. He had been naked. I can feel clothing on my own body and know that I am not quite so free spirited in my sleep, yet I have no time to check exactly what that clothing might entail. I turn back to my phone, dialing quickly.
"Who are you calling?"
I do not answer. Instead, I listen to the stomach plummeting sound of the phone company telling me a number does not exist.
Things have gone horribly wrong.
"Here's some water, mom."
Brian walks in holding a pink wine glass almost overflowing with ice water. He looks scared.
"Brian," I say, desperate to have something, anything in this alternate universe seem right.
"Dad?" Brian says. "What about dad?"
"Court, it's Ben. Your son?"
And again I am drowning.
"I'm going to call a doctor," Nick continued. I turn towards him.
He stops, but I see him eyeing his own nightstand. Brian or Ben or whoever the Brian in the doorway is looks back and forth between me and Nick as if searching for guidance. Nick finally makes the call.
"Give us a minute," he assures him. It's enough to make the boy disappear, but not before giving me another concerned look, inching over, and setting the glass of water down. Only then does he tear out of the room.
"Court, you look like you're going to pass out. Drink some water."
I want to argue with him, but my throat is parched. I grab the glass and take a long drink, but it doesn't fix the fact that everything is very wrong.
"Talk to me."
Unlike almost every other woman on this planet, Nick has never made me so deliriously turned on that I think I might implode. Certain tidbits of information like the fact he isn't a habitual teeth brusher or that he sometimes forgets to wash his hands after going to the bathroom are pretty big turnoffs for me. Other fans I know think it's a badge of honor to get the Nick plague, but not me. I can't for the life of me think of any reason why I would be in the same bed as him or why he would spend his mornings feeling me up instead of his wife. This is the only question I can think to ask of him.
"Where's Lauren? Why are you here with me?"
Nick's eyes widen and I see in them a look of pure disbelief and something akin to frustration. He doesn't answer immediately but when he does, I am no closer to the truth.
"You hit your head harder than I thought," he says gently as if I am a victim of a horrible accident or someone with a terminal disease.
"Yesterday you missed a step getting down to the studio and hit your head pretty hard. You said you were okay but...I think you have amnesia. We've got to get you to the doctor."
He reaches for the phone again.
"Step!" I cry. "I don't have amnesia! All I want to know is why you aren't with your wife! Just answer me that one question." My anger is rising. All I want is for him to answer me.
"Court," Nick shakes his head as if I'm asking him the impossible.
"You are my wife."
Chapter End Notes:
I won't have time to post the morning update tomorrow so I'm posting tonight. Expect the next update by Wednesday night at the latest!
Chapter 6 by evergreenwriter83
June 20, 2014
Nashville General Hospital
"The MRI doesn't show signs of any damage, however TBI's can be difficult to diagnose because they struggle to pick up some areas. Unfortunately modern technology isn't totally equipped to diagnose instances of temporary amnesia 100% of the time."
"What's a TBI?" Nick asks.
"Traumatic brain injury," the doctor and I reply at the same time. Science and medicine are two fields that are not far removed. Nick looks at me in surprise. "How do you know that?"
"I'm a scientist," I reply as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. I'm surprised to see that the doctor even looks concerned at this statement. She shares a look with Nick. For a moment I wonder if the concern is just so she can have a reason to look at him. Nick doesn't seem to be as cynical as I. He laughs. I frown.
"What's so funny?"
"It's just," he laughs again. "You're so famous it's ridiculous, but you're definitely not a scientist. I mean, you said you wanted to be one when you were little, but one of the most famous female country singers in the world isn't winning the Norbert Prize anytime soon."
"Nobel Prize," I correct. Then the rest of the words sink in. "What?"
The last three hours have been nothing but upsetting surprises. I found while looking for clothes to wear to the hospital that my body was housing a pair of silicone implants that made my breasts feel like boulders. Even the old, soft t-shirt that was obviously a well worn favorite could not mask the giant ness of my boobs. I also found out that young Brian's full name is Benjamin Thomas Littrell, which Nick shouted in complete impatience when Ben complained about not coming to the hospital. There was a lot of conversation about me being his mom or his wife and ended with Ben slouched in a gaming chair half-heartedly playing a video game.
"I said you're a singer. Babe, you know this."
"I'm not your babe," I snap.
I fold my arms even though I know this is an infant's reaction. The doctor pulls Nick out of the room, but I don't care. I know what my game plan is. I need to get back to the huge mansion of a place Nick calls home and search for the compact. If I can tweak it enough, I can go back to June 19 and start my day again. The second time around I know better than to let my hormones get in the way. Hell, I would probably take Josh's advice and go to the Civil War instead. It would be easier than trying to figure out how I ended up married to Nick Carter and had a Brian clone living under the same roof.
I stare down at my hand. The wedding ring on my left hand is an obscene size. It, like my boobs, make me feel unbalanced. Everything about this is making me unbalanced.
Nick enters the room a few minutes later without the doctor. He grabs my purse and gives me another terminal illness sort of smile.
"You're discharged," he says.
I get up without argument, eager to go back to the house. Nick's hand hovers at my back but at the last moment doesn't touch it. My mind has memorized the layout of the hospital after just one trip and I lead the way to the car which is parked at a side door for what the staff called 'our safety.' The moment we step outside I am blinded by a flash.
"Courtney, are you okay?"
"Nick what's going on?"
People with cameras were closing in like flies to food. I am stunned but Nick grabs my arm, shielding me from them with his body. He turns his back just so and I am ushered around the car.
"Courtney, are you pregnant?"
"Did you miscarry?"
"Did you have a nose job?"
I am mesmerized by Nick's face in this moment. It is hard as stone. The dumb puppy look is gone and I fear that he might turn on the picture snapping leeches at any moment. His hand tightens on my door before slamming it closed. He lowers his head as he goes around to the drivers side door. I am surprised at how well he is handling the chaos. The doors lock the again the moment he's inside and he pulls out fast, causing the paparazzi to leap away. He drives rather fast around several curves. It is twenty minutes before peace restores itself inside the car.
"What just happened?" I ask.
"They follow us everywhere," Nick says. I am relieved that he isn't still constantly asking me why I'm asking him questions. Perhaps the doctor told him to play along since I have what she thinks is a concussion. I decide I can play it to my advantage.
"Where's Lauren?" I ask.
"Los Angeles, I think."
"You just married her."
"No, I married her in 2010. We got divorced last December."
I frown. That isn't right at all. "Why?"
Nick surprises me and smiles. "Because," he says softly. "You came to your senses. It only took you a decade and a half."
"What do you mean?"
Nick is driving through the prettiest landscape I've ever seen. The smell of summer permeates the air and the trees are the most luscious green imaginable. He drives for a few more minutes and a small lake appears in the distance. Closer and closer we creep. The car slows until all I see in front of me is water. We aren't in downtown Nashville anymore. He parks and throws an arm over the steering wheel, turning to look at me.
"What's the last thing you remember?" His voice sounds slightly shaky as. He doesn't want to know the answer.
I pause. The truth is embarrassing but it's the only starting point I have.
"Partying with Brian on his birthday and having sloppy drunk sex in the hotel room," I say truthfully. Nick closes his eyes.
I expect him to break into a joke, but he is serious when he actually looks at me again. "I loved you first."
Now I'm back to being confused. "Excuse me?"
"I was there when you walked in. I saw you first."
My thoughts went to the scrawny Nick with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Was he seriously insinuating his 'hey' was a vow of eternal love?
"You got pregnant with Ben that night. BSB blew up big and you went through hell just to try to let Brian know. He had his heart surgery in May and got back together with Leighanne." Nick is saying it fast like it's a bandaid he just needs to rip off. "It's coming back now, right?"
I shake my head no. He looks pained.
"He found out in September about the baby. You were probably the most hated woman in the world right about then. Everyone was all 'Team Leighanne' which was crazy because just a month before all the fans were accusing her of all kinds of stuff. The worst part was that Brian and Leighanne kinda ganged up on you saying you were making this up for the press. He didn't even come see Ben until he was three days old. Brian actually sent me in to see you first, to see if Ben even looked like him."
He pauses for a breath. I feel sick. I don't want to hear this. I can't imagine Brian, the Brian I've always admired acting like this. "He looks exactly like him," I whisper. Nick smiles.
"And he did then too. We'll go through the pictures when we get home." Nick looks out over the water. "I thought I could never hate Brian more than I did at that moment."
We are both quiet. Then I replay the words. "You thought?"
Nick's jaw tightens. "I can't go there," he sighs. "We got married here and I don't want to ruin this place with those memories."
"We got married here?"
I take another look at the lake. I try to imagine it filled with people, but it seems so serene that the thought depresses me.
"We had forty one people at our wedding," he says proudly as if reading my mind. "You, me, Ben, the minister, Leigh, and Howie were on this floating platform tied to shore, but that little distance made it feel like it was just our own little six-person world as we got married. Totally the best day of my life."
Nick's voice is filled with so much love for me that I can't even process the information. I am keenly aware that no one has ever talked about me in that way. My parents love me, or at least I assume they do in this dimension, but Nick seems to take it to a whole new level. I look at him and his eyes meet mine. He smiles. I'm dying to ask him how he could be the same guy I just saw on TV previews the other night getting his crotch lasered, but a different question bubbles to the surface.
"When was it?"
"October 31, 2013."
He laughs. "It was so much fun. You and I were Frankenstein and his bride. Ben went as Duke Nukem."
"Why would you marry someone who has a child with one of your best friends?"
His answer is simple and full of truth. "Because I love you. I don't think we control who we fall in love with. I mean truly fall in love with. That's magic of a higher power."
The words hit me. Hard. "You are so not who I thought you were."
He takes my hand. I don't pull it away. It is dwarfed by his massive paw. He is grinning.
"That's not the first time you've said that, trust me."
And at that moment, I do.
Chapter End Notes:___________________________________________________________________________
Had time for a quick update! Enjoy!
Chapter 7 by evergreenwriter83
June 20, 2014
"There I am on my first day of school. You promised me that day that I'd get a car when I turn sixteen. I think you said something about a Mustang or something."
Benjamin Thomas Littrell is the most awesome teenager that I have ever been around in my life. Considering I spent a summer teaching science to high schoolers when I was 28, this is saying a lot. He is handsome and gorgeous and protective of me. I know this as soon as Nick tells him about the trip out of the hospital. His sparkling blue eyes turn angry and he asks me no less than five times if I am okay. The amount of testerone in the room overwhelms me.
"Okay, so you didn't say that," he admits. I can't help but laugh. He gives me an impish grin and turns the page of a large photo album that is spread across my lap.
It is surreal to see myself in photographs that I have never taken. I see myself for the first time pregnant and a page later holding a baby. I see myself backstage at Backstreet Boys shows in countries I've never been and each picture shows Ben growing a little bigger, a little taller. He clings to me in every picture unless he is with Brian or Nick. I realize quickly that he idolizes Nick just as much, if not more, than his dad. There are pictures of Brian at each important stage of his life, but infinitely more pictures of Ben with Nick doing every day random things like eating at McDonald's, playing video games, or even just sleeping.
Nick's own metamorphosis intrigues me in the photos and I feel like I am practically dissecting each photograph. It is odd to see Nick, no older than nineteen, holding baby Ben calmly and happily even while looking more like a much older brother than a future stepdad. There is not a year of Ben’s life when Nick isn’t there.
Conversely, it is even odder to dissect Brian's photos in the album. In the first photo of him and newborn Ben, his face is filled with nervousness and pure unadulterated fear. This tension lessens only slightly in each photograph until Ben is about five. This is when I can see a proud, loving dad. It appears that Brian’s timeline stayed on track. The only difference, I realize, is the existence of Ben.
I also realize that the change in Brian’s attitude starts only when the photos begin to include, for the most part, Baylee. I look at Nick and I can tell that he knows what I am thinking. He nods slightly.“Are you remembering now, mom?”
Ben sounds so hopeful that I almost lie to him, but I know that will only do him more harm. An unusual feeling of protectiveness comes over me.
“I’m sorry,” I say, truly meaning it. “I must have hit my head pretty hard.” My head, besides overwhelmed, scared, and exhausted, feels perfectly fine.
Nick stands up. As he walks by me, he gently touches my shoulder. “I’m going to go put away the pizza. Keep looking. Ben, show her that picture where your missing your two front teeth. That’s one of my favorites.”
“Only because you kept making me say sit because it sounded like--" Nick covers his mouth playfully and cackles. Ben grabs his hand and twists. Nick breaks free. “Nice try, Bruiser.”
I enjoy the exchange and I’m almost sad to see Nick leave the room. What is wrong with me? I would dwell on that thought, but Ben turns to another page and I am saved or so I think. I stare at an 8 x 10 of myself on a stage in a pair of tight jeans and a short translucent shirt. A pink guitar is hanging around my neck and I am singing. I look happy. And gorgeous. I didn’t think that combination was possible.
“This was the CMA’s,” Ben says proudly. “You won best female artist last year. It was awesome. Dad was there and he freaked out worse than you.”
Ben’s smile drops. He brings his hand to his mouth and nibbles on his pinky nail. I notice how jagged it is. “No, Nick,” he mumbles. He pulls an entire sliver of nail and wipes it on his jeans. “They’re both kinda my dads, y’know?” He wants me to know, he wants me to remember so bad that I want to cry.
“I get it,” I say. The next part hurts me to say and I don’t know why. “Just like I’m sure Leighanne’s kinda like your mom, too.” I lean over and hug him. He hugs me tightly, but when he pulls away he’s smiling a little.
"No,” he shakes his head. “She’s not. You’re my one and only best ever mom. She’s just...y’know...my stepmom.”
I am speechless. He looks down and turns another page in the photograph, a dimple appearing and disappearing as he begins to explain another photo. He nudges me and laugh.
I don’t think I could love anyone more.
Chapter 8 by evergreenwriter83
June 21, 2014
It’s three a.m. and I can’t sleep. I don’t think I could ever get used to sleeping by Nick Carter. He’s all legs and arms and chest. To his credit, he doesn’t try to wrap me up in his arms or anything that would have me leaping out of bed. He also has underwear on. I suspect this is the biggest effort on his part. He’s tossed and turned for hours, but now he is finally asleep. His breathing is regular and I know this might be my only opportunity.I have to find the compact.
I slide out of bed. It is dark, but not pitch black. I methodically check every section of my side of the bed, especially the end of it that I vaguely remember crawling across. Nothing. I grab my phone and wiggle under the bed. I shine my light around but there is only a few stray socks, a dirty pair of sneakers, and a bra. I stifle a curse and wiggle farther under to run a line of light along the wall.
“Looking for something?”I jump and miss really hitting my head by a millimeter. I scramble backwards as Nick’s face appears beneath the bed on his side.
“Don’t do that!” I complain.
“Whatcha lookin’ for?”
"You know what I think?”
My heart is still racing. How could someone so big be so quiet?
“I think something’s going on besides the concussion.”
I try to look surprised. “What?”
Nick smiles. “I know you.”
“Nothing’s going on. I just thought I lost…” I trail off. “my ring.”
I nod. He just smiles more. “The one on your finger?”Damnit. The boobs have decreased my IQ.
“Oh, yeah. I meant…”
“Were you looking for this?”
My heart stops. He opens his palm and inside is the compact. Unharmed. I reach for it but he disappears and I hear the bedsprings creak. I scramble out and throw myself on the bed. He is kneeling on the bed, his arm held high above his head. I grab onto his tricep.
"I need it,” I gasp.
"Not until we talk.”
His voice is firm. I look at him in surprise. Out of the corner of my eye, I see his fingers wrap tighter around the compact. He looks exhausted.
“It won’t work, you know,” he says. I let go of him and sink back.
"What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he sits back, keeping some distance between us. It is almost like he has played this game of cat and mouse before. “You’ve tried for the last two weeks, but every morning you’re back here with me. It’s where you belong.”
“What are you talking about?” I demand.
"Court, you can time travel all you want, but don’t you see? We belong together.”
I’m horrified to see the tears in his eyes. I’m equally horrified to realize that he knows. He knows.
"If you knew what this was, why did you take me to the hospital this morning?” I demand.
“Because,” Nick takes a deep breath. “Ben’s been with Brian the last two weeks. Last night was his first time home. I told him you were in the studio and working late. I bought me some time. But then I woke up and you screamed just like every other morning and Ben ran in scared out of his mind. I didn’t know what else to do!”
“Wait, this has been going on for...for two weeks?”
“Yeah,” Nick tugs at his hair with his free hand. It’s succombed to his tossing and turning and the blonde strands are pointing in every direction imaginable. “The first day, I called in your tour physician. He couldn’t find anything wrong with you and guessed maybe you were suffering from temporary amnesia related to stress. For the next three days I fell asleep even though I was determined to stay awake. When I woke up you were as freaked out as you were the first morning. The fifth night I managed to stay awake. I saw you find this thing, do something to it, and then you shimmered and were gone. I was sure that we must have carbon monoxide in the house. I mean, you shimmered. But the next morning you were back. I had stayed up all night waiting, faking sleep when you crawled into bed and passed out. When you jumped out of bed when I touched you the next morning, I snatched it when you were distracted by, y’know, waking up next to me. Because that’s totally the reaction you want your wife to have to you touching her leg.”
I am speechless. The sarcasm of his last comment is supposed to be a joke, but I can also sense the frustration. He sighed.
“You told me that on June 20, 2014 you time traveled back to 1998 and slept with Brian. Normal people would not have believed it.” He smiles. “You didn’t marry a normal person.”
“It’s the truth. This,” I motion around me. “is a mistake.”
“Ah,” Nick shakes his head. “I disagree. If it’s a mistake you wouldn’t be ending up back here every single night. You’ve obviously tried to work your way back and then start off a day earlier than your first trip, but each time you wake up snuggled next to me.”
He has obviously put a lot of thought into this. He makes sense, but I have never been one to just give up.
"If I can just connect with Kal and Josh and explain…”
“You’ve tried to call them. Neither of their numbers work.”
“I know where the lab is. I just need to get to the lab.”
“And where’s the lab?”
“In California. Yolo.”
There is a moment of silence and then Nick begins to laugh. I think that maybe he has finally lost it. It takes him several minutes to stop laughing. When he does he grins.“It’s ironic isn’t it? Yolo? ‘You Only Live Once?’ I’m guessing that doesn’t apply to time travel.”
He begins to laugh again and I am unable to stop myself from joining him. He wraps an arm around me and then the other one, the one holding the compact. He is holding me.
Our laughter dies. We are nose to nose.
“If you say you need to go to Yolo, we’ll go to Yolo.”“We?”“I’m not going to let you go alone. I have felt like I’ve lost you for the last fourteen days. I can’t take it again. Ben couldn’t take it.” He brushes my hair away from my neck, The temperature in the room rises. He tilts his head slightly and I am worried about what he is planning. Yet, instead of acting, he speaks.
“Just tell me one thing.”
I swallow hard. My mind almost forgets that the device responsible for my escape is pressing up against my back, nestled in his hand. “Okay.”
His voice is husky. “I haven’t asked any version of you this before, but I have to know.”
I am nervous by the enormity of the potential question. “Okay,” I repeat.
“Is the life you left better than this one? Is that why you want to leave so bad?”
He suddenly looks scared. Somewhere from within I have the strangest desire. I tamper the alien feeling. He is the wrong Backstreet Boy. I am not like every other woman in the world.
But I’m the one wearing his ring.
A slideshow of my life as I know it flashes through my mind. Years of college classes, all-nighters in the lab, my small apartment, my lack of pets…“Do we have a dog?”
"Yeah, Nacho. One of my buddy’s is watching him because he’s been shaking and freaking out since all this started.”
I think about the rat that we had first tested our time travel device on. As soon as the device had been placed in his cage, he had become frantic. Nick doesn’t say anything else. He is waiting for his answer. Yet, I have another question.
“Do you have any kids?”
“I have Ben.”
“Not yet.” He gives me a slow smile. “It’s pretty high on the to-do list.”
He lets out a husky laugh. “Oh yeah. All the time.”
His free hand slides down my back. I think of my Nobel Prize...the one I would have won if I had kept my legs closed and been the observer instead of the stupid ass observed.
A family. A dog.
My career. Sharing the knowledge of this life-changing technology.
A baby. I think of the picture of me holding newborn Ben in the hospital. I’m surprised to feel tears in my eyes. Nick’s hand suddenly feels much more real on my back. It terrifies me.
"I can’t answer your question. I...I just need to go to Yolo.” My eyes plead with him.
He presses his forehead against mine and closes his eyes. I feel horrible.
"Then we’ll get you to Yolo,” he whispers.
I feel worse.
Chapter 9 by evergreenwriter83
June 21, 2014
“It’s fine. Do you want a Xanax? I have a Xanax.”
“I don’t do drugs.”
“Well, actually, this one time…”
I lean forward and close my eyes. I am hyperventilating and we have not even boarded the plane. Nick had purchased tickets at 4:00 in the morning, right before we finally gave in to sleep. The compact was safely housed in a wall safe at the house.
“Can we go paintballing while we’re there, dad?” It totally hadn’t phased Ben when he woke up and Nick announced we were leaving for Sacramento. A spur of the moment trip obviously wasn't a rare occurrence. Then again, he had probably spent his whole life on tour busses. Anyhow, his excitement was helping keep me from throwing up.
“Sure. Maybe we’ll see if Uncle Kev wants to drive up and join us. And AJ. You know AJ’s already up to it. His ego's bruised from being creamed the last time. He wants a rematch bad."
Ben cracks his knuckles and laughs maniacally. “They’re goin’ dowwwwnnnn.”
“Team Carter for life,” Nick laughs. His hand brushes my back. He leans against me. “Are you sure--”
“No drugs,” I assure him. “It’s just...I’ve never flown before.”
“Mom, you fly all the time.” I glance over at Ben. He’s frowning now. “Actually, should you even be flying with a concussion?”
Nick and I exchange a look. Ben isn't dumb.
“The doctor thinks maybe a trip would do mom some good. I thought we’d hang around Sacramento a day or two then go chill at the beach house."
I am tempted to ask what beach house, but I know that Nick in my real life has an L.A. beach house. The man was to ocean like carbon and oxygen were to air.
“That sounds cool. Man, I wish I was little still so we could go to Funderland Park. Remember when Leighanne fell out of Oscar the Fisher?”
Nick starts laughing. “That was epic. She was so--” he stops but Ben snickers.
“I know she was hungover. She made dad hunt around for her sunglasses like she had lost her wedding ring or something. She’s a lush.”
“What? It’s the truth.”
Nick looks like he wants to agree with him badly. Instead he just smacks him lightly on the back of his head. “Just don’t call your stepmom a lush. Your dad would be totally pissed.”
Ben just shrugs. There is an awkward silence for a second and then Ben grins. "Well, if somehow I end up getting a little brother or sister we could take them to Funderland Park before I go off to college."
I look at him in surprise. No kid wants a sibling. I know I never did. Well, maybe I had before dad had left. Lord knows I had never wanted any of mom's boyfriends to be a sperm donor. Luckily, it hadn't happened.
"Who says I'm letting you go off to college?" Nick tries to say it seriously, but fails. Ben laughs. "Shut up."
"Don't think a baby will distract your mom or me from missing you Benny-wenny-iddle-umpkins," Nick coos. Ben dodges a pinch to the cheek, but just barely. He is laughing harder. "I hate you so much, dad."
But he doesn't. He loves Nick unconditionally. No teen would want a step-sibling unless they really loved their step-parent. I decide to test the waters. If anything it keeps my mind off the plane.
"You have Baylee. You don't really want another sibling, right?"
Nick stops trying to tickle Ben. Ben stops laughing. He looks at me as if I have lost my mind.
"You'd at least let me be a brother to a new baby," he says. Before I can stop him, he grabs his bookbag and marches across the waiting area. I watch in stunned silence as he heads towards the Starbucks in our concourse, his shoulders scrunched and high.
"I might have forgotten to mention that there's a little animosity there," Nick tries to joke. I look at him and he drops the act. "Brian didn't embrace the dad thing until Baylee was born. You saw that for yourself in the pictures."
"Leighanne's always treated Ben like a stepson. Baylee is the sun, the Earth, and the moon. Ben couldn't hold him when he was born because Leighanne thought he was too little and might drop him. He seriously has only been alone with his brother three times and each of those times was because it was just Brian and me with them. Those are the times that they laughed hysterically together. They'd be awesome brothers, but..."
"This sucks. She sounds horrible."
"I might have a little bit of a grudge against her. The thing is, like Ben said, she's not that bad. I mean I really can't see Brian with anyone else. Of course, you've disagreed on that."
Nick stares ahead and I realize he's watching Ben talk to a pretty redhead who looks like she's sixteen. She is smiling and laughing enthusiastically. "Then again, love makes all of us act a little crazy."
We are silent, both watching Ben flirt with the girl. Nick sighs.
"I really want a daughter, but I see things like this and realize just how long of a jail sentence I'm going to have to serve. I would have been over there shielding her from Ben already."
"But Ben's just a sweet boy. He's adorable and harmless."
Nick snickers. "Those are the ones you have to watch out for the most. Those are the ones that are raised right, but still get underage girls drunk and pregnant."
I wince. "But it's Ben."
To my relief (and immediately after, my horror) they announce our flight. Ben gestures towards us and the girl smiles in our direction. She tugs on the napkin he hold around his cup. He hands it to her and she bows her head over it, her hand gripping a pen I didn't realize she had.
"She's giving him her number."
"Atta boy?" I look at him surprised. "But you just said--"
Nick laughs. "I said if she were my daughter I'd be over there. I can't help but be a little proud of his skills. He learned everything he knows from me,"
I roll my eyes. "I highly doubt that."
"Dude, dad, she gave me her number." Ben practically runs up to us. "What you said worked."
Nick gives me a 'told you so' look as he stands up and grabs our bags. I make a split second decision.
"I'll take the Xanax."
Chapter End Notes:_______________________________________________________________________________________________
As always, feedback is appreciated! :)
Chapter 10 by evergreenwriter83
June 21, 2014
Sacramento & Yolo, California
"Sweet, my room is huge."
"Do not open the mini bar."
"Why would I open the mini bar?"
"Do I have to remind you about that one time in Houston? 575 dollars in M&M's, Ben."
Ben just grins. "Scouts honor."
"We failed Scouts," Nick bemoans.
The Xanax wore off right before we landed in Sacramento. I was white-knuckled, feet glued to the floor and barely remembering to breathe. The descent had been smooth, but I could have been in the middle of a dismantling plane for the terror it caused to course through me.
I was never happier to have my feet on the ground.
It was refreshing to be in Sacramento. This was my city and I knew it like the back of my hand.
Unfortunately, it now knew me.
"Is that Courtney Ford?"
"That's Courtney Ford!"
"Who is Courtney Ford?"
The last comment had been mine. Nick gave me the two second explanation.
"Your stage name."
I snickered. "That's a little close to Willa Ford isn't it?"
His face showed no reaction. "Who's that?"
I think about his question as Nick goes through a list of hotel etiquette that, judging by Ben's lip synching, he knows by heart. It is obvious that Nick never dated Willa. I slide out my phone. By the time Nick is winding down, I find out he never dated Paris Hilton either.
Nick has spent most of his adult life hung up on me or dating regular girls. Even his drug habit doesn't seem to have been as bad.
Had I bettered his life just by sleeping with Brian?
The thought overwhelms me. I watch Nick wrap Ben in a tight bear hug, his arm looped around Ben's neck. Ben's face folds into a delighted grin. He stumbles out of Nick's embrace and bear hugs me. He smells just like Nick. As he pulls away, I study the smooth skin of his cheek.
My son shaves.
I don't feel old enough to have a teenager for a son, yet I know there are eighteen year old girls (and younger) having babies everyday.
I am a statistic at least until I get to the lab. I suddenly realize this might be the last time I ever see Ben's face. I'm horrified at the tears that come to my eyes. Desperate not to let him see, I lean in and give him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
"I love you," I say softly.
"God mom, you're only going shopping," Ben laughs. He pauses and I feel his lips brush my own cheek.
"I love ya, too."
I am going to be a basket case. I am grateful when Nick grabs my arm. "Be back later! Don't wait up!" he jokes.
"I'll crash when the M&M's run out!" Ben calls to our retreating backs, laughing.
"Don't you dare!" Nick warns, shutting the door behind me. Two large tears fall down my cheeks. "Are you okay?" He asks.
I nod even though I'm not. I don't know what I am anymore.
I'm a scientist.
I'm a mother.
I've dedicated my life to creating inventions to better the world.
I've bettered Nick Carter.
"Just drive fast," I plead.
"I'm fine," I lie.
He doesn't ask me again. In fact, the only conversation in the car contains directions to the lab. I know the way by heart and I'm comforted that at the very least the surroundings look the same. As we hit a rather long stretch of one continuous road, Nick breaks the dead air.
I glance at him. His jaw is set and his knuckles are as white as mine were on the plane.
"I don't know a life without you," he says, his voice cracking.
"But you do," I argue just for the sake of arguing. To do anything else would be to break more of the wall. "You've married Lauren, you have a tv show coming out, you're going on tour with Jordan Knight in the fall. You don't know who I am and you're fine. That's the real reality. This is some sort of sub-time paradox."
He doesn't answer, but before I can brace myself he turns the wheel sharply and we are on the side of the road. He uncoils his belt and turns towards me, his face flushed.
"I believe in aliens. I believe zombies could be real. I believe there is a heaven and a hell. I even believe this whole thing about time travel. What I won't believe is a world where I don't love you and you don't love me."
"It exists," I say even though I am for the most part speechless. "It's rea--"
I do not get a chance to finish because his hand is on the back of my head and his lips are on mine, hot and hungry. His fingers knead into my hair and against my scalp and his tongue gently pressed against my closed lips. I open them for air, but his tongue is there and I'm pretty sure that in this alternate universe people just might not have to breathe when they kiss. His breath is lightly lemony and I wonder how the hell it could be lemony when I haven't seen him brush his teeth, chew gum, or eat any lemons. Yet, it activates my saliva sensors on my tongue and I am hungrier for this kiss than any other in my entire life.
Including Brian's. Brian's kiss is like a starter chemistry set.
Nick is the explosion.
I am drowning. I grab for the back of his neck. He snaps my belt and I am in his arms. We are the only two people on this lone road and I am against a chest that is broad and strong, my knee pressed into his wide roman thigh. His hands let go of my hair and grab my ass, sliding me straddling against him. It feels so right.
But it's so wrong. I am already the woman who slept with a Backstreet Boy and changed the course of history. I can't repeat the offense. I press my hands into his shoulders and it kills me, but I break free of his mouth of pure liquid desire.
"I can't," I cry. I literally begin to cry. "I've got to get to the lab. This isn't what you really want."
He gasps for a second as if he has crashed back to earth. "Baby, you've always been what I really want. Please--"
I touch my fingers to my lips. As long as I live, I will never forget that kiss. Tears are streaming down my face and my heart is splitting in a million different directions. I clutch the seatbelt strap and hang my head. If he begs again my resolve will crumble.
But he doesn't ask again. There is a moment of adjustment, a seismic shift and then he turns back toward the wheel. We affix our seatbelt and the car is going again. I press my head against my window and exhale. Five minutes later, I speak.
"Right turn. Half mile then go left. It'll be on the left.
The follows the instructions to the letter. No GPS has the lab recorded. It's like a subset of Area 51. I am not important enough to know anything other than Area 51 exists. I'm sure that might change after the time travel fiasco, but I am not enthralled by that potential knowledge.
I don't know how to feel.
In five minutes we are at the gates for the lab. Jim, the guy at the gate, flies out of his station. He is armed.
"What the hell is this?" Nick whispers.
"Get out of the car!" Jim yells loudly enough for us to hear.
We both do as he says. Nick holds his hands up, but I take one small step forward.
"Jim, it's Courtney. I need to talk to Josh and Kal."
"Don't step any closer."
I realize he doesn't recognize me. It's the boobs, I'm sure. "I am an acquaintance of two of your researches, Josh Galante and Kal Strimble. I need to speak to either or both of them. It's urgent to their experiment."
"Josh Galante?" Nick asks. He sounds surprised. I turn to him.
"Court, that's the name of your--"
He doesn't get to finish. Jim actually clicks the gun and I know a bullet has slid into the chamber. "Listen, I don't know what game you're playing, but there is no Josh Galante here."
My heart is thudding wildly. I could be shot, but I can't give up. "Kal Strimble. Please, if she can even come out to us, I--"
"This is government property and I must ask you to leave. If you take one more step closer, I am required to shoot and arrest."
"Court, get back in the car." Nick is already hanging on to his door.
"Tell her it's about her experiment! It's been performed in another continuum and it's gone horribly wrong!"
Jim doesn't answer. He is watching me (well, my boobs). I press my hands together. "Please. She can call my hotel." I rattle off the name and number. "Please give her the message."
His stoic face almost breaks. "If there were someone by that name working here, I would give them the message," he says coldly.
I suck in a breath. I know there is nothing else I can do. I can't even get up to the doors. I reluctantly open my car door. Jim watches our every movement as we get inside and Nick backs up. He wastes no time tearing back the way we came leaving the lab shrouded behind us in a veil of dust. Only when we're a good mile away does he glance at me.
"Josh Galante?" He says. "Really?"
"Yes, really," I say angrily. The lemony kiss reminder is the only thing preventing me from shout at him to release my frustration. "Why, do you know him?"
Nick shakes his head in disbelief. The car swerves to avoid an armadillo.
"Yeah, I know him," he says, clearly annoyed. "We know him."
"That kook is your stalker."
Chapter 11 by evergreenwriter83
June 21, 2014
“That’s him. That’s Josh. What do you mean he’s my stalker?”
“He’s been stalking you for six months. He was arrested outside of our house two weeks ago.”
We look at each other across the booth that we’re sitting in at In-N-Out Burger. Only twenty people have gawked at us. Luckily, no one has been brave enough to approach. Nick tucks his phone back into his pocket. I try not to overanalyze how weird it is to have a stalker (or how easy it is to Google pictures of said stalkers).
“Shit. He was arrested the night before all this started.”
“I have to talk to him.”
Nick sits back and pinches his nose.
“This is going to be like a game of Carmen Sandiego.”
“He was ordered out of Tennessee. I don’t know where he is.”
“We’ve got to find him.”
Nick shakes his head. “That’s not a good idea, babe. He’s obsessed with you.”
“What if he’s only obsessed with me because he’s trying to fix this?”
We stare each other down. My fries have gone untouched.
“Or we could wait for him to track you down. He pops up every month or so, especially during big events.”
“You’re delaying the inevitable.”
“Can you blame me?”
“Nick, the longer I stay---”
“The more you won’t want to leave?”
He smiles and I stifle a curse under my breath. His smile widens.
“You forget that I know you.”
He reaches over and grabs one of my neglected fries. I scoot my milkshake closer and take a sip. “Okay, I’ll let you have that,” I relent. “So if I’m stuck until he finds me again I’m going to need more answers.”
Nick holds up his salted fingers. “I’ve got all the time in the world.”
“When did I get these horrible implants?”
He laughs and licks his fingers. “Those were the end of September 2011. That was a crazy time y’know with 9-11, A.J.’s rehab, and the whole Brian thing.”
Nick makes a face that reminds me of someone who has drunk sour milk. “Crap, I forgot I’d have to explain that.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“You shouldn’t. You hooked up with him in New York. Brian and Leighanne had this huge fight and you were there with Ben and one thing lead to another and I can’t tell you all the nitty gritty but I had Ben and you were sneaking out of his hotel room missing your panties.”
“Oh God, I’m a whore.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve slept with four guys in your entire life. That’s not a whore. You just have a weakness for Backstreet Boys. One that’s totally wrong for you and one that’s absolutely totally right for you.”
I smirk. “Do I have to guess which one is which?”
Nick returns the smirk. “I think we both know which one is which. Anyhow, Brian and Leighanne got back together especially since she barely missed that flight that would have killed her. You were a little sad, pathetic, and desperate and by the time I saw you again in San Bernadino you were out to here.” Nick holds his hands out, cupping invisible melons.
“So I’m a whore and a pathetic groupie who has walked around for thirteen years with gigantic water bags? This is wonderful.”
“I probably shouldn’t tell you the best part.”
I groan. “There’s a best part?”
Nick grabs another fry. “They were bigger. You’ve shrunk ‘em down.”
My eyes widen and I’m sure the horror in my face is almost laughable. “No way.”
“It was bad. We picked these out together. You were kind of like Frankenstein after the second round, but the doctor did a bang up job.” He winks. “Trust me.”
“Those are famous last words.”
I don’t answer right away. I nibble a cold fry. “I just can’t wrap my brain around Brian being that much of an asshole,” I admit.
“He’s not an asshole, he’s a guy. I mean that was a really sucky time in our life as a group. We didn’t talk unless we were working, we hated Jive, and Kevin was already putting the wheels in motion to leave. Brian even told some newspaper that none of us reached out to congratulate him when we found out Leighanne was pregnant. It was pretty rough going. The problem is that no one is perfect. That’s the problem with some fans. They put us on a pedestal like this high,” he says, reaching high above his head. “It’s impossible for them to believe that we’re human and we screw up.”
“Then why are you perfect in this world when you’re so much of a trainwreck in my real world?”
“Real is such a subjective term.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“I’m not perfect. I’ve been an asshole. It just hasn’t been towards you. I’ll be the first to admit that I fucked Lauren over. I used her to make you jealous. I feel responsible for Leslie--”
“In any universe that will never be your fault.”
I am passionate about that statement. The hurt in his eyes even saying her name hits me hard. He takes my hand and our salty thumbs touch.
“This is why I need you to stay here.”
“But what about the truth?”
“The truth is that I love you. Can’t that just be enough? What’s so wrong with a life with me and Ben and maybe a baby or three?”
I cough on nothing. “Three?”
He grins. “I’ll settle for one. I’m really not picky.”
I arch an eyebrow. “Do you wax your crotch?”
His laugh is heard around the small store. “What?”
“Do you laser your crotch?”
“Not the last time I checked. But maybe you could check to make sure?”
“You started it!”
He tosses a fry and I toss one back and before I know it there is milkshake in my hair and ketchup on Nick’s cheek and we’re leaving a generous tip to make up for the ridiculous mess we leave.
“I know you would never have this much fun in a lab. You’re not the Amy Farrah Fowler type.”
“Amy Farrah Fowler? You know scientists are not nerds,” I smile. “At least not all of us are.”
“Do you know how much I love your smile?” Nick asks as he holds the door open for me.
“You change the subject quite easily.”
“I’ve perfected the technique over the years.”
He gets back in as I buckle my seatbelt. I crack my knuckles. I am mad at myself.
I am actually thinking about his crotch.
And my boobs.
And that makes me think of something--well someone--else.
“I want to see Brian.”
“I need to match the stories you’ve told me with him because the last memory I have with him isn’t bad.”
“Court, I don’t think--”
“It’s not that I’m saying no. It’s just--”
Nick looks at me and I can tell he is delaying. I fold my arms.
“We have a charity concert in four days. We’re both performing. You’ll see him then.”
Nick’s fingers curl around the wheel.
“Oh hell no.”
Chapter 12 by evergreenwriter83
June 21, 2014
“Do you haveta ask?”
“What size drink?”
“Seriously, we’re going to haveta buy a seat just for your food, Ben.”
“I’m a growing boy!”
I can’t remember the last time that I saw a movie in a theater. I think it might have been 2002 or 2003. I had always figured that my next movie in a theater would be the BSB documentary.
Instead I was watching a movie with a Backstreet Boy. And a Backstreet Boy’s son.
“If we don’t hurry up, we’re gonna have to sit in the front,” Ben smiles. “And mom hate the front, don’t you?”
I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever sat in the front row of a movie, but then again I don’t remember squeezing a baby out of my vag either. I smile.
Nick gives me a look and my smile widens. His eyes narrow suspicious but crinkle at the corners. The faux mad look makes him look especially attractive.
Attractive? As he turns to order, I frown. I don’t think Nick Carter is attractive. Never have, never will. I am sure that it is just the constant Nick force field that is jumbling my thoughts. I glance at my ticket.
“So what’s this Edge of Tomorrow?” I ask.
“It’s s’pose to be a great action movie,” Ben says. “Lots of guns and explosions and babes.”
“Well, old babes. Like your age.”
“No, you’re breathtakingly stunning and worldly. Unlike me who found that you were my type of woman very early on in life, Ben’s a work in progress.”
Nick wraps an arm around my shoulders and I suck in a breath. Ben snorts.
“It’s only ‘cause mom wouldn’t pay attention to you,” he shoots back.
The strong aroma of popcorn fills the entire space around me. Nick laughs. “Life is not worth living unless you have challenges.”
“Are you calling me a challenge?”
Nick’s fingers squeeze my shoulder. It’s not painful it’s…
“Oh, honey, you are the biggest challenge of my life. It’s why I love you like I do.”
I look up at him but he’s already looking at the movie poster. “I just wish this movie didn’t have Tom Cruise. I’m kinda bored with him as badass action hero. I’d look so much better in all that gear.”
“You really think a lot of yourself don’t you?”
“The only problem is dad can’t act.”
Ben dodges Nick’s hand which flies off my shoulder, protecting his popcorn bucket at all costs. I burst out laughing.
“You don’t think that too!” Nick complains.
I can’t answer. I am laughing too hard.
“”I’m the next Cary Grant,” Nick whines.
“Yeah the next Cary CANT-act,” Ben laughs.
“I want my popcorn back,” Nick demands.
“Uh-uh,” Ben just laughs harder.
“Consider acting a challenge,” I say through my own giggles. I have seen a few of Nick’s acting masterpieces on YouTube. Ben was actually being kind.
“My whole family hates me,” Nick laments.
“You would look good in the gear though.”
The words fly out of my mouth before I can stop them. Nick brightens.
“Oh really? Well, maybe I can work something up for a private session.”
His stare could melt an egg on a sidewalk. The theater seems to be scorching hot.
“That’s really gross. I think I might upchuck in my popcorn,” Ben declares. “I don’t want to sit you with two.”
Nick yanks open the theater door. “Of course you do Benny. You want to sit with us in the back row.”
Before the door closes behind us the light reflects on Ben’s horrified face. “I’m not sitting in makeout row with my mom and dad.”
I hear kissing noises and reach out and poke Nick in the back. “Stop!”
“That’s not what she said,” Nick shoots back.
“What?” I laugh.
“I’m taking my snacks and sitting here,” Ben declares, pointing at a row close to the front.
“Fine,” Nick relents. “Just don’t sneak out to any R-rated movie.”
Ben smirks. “Scout’s honor.”
“That doesn’t assure me,” I say with a smile. I’ve been around long enough to hear this conversation before.
Ben just laughs. “I’m good,” he says, plopping down in the seat and wedging his giant cup into the too-small cup holder.
Nick’s hand slides across my back and I almost jump. He points up. “There’s a couple towards the back.”
I realize that the only choice I have is the very front row or the last few rows in the back. People behind us are making their way around to reach the empty seats.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Nick grabs my hand and I am led up the steps. The same six commercials seem to be rotating on the screen because some of the people in the crowd are shouting out the answers to the movie scramble before it even has a chance to fully appear on the screen.
“Shit, they got the last one. Guess it is back row.”
I see a couple teens slide into the last three side-by-side-by-side seats. The only seats left are on the far left, a pair pressed against the back wall. I swallow hard as we make our way there.
I don’t know why I’m nervous. Then again, I do. I think about the kiss in the car and my palms grow sweaty.
“You okay? You look nervous.”
Nick smiles at me. He had changed into a pair of God-awful camo pants and a red t-shirt. He looked like a Christmas tree lot in the midst of a battlefield.
“Is that Courtney Ford and Nick Carter?”
I hear the whispers and as my eyes get accustomed to the dark, I see several people looking at us. At first I’m nervous, but then I realize nothing can happen if we are being gawked at by a crowd.
I am safe.
“It’s fine,” I smile, taking a piece of popcorn off the top of the bucket. I settle down in the far seat and Nick takes the aisle seat. His knee instantly connects with mine as he sprawls out in the small space we have. He sets our normal size drink in between us. Before I can say anything, the lights go down.
I don’t remember movies being so incredible loud, but then again I don’t think I’ve ever been wedged right by the speaker. It takes a couple minutes for my ears to get used to the change in volume. The previews fly by and I’m keenly aware of Nick as our hands go back and forth into the popcorn bucket. Every single time our fingers brush.
When the movie starts, I am almost too distracted by Nick’s hand to pay attention. It’s only as the large combat scene assaults my senses and I see Tom Cruise die in a blaze of glory that I get partially interesting.
And then the real story unfolds. Tom is back.
Stuck in a time loop. Fighting and dying in the same combat mission over and over again. I glance over at Nick. His eyes are glued to the screen. I think about what he told me about waking up each morning to my screams.
For those days when I kept leaving, every time I returned back to him. For Tom, this meant getting close to actually beating the alien bastards rather than dying. But what did it mean for me?
About halfway through the movie our popcorn totally disappears. Nick is on the edge of his seat, the last kernel stuck to his red shirt.
Slowly, I slid my hand over to him. He looks at me surprise. I arch my eyebrow, waiting.
He takes my hand and squeezes. As Tom flies through the air again, he leans towards me.
My heart is pounding, but I go in for the kiss. A long, slow, in the dark kiss...
And it is perfect.
Chapter 13 by evergreenwriter83
June 22, 2014
His lips are on mine and I am sweating. I don't think it is possible for one person to have this much body heat. I can imagine someone scanning Nick’s body with one of those infrared heat guns and every single section being lit up in lava-inducing red blotches.
Where Brian’s body had warmed me only when he was on me, Nick’s body is setting me on fire even though our lips are only touching. His hand touches my neck and I am sure it is going to leave a physical burn as the sheer feel of his fingers sends electricity soaring southward. I pull away slowly.
I am not sure how Edge of Tomorrow played out. I missed the entire end. Nick had barely kept his hand off my leg at the restaurant afterwards. It had taken up residence on my side as we bummed around the hotel room. Then, as soon as Ben had gone to bed so had we like two teenagers home alone.
Now here I am staring into his eyes.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” I explain. He props himself up on his elbow.
“We’re married, Court. I think we could get away with doing a little more.”
He grins. My mind has firmly been fixed on the ‘little more’ part of the scenario since I kissed him at the theater.
“You have to remember,” I say calmly and methodically, every word weighed carefully. “In my world, I just slept with Brian. Like days ago.”
“I’m willing to ignore that fact,” Nick laughs.
“But, I can’t. I’m not this type of girl. I’m not attracted to you.”
“Oh, really? Because I swear it seems like those little throaty noises that I totally like aren’t coming out of you because I am forcing enjoyment of my kisses.”
My face flames. “I’m not of right mind or body.”
“I could offer an examination and then provide my expert opinion.”
“Nick!” The thought holds more appeal that I can admit. I won’t admit it. I won’t.
He laughs. “What’s that thing people say? When in Rome? Well, you’re not in Rome. Maybe you’re in a time loop like Tom was in the movie, except your time loop keeps putting you in my bed. I’d say that’s a lot better than getting your body blasted with shrapnel.”
“I’m worried about what I'm going to get blasted with,” I shoot back before realizing how incredibly wrong it sounds. “I mean--”
Nick is already laughing. I am losing badly. His hand wraps around my leg at the knee and he presses against me. “Do you really want to know?”
I purse my lips. “I hate you.”
“Now, now,” he says softly. His lips press against my cheek and begin to move against my skin. “You don’t mean that.”
I groan. I don’t mean it. My problem is that, unlike with Brian, I am not drunk. My mind is going through every single scenario and repercussion. I can’t let myself go and just let actions take over. It doesn’t happen that way in my world. It--
“I think,” Nick murmurs again. I feel his hand graze the side of my breast before slowly making its way across. “That you are adequately stacked up in the body division here. And…” his hand slides down and over my hip. “Here…” his hand shoots back up to my other breast and squeezes the silicone-y, yet sensitive flesh.. My toes curl. “Here…” His hand is sliding its way along my ribs, his hand reaching my back, making it arch. His pointer finger runs the complete length of my spine. “Here…”
He is a magician, except instead of pulling a bunny out of a hat he is totally wearing me down. His touches are sending me back in tiny increments. As he runs his thumb along the heel of my foot, I am on my back, sinking into a mattress that probably cost more than the car I drove back and forth to work. His blonde tousled head soon hovers over me, his eyes smoldering. I open my mouth to give him another insight into my inner workings, but he presses his finger to my mouth and shakes his head.
“Watch me for three minutes and then you can speak,” he orders. My lips move again and he smirks, cutting me off. “Three minutes.”
I clamp my mouth shut and watch him. I can’t deny I am curious. He straddles my body and yanks his shirt over his head.
The body that he reveals is nothing short of amazing. I have seen every single stage of Nick play out in magazines over the years. For the most part, I am constantly reminded of a doofus with a little tummy. Even after he lost all the weight, he gained enough back to have a little stomach.
But this...this is a body I could fold my laundry on for the rest of my life. The abdomen is flat, the abs defined. A light smattering of blonde hair dips below his boxers, of which there is a noticeable strain. He takes my hand, his eyes drawing mine back up and locking into my gaze, and presses my palm into his heart. I want to close my eyes, but I can't look away.
This is not the beginning of sloppy drunk sex. I feel my hand being pulled down, my fingers trailing along every perfect ripple. I want to tell him how amazing he looks, but I remember I can't speak.
I'm breathing hard like Peg Bundy at a Chippendales show. I am a sad excuse for a level-headed metaphysicist. Nick brings my hand back up and the tips of my fingers are on his Adam's apple, then his chin, then his lips. He taked my fingertips into his mouth and kisses each one,
I am doomed. This is slow torture. At least Tom's movie deaths were quick but this little death is sprawling through me at a pace that makes me want to scream and plead.
He lingers on kissing the last finger before pulling away, dropping my hand and smiling.
"Three minutes, Thank you for your coop-"
My lips are on his and I am pulling him down on top of me. He plants his hands on either side of me, his whole body melding into me so exactly that it almost feels like we are already having sex even though most of our clothing is on. The feeling is something that I truly didn't believe existed in real life. If I feel like this now, what does that mean for the real act?
My logic tries with that question to break through but my hands, now slid under Nick's waistband and grabbing his ass, have a totally different agenda. He thrusts against me and I bite my lip so hard I almost taste blood.
“I want you Court,” he breaths. “This is the longest we’ve gone since we’ve been married and I...I need you.”
There is no air in the room. It has been sucked out and converted to a heat-making substance inside my body. I’m thinking that if time travel is possible that self-combustion from lust may indeed be something to fear.
“I want you, too,” I whisper. I don’t think my voice has the ability to go any louder. His finger hooks on the waistband of my shorts and slides them down in the centimeter of room he’s given our bodies. He kisses me long and hard before wrestling the clothing away from my ankles.
He does not come back to my lips. Instead, his lips find my hip bone and the inside of my thigh and my brain is full of nothing but empty air as primal instinct take over and my last fleeting thought is that it has to be illegal to fill this good. It is so good that my ears are ringing…
Except it is not my ears. It is my phone.
I ignore it. I have no choice. My body performs to Nick like a perfectly mixed chemical reaction. There is no doubt that everything he has told us about our relationship is true; he knows immediately where to touch to send me spiraling dangerously towards the brink, only to pull back enough to keep me hovering in a delicious, angst in-between that I’ve never before experienced that makes me want to beg for it to happen and yet not wanting it to be over. He is the spark that will send the whole thing off and I am totally in his hands, my hands gripping the sheets. I realize that if this is my reaction now that him within me will probably be my doom.
The ringing intensifies at the same moment I am pushed over the edge.
“Oh my god, Nick. Oh my god, oh my god.”
Instead of the cocky look that I expect on his face he gives me a soft smile and his body covers me again. He buries his face into the crook of my neck. The ringing dies.
Then it starts up again. Whoever calls is persistent. My right hand snakes into Nick’s hair. I lean my body to the left to silence my phone. I do not want this time to be interrupted. I now want Nick Carter more than anything in this world. More than--
The ringing stops and the phone vibrates as I turn it on silence. Before I can put the phone down, it vibrates quickly. I see the display that reads ‘1 new text message.’
I make the mistake of reading it. Just five words, but enough to bring me crashing down.
IT’S TIME TO GO HOME.
Chapter 14 by evergreenwriter83
June 22, 2014
“It’s the real Josh, I’m telling you. He told me when he was in his early twenties he was actually a hacker. He wasn’t evil or anything, but he wanted to see if he could get away with it. He would send text messages through other people’s phones and when people would call the number the owner wouldn’t have any clue what they were talking about. That’s why the government was so interested in him. They actually sent him through school because of his high level of technical knowledge. It makes sense he would contact me that way.”
“Court, the guy is a fruitcake. He likes to masterbate to the magazine spread you did for People. I mean, it was a hot spread, but I’m so pissed at him that I think I might kill him if I see his face again.”
“You’re only mad because he ruined our night.”
Nick gives me a small smile over his glass of orange juice. “That too. I was going to take you past the ‘oh my God’ level.”
“There’s another level past that?”
Nick laughs. “Two, actually. I try not to get us to the top level though. We always seem to get the cops called on us.”
“You may just want to stick around and find out for yourself then.”
I don’t answer. The first thing I had seen this morning was Nick. The first thing I felt was his arms around me.
My first thought was that I could get use to this. I could love Nick.
I did love him.
In forty-eight hours I had fallen in love with him. The way he is with Ben, the way he is with me...all of it is just like I had always thought life would Brian would be. Nick digs into his eggs and I study his profile. I have to find something. Anything to de-Nick-ify myself. Anything.
“How often do you brush your teeth?”
He takes his time chewing. Before he answers, I swear he runs his tongue over his teeth. “I brush every morning after breakfast except when we’re on the road. I’m really bad at remembering to brush when we’re on tour because we are running sixteen hours of day. I’m thinking that’s probably why I get sick on the road so much actually. It’s worth it, don’t get me wrong, but my hygiene’s the pits unless you’re there and I’m exhausted all the time. When you’re there, you keep me on track. But your tour never coincides with ours so we have a lot of phone sex.”
“We do not.”
“Oh yeah we do. Somewhere there are Verizon Wireless call centers with a dedicated group of employees that work at their shitty job every day just in the hopes of stumbling across one of our conversations.”
I snort. “You’re so lame.”
“And you’re so beautiful.” He props his chin in his hand. “Seriously, Court. I love waking up to you every morning.”
“I look disgusting in the morning.”
“No, you don’t. You take my breath away.”
“Probably because my morning breath’s so bad.”
He laughs and leans towards me. “Try me.”
My attempt to be grossed out by his hygiene has failed. His chin is full of blonde scratchy stubble and he hasn’t combed his hair, but the way his eyes dance and stay on me negate anything else. I meet him halfway and kiss him lightly.
“Do I smell bacon? Ugh, don’t get kiss-spit in the bacon!”
Nick pulls away and smiles, his eyes darting towards Ben as he shuffles into the room in his baggy pajama pants. “Morning Benners.”
“Good morning,” I say as he sticks his tongue out at Nick. He collapses in the only empty chair around our small table. I nudge the plate of bacon towards him. “Sleep good?”
“Uh-huh.” He begins shoving in bacon slices faster than I have ever seen anybody eat in their entire life. Even Nick looks at him. “Is there an emergency evacuation I’m not aware of?”
Ben pauses. “Huh?”
“You’re eating like this place is going to blow up.”
Ben laughs. “I’m hungry. I need my energy if I’m gonna drive today.”
Nick and Ben share a look.
“Well,” Nick pauses. “I promised Ben he could practice a little today.”
“You have your permit?”
“A California permit?”
Nick and Ben share another look.
“Well, it’s one from back home. I figure it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we found an empty parking lot and had him drive, babe.”
“And where are you going to find an empty parking lot in Sacramento?”
Ben cuts Nick off before he can answer. “Mom, c’mon. I can drive. I’ve been driving since I was fourteen.”
“Kevin. Country roads. Totally fine. It wasn’t like we were in a crowded place where the car could rollover or something,” Nick explains. Ben nods while he stuffs a half slice of toast in his mouth. A big drop of strawberry jelly smears at the corner of his mouth.
Something in me that I’ve never felt makes me persistent. I can’t picture Ben behind the wheel of the car. His baby face is not old enough to drive. “You don’t need to be in a crowded place for rollovers to happen. Rollover accidents are directly related to a vehicle's stability in turns. That stability is influenced by the relationship between the center of gravity and the track width (distance between the left and right wheels). A high center of gravity and narrow track can make a vehicle unstable in fast turns or sharp changes of direction--increasing the odds that it will tip over once it begins to skid sideways.”
There is silence. The jelly blob actually slips from the corner of Ben’s mouth onto his chin and he still doesn’t notice it. I look at both of them, confused.
“My brain hurts now,” Nick says.
“How do you know that?” Ben asks.
I know that I can’t tell him the truth. Nick does too. We share a look and I know he is going to leave the response to me. I sigh.
“Let’s get ready and go find that empty parking lot.”
Chapter 15 by evergreenwriter83
June 22, 2014
A Random, Deserted Parking Lot in Sacramento
“Okay, apply the brakes slowly.”
“Sorry! Shit! This rental has touchy ass brakes! We’re good.”
My life has flashed before my eyes no less than four times in the last fifteen minutes. Ben has braked too hard, sent us up on two wheels, and pretended to parallel park between two rocks sending the rocks sailing off halfway across the parking lot. If the rocks had really been cars, they would have looked like accordions by the time Ben turned off the car.
Ben is the worst driver in the world.
And Nick is the calmest person in the world. I know that if I had taken the passenger seat that my foot would have already gone through the windshield. Nick is totally composed, one arm draped across the top of his head.
“Okay, Ben,” he says. “Pretend this is a basketball court. You’ve got to get from one end to the other to make your basket without running into your opponent. I mean that’s the ideal scenario, right?”
Ben stares out the window, a fixed determination on his face. “Right.”
“Well this parking lot is the court and the trees, landscape square-thingys that I can’t think of what they’re called, and that speed bump are your opponents. I want you to drive around the tree, slow down on the speed bump and turn right, go three spaces past the square-thingy--”
“Flower box,” I laugh.
“Yeah, flower box,” Nick stretches out even more. “And then focus on that parking space. That parking space is the hoop. This whole car is your ball. Make the ball go in the hoop, Ben. Do it.”
Ben has been staring out the window the whole time. He grips the steering wheel at 10 and 2 and nods. “Make the ball go through the hoop,” he repeats.
“YOU CAN DO IT!” Nick shouts.
“I CAN DO IT!” Ben shouts.
Nick turns and looks at me.
“Wha? Oh--YOU CAN DO IT!” I shout.
I’m not sure he can do it.
“The key is to keep a logical pace. You know they can always get the guy that goes balls to wall because you’re not in control of your own body.”
Nick’s voice is hypnotic. I’m convinced that if he quit BSB today, that he would be the best driving instructor that the world has ever seen.
Ben doesn’t answer. He is concentrating. Concentrating seems to be the key. The car moves smoothly and I don’t feel like I’m going to see anything horrific like a squirrel being smushed into the pavement. He takes the turn around the tree smoothly.
“You got this,” Nick says softly.
The speed bump in the parking lot has been the worst thing so far. My head has connected with the top of the car no less than five times. As we near it, my hands curl into the seat.
It’s nothing more than a gently bounce.
“Yes...yes…” Nick chants.
Ben turns right. The flower box comes into view with a dazzling display of red and orange flowers. There is a small tire mark from when he rode up on the white concrete fifteen minutes prior.
We pass it without a problem.
“Homestretch,” Nick commentates.
The parking spot is not far and Ben slows, giving himself a much better turning radius than ever before. I hold my breath. Ben’s hands shift positions on the wheel.
Nick has picked a parking spot that will not put us in mortal peril if Ben fails. Then problem is I don’t want him to fail. I want with every fiber of my being to see him succeed.
I close my eyes, but not completely. Through the slits I see Ben turn the wheel.
It is one of the most amazing half-slit views I’ve ever seen. He aligns the car up in the space perfectly. I hear the loud exhale as he turns off the car and holds up his hands.
“YOU DID IT!”
The scream comes from me. I’m reaching over the seat and locking him in a tight choke-hold. He laughs as I kiss his cheek.
“You’re killing him, honey. Calm down. Good job, buddy. You totally had--SHIT GET DOWN!”
My face suddenly lands into the back seat. I see a lot of blonde hair dodging in the front. “Switch me seats.”
“Switch me seats. There’s a cop car pulling up.”
“What? But you said this was okay!”
“I might have lied! Switch!”
My heart begins to pound. I mentally retract my statement about Nick being the best driving instructor ever and I realize that I had been right at breakfast. The almighty Tennessee permit wasn’t good here in Cali.
“Ouch, dad your elbow just jabbed my eye!”
“That’s good! No way they’d think I’d let you drive with a swollen eye!”
“Court, yell at me later!”
A second later Nick and Ben pop up on opposite sides. Nick glances at me.
“Just smile, honey. That usually gets us out of everything.”
I wonder exactly how much stuff I’ve gotten us out of before. I glance back and see the cop car park right behind us. A tall, Tom Selleck-looking cop gets out. My heart is pounding as he walks up to the driver’s side. Ben is still rubbing his eye. Nick takes a deep breath and cranks down the window.
Nick makes fast work or pulling out his license. He hands over the rental paperwork.
“Yes, sir. We’re heading to our place in L.A. tonight.”
“And what brings a Backstreet Boy out to an abandoned parking lot in the middle of an afternoon?” The officer says it with disdain. Nick doesn’t bat an eye.
“The brakes on the rental are a little squeaky and I wanted to test them out before getting stuck in rush hour traffic. I didn’t see a private property sign so I apologize if we’re trespassing.”
Nick is so smooth it makes me want to laugh. The officer looks over at Ben.
“I had a report that someone was driving recklessly through here. I couldn’t help but notice that tire mark on the flower bed over there.”
“Oh, that. Yes, well I’ll admit the sun was in my eyes.”
“Reports said a young boy was driving.”
The officer looks past Nick at Ben. Ben’s stopped rubbing his eye. He looks guilty. This is not going to end well.
“Well, my husband does have a boyish face,” I say way cheerier than I feel.
It works. He turns and looks at me. Recognition lights his eyes and he smiles. He obviously doesn’t hate the Backstreet Boy’s wife.
“Are you Courtney Ford?”
I smile so bad my face hurts. “Yes, I am.”
“My wife loves you,” he almost blushes. “You’re going to L.A. for the concert, aren’t you? We’re heading down for it.”
“Oh,” I don’t know what to say. I’m suddenly reminded that I am expected to sing in front of tens of thousands of people in two days time. I feel sick. The office is grinning at me.
“Do you think maybe I could get a picture with you?”
“What?” I am stunned. I’m wearing old worn knee jeans and a black tank top and my hair is tangled from this ride of doom. “Uhm, sure.”
“I’ll take it for you,” Nick offers.
The next sixty seconds is totally ludicrous. I’m standing in front of a police car with the officer’s arm around my shoulder and I’m smiling so hard that I think my face is going to freeze. Nick is snapping photos on the guy’s cell phone and Ben looks like he’s about to burst into tears and laughter at the same time.
“You folks have a safe trip,” the officer says as Nick hands back the phone. “Watch those brakes.”
Nick grins. “You got it.”
I don’t drop the smile until we’re in the car and the officer pulls away. Nick exhales loudly.
“Like his wife was the fan,” he says sarcastically. “He practically had a woody standing there.”
Ben snorts. “A woody.”
“I don’t think EITHER of you should be joking around right now.”
I fold my arms and look into the rearview mirror. Nick stares back, suddenly sheepish. Ben slouches in his seat.
“The boss has spoken,” Nick says solemnly.
I sit back in my seat. It isn’t until Nick gets out onto the road that I twitch a smile.
I like the idea of being the boss.
Chapter 16 by evergreenwriter83
June 23, 2014
En Route to L.A.
“Hey, you know what I just realized?”
“We never went paintballing.”
“We took you driving instead. Besides, AJ promised to go with us once we got to L.A. He said there’s this awesome new place that he thinks we’ll like.”
“Sweet. Hey, can we get some food? I’m starving.”
“It’s 2 a.m.”
“So? There’s a million things open at 2 a.m.”
“We’ve stopped four times for food. It’s been nine hours and my ass is asleep. I think you can wait until we go out for breakfast tomorrow.”
“My stomach is seriously going to eat itself.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“Just give him some food.”
I keep sliding in and out of sleep, but it seems like every single time I wake up Nick and Ben are talking about the same thing: Food.
“The average boy grows the fastest between 14 and 16 years of age,” I yawn.
“See? You don’t want me to be a midget! I have to be taller than dad. See up there? Taco Bell.”
“Taco Bell gives you death farts.”
“So? We’re almost home.”
“I don’t want you filling the house with death farts right when we walk in! It’s been closed up for a couple months as it is. If you add death fart to the stale air there’s no telling what might happen. I may have tried it once and burned Uncle Kevin’s eyebrows right off.”
“There’s no way anything would be able to burn those things off,” Ben laughs.
I press my forehead against the glass. The air is on in the car, but the night is warm and muggy. It reminds me of the night before the experiment when I couldn’t fall asleep.
“Besides, Taco Bell is healthier than In-n-Out Burger,” Ben begins to protest. “There’s lettuce and tomato and nutrients and junk.”
“One word: beans.”
“Taco Bell. No beans. Next block,” I yawn. My legs are asleep and I feel completely folded up even though the car is roomy. I’m not a good traveller. As terrifying as the plane was, at least it was mercifully quick.
A half hour later, the car smells like Taco Bell and Nick is pulling up to the most beautiful beach house I have ever seen in my entire life. Then again, I haven’t been face-to-face with a lot of beach houses. Most of the people who own them in Cali are too rich to associate with me.
“Home sweet home,” Nick declares. The driveway is endless and the house doubles in size the closer we get. Even in the darkness, I can tell there are walls of windows, so many that I almost don’t want to sleep so I can watch the sun rise.
“This is beautiful,” I say as we get out of the car. My legs are tingling from my hips to my toes.
“Don’t you remember the house?” Ben asks, frowning. “You and dad picked it out right after you got married.”
“It’s only been a couple of days, Ben,” Nick says before I can disappoint him. He yanks open the trunk and I go to him to help retrieve bags. “A brain as amazing as your mom’s is going to take a little more time to heal.”
“Then maybe she shouldn’t perform,” Ben adds.
My neck snaps up. “I think Ben may be right,” I say quickly.
“There’s nothing wrong with your mom’s singing voice,” Nick says. Even if the dark I can see his snarky smile.
“It might be detrimental to my health,” I whisper under my breath.
“I think it might just be the thing to snap a few more things into place,” Nick counters, louder so Ben can hear.
I shoot him a dirty laugh that I know he sees because he laughs. Nick tosses a couple bags at Ben and we head up to the front of the house. Nick types in some sort of code and presses his thumb to a panel. I am torn between curiosity and exhaustion.
“We’ll unpack these tomorrow,” Nick says, dumping his load of bags by the door. Ben quickly follows suit.
“What about clothes?” I ask dumbly, still holding onto my bag.
“We keep stuff here,” Ben says gently. “Like tons of stuff.”
“Oh, of course we do,” I laugh, even though I feel like face-palming. “I’m just exhausted.”
“We have rehearsals tomorrow afternoon so we all better get to bed,” Nick yawns.
“What about paintballing?”
“Dude, Ben, I promise you we’ll get it in.”
A noxious odor begins to fill the room. Ben is already walking backwards towards the biggest staircase I have ever seen, his hand reaching back for the ballast.
“Okay, cool. No problem. Well, love you guys! Have a good night!”
“BENJAMIN THOMAS LITTRELL!” Nick screams, yanking his t-shirt over his nose.
Ben is already gone, but I can hear him laughing maniacally from somewhere above us..
“The silent ones are the worst,” Nick groans behind his fabric wall. “C’mon, babe, we gotta get outta here before it kills us.”
He takes my hand and I follow him up the stairs. I’m so tired, but I feel like a bobblehead trying to soak it all in. If I were ever to design a house, this would be the one I would design. Everything about it is perfect.
The moment we walk into our bedroom I know I had died and gone to heaven. The bed is gigantic and the colors on the spread are a mix of ocean blues and grays. It is twice as big as the bedroom in Nashville and four times the size of my apartment back in real life.
“I will never leave this room,” I declare.
“As appealing as that sounds,” Nick rips off his shirt. If I weren’t so tired, I would have taken time to appreciate the view. Instead, I rip off my own. I am too tired to even hunt around for pajamas. “Actually, it sounds very appealing. I might have a little energy left.”
“I have none,” I announce, flinging my underwear-clad self onto the bed. The moment my skin hits the sheets my whole body unwinds. I am on a cloud.
“Well,” the bed doesn’t even creak as Nick climbs on. He hovers over me. “the room looks even sexier in the morning.”
“Mmm,” I mumble.
“Of course we have to be to the studio early.”
“I’m not singing.”
“We’re going early so it’s just you and me. It’ll be fine.”
Nick slides my hair off my neck and presses a kiss on me.
“Your voice is amazing.”
“You’re sleeping aren’t you?”
I am barely cognizant of his weight disappearing and reappearing to my side. “I love you babe,” he whispers.
It’s the last thing I hear.
Chapter 17 by evergreenwriter83
June 23, 2014
Village Studios, L.A.
Tangled up in you, feeling so complete
With every single move you satisfy me
Baby just one touch, your breath upon my skin
And I can't help myself, I'm thirsty again
“This is an awesome song, but it’s not me.”
I pull the headphones off and try to give them to Nick, but he shakes his head. “That’s you.”
“Is too! Don’t make me bring up YouTube to prove it.”
“Nick, I can’t sing.”
“You sing amazing. C’mon Court. Just try.”
I sigh. Ben is back at the house being a bum at the beach, soaking up the sun and meanwhile I am stuck in an epic recording studio unable to sing. The whole thing seems like one big injustice.
“Nick, I will pee my pants if I go up on that stage.”
“No, you won’t. And if you do they’ll just pretend you spilled your water.”
“From my pants?”
Nick just grins. “Babe.”
I exhale. My palms are sweating. I’m itching to take the recording booth apart just to see how it all works. Or maybe I just want to take it apart to prevent having to try to carry a tune. I crack my knuckles.
“How does time travel work?”
Nick picks up a guitar and swings the strap over him. He strums a chord. “Tell me how time travel works.”
He smiles. “Unless you’d like to play nice and sing.”
I close my eyes and sigh again.
“At its most basic level, time is the rate of change in the universe -- and like it or not, we are constantly undergoing change. We age, the planets move around the sun, and things fall apart. We measure the passage of time in seconds, minutes, hours and years, but this doesn't mean time flows at a constant rate. Just as the water in a river rushes or slows depending on the size of the channel, time flows at different rates in different places. In other words, time is relative. Get it?”
Nick grins. “Not at all. But go on.”
“Let me explain it a different way. Human beings frolic about in the three spatial dimensions of length, width and depth. Time joins the party as that most crucial fourth dimension. Time can't exist without space, and space can't exist without time. The two exist as one: the space-time continuum. Any event that occurs in the universe has to involve both space and time. Better?”
Nick laughs. “No. But continue because I’m loving this.”
I roll my eyes. “Time travel into the future happens all the time. Because any event that occurs in the universe has to involve both space and time. Gravity doesn't just pull on space; it also pulls on time. Speed also plays a role in the rate at which we experience time. Time passes more slowly the closer you approach the unbreakable cosmic speed limit we call the speed of light. Fast forwarding in time is actually fairly simple.”
“Totally sounds like it.”
I smile. “You’re so sarcastic.”
He plays another few chords. He looks incredibly hot playing a guitar. “I just love hearing you talk nerd.”
“It’s not nerdy!”
“Mmm,” Nick hums. “Continue. How about time travel to the past?”
I take a deep breath. “It’s extremely tricky. Our basic foundation started with the assumption that as an object nears the speed of light, its relativistic mass increases until, at the speed of light, it becomes infinite. Accelerating an infinite mass any faster than that is impossible. We hypothesized that warp speed technology could theoretically cheat the universal speed limit by propelling a bubble of space-time across the universe. The problem was finding a way to enact it without causing a giant energy zap of the universe’s resources.”
“But you did it,” Nick points out.
“To an extent. See, we discovered Kerr black holes. These are a special type of black hole that has long been speculated to contain the ability to pass through it and exit through a white hole. Think of this as the exhaust end of a black hole. Instead of pulling everything into its gravitational force, the white hole would push everything out and away from it.”
“Is that why you shimmered every time you left?”
I smile. “Maybe. I find that fascinating actually. See, we found a way to harness the energy of the kerr black hole within the small physical space of the compact. The display on the back tells the button how much gravitational force to build up in order to rewind to the time desired. Of course, the most interesting part of this whole thing is trying to figure out whether my travels are really a result of the discovery of a parallel universe or some type of causal loop.”
“And what’s your best bet?”
“Right now I’m thinking parallel universe.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
I smile. “Not necessarily, but it does bring about the difficulty of returning to my own universe. For all I know, every time I leave you I end up in another similar parallel universe and don’t actually return like you think I do.”
Nick frowns, his fingers spreading over the front of the guitar. “As much as I love conspiracy theories and the idea of other life, this is one time when I wish science would go take a giant leap in the lake.”
"Science is the key to unraveling life's biggest mysteries," I say passionately.
Nick is still frowning, but he looks a little more thoughtful. "So let me give you a science lesson."
I laugh. "You? A science lesson? In what?"
The smile comes from nowhere. "Singing."
“Singing is a form of sustained speech that--”
Nick stands up and I look at him in confusion. I’m sitting on a swivel chair still holding the headphones. He walks up behind me.
“Close your eyes.”
“So I can chop you into itty-bitty pieces. What do you think?”
“I’m the scientist in this room. Close your eyes.”
I sigh (yes, again) and close my eyes. I feel his hands on my shoulders.
“Shoulder’s back. You can’t sing when you look like Quasi-bozo.”
“Whatever. Chin up.”
“This isn’t going to work,” I complain. I tilt my chin up.
“Breathe in and then exhale.”
“Tighten up your stomach muscles more when you exhale. The shoulders and chest should never drop.”
I repeat the process. It feels odd to tighten my stomach muscles and I almost think Nick knows what he’s talking about.
“Okay, now do-re-mi me.”
“Yes, you can. A tone-deaf frog can do that.”
I stifle a sigh and clasp my hands together.
“One more time.” His hands spread across my abdomen as if checking to make sure I’m following instructions. I almost forget the lyrics.
Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. Surprisingly, by the third time it doesn’t sound as horrible as I thought it would.
Nick laughs. “Yes, really.”
“I still can’t do this.”
“I know you can. Listen to this song three times and then I’ll record you trying it. If you suck, we’ll fake your demise to get you out of tomorrow.”
“Not about the demise part.”
Nick slides the headphones on my head and disappears into the control booth. The song that fills the headphones is different, less sultry. Infinitely more fun. I find myself grinning. By the second time, I’m actually tapping my foot. By the third time I’m mouthing along. I slide off the headphones as Nick walks back in.
“Love it. Who sings it?”
Nick grins. “You, dork. It was your first #1.”
“Do I jest? You ready?”
Nick gives me a thumbs up and disappears again. I close my eyes and try to remember the hints he gave me. I almost wish he was back in with me with his hands pressed into my stomach.
Flushed your picture down the toilet
Got your email, I ignored it.
Then you call me
Your voice is so sexy
Heaven help me
It always gets me
I love you, I hate you
I love you, I crave you
You’re driving me insane
I kiss you, I curse you
Sometimes I wanna hurt you
I wish you’d go away
On second thought, please stay
I love you, I hate you
It all just depends on the day
I feel like I am doing karaoke. I’m giving it my all, but I feel like a ham.
So why does my heart find you so TOTALLY infectious?
As the instrumental takes over at the end, I open my eyes and smiles. The sound fades from the headphones, replaced by Nick’s voice.
“Ready for playback?”
The last thing I want to hear is myself, but I nod and clutch at the headphones, ready to rip them off at a moment’s notice.
But as my voice starts, I realize that it really is the same voice I was listening to as I memorized the lyrics. I glance over at the control booth in astonishment. Nick’s beaming. Slowly he brings up his hands and forms a heart.
I can sing.
Chapter End Notes:
Time Travel Info: http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/time-travel.htm
Chapter 18 by evergreenwriter83
June 23, 2014
The Forum, L.A.
“I’m going to puke.”
“It’s not that big, mom. You’ve played bigger.”
I jab Nick in the stomach and feel the blush coming on. I feel like a teenager with him. My lips are puffy from kissing him until I fell asleep. I’m pretty sure his plan had been for more than kissing and didn’t involve me falling asleep, but he didn’t complain this morning. Instead, I woke up to him staring at me and playing with my hair. The first thing he said was, ‘I love you.’
I would have given anything for a day to just bum around the house of my dreams, but instead we were at the Forum at 11:00 a.m. before anyone else except for some staging and lighting guys.
“You usually do choreography,” Nick says nonchalantly as he follows me around the stage. Ben jumps off (making my heart stop) and begins to monkey climb over chairs. I look at Nick in panic. He grins.
“The good news is this isn’t a typical concert. We’re both going to do acoustic sets. That means you just get to sit on a wooden stool and look pretty. Oh, and play guitar.”
“You can pretend.”
“Nick,” this whole thing is sounding worse by the minute. “I can’t even pretend to play guitar. People that play will know that I’m not playing. I’m going to die. I can barely remember the words to all the songs from yesterday let alone--”
“Relax,” he throws his arm around me. “We’re going to pull a Tim and Faith.”
Nick tosses his head back and laugh. “I’m going to strum my guitar and look at you like I want to rip your clothes off with my teeth. Meanwhile you can clutch the microphone stand for dear life and just sing your pretty little heart out.”
I exhale. “You’re my hero.”
“I was kind of hoping you’d say that,” he teases. “After concert hero-worship is always fun.”
“Gag me. Can’t you two stop for even a minute? Jesus, you guys give me fucking heartburn. How’s the playmate for Ava coming?”
I turn around in surprise. Nick wraps his arms around me and nuzzles my neck as if this is an everyday occurrence. Then again, it probably is. “Work in progress. Give me another couple days.”
“Make sure it’s a girl,” AJ smirks. “The world can’t handle another dongle running around.”
“My dongle could date your daughter. We could be family.”
AJ looks horrified. “You’re already family,” he shoots back after getting the look of vomit off his face. “So that would be incest.”
“Why…..why do I always walk in at the wrong moment? Holden, go with mama!”
“We keep it in the family already. Look at how much Holden’s looking like me!” Nick grins. “C’mere, buddy!”
The most adorable blonde little boy that I have ever seen (well, besides Ben’s baby pictures), freezes. He looks off where I suspect Howie’s wife Leigh is and then back at Nick and then up to Howie.
“C’mere,” Nick sing-songs. He lets me go and crouches down, holding out his arms.
Holden starts running, a big lop-sided, nearly toothless smile lighting up his face.
“He is not yours Nick and stop saying that! Someday someone’s going to hear you and--”
“Who’s my buddy? Who’s my little buddy?”
“What is he, a poodle? Hey Court, you’re looking beautiful as always.”
AJ kisses my cheek. AJ-fucking-McLean kisses my cheek. I am tongue-tied.
“Court, I don’t know how you handle this guy,” Howie hugs me. “No wonder you go on tour so much. Where’s Ben?”
I struggle to regain my voice. “I--”
“Hey D! Hey Uncle Trombone!” Ben is lounging in the sound booth about halfway back. The only reason I can tell is that I see his gigantic shoes up on the board.
AJ laughs. “Shithead!”
“Grow a pair!”
“BENJAMIN THOMAS LITTRELL!”
AJ snickers. “Nick’s teaching him well.”
“He started it mom!”
“Listen to your mom!” Nick calls out as he flips Holden upside down to a burst of squeals.
“But you said--”
“I’m always wrong!”
AJ cracks up. Howie laughs. “Baby Nicky’s gotten wise.”
“It only took me 34 years,” Nick quips. “Go tackle daddy!”
He sets Holden down and he immediately falls, his chunky legs halfway between a baby’s and a toddler’s easily giving up. Howie scoops him up. “You got me!”
I’m realizing quickly how bad the combination of men and babies are. I glance at Nick and he meets my eyes.
It only gets worse. Five minutes later Kevin walks in holding Max.
“There’s my other illegitimate child now,” Nick says quietly, but loud enough for Kevin to hear. Kevin looks at Howie.
“He’s still doing it?”
“Have you ever known him to stop doing anything that’s remotely annoying?”
“Court should kick your butt. Hey babe.”
I am in the presence of Kevin Richardson and I am graced with my second (well, third counting Nick) Backstreet Boy kiss of the day. “You’re looking good considering you have to put up with this guy all the time.”
“It’s my pleasure,” I say. Nick grins at me. Max smiles at me. There are so many blonde boys in the room that it is cuteness overload. “Hey handsome.”
“Go see Aunt Court,” Kevin says calmly and gently. It’s the way I’ve always thought of him even though I’ve heard he has his explosive moments. I’m sure that I’m going to drop the little guy but suddenly he’s in my arms and touching my face. He isn’t even crying.
“Hard to believe Ben was ever that little, huh?”
I smile at Kevin. “Yeah, I don’t remember a time he was this little,” I laugh. Yet, inside I grow sad at the thought. I will never have those memories like other moms.
“A perfect picture,” Nick says as he comes over to us. He kisses Max’s forehead and does this weird handshake thing with Kevin that reminds me of Will and Jazz on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
“You’re gonna have to get your own,” Kevin warns. He holds out his arms and I transfer Max back into them.
“I keep telling them I need time to corrupt the kid before I head off to college.”
Ben’s climbing back onto the stage, his blonde hair falling forward. His hair curls at the nape of his neck like Brian’s used to.
“I hear University of Kentucky has a good program,” Kevin says. Ben runs over and they hug tightly.
“I’m thinking more University of Tennessee or Vanderbilt,” Nick says.
“Vanderbilt has a sweet science program,” Ben agrees.
Ben shrugs. “It’s interesting.”
My heard practically dissolves. “It is interesting,” I agree. “You’d be a great metaphysicist.”
Ben laughs. “No idea what that is. UC Berkeley has a great physics program though.”
“I’ve heard University of Georgia is even better.”
It’s a new addition to the conversation. I turn my head and look behind me.
Chapter 19 by evergreenwriter83
June 23, 2014
The Forum, L.A.
Brian. Brian Littrell. Brian, the Backstreet Boy who touched my hand twice at two different concerts. Brian, the Backstreet Boy who is the whole reason I am here. Brian, the Backstreet Boy who I remember getting drunk with (but not that much about the sloppy sex afterwards).
Brian, the Backstreet Boy who is the reason that Ben is here and squeezing my hand. Brian the Backstreet Boy who, if Nick is to be believed completely, is a douche.
“Hey Brian,” I say, my voice betraying me by cracking as if I’m a stupid teenager. Been there, done that. Twice it seems.
“Long time no see,” he grins. He steps forward and hugs both Ben and me. I hear a mutual backslap from father and son.
“Hey, dad. I got to drive yesterday.”
Brian pulls back, surprised. “What? Really? But your license--”
Ben shrugs. “Nick was cool with it.”
Brian smiles, but I can tell there’s tension there. “Of course he was. Nick’s totally cool with everything.”
“Cool? What’s cool?”
Nick is by my side, his hand hovering by my elbow. I’m being flanked by my two guys. It relaxes me. Slightly.
“You are,” Brian punches Nick’s arm and I’m not sure it’s all friendly. “Ben was telling me you guys played human Mario Kart yesterday.”
Nick just laughs. “Mario Kart? Not quite. This guy wasn’t dropping any banana peels.”
Ben beams with pride. “No way. And even when the cops pulled up--”
“It was nothing,” Nick says quickly. “Just checking that we weren’t lost. We were in an empty parking lot.”
“Dad, can we check my mic?”
From the shadows, Baylee runs up. He is a perfect little version of Brian complete with microphone. He tosses it in the air and catches it. He smiles at Ben. “Hey.”
“I started football camp. I’m totally kicking butt. It’s the same camp that you got kicked out of.”
Ben’s smile falls. “I didn’t get kicked out. I just didn’t like playing. The coach was an ass.”
“Well he was!”
“Is it still Coach Mack?” Nick asks.
“Yeah, he’s super tough!” Baylee starts running in place as if to demonstrate the point.
“Yeah, he was totally an ass,” Nick agrees.
Nick just grins. “Yes?”
Brian just shakes his head. Suddenly, he grabs Baylee’s microphone. “Let’s run it through its paces, champ.”
Nick, Ben, and I watch them walk off. I see a split second of hurt in Ben’s face and then it is gone. He rocks back on his heels and smiles again. “Can I go check to see if catering’s set up yet, mom? I’m starving.”
I want to hug him. I want to tell him everything’s okay. I just don’t understand it all.
“Of course you can.”
Ben doesn’t waste a second. He is gone with a quick, mushed together ‘thank you.’
Nick and I are suddenly alone on stage.
“Doesn’t he realize that Ben doesn’t think he’s loved as much as Baylee?” I ask quietly.
Nick doesn’t answer immediately. When he does, he stares out into the darkess of the empty arena. “When Ben was little he was obsessed with Barney. I spent six months on a bus during the Black and Blue tour with that damn smiling short-armed purple bastard singing the I Love You song. Ben would poop and he wouldn’t tell either of us because he didn’t want to miss Barney and he didn’t believe me when I told him I could pause the tape.”
I laugh. “You’re so random.”
He gives me a small smile. “Not really. I’m telling you that for a reason. Even though life can be shitty, Ben has someone that loves him unconditionally. DNA isn’t everything. He’s my son and I love him. He may look like Brian, but he’s the amazing boy he is because you’re his mother and because I’ve never stopped butting into your lives.”
I let the tears come. I bury my face in Nick’s chest, my nails digging into his back.
“I love you,” I choke.
His arms tighten around me. I feel his body shake.
“It’s the first time you’ve said that since this whole crazy thing happened,” he whispers.
“You’re just...perfect…” I unpeel my face from his chest. “I love you. I love Ben. I love...I love this life.”
“It’s the Barney effect, right?” Nick asks.
We both smile before our lips meet.
I’m alone in my dressing room. My hair is done. My makeup is flawless.
I don’t know the person in the mirror.
I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’ve drank enough lemon water to sink a small fleet of boats and my trips to the bathroom reflect it. My fingers are clenching and unclenching and I keep staring at myself in the mirror.
My hair looks like silk and the way the makeup artist did my eyeshadow and liner makes my eyes look much larger than they really are. I’m wearing a low cut shirt and a pair of jeans that almost, almost, prevent me from being able to wear underwear. It’s modest compared to other singers I’ve seen, but it’s still so unlike me.
I keep glancing from the mirror to the papers spread in front of me. Lyrics to eight different songs. Nick has practiced them with me with the patience of a saint.
I can do this.
I’m reaching towards one of the sheets when someone knocks on the door. I assume it’s Nick.
I grab the paper and pull it closer. The notes are foreign to me but I remember the words and match them up to the melody in my head. A pair of strong hands presses down on my almost bare shoulders.
“How do you keep getting more beautiful?”
I look up. It’s not Nick.
Brian’s face is reflected in the mirror.
I don’t know how to answer.
“You look happy,” he continues.
“I am happy.”
“You deserve it, Court. I just wanted to come in and say, again, how sorry I am about everything that’s gone on between us. I hate when we argue.”
His hands have moved down my arms slightly.
“It’s okay,” I say in an attempt to be the bigger person. “We’re in this together for Ben.”
“Ben’s an awesome kid. He’s growing up so fast.”
His hands slide down more. I squirm. The touch isn’t friendly. It’s--
“I was thinking this morning about the day Nick married Lauren.”
He pauses as if he’s waiting for me to say something. I don’t have anything to add. My brain is working quickly.
“Baylee was sick so Leighanne didn’t come. You arrived at the last minute in a blue little dress and your hair was soaking wet as if you had decided to come right in the middle of a shower. I thought about you and me in the wine cellar...your lips on my…”
His hand slides to my breast and I’m up out of my chair. I grab the nearest implement I can find. Unfortunately, it’s a mascara wand.
“Get out, douche!”
He looks confused. He’s so incredibly attractive and yet there’s a layer of anger.
“You’re seriously going to pull this? You’re treating me like I’m the creep? Get real Courtney. You’ve never hesitated to follow me around, pathetic and desperate, ready to drop your panties for me. Your goal in life is to ruin my marriage. Sadly, I think you might be succeeding.”
I grit my teeth. “You’re doing a damn good job of that all by yourself. Get out now.”
He turns to leave, but before he reaches the door he turns back around. His expression softens slightly. “Court, wait. You gotta listen. That wasn't the reason I came in here.”
“I don’t have to listen to anything. Get out!”
Brian holds his hands out, palm up. “It’s my heart again. I don’t want more surgery but Leighanne...Leighanne’s threatening to leave me if I don’t go through with it. I just can’t think about it anymore.”
I slowly lower the mascara wand. Brian Littrell, Backstreet Boy, is falling apart right in front of me.
“It’s just like it was back then,” a tear slides down his cheek. “I kept postponing because there was tour after tour and I wasn’t feeling bad, but my heart was wooshing and she left me and everything was going to pot. Then you came along and that one night…”
He sinks down on the couch. I sink back down in my chair.
“When I was getting wheeled into surgery, she was right there beside me and I hadn’t told her that I had slept with you that night. I was sure God was going to take me just to punish me for that.”
“But he didn’t.”
“No,” Brian wipes his face into his shirt. It doesn’t help. “I woke up and I made the sign for ‘I Love You More’ even before she could sign she loved me. I spent months feeling like a weakling and just when I thought I was getting stronger you were back and you were pregnant...”
I close my eyes. It’s almost like I can see things playing out under the curtains of my eyelids.
“You’re my place to go when I’m the most scared, when I’m at my weakest. I’m weak, Court.”
I open my eyes slowly, unbelieving. To a fan, Brian Littrell looks like Brian Littrell, Backstreet Boy. A little thinner maybe but that could be explained away by the non-stop touring.
Only when I look deeper into those blue eyes do I see the man behind the facade.
“If you’re really in that bad of shape,” I whisper. “You need the surgery. You don’t need me. You need Leighanne and you need Baylee and you need Ben. You need support and prayers. I can help with that. I won’t help you make any more mistakes. I won’t ever do that to Nick. He’s put up with enough of that from me in the past.”
We’re both quiet. Brian’s crying slows.
“It’s just hard,” he finally says, his throat tight. “I was Nick’s guardian when we first started and then I see him unknowingly paying me back by helping with Ben. I think Ben would hate me more if it wasn’t for Nick.”
“Ben doesn’t hate you.”
“He does a little,” Brian’s lips twitch. “I just wish there were some do-overs in life. Don’t you? I wish I was more involved with Ben. I wish that he didn’t think I love Baylee more than him.”
“You still have time. It’s not too late.”
Brian slowly stands up. He walks towards me slowly. I let him hug me and slowly I hug him back.
“Can you forgive me Court? Please say you will. You were wrong before. I do need Leighanne and Baylee and Ben, but I need you too. After fifteen years I need you as a friend.”
I swallow the lump in my throat. “Will you get your surgery?”
I hug him tighter.
“Yes to it all.”
Chapter 20 by evergreenwriter83
June 23, 2014
The Forum, L.A.
“Don’t be nervous.”
“I’m not nervous.”
“Of course I’m lying.”
“You’re going to kick ass out there.”
“Just promise me one thing.”
“After this is over and we’re back at the beach house, I get to have my way with you.”
“Your…way with me? Seriously?”
“I might cancel the concert just so we can go now.”
I laugh. I’ve never felt so sure about anything in my entire life. Somewhere between this morning, surrounded by all the guys and the time Brian and I left the dressing room, the air seemed a lot cleaner. I could breathe. I knew what I wanted.
I want to see Ben get his driver’s license.
I want Nick’s baby.
Nick wraps me into his arms and kisses me so hot and heavy that I’m reluctant to let go. Only when I hear a roar of the crowd do we break.
“They want you,” Nick grins. “Not as much as me, but y’know…”
“Just a few hours.”
I am on a cloud as I walk out onstage. My thoughts block my nerves until the first spotlight hits directly on me. I stare out at the audience, but I’m blinded.
The spotlight dims.
It’s a full house. I think about the old trick of picturing your audience naked, but to be truly honest the faces blur together. I sit down on my stool and reach out to grip the microphone. I glance to my right. The crowd begins to cheer once again.
Nick, my hero, takes a stool behind me, a guitar strapped around him. He begins to play the acoustic melody of my first song and I close my eyes.
Sometimes I catch myself staring at the sky
Looking for the clouds 'cause my lips are dry
I don't need a flood for the craving to begin
Just one drop of rain and I'm thirsty again
Everything seems so much more real onstage. I can feel every goosebump on my skin and every bead of sweat that swells up at my hairline. My foot taps to the beat and my voice is magnified with the science the speakers expel.
Even with my earpieces in, I know the crowd is singing along. I open my eyes, just slightly and I’m astounded to see a million little cellphone lights twinkling back at me.
I’ve never tried to imagine how Nick or any of the guys feel when they take the stage. I’ve only known how things look and feel from the other side. I almost stop singing as the enormity of the whole thing comes crashing down.
It’s the most amazing feeling in the world.
Somehow I manage to finish the first song. As the lights go up I see the crowd on their feet and the sound of their cheers pushes against the soundpieces. I glance over at Nick and meet the eyes that were already looking at me. I didn’t have to watch any playbacks to know that they had been on me the whole time.
I have never smiled so hard in my entire life.
The rest of my set is a blur. I mess up only one time and even then I am able to mask my horror with a long held high note and kicking the microphone stand out of my way. I finish the show bouncing around to the more upbeat songs, choreography be damned. I’m pretty sure I look like I’m doing a female version of the Carlton, but I don’t care. If memory serves correctly, Nick has actually mastered that dance during Love Somebody.
My encore goes on without a hitch and before I know it Nick and I are backstage and he’s kissing me again. We’re a sandwich of sweat and I’m laughing into his mouth, cupping his face and attacking him with my lips.
“As much as I hate to break this up, you seriously have two minutes to get ready.”
I open my eyes to see Kevin standing behind Nick. He’s already dressed and his hair is immaculate. Even his eyebrows look combed.
“Don’t you see we’re having a moment?” Nick asks, his lips already repuckering.
“I love you,” I say passionately, kissing him again. And again. And one more time for good measure…
“Aw, fuck it,” Nick growls. He hugs me tightly. “Stay right here and watch,” he pleads.
“I won’t move an inch,” I promise.
No one else can teach me how to love again
‘Cause you left a permanent stain on my heart and I’ve been feeling it
Never mind what people say ’cause they don’t understand
How you left a permanent stain on my heart, you're never leaving it
I’m watching Nick jump around like a pogo stick when the disturbance happens. It starts as a mild scuffle and then my body guard is holding his walkie-talkie up to his ear.
“10-4. I’m on my way. Backup requested stage right for Mrs. Carter.”
“It’s not necessary,” I say to the big burly guy that looks a little bit like the guy from The Blind Side.
“I’m fine. I won’t move.”
He hesitates, but another call on the radio causes him to move back into the crowd. I turn back to the stage. I feel no fear. Leigh and Kristin have been floating around from time to time. I have yet to see Leighanne except from a distance. She has set up shop stage left.
I don't know what he does to make you cry
But I'll be there to make you smile
I don't have a fancy car
To get to you I'd walk a thousand miles
I don't care if he buys you nice things
Does his gifts come from the heart?
I don't know
But if you were my girl
I'd make it so we'd never be apart
“Time to go home, Courtney.”
The voice in my ear is so unexpected that my heart stills. I’m reminded of the research I’ve seen on flight vs. fight and yet I do neither. I am immobile. The voice is so familiar, yet so strange here. Where I had wanted to hear the voice even two days ago...now...now…
Now it’s so unwanted.
He grabs my arm and only then do I move. I twirl around to face him.
He gives me a smile, but it’s a tense one that is barely holding back annoyance. “You look nice.”
“Nice?” I repeat dumbly.
“I knew you shouldn’t have been the one to go. I knew it should have been Kal. Kal’s too stuffed up and boring to try anything. But you…”
His grip on my arm tightens and I wince. “Stop…”
“Why the almost bald one?” he says venomously. “You went back for him?”
“It was a crush…”
“And then you end up with Nick fucking shit-for-brains Carter?”
“Don’t you dare--”
“God, he's always around you. He's like a damn dog. Don't you get it? I’ve love you since the day they assigned you to the lab, Courtney. Couldn’t you see that? Do you have any idea what damage you’ve caused? You’re lucky we had a spare controller. I’ve started repairing things along the way. We can go back.”
His eyes are tear-filled, his voice is pleading, yet I'm terrified rather than empathetic. I can not process this information that he has had a crush on me. It's non-imperative. “Repairing things?” I repeat.
My heart freezes for a second time. Ben is running towards me, a panicked look on his face.
Josh yanks the spare controller, embedded into an old, worn wallet, out of his pocket.
“No wait!” I scream. My only thought is to stop Ben. I yank so hard that I’m sure I will rip my arm off.
“SECURITY!” Ben screams. “HELP! DON’T YOU DARE HURT MY MOM, YOU BAST--”
I break free and stagger towards him. He reaches out to me and our fingertips are almost touching. I can hear the sound of security running my way.
“All I needed was the big guys to have a little distraction. Kid, I hope you enjoyed being alive because you’re not going to be!”
My hand brushes Ben and is just as quickly pulled away as Josh tackles me. We hit the floor hard and my hip connects with the rough wooden floor of the back stage. I try to fight Josh off, but his arm is pinning me down, my hair shielding my eyes.
“MOM!” Ben screams. He leaps, but it is too late.
I feel it rather than see it.
There is cacophony all around me…
And then there is nothingness.
Chapter Twenty One
Chapter 21 by evergreenwriter83
The lab is all around me and I am screaming hysterically, tears pouring down my face. I am not cognizant that my hip is shooting jabs of pain down my body. I am on the floor, my nails trying to dig into concrete, my lungs burning. Josh still has me in a pin hold and instead of loosening, it only gets tighter.
Kal has a scream more impressive than my own, yet Josh does not let me go. Though I am sure I will die from the sheer momentum of my heart breaking, I have enough sanity to fold my fingers into one sure claw and send it searing up and back.
I connect with soft, squishy eyes.
Josh’s scream begins where mine ends. Tears stream down my face as I scramble up and away from him and then back, madly searching for the wallet.
Kal says my name gently. Her hand is on my shoulder, but I shrug her away.
“I’ve got to get back,” I gasp.
“You don’t understand. Ben...my son...I have to get back. They need me. I need them. I---”
I do not finish. I feel a slight prick piercing the sensitive skin on the side of my neck.
I collapse to the ground. I am conscious, but I am immobile. I realize that Kal has used the serum that we have only thus far tested on rats. Only my eyes can move.
“My fucking eyes. She ruptured my eyes! Kal--”
“Enough--” she says coldly.
“You didn’t follow orders.”
“I did too! I broke into the blonde idiot’s house and stole the compact out of his safe. I have it plus our back-up module. I---”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“She had to come back.”
“Did she? Was she not in a parallel universe?”
Josh does not answer right away. I am momentarily happy that my theory had been correct. I hadn’t ruined our universe. Instead, I had travelled back in time to one and then forwarded mistakenly into the future of the same universe.
I need to go back. For Ben.
For Nick. Josh is still babbling. I hone in on his ugly worn brown loafers.
“----but she couldn’t stay there. She was a whore. She had a kid with one Backstreet Boy and she was married to another Backstreet Boy, but I discovered she was still fooling around with the first. All she did was spread her legs. Courtney isn’t that type of person. She was living the life of someone and she had no clue what she had gotten into.”
“And how do you know all this?”
Again there is a moment of silence.
“I---I did a brief scale of certain time points in the universe and monitored different events in the fake Courtney’s life. She was a slut. I couldn’t let Courtney’s talents be ruined. She needs to be here with us and work to refine this project. I’m a governmental hero.”
“A governmental hero.” Kal’s voice is dry. “Really.”
“Who knows what could have happened to our research with this breach?”
“And this had nothing to do with your feelings?”
“Josh,” Kal is getting impatient again. “You’ve been unstable since she left. I am not blind to human emotion, even if you think I am not capable of some of the more vulnerable reactions. You’re in love with her.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Is that why you’re not looking at me? Is that why you stole the device and went when it had been decided that I would make the trip?”
I cannot see this exchange. My heart is beating rapidly but my body is frozen. Even my tears are unable to spill. Only my mind is whirling.
“I told you before she left that we may face the possibility of her never returning. Even she was aware of the danger.”
“I thought you meant death,” Josh says bitterly. “Not--”
“You’d rather she be dead?”
There is no answer.
“Josh, I’m very sorry, but you have committed one of the biggest violations a scientist could ever commit. You have tained the good name of this lab and our research. You’ve besmirched everything this institution stands for. You did not act in the name of science. You acted of your own selfish needs and desires.”
“So did Court! She didn’t tell the truth. She picked that date and that location just so she could go roll around in bed with the short, big-nosed Backstreet Boy. How would her staying help our research?”
“Granted, I thought that her mental aptitude tests indicated that her scientific mind would reject other outside temptation, but her research is still invaluable. The human mind and the choices that we make as humans is equally important. A long time stay in a parallel universe might have proved to be extremely beneficial to our future travels. But going into such a world to attempt to induce a miscarriage? Ruining people’s lives by becoming a smut mag’s rat? You really are a stalker.”
“But she doesn’t even know about any of that. It---wait. I didn’t tell you any of that. How do you...You didn’t...I don’t…Did you do to me what you did to Court? Do I have it? Get it out! I demand that it comes out now.”
Now it is Kal that doesn’t answer immediately.
“As you are no longer a part of this team, I can not divulge that information.”
“Not apart---what? I’m not fucking joking. Wait, what’s that?””
I cannot see what Kal is holding.
“I’m very sorry Josh, but as I said, your violations require me to do this.”
“What? I don’t---no---no---don’t----”
I hear nothing. Josh’s loafers remain in view. Neither scientist says another word. After a minute Kal’s shoes walk up to him. Both pairs of shoes turn and walk away. The only sound I hear is soles hitting the hard floor, a door opening, and the same door closing with a confident click.
Silence surrounds me.
I am left on the floor wondering what just happened.
I am terrified.
Chapter Twenty Two
Chapter 22 by evergreenwriter83
“Drink this Court. It’ll calm your nerves.”
I stare at the clear tall glass in front of me. It looks like iced tea, but I am wary. I will not drink it.
“Do you know what day it is?”
I slowly look at Kal. An iPad is capturing the whole exchange on video. I wonder fleetingly if it is just for show. She is acting like she didn’t stab an immobilizer serum into my neck. She is acting like she didn’t do anything to Josh.
But I know different.
“Do you know what year it is?”
I fold my hands. I know that being difficult will only make this last longer. “2014.”
We stare at each other.
“Tell me exactly what happened.”
“I think you already know.”
She doesn’t deny this. “In your words. Please.”
I close my eyes. How do I describe what happened? How do I describe what has happened to my heart in 72 hours time?
“I travelled to the agreed upon date and location. I observed current music and car trends for that particular period. I went into a nearby venue to use the restroom. I discovered that my travels also reversed my aging process, adapting my body to look as I did back in that year. Then I ran into Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys.”
“Coincidentally or on purpose?”
I decided keeping my eyes closed was too dangerous. I stared at her again.
“Perhaps a little of both.”
“I overindulged on alcoholic beverages in his presence and we ended up sleeping together.”
“I knew that I had violated the terms of the travel and knew I needed to leave as soon as possible. While he was asleep, I set the date back to present and tried to return.”
“I arrived in what I thought was my apartment. Interestingly, I was still feeling the effects of the alcohol and went to sleep. When I woke the next morning, I was sleeping next to Nick Carter. I screamed and I thought a teenage version of Brian ran into the room. It turns out it was my son. With Brian.”
The corner of Kal’s lips twitch up into a semblance of a smile. “Your reaction?”
I smile. I can’t help it. Looking back, knowing what I know now, my reaction seems ridiculous. “Horrified.”
“Initially I thought that my actions had changed events in our world, but then I thought that I might have ended up in another dimension of our universe instead.”
“But you didn’t try to return?”
“Nick told me this wasn’t the first time I had appeared like I had. I had tried to return several times and each time I…” a lump forms in my throat. “came back to him.”
Kal folds her hands. “Did you want to return?”
“No.” I look down to hide the tears. “It was a different life, but it was….it was nice. I was a mom.”
“I never knew that was one of your life goals.”
Ben’s smile is burned into my mind. I know that I am never going to forget it for as long as I live. “Neither did I.”
“I’m sure you are wondering what has happened to Josh.”
I look up, surprised. I hadn’t expected her to bring it up.
“I am going to tell you everything,” Kal pauses. “But I have to evaluate you over the course of the next month first. You will stay here.”
“Stay here?” My blood runs cold. “At the lab?”
Kal looks pained. “It’s a precaution.”
“A precaution? Are you afraid I’m going to turn into a zombie?”
“Courtney, your physical makeup, the molecules that make up you have done what nobody and nothing has ever done before. We don’t know the medical or psychological effects. Our higher ups actually demanded a longer period, but I managed to tell them that whatever damage would appear in a short-term window.”
Her hand slides forward and turns off the iPad.
“I’m not going to do anything to hurt you,” she whispers so softly that I’m not quite sure she really said it. “Just trust me.”
I exhale. My choices seem limited.
The iPad record light reappears.
“You’ll have to wear monitors at night that track your dream processes. A psychiatrist will give you some general tests. You need not tell her anything specific as to your mission. I will have to do a blood draw every three tests.”
“I’m ET,” I say lamely. It seems like such a Nick thing to say.
“Well if you’re going to use that analogy, then all I can say is be patient.”
“We’ll get you home.”
Chapter Twenty Three
Chapter 23 by evergreenwriter83
June 22, 2014
“NO! BEN! NO!”
My fingers dig into softness and my sleep-crusted eyes fly open. My tank top clings to me and I am covered in sweat. My first night of sleep in the lab is miserable. I relive the nightmare of Ben running towards me over and over again. I cannot get him out of my mind.
My chest heaves. I stare at the clock. The last time the dream woke me at 3:30 a.m. The clock reads 7:00. I decide against trying to sleep any longer.
I peel the sleep monitors off of my head. I head to the adjoined contamination shower which has been turned into a bathroom. A crooked mirror hangs above the sink and I take a good look at myself.
I am a mess. My hair is askew and there is a bruise on my cheek that I imagine could only be from Josh’s manhandling. I run my hand along my neckbone and then done.
Gone are the implants.
Still tingling is the ache in my hip.
For all intents and purposes, I am the same person I was when I was in the other dimension. My eyes are still the same and my hair is still the same, albeit not as well cared for.
But here I am alone.
I’ve never minded alone that much before. Yes, I’ve missed having a pet, but this is a different ache.
I think about what Kal said yesterday. I’ve never been a family-oriented woman. I grew up in a disinterested family unit. It wasn’t that I had role models to base a good relationship off of.
Josh’s words come back to me. I was cheating on Nick with Brian. Even after we were married. I glare at my reflection. I wouldn’t do that.
But given different circumstances, would my mom and dad’s own rocky road have come out in me?
My dad wasn’t around to have an opinion on my dream of being a scientist because he had caught my mom cheating on him. He had flown the coop, not sure that I was even his daughter. Mom didn’t really say either way. Hell, she didn’t tell me the real reason he left until I was seventeen. Grandpa was my only constant. He tolerated my mom only so he could have a second chance to shape a productive member of society. He had bought me my first microscope. He had gone to the Science Bowl where we won first place even though he couldn’t even hear.
In that parallel universe I was no better than my mother. I was worse. I was worse because I was cheating on a guy that would lay down and die for me.
It’s too much. I bend down, pressing my head to the sink and cry.
“You need to drink more water. Your veins are rolling on me. You don’t want to look like a crack addict after all this.”
I look away. I may be a scientist, but I hate getting my own blood drawn. I can feel the needle hungrily searching for the vein. I twitch as it finds one and suck in my bottom lip as I feel the blood being drawn out. It seems like an eternity.
“Okay, you’re good. Just hold the cotton ball for a second.”
I look back only when I know my fingers are pressing the cotton ball securely to the needle puncture. Kal takes the two vials, shiny with red blood and labels them carefully. She turns back and affixes a bandage over the cotton.
“You had a bad night.”
“I strongly suspect that the you of the parallel universe has returned and life is continuing as normal.”
Kal glances towards the door and then back at me. “I’m not positive, but it would make sense that there’s parallel universe versions of all of us. You temporarily invaded that space, but once your presence was vacated the original presence would have room to return.”
She grabs the small basket with my blood and supplies. “Watch TV and relax. Drink your tea. I’ll bring you lunch in an hour.”
I don’t reply. I think about Josh. Not Josh the scientist. Josh the stalker.
I think about Nick and me going to the lab. The guard never denied that Kal was inside.
In the big scheme of things, it makes sense that the alternative universe me would be back.
It makes sense, but I hate it. This is the woman playing two guys for fools.
This is the woman that gets to raise Ben. The only nice thing I can think about this other me is that she has at least done well with Ben.
I will never see him get his license.
“And this one?”
“And this one?”
“A bunny and a chicken.”
I took quite a few psychology courses in college and one of my papers evaluated the effectiveness of the Rorschach test. Interpreting a person’s personality using ink blots always seemed a far-fetched idea to me. Rorschach had meant them to be a test of schizophrenia. I wondered how the woman sitting across from me would interpret my chicken and bunny, neither of which did I really see.
“And this one?”
“From Legend of Zelda?”
“Oh, I see.”
She totally didn’t see.
“And this one?”
“I’m not familiar with a Duke by that name. Which century?”
I try not to laugh. “20th.”
“Oh, I see.”
“And this one?”
I can’t hide the laugh on this one.
“Complete with bean farts.”
“Courtney, the psychiatrist says you were too smart to test.”
Kal puts down my dinner. The BLT on the plate looks soggy and cold. I grab a potato chip and sit back.
“Really? Was it her inability to decipher the difference between royal monarchy and video game characters or the thought of lentil gas that got her?”
Kal smiles the first true smile I’ve seen since my return. “You’re an ass.”
“I’ve had a couple good teachers.”
Instead of leaving, Kal sits down in the chair across from me. “I missed you.”
I give the bacon a pinky touch. Totally cold. “I was, it appears, only gone a day.”
“It was a long day. Josh was a madman. When you didn’t return in a half hour he started accusing me of sabotage.”
“What did you do to him?”
“I mean, yesterday.”
Kal doesn’t answer. “I’ll leave you to your dinner. Don’t forget to put on the sleep sensors.”
I pick at another chip. Part of me wants to keep my rebellious streak alive by ignoring the sensors, but I know that to do so would delay me leaving this place. And I know that once I leave the lab that I will never return.
What I don’t know is where I will go.
Chapter Twenty Four
Chapter 24 by evergreenwriter83
August 1, 2014
“It’s been more than a month. I want to go home. You promised to tell me everything if I cooperated. I’ve cooperated. You can’t make me stay here. I want to go home.”
“Court, calm down. I have good news. You’ll be sprung in a few hours. You just have to do one thing first.”
I’m instantly suspicious. I have been poked and prodded more in the last thirty days than I’ve ever been before. My only contact has been Kal. Even my TV, I suspect, has been carefully programmed to allow me access only to shows that won’t cause me any undue stress.
“You have been requested to show a high profile visitor the bare minimum of the lab.”
“You have been--”
“I heard you,” I snap. “Are you really telling me that after a month of living in a bubble that I'm being asked to show someone around? Are you telling me that suddenly I’m not some sort of freak alien to all of you?”
“You were never a freak alien, Court,” Kal says calmly. “There were precautions to take and studies to be made. Your travels are revolutionary. Here’s some clothes. Our guest will be here in twenty minutes.”
“Who is it?”
“I haven’t been told.”
If looks could kill, she would have been smoldering on the ground from the invisible lasers of my retinas. Instead the door closes behind her and I hold up the clothes, a simple black pantsuit. It was what a female version of Will Smith would wear if there was a female version of Will Smith and she was about ready to step onstage to film a new Men in Black.
I carry the clothes to the tiny bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. I have lost weight in the last month. My color is one step above alabaster. My hair seems duller.
Knowing that only one simple tour stands between me and leaving propels me to get ready in record time. I pull my hair back into a simple ponytail and smooth the crease out of my pant leg.
Kal, ever punctual, comes back fifteen minutes later. She smiles brightly.
“You look fantastic.” She holds out a lab coat. “Ready?”
“As long as you haven’t changed too much in the last month, I’m ready.”
“I haven’t changed a thing.”
I slide on the white lab coat. It feels foreign on my shoulders. My whole life has been lab coats and gloves and plastic vials and yet everything about it now makes my skin want to crawl.
It’s too lonely of an existence.
“What sort of official is this?”
“It’s not an official.”
“No one but officials are allowed here. What do you mean?”
“It’s for a show.”
We are at the door. My mouth is dry. “What do you mean a show?”
“I wasn't lying to you earlier. All I know is that it's a conspiracy theory show. Our superiors feel it is safer to just let them in and discuss the bare minimum. All you have to do is explain that we are measuring speed between several new planets and potential black holes that we’ve pinpointed in the last year. Any questions asked should be answered vaguely.”
“Are you kidding me?”
Kal doesn’t turn to look at me. “You’ll be fine.”
Every fiber of my being tells me that it is some sort of trap. As I follow her through the labyrinth of hallway twists and turns, I don’t know what type of trap it could be, but my mind tries to think of the worst thing in the world. Perhaps it is a trap to get me to say something that will keep me here indefinitely. Maybe it will be their way to justify my death. I wonder, for the umpteenth time, if that is what happened to Josh.
Two men wait for us near the entrance. My exit to the real world.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen. Dr. Standiford will be escorting you around. I take it that all of your identification is in order?”
“Absolutely. Thank you Dr.--
“Strimble,” Kal supplies. She touches my arm and steps aside. “Courtney.”
“Dr. Standiford, we’ll be following at a distance. I’m Mike Fratowski, executive producer of Weird World. This is Joe, our cameraman.” He looks at his watch. “I apologize that our host is running l--”
“I’m here. I got caught up with the ID. Where’s the scientist?”
The moment I hear that voice every hair on my body stands up straight.
Mike smiles at me. “This is Dr. Standiford. She’ll be your guide today. Dr. Standiford, this is our host, Nick Carter.”
I can’t breathe. Nick is smiling at me, his blue eyes sparkling. He’s dressed in a black tank top and a pair of black jeans like he should be meeting the guys of Ghost Hunters rather than walking around a pristine white and silver laboratory. He tilts his head and I’m sure that I will faint. Or cry.
“Have we met before?”
The question stabs me right in the heart. How can I begin to tell him?
But then again, how could he even know?
“N--no,” I stammer against every fiber of my being.
“Are you sure? You look so familiar…”
“Nick, they’ve cleared us only for forty-five minutes. If we’re going to make a half hour go of this thing, we better let Ms. Standiford lead the way.”
I can feel Kal behind me. I want to turn around and dig my nails into her shoulders and shake her. How could she do this to me? What sort of test was this?
“Absolutely,” Nick’s smile deepens. “It’ll give me time to think about how I know the good doctor.”
“Alright Court, why don’t you start in the main lab and then show them the testing center?”
Only by the grace of God do I manage to smile and regulate my heart enough to turn away from Nick. I stare down the hall towards the main lab. This is a test and I have to pass it. I can’t fall to pieces. I’ve had thirty days to mourn the loss of a son that has never existed in this universe. I’ve even convinced myself that Nick Carter could never be as perfect as I had begun to believe he was.
“Allow me,” he says as I punch the security code and the lock releases. He pushes open one half of the wide paneled double doors. It’s the first time I have stepped into the room since Josh brought me back. I step in and he is close behind.
“Wow,” Nick whispers softly.
“This,” I say through the large lump in my throat. “Is our main lab. We are currently studying several new planets discovered in other solar systems and a few black holes that have piqued our interest. Our main project is determining the distance between and the travel time based on our algorithm for the speed of light.”
It is all coming out in monotone. Nick’s gaze travels from map to map pinned on the room-length white boards. The camera follows his movement. After a minute, he turns to me, his eyes locking onto mine.
“It’s been rumored that this particular laboratory is a test site for possible time travel experiments. Is it true?”
Chapter Twenty Five
Chapter 25 by evergreenwriter83
August 1, 2014
My mouth goes dry. I have three thoughts (including subthoughts) that collide all at once.
(1) Nick doesn't know me and he's really just here for an episode of some stupid reality show where he investigates aliens and time travel and ghosts. Thus, this whole thing is just a cruel coincidence. Or the superiors set it up to purposely destroy any shred of sanity I have left.
(2) Our love has broken every rule we know about the universe and he knows me, yet doesn't, and is somehow figuring out the secret of how he knows me subconsciously. God himself is propelling this connection.
(3) Nick has found a way into my universe and he's here to take me back to him and Ben and our pretty awesome life which will include me NOT being a whore anymore.
I love the thought of option 3.
I'm unfortunately leaning more towards option 1.
"So is that a yes?"
I haven't said a word. I'm pretty sure the cameraman is thinking about just how much blank stare drooling the guys back at the station will have to cut.
"Time travel?" I finally say. A stupid, almost hysterical, giggle bursts from me.
"Is it really that funny?" He smiles. "I believe it's possible. I also can't believe that such a high tech lab would only be studying maps of planets. There's got to be more."
I struggle to pull myself together. I remind myself I have to pass this test before I am let loose from the confines of these walls. "It's my scientific opinion that time travel would, if it could happen, be extremely dangerous. Anything that someone would do that strays from the original course of history could have detrimental effects to the future. That's why we are limiting ourselves to the exploration of maps. Perhaps one day travel to a far distant planet will be possible."
"I'm pretty sure you explained why we shouldn't time travel," he gives me a full on grin. "Not that we couldn't. Has it been done?"
I'm sure the camera catches the sweat that slides from my hairline down my ear. "Have you experienced a detrimental effect of the future?"
He laughs. "Would I realize it if it happened?"
"You tell me."
"As someone who claimed he'd never get married, I think something must have happened to change my mind." He turns towards the camera. "I think we're getting somewhere."
My thoughts of option one grow stronger. The phrase 'pompous ass' crosses my mind.
"I can promise you that time travel in this dimension that we live in does not exist. Unfortunately, you're visiting the wrong lab to discuss the possibility of life on other planets or the probability of multi-dimensional plains. We're just two women who like to dream about big black holes."
It comes out before I can stop it. I say it so innocently but it's wrong, so, so wrong. Kal looks horrified and Nick....
Nick is on the ground clutching his stomach, elementary school boy giggles bursting from him.
"Cut," Mike commands. The cameraman's shoulders are shaking so hard I'm sure he wasn't getting a clear picture anyhow.
"You guys have clearance for only ten more minutes," Kal says over Nick. He slowly calms down, his face a blotchy, brilliant red. "Courtney can show you the testing center."
I fold my arms across my chest. I feel like hugging myself to death, squeezing my own ribs so I can escape. I want to be anywhere but here.
"Sorry," Nick apologizes, getting up. "That was just...hilarious."
"The testing c-center," I stammer.
I walk fast. Kal is still supervising. The room is quiet, the rats fast asleep. Across the room is a jumble of metal pieces and tools with ten syllable names that I can recite in my sleep.
This is the room where Josh and I first made the time travel devices. He had joked about his and her devices. Mine went in a compact. His went in a wallet. My breath catches when I realize a shattered wallet and compact are scattered on the table.
Both are beyond repair.
It is like the nail in the coffin. I know I won't be returning to Nick or that past life. Tears fill my eyes.
"What do you test in here?" Nick asks. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the red light of the camera flip back on.
"A lot of our research assists our friends at NASA," I lie. It is what 'they' have trained us to say should we be asked. "Our animals are not harmed, but they assist us in experiments with gravity and simple non evasive light tests."
"One theory is that light can manipulate time," I say softly. "That's where a lot of the time travel mumbo-jumbo comes from. In reality, it is more of a disorientation tool."
"Hunh." Nick is roaming the room, the cameraman close behind. He stops at the table. "What's all these pieces?"
I can't speak. How can I tell him what those pieces mean to me?"
"We were using the mirror from the compact for rudimentary work," Kal supplies. "I dropped it."
"Are scientists clumsy?"
Kal's smile is more grimace. "Not especially."
Nick's back is to me. I study the wide set of his shoulders. He slides his hands in his pockets and pauses.
"I think I dropped my keys when I was rolling around." He turns and looks at Kal. "Could you look? Since we don't have much time and all."
Kal looks like the last thing she wants to do is leave. "The agreement was that both of us had to be in the room--"
"You said Courtney was our escort. We'll just let her say a few more words about the improbability of time travel and we'll be done. We can't leave without those keys though."
Kal sighs. "I'll be right back."
"So Dr. Standiford, what, if anything, can you say to those fans of Back to the Future who still hold out hope that we'll one day get to go back to the Wild West?"
"Well, I would say--"
Nick's arm grabs mine before I can say another word. His voice is barely a whisper.
"I'd say your pal Professor Umbridge is going to give us only ten seconds. We've gotta go."
Nick kneels down, not letting go of my arm. He yanks down the heel of his sneaker and pulls out a compact.
But it's not possible.
"Let's see if I can get this on the first try," he says breathlessly. "Guys, I promised you I'd make this worth it."
The cameraman and Mike look like they're going to pee their pants. I feel faint.
Option 3 is real. It is my Nick.
I'm going home.
We're going home.
I have no idea how he did it, but he did it.
"You move a hair and you're dead."
Nick's back is to Kal. She has snuck in through a seldom used door. In her hands is a gun the likes of which I've never seen.
My gut tells me Josh was the last person to see the barrel of Kal's gun.
And despite her promise, I am pretty sure we aren't going to make it out whether we move a hair or not.
Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter 26 by evergreenwriter83
August 1, 2014
Nick’s grip tightens on my arm. I watch his fingers curl around the compact. His eyes meet mine and I barely register the rise and fall of his chest. His eyes are fire. I look at Kal and the monstrous Frankengun.
“Is this some sort of joke?” Mike asks. The cameraman turns towards Kal.
“TURN THE DAMN THING OFF!” she screams.
The guy lowers the camera, but I see the telltale light of the recording light remain. She does too. Her reflexes are like lightning. Before I can register that Nick and I have a millimeter of a window to escape, she turns the gun and fires.
There is no sound. The light that emanates from the gun is a rainbow that shoots out almost like a tentacle, almost touching, but not quite, its target before spiraling back to its source. The cameraman appears unharmed except for the lack of expression on his face. He is totally blank. Unmoving. The second the light touches the gun, the thing is pointed back at Nick and me.
"What did you do to him?” Mike demands. “I don’t care if this is government property or not. You can’t just go around--”
Again, Kal quickly flicks her wrist and the gun goes off. This time, Nick and I are ready. We don’t even say a word. Both of us take off towards the door Kal had come in. As we fly through, Nick shielding me, I see a streak of light fly by.
It takes a split second for me to realize where the door leads. I take off down the hall, Nick right on my heels.
“I just need a second to press the button,” he says breathlessly.
I don’t answer. A large burly guy appears at the end of the hallway. I stop and survey the wall. My brain registers the large white vent and I make a split second decision.
I scramble in and hear Nick right behind me. The vent tunnel is endless blackness and my hands slap a thick dusty caked mess that flies right into my nose. I know that it will only be a minute, maybe less, before I'm overwhelmed by the sensation to sneeze.
The vent tunnel bends and it is a full two minutes before I see some slivers of light. My nose is dripping but I am holding in the sneeze that will give us away. Quietly. I push out the vent and proceed to tumble out. Nick's head appears a second later.
We are in another hallway, but it is deserted. I press myself against the wall and creep. Nick mimics my movements.
The numbers on the doors soon tell me we're nearing the back exit. One more turn and...
A flash of light misses Nick and me by a mile, but it serves to scare me enough that I reach blind panic level again. I grab blindly for the first doorknob I see. Miraculously it opens and I drag Nick inside with me. I gasp for breath.
The small room is completely dark except for the digital display light coming from Nick’s fingers. He’s taking us back to June 23. His finger hovers over the button.
"I couldn't press it in the tunnel," he apologizes. "Not enough room."
I grab his arm. "It doesn't matter," I sputter. "Let's go."
Before he can press down, we both lose our balance as a veritable explosion rocks us backwards. A shelf of cleaning supplies shakes as Nick’s back crashes against it and my body crashes against his. The compact falls from his fingers, sliding smoothly out of reach. Kal stands in the doorway, illuminated harshly by the yellow light of the hallway.
“Stay out here,” she commands to what I suspect is the giant Aladdin-esque guard.
She smiles slowly as she steps into the small closet and closes the door behind her. I see the display of the compact move as she takes it in her hands.We are trapped. In darkness. I close my eyes tightly.
“Before I do what I need to do,” she says. “I want to know where you got this, Mr. Carter.”
Nick’s arms wrap around me. I press my face into his chest.
"I put a fake one in the safe before we left for Cali. I’ve kept the original with me the whole time. Just in case.”
"Just in case?”
“I wasn’t going to lose Courtney. Again. Kill me, but just let her go. All I want is to know she’s with Ben and safe.”
“Do you realize you don’t belong here?”
“Do any of us really belong anywhere?”
His heart is racing, yet his voice is totally calm.
“You have, I imagine, your own version of my friend here in your dimension.”
"You’d be wrong.”
Kal can’t mask her surprise. She is never wrong.
“I didn’t magically get a Courtney back when Josh took her.”
“Why not? You should have.”
“I don’t know, but I’m kind of partial to this one.”
"I’m not a slut,” I add. It’s the first words I’ve said in awhile. I realize I probably could have said them much more eloquently.
"Like I said,” Nick actually laughs. “I’m kind of partial to this one."
"Do you realize how much you've messed up everything?"
"You're not the first person to say that. Now if I can just say 'my bad,' Court and I will get on our way..."
Kal is quiet. I brace myself for the light. She has never been one to play frivolous games.
"Unfortunately," she says, "It's not going to be that simple."
Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter 27 by evergreenwriter83
August 1, 2014
"Here's what's going to happen," she says quietly. "We're going to make a lot of noise like there's a scuffle. I'm going to use the gun, partially zap your memories, and then I'm sending you both back to February 1998. But we don't have much time."
I'm sure I've heard her wrong. "What?"
"What?" Nick echoes.
"God," she grumbles. "Don't you get it? I'm under strict orders to clean this up. Wiping Josh's memory and sending him out wasn't a big issue. He was a pain in my ass. Always has been. But you, Court..."
Her tone has changed. This is the Kal who practically cried when she announced my departure the first time. This was my friend.
"There's no cameras in here. I prayed you'd have enough sense to trap yourselves into a supply room."
"Wait." One of Nick's hands leaves my back and I imagine he's waving it in the air. "Are you a good guy or a bad guy?"
"That all depends."
"Your potential to hurt her."
"So I've heard."
"Court has a chip implanted in her. Which reminds me, I have to take that sucker out. Lemme see your neck."
"Are you kidding? No way!"
Suddenly, a light flicks on. Kal sets her iPhone down on an overturned bucket. She looks at me, her eyes more serious than I have ever seen them before. Considering the number of tense experiments we've worked together on, this ranks in the life or death category.
"If I don't get the chip they will track you down and you'll be housed at Roswell."
"With the aliens?" Nick asks, excited. He has obviously forgotten the situation we're currently in. Kal ignores him. "Your neck."
Nick grabs me, but I lean forward. My trust is still in a sense of confliction, but I figure our options are limited. The only way to see if she is telling the truth is to literally stick my neck out.
She moves quickly. I suck in a breath as a needle jabs my skin and for the first time I feel a tiny little object slide up.
I stand up straight and she holds out the needle. I take it, moving it close to her phone light and examine the little chip.
"I de-chipped myself last night," she says shakily. "Now go back against the wall. I have to zap you."
I take two steps back, tensing as she lifts the gun. Nick shakes his head. "No way."
"I just need to scramble a few things," Kal says impatiently. "Think about it. What would you do come 9/11? Just sit back? And if you interfere, you'll spend your entire life in some federal place like this crap hole. Court, trust me. I need to make it so you remember nothing of this. Nothing of me..."
"What will they do when they realize you let us escape? What happens to you?"
She actually smiles. "You might see me again someday. I have my own plans."
"But Courtney goes with me?" Nick clarifies.
"She goes with you. I keep the travel device."
"Then how do we get back?" I ask.
"Unbeknownst to Josh, I've played around a little. The memory gun is my invention. I can channel the energy of the time travel device by playing on the light spectrum. Most of this world's problems could be solved with light. I'll wipe partial memories and send you back all at once. Your blood tests showed that your longevity factor actually increased by traveling. You get an extra 15 years. You get a total do-over."
She can't mask her jealousy. "Then come with us," I beg.
Kal shakes her head. "Not my plan," she smiles. Her eyes move to Nick. Nick's jaw is firm. "You ready?"
Behind her, a big meaty paw resonates a knock that vibrates the closet.
"I don't think-"
"Do it," I burst.
"You just need to do one thing," she pauses. "Knock over some of those buckets and scream. I'll do the rest."
Nick sends a heavy sneaker into the cabinet behind us. Three buckets roll off the end of the shelf. I close my eyes and scream. I'm still not sure whether this is some form of her own personal entertainment before she kills us. I am drenched with sweat.
If she says anything, I do not hear. The door flies open just as a flash of light brighter than I have ever seen before passes my eyes. I feel like I am splitting into a million tiny weightless pieces at the same time my brain feels like sand-filled weights.
I'm convinced that I will spend eternity in a fractured limbo.
But then I hear it...
I'll be your dream
I'll be your wish I'll be your fantasy
I'll be your hope I'll be your love
Be everything that you need...
Chapter Twenty Eight
Chapter 28 by evergreenwriter83
February 20, 1998
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
I blink rapidly. A Plymouth Breeze zooms past me and I notice the new dealer plate on the back.
It is Groundhog Day. I have been here before. Haven't I? There’s something about that song….that car….
A hand touches my arm and I am looking into Nick's baby face. His hair is long, parted in the middle and the tank top he's wearing droops on his scrawny body, the straps sliding off his shoulders. I look down at myself. I realize I am in a filthy lab coat. My wardrobe choice conflicts with the humidity that surrounds us. I inhale the salt water rolling in from the ocean.
"What happened? You look so young." Nick looks around. “We’re not in Kansas anymore. Actually, where did we just come from?”
"I don't know."
It is the truth. My heart is racing like something major has just happened to me...to us. I feel older and wiser than my body feels. Little bits and pieces seem to be scrambling to find a sensible place in my mind.
I don't know how I know, but I know that Nick and I should be happy we are here rather than where we just left. I know I’m supposed to meet Brian here.
I can see glimpses of the future.
There's a baby...
And then there's Nick. The floppy blonde haired teenager in front of me who is the opposite of my ‘type’ of guy is the guy who loves me and respects me more than anybody else in the universe does.
"I feel like someone took a chunk of my brain," he says slowly. "We've been here before."
The House of Blues is behind us; the beach sprawling out ahead. Nick looks at HOB and then at me.
"God, you're beautiful. Sweaty, but beautiful."
"You’re cute,” I offer.
“Cute?” He almost looks wounded. “Cute is what you say when you see a puppy.”
I figure telling him that his hair makes him look like a puppy isn’t the best thing to say. Instead, I make a general observation.
“We weren't here a minute ago," I say confidently.
"No," he agrees. "I vaguely remember us being married...and your boobs being bigger. And Ben..."
Nick and I look at each other. The name had escaped me, but comes crashing back. Ben. Brian's son.
"I feel like I'm one of those people that can see into the future," he says. "You can't be more than 19, yet I can see you in my mind..."
I finger the lab coat. I am incredibly sweaty. I shrug out of it knowing that it is a missing piece of the puzzle.
"At least whatever happened has happened to both of us," I say reasonably. Under the lab coat, I'm in a pantsuit that makes me feel like a lawyer. I scratch at the collar.
"It has to be aliens," he declares.
"Totally," his eyes light up. "We probably don't even know each other, but the aliens kidnapped us and made us their ambassadors. We have to know the future to prepare.”
“Prepare for what?”
“Well, they couldn’t tell us everything could they?”
All I can do is stare at him. He looks like he might pee his baggy jeans from excitement. He literally has to yank them up to keep from falling. The thighs of the black denim material fold in at odd angles. I have another momentary image of much juicier, naked thighs...
"Or maybe you're an alien," Nick continues, scrutinizing me harder. I smirk.
"Or maybe you are."
"Well, if you're an alien, you have fantastic taste. I'm quite a catch."
I can't help it; I laugh. He's so sadly pathetic. He's so not my type....
Yet the Nick I see in the future is almost irresistible.
We both turn at the sound of his name. A big body guard marches up to us. "Dude Kevin is about ready to kill me. You just disappeared. I thought you were just going for a smok---what the hell are you wearing?"
“It’s my new look,” Nick says automatically.
“You look like you’re playing dress-up in my clothes, dude. You’re going to lose your drawers. Come on.”
Nick glances at me and I see my panic reflected in his eyes. I have no money, no ID, and I’m dressed like a forty-year old businesswoman.
“Kevin found your cigarettes. I don’t think you’re going to want to bring her along for the blow-up.”
Cigarettes. I don’t know why, but I suddenly see Nick leaning against a wall smoking. It is right before I meet--
“Give me one second to say good-bye?”
The bodyguard gives me a smile. “Sure.”
Nick turns to me, but waits until the guy is out of hearing distance. “I know you sleep with Brian tonight.”
“I don’t have to,” I reason. ‘Awkward’ isn’t even the right word to begin to describe how weird it is to know that Nick will be thinking about me while I have sex with his best friend.
“True,” he smiles. “You could sleep with me.”
“I could,” I smile. Yes, he may be scrawny, but I know what the future holds for him. Yes, he totally isn’t my type, but he turns into my type, right? So I can totally sleep with him…
He leans towards me. “I’ll warn you that I haven’t hit my final growth spurt yet though.”
I stare at him blankly. He smirks.
I get it.
He grimaces. “I’ve got to go. Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll come down and get you. Just wait at the entrance.”
My heart constricts as he jogs away. My head is still swimming, but I at least feel safe with him around knowing that we’re both in this together. But alone…
Nick disappears around the side of HOB. I take off the jacket of my business suit, wad it up and stick it in the trash. Luckily, I’m wearing a silky white tank top. I instantly feel much cooler.
I head towards the entrance.
Fifteen minutes later, I am still standing at the entrance. I’m growing stickier and thirstier by the minute. I glance inside. It looks so much cooler…
After another five minutes, I head inside to the bathroom. I walk up to the sink and stare at my reflection.
A youthful, flushed face looks back at me. My hair is a tousled mess. I turn on the faucet, cupping the stream into my hands. I splash my face four times, gasping each time as the ice cold water meets my burning hot skin. I snake my fingers through my hair, trying to loosen the tangles.
It is hopeless.
Not wanting to waste more time, I step back out into the dimly lit hallway. I need to get back to Nick. I need--
I freeze. There is only one voice that can draw out a ‘hi’ that way.
Brian smiles at me. “Can I buy you a drink? You look a little hot.”
Chapter Twenty Nine
Chapter 29 by evergreenwriter83
February 20, 1998
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
It’s deja vu. He’s wearing basketball shorts, a white tank top and his giant gold cross. His shoes are Nike.
He’s still waiting for my answer.
I glance around, looking for Nick. I have no clue what to do without him. Do I go down the same path as before? Is that the safest thing to do?
“Are you waiting on someone?”
Crap. I turn back to Brian. He’s smiling at me, his cheeks dipping in with irresistible dimples.
"No," I lie.
"Would you like that drink?"
“I’d love one,” I say, my voice shaking.
Here we go.
He offers his arm and I take it. “I’m Brian Littrell, by the way,” he says.
His eyes crinkled. “Thank you Courtney Standiford for agreeing to share a birthday drink with me.”
I remember offering to buy him a drink the first time, but I’m keenly aware that I don’t have even a penny to my name. “I’m honored,” I smile. “Happy Birthday.”
As he leads me towards the bar, I glance one more time behind me. It has been a lot longer than fifteen minutes. Did he change his mind? Am I on my own? I’m still smiling, but I am nervous.
“Do you like tea?”
“I love tea,” I say. My stomach flips. I know the request that comes next. I also know that besides having no money, I have no ID.
“Two long islands,” Brian says.
My heart plummets. He fishes his wallet out of the basketball shorts. I cling to his arm. Brian smiles at me. I feel tears well in my eyes.
The bartender looks at me.
He squints again.
“How old are you?” he asks.
Brian is staring at me. I feel my face grow warm. The tear is going to let loose. I’m hormonal. I’ve been through a traumatic experience. I think. I don’t really know. Double crap.
“Okay, she’s not twenty-one,” Brian says, holding up his hands. He leans towards the guy. “We’re doing the show here tomorrow. Can’t you hook my girlfriend up? I’ll make it worth your while.”
Brian slips him what looks like a $100 bill. The bartender smiles at me and bottles start pouring. “No problem, man.”
Two tall long island iced teas are slid our way. Brian takes them both, leading me to a small booth that’s tucked away from the rest of the bar area. I remember this booth. His shoulder soon touches mine. His lips are close to my ear.
“Tell me you’re at least eighteen or else I’m going to burn in hell.”
I laugh. I sniffle.
“I’m eighteen, I promise,” I assure him.
He lifts his glass. “A toast?”
I’ve got the answer to this one. “A birthday toast?”
His eyes crinkle. “I was thinking more along the lines of ‘here’s to a cool drink and a hot lady,’ but a birthday toast works.”
I lift my glass and our glasses touch. I take the first sip. I can’t get drunk. Not this time. If Nick does come, I need to be sober...
“Are you from around here?”
“California,” I say.
“Really?” he sounds surprised.
“Sacramento.” I figure the same little white lie I gave last time worked this time around.
I can hardly wait
For another taste of honey
Honey I can't describe
How good it feels inside
Honey I can't describe
How good it feels inside
“I love this song,” he says.
It doesn’t take me even a moment this time. I know immediately who the artist is.
“Mariah Carey,” I nod. “She’s good, but not as good as you.”
His arm brushes against mine.
“So you know my secret? It’s not as good as Bruce Wayne’s secret mind ya. Are you a fan?”
I nod. “Totally.”
“Who’s your favorite? Nick?”
Every fiber of my being wants to say yes. I feel like my brain is walking this long path and keeps getting stopped at random forks in the road. I have to decide which direction to head.
“Why do you say Nick?” I smile.
“It happens almost every place we go. Every girl loves Nick.”
I remember what I said the first time. Do I say it now? I can’t see the doorway. What if he’s waiting?
There’s a lot of pressure on my next few words. I can see the night going to same way as it did the first time. Do I want that?
I see Ben’s face.
He deserves to be alive.
But what if I sleep with Nick? Will the Ben of my thoughts instead look like him?
Or will I get pregnant at all?
I take another sip of my tea. Guilt rests heavy in my chest as I make my choice.
“Not me. He’s not my favorite.”
“But you have a favorite?”
I don’t answer. Do I have time to backtrack?
“Who’s your favorite? Kevin? It’s the eyebrows, right?”
I laugh. In any world at any time that will always be funny. I take another sip of tea and shake my head.
“Howie? It’s the wink, right?”
He takes a sip of his tea and leans in closer. I shake my head.
“AJ? It’s the sunglasses by day, sunglasses by night effect, right?”
I laugh louder. I shake my head. There’s only one choice left and he knows it.
We both sip our drinks silently. He meets my eyes. I don’t look away.
“I like where this conversation is headed,” he says softly.
I stare down at the table. I send a silent apology to Nick. He deserves better. So much better.
But I’ll do it for Ben.
“Me too,” I reply.
Ninety minutes later, I am a little light headed, but I am not drunk. Yet, even sober, I suck at dancing. But, I have no choice. Again, I am dancing with Brian to The Train and people are applauding. I’m sure they must be as drunk as he is. He is not only riding the train, he is practically riding me right there in the middle of a thick crowd of people.
I’m a complete mess of sweat again. Brian’s hand slides across my stomach, lifting my tank top slightly. “This is the best birthday ever!” Brian shouts in my ear, his arms around me, his pelvis grinding into me. I turn around, wrapping my arms around his sweaty neck. I look up into his eyes and laugh. I’m surprised he’s still standing.
The laughter dies as his lips crush into me. I can taste every single drink he’s pounded down tonight. My fingers brush the curly sweaty tendrils at the back of his neck. I can’t pull away now. I’ve gone too far.
People start to catcall. He only pulls away when the oxygen becomes dangerously depleted. He pulls me closer. He is hard against my leg. His fingers brush the hair that’s clinging to my neck. His lips are on my ear.
“Come with me,” he whispers.
It’s show time.
We exit out of a side entrance into a deserted area. It’s stupid, but I still look for Nick. I’m still looking for him, as Brian presses me back into the exterior of the building and kisses me hungrily. His hands are on my ass and our bodies grind against each other. My body reacts even as my mind still plays a giant tug-o-war.
Finally, the kisses slow and he holds me close to him. I practically keep him upright as we stagger along. The hotel is right by HOB and the guy at the desk doesn’t even look up when we walk in the employee entrance. Just like before, I hear the crowd of girls outside hoping for a chance to spot one of the boys.
Brian’s hand brushes against my breast as we head to the elevator. We enter the metal box and he squints at the numbers. I’m not sure that he remembers what floor he is on, but eventually he presses a number and we ascend up, up, up.
It is a short ride but long enough for our lips to meet again. His hand slides up my tank top and I shiver as his thumb finds my nipple, strumming across it like a guitar. We are still in this compromising position when the doors open. The rush of cooler air seems to register in Brian’s brain and he pulls me out of the elevator. It is a process to withdraw his room key and several failed attempts follow. It’s here that I meet my next fork.
I still have time to back out. I could do the right thing as a sober woman and just make sure he gets to bed to sleep it off. Then, I could go find Nick. At least then I could get an explanation of why he never came back.
The door finally opens and Brian stumbles inside. He turns and smiles at me.
I close my eyes. I make my choice and rush blindly in. I grab Brian’s shirt and yank it over his head. My palms slide over his skin and his chest. I press my lips against his shoulder and start down. I let my body take over completely.
His fingers slid through my hair and a moan escapes his lips as I kiss him through his basketball shorts. His length is impressive. I realize that this time I remember more about our sloppy drunk sex.
“If I don’t get you to bed I’m going to die,” he declares as my tongue runs the length of him. He grabs my hands and drags me a foot before picking me up. My back sinks into the comforter and my front is warmed by his body sliding along me. His lips are on my neck, my breasts, my thighs and I close my eyes, arching up in need against him. Even through my guilt, I have never felt the need for sex so badly in my entire life. Is this the Brian factor that makes me a slut? Because I vaguely have a feeling that I play both of the blonde Backstreet Boys well into the future. I know I’m determined to change that. This is a one shot. I’m sober. I just need to get my fill now.
His lips are back to my neck and my hands are in his, placed firmly above my head. My legs are wrapped around him and we are kissing madly again, our tongues touching and then darting away in a game of cat and mouse. The game is only paused for a second as he enters me. The sound that rises from my throat is still unlike anything I’ve ever heard. His eyes close and he breathes into the crook of my shoulder.
The sex is better than I remember the first time, even if it is still too fast for my liking. The sound of his breathing fills my ears. His heart is racing so hard that for one second I am terrified that he is going to die. I have never heard a heart sound like rushing water before.
This time, I climax right before he does. He pulls me into another never-ending dizzying kiss, pulling at me and keeping me close.
“Thank you for saving my birthday,” he whispers, his eyes fluttering closed.
It’s the last thing he says.
My thighs are still tingling as I lay there besides him. I wonder if he will think that I saved his birthday if history does repeat itself. Will he curse this birthday forever?
I stay with him for another half hour. Before I slide away from him, I kiss his lips. It will be the last time. I will never kiss him naked again. He smiles in his sleepy stupor.
I crawl off the bed. It takes me a few minutes to find my clothes. I feel rumpled and exhausted.
I also don’t know what to do. I have no money, no other clothes, no place to sleep…
The tears come back with a vengeance. I tiptoe through the room and yank open his hotel room door. Maybe the guy in the lobby would let me call my mom. She’s the last one I want to ask for a favor, but she’s also the only one that I know could.
I almost scream at the sound of my name. I glance to my right.
Nick looks up from his seat on the ground. He’s positioned right outside Brian’s door, a pair of baggy pajama pants and a correctly sized tank top on. He takes a deep breath.
I nod. A tear drips down my cheek.
Chapter 30 by evergreenwriter83
February 21, 1998
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
“Kevin kept yelling at me for an hour and then my mom called---I can’t believe I have to deal with my mom all over again. I told her to go to hell as soon as I heard her voice. You can imagine how well that went over…”
The bag of m&m’s sitting open between us is almost gone. In the last two hours I’ve had a much needed shower and tossed the business suit. A quick, sneaky trip to a nearby tourist place has netted me a couple t-shirts and shorts, but tonight I’m in one of Nick’s jerseys. Nick grabs the bag of m&m’s and puts it on his nightstand. We both fall back, turning on our sides. Our foreheads touch.
“So do you think you’re...y’know?”
“I don’t know. Nick, I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to do. I kept looking for you…”
“It’s probably better to stick to the plan,” he shrugs, but I know deep down that it has to bother him. How could it not?
“I don’t have any memories of anything after leaving Brian’s hotel room. Not until...not until much later.”
“Really?” he looks surprised. “How can that be? I have so many. I can see you with your huge belly and in the hospital and Ben peeing up into Brian’s mouth...”
I laugh. “That’s gross.”
“I’m remembering the craziest things,” he yawns. It is so late.
“I can’t stay here with you,” I say softly. Nick frowns.
“How will that look? How do we explain to Brian when I show up with you in the morning?”
Nick sighs. “I’ll tell him finders keepers.”
He presses his face into the crook of my neck. I snuggle up against him.
“I need you to help me get back to college.”
I nod. “Berkeley.”
“Is there another Berkeley?”
“But...that’s so far away.”
“I can’t...you have to stay. You have to.”
He holds me tight and I wrap my arms around his neck. The panic in his voice breaks my heart.
“Okay,” I say. “I’ll stay.”
Neither of us speak. Soon, Nick’s breathing regulates. He is asleep.
There’s nothing more that I want to do than sleep, but I can’t. For the second time, I worm my way out of a Backstreet Boy’s embrace. I swallow hard, hating what I’m about to do. Quietly, I rummage through his clothes and bags. By the time I’m done, I have a few hundred bucks.
I vaguely know that I’m the catalyst of Nick and Brian’s relationship. Being here in the morning would only make that worse.
I kiss Nick’s cheek before I leave. He looks so young. Not innocent, but young. I can’t imagine him helping me take care of a baby.
I can’t imagine me taking care of a baby.
I swallow hard. Maybe enough of the course of events changed that I won’t even be pregnant. I don’t feel pregnant.
I use Nick’s smallest duffle bag to pack my meager clothes.
By the time I slip through the door, the entire hotel is quiet. Everyone is asleep.
I don’t start crying until I get in the elevator.
I don’t stop crying until I’m on the Amtrak train two hours later. I press my forehead against the glass. I have three days and five layovers to think, to try to make sense of what has and is happening.
The answer seems to be just out of my grasp.
February 24, 1998
Los Angeles, California
“A pack of gum, a diet coke, and a bag of fritos, please.”
The guy at the newsstand smiles at me. I’m sure he thinks I’m a homeless person. I feel like a homeless person. My meager clothes are all wrinkled. As he pulls open his small refrigerator unit to get my Diet Coke, I scan the magazines.
Nick’s face looks back.
Slowly, I pick up the magazine. The article inside talks about their trip to Ireland in just a few days.
“Do you want the magazine?”
I stuff it back in the rack. “No, thank you,” I smile. I grab my stuff and turn towards the waiting area. The bus ride to Berkeley is another six hours. I can’t even fathom how many classes I’ve missed.
There’s also the little problem of me not remembering the number of my dorm room.
February 25, 1998
“Where the hell have you been?”
I haven’t even taken a step through the door before the voice attacks me. I stare at the red-headed girl with glasses so thick that safety shields aren’t necessary.
Her name is...starts with F….like her favorite singer.
“Fiona,” I say, relieved.
“No shit. Where have you been? Professor Telos is about ready to kick you out. You’ve missed three classes. I couldn’t even give him an excuse. And what are you wearing? Were you in Orlando? Did you just up and go to Florida?”
I don’t answer her right away. I dump the duffel and head over to what looks like my side of the small room. My purse is still right on top. I pull out a wallet.
I have a little cash.
I have an ID.
“Yeah, I went to Florida.”
“I needed to get away.”
“Without your purse? What did you do, hitchhike? You could have gotten raped or murdered or..” she shudders. “Forced to work at a Waffle House.”
I laugh. I don’t remember much about Fiona. I vaguely remember our rooming arrangements being short-lived. “That would have been much worse than being raped.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand. I mean where you come from I know there’s a Waffle House on every corner.”
I grit my teeth. I’m beginning to remember how much I hate Fiona.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” I ask.
She sighs dramatically. Dramatically...Fiona is a drama major. Why they put a physics major with a drama major….stupid Berkeley. “It was so nice with you gone. If you need me I will be with the other thespians.”
I don’t answer. I sink down on my bed as she grabs her purse and saunters out the door. She pauses before she closes it.
“Oh yeah, our RA left a note for you,” she points at my bulletin board. “Some guy called and gave her a message. Boyfriend?”
She doesn’t wait for the answer. I’m up again before the door even clicks.
The note is torn all along the right edge It’s a simple note.
Nick called - 407-689-3215. That’s all.
Nick found me. His number is a lifeline back into his world.
I stare at the numbers. That’s all? I laugh at my RA’s simple note.
Not on your life.
Chapter Thirty One
Chapter 31 by evergreenwriter83
March 23, 1998
“While physics aims to discover universal laws, its theories lie in explicit domains of applicability. Loosely speaking, the laws of classical physics accurately describe systems whose important length scales are greater than the atomic scale and whose motions are much slower than the speed of light. Outside of this domain, observations do not match their predictions. Albert Einstein contributed the framework of special relativity, which replaced notions of absolute time and space with spacetime and allowed an accurate description of systems whose components have speeds approaching the speed of light. Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, and others introduced quantum mechanics, a probabilistic notion of particles and interactions that allowed an accurate description of atomic and subatomic scales. Later, quantum field theory unified quantum mechanics and special relativity. General relativity allowed for a dynamical, curved spacetime, with which highly massive systems and the large-scale structure of the universe can be well-described. General relativity has not yet been unified with the other fundamental descriptions; several candidate theories of quantum gravity are being developed.”
I am sitting in the lecture hall and I swear to God that all I can hear is ‘Bueller...Bueller...Bueller…”
My Introductory Physics professor is the most boring individual in the world. The history of the science has never particularly interested me. It’s the future I’ve always cared about.
“If you’ll open to page 304 of your textbook…”
A massive cohesive shuffling noise fills the room as everyone flips their textbook at the same time. As I flip mine, I’m distracted by the uncomfortable clenching fist in my stomach. I gnaw the end of my pencil.
“In Indian philosophy, Kanada was the first to systematically develop a theory of atomism around 200 BCE though some authors have allotted him an earlier era in the 6th century BCE. It was further elaborated by the Buddhist atomists Dharmakirti and Dignāga during the 1st millennium CE.”
My eyes grow heavy. Between Mr. Rather-Watch-Paint-Dry and Professor Telos, my equally uptight psychology teacher, my trip had almost gotten me kicked out of both of their classes. Begging and tears hadn’t cut it; I have only just finished the extra work both assholes had given me to keep me in the program. Now I’m back to a life of mind-numbing Monday and Wednesday mornings with back-to-back male monotones.
“During the period of time known as the Dark Ages (5th to 15th centuries), much scientific progress occurred in the Muslim world. The scientific research of the Islamic scientists is often overlooked due to the conflict of the Crusades and "it's possible, too, that many scholars in the Renaissance later downplayed or even disguised their connection to the Middle East for both political and religious reasons."
My stomach clenches more and I belch. Acid fills my mouth and I sit up straight. If there’s anything Professor Stick Up the Ass hates more than people skipping class, it’s people leaving class for a bathroom run. I swallow down the first sour mouthful.
He’s still talking, but I don’t hear a word. The acid does not like going back down. My mouth fills again to the point that I know if I don’t leave, I will throw up all over my desk. I slide out of my seat, trying to stay crouched down.
“Ms. Standiford? Going somewhere?”
I tense. I know everyone’s eyes are on me. I glance back, but I can’t open my mouth. Part of me wants to run up and throw up on him.
Instead, I turn and head out the door. It is a short sprint to the bathroom. I barely make it to the stall before the vomit is splashing out over everything. I don’t have a chance to catch my breath before I am bringing up a second round. The bagel I ate for breakfast swims around in the chunky contents. The thought brings up even more.
I am dying.
“Why aren’t you in class?”
My third least favorite person in the world, Fiona, stands in the doorway scowling. I press my face into the pillow.
“Sick? What kind of sick?”
“The bubonic plague.”
“That sounds disgusting.”
“Well you can’t stay here. I need the room.”
I lift my head just a fraction. “Excuse me?”
“I need the room,” she says, stressing the word. She gives me a look.
It’s hard for me to believe that goggles-Mcgee has a need for our room. It’s even harder for me to believe that she would kick a sick person out of their room.
“This takes priority.”
Okay, so maybe it isn’t so hard to believe.
I ignore her for a full five minutes, but she still doesn’t leave.
It takes all my energy to get out of bed. Should I have had even one more ounce, I would have bitch slapped her. I grab my pillow and blanket and shuffle past her. She smirks.
“You look like hell. I’d try some eyeshadow.”
“I’d try some contacts,” I snap.
She gasps, but I’m out of hearing range by the time she thinks of a comeback. I head to the common area. A few guys play ping-pong at the ratty old table in the corner, but they pay no attention to me. The couch by the TV is limp and smelly, but it’s the only choice I have. I toss my pillow down and crawl onto it.
The TV is tuned to MTV. I yawn, snuggling up. My eyes are so heavy. I just need sleep…
Rock your body, yeah
Rock your body right
Backstreet's back, alright
My eyes fly open. I watch the video play on the screen. From the ping pong table I can hear the doofus guys jokingly singing along in a mock tone. Nick’s face appears in a close-up and I sigh.
I think about his number.
I’ve called once, but couldn’t get through the overseas mumbo-jumbo. I haven’t tried since.
As the video ends, my stomach clenches again. It comes on too fast to get up. I grab the potted plant off of the end table by the couch and puke up nothing but bile. Food doesn’t stay down.
“Dude, what party did you go to last night?” one of the guys ask me.
I don’t answer. I breathe through my mouth; the smell will make me throw up again. I know this well.
I am an expert puker.
I’m also not ignorant.
Even without taking three tests, there is no doubt.
I am pregnant.
Chapter Thirty Two
Chapter 32 by evergreenwriter83
May 8, 1998
It is the longest day of my life. I stare at the phone in my room and then down at the calling card. I inhale deeply.
I barely exhale.
Today is a monumental day. Today is the day that Brian Littrell goes under the knife a thousand miles away to repair his heart. I know he survives, but there’s a small part of me wondering if somehow, this time it will go dreadfully wrong.
But it can’t go dreadfully wrong.
It can’t because today is another milestone.
Today is the first day of my second trimester.
I can’t button my jeans anymore. A quite handy concoction of paperclips keeps my pants from falling down. It is getting too warm to hide in sweatshirts, but I do anyhow. Gone, for the most part, is the morning sickness.
Gone, for the most part, is also my ability con concentrate. I know that my time at Berkeley is limited. Given the choice between listening to Bueller or watching the Price is Right, my choice is always Mr. Barker. Who else advocates so hard to get pets spayed or neutered?
The bad part is that if I get kicked out of Berkeley, I don’t have anywhere to go. The cost of living is too high. My only option is to go back to Missouri, but I can’t live with mom. I’ve only talked to her once in the past twelve weeks. Just as I was going to tell her I was pregnant, she decided to drop a bomb of her own.
“I just got married,” she announced. “He’s a great guy. He’s a couple years older than you...”
Other than the age thing, it was exactly what she had said about the other three. For those not keeping count, my dad included, this was marriage number five.
Finals are in two weeks and I know that I will not pass. The information they require isn’t anything that I will use later on in life. I am sure of that. As the days go by, more flashes of the future appear at the most random times. Yet, they don’t make sense. One moment, I am sure that I become a scientist. The next moment I am sure I become a country singer. Talk about two different ends of the spectrum.
I glance at the phone again. I just have to do it. I grab the phone and punch in my phone card information. I smooth out the wrinkled piece of paper I’ve slept with under my pillow nightly and listen to the first ring.
And the second.
And the th--
I almost start crying. I grip the phone. For the last few weeks, I have started to think that maybe I’ve dreamt this whole thing. That theory doesn’t explain the baby, but it seems saner than the reality.
There is a pause.
I hold the phone away from my ear.
“--YOU? I’VE BEEN WAITING AND I CALLED AND YOUR ROOMMATE--”
I bring the phone back. “WHAT ABOUT MY ROOMMATE?”
Nick must realize he’s shouting by my shouted back answer. “I left a message for you three weeks ago!”
I groan. “My roommate isn’t exactly friendly.”
“How are you? I miss you. Like, really miss you. Like really, really---”
“I need to see you.”
I don’t answer right away. “Have you heard anything about Brian?”
“They just started the surgery,” Nick says. “Kevin promised he’d call with updates. They said it should only be about a 90 minute surgery.”
“That’s not too bad.”
“Leighanne and his mom and dad are with him.”
“I need to see you.”
“I’m failing all my classes.”
“School is overrated.”
“Can I come kidnap you?”
I lay back on my bed and start picking a piece of string at the corner of my pillow. “Your might not have to.”
“Really?” I swear I hear a door open.
“I might go willingly.”
I hear a door close. “Oh. I thought you might have been here.”
“My new apartment,” he sounds ridiculously excited. “I managed to live with mom and dad for three hours before they started fighting. I wanted to take Angel and Aaron, but they wouldn’t let me. I’ve got to figure out something to do for them. I have this distinct memory of Aaron becoming a giant douche.”
“So you got an apartment in three hours?”
“Yup. I spent almost all my money, but it’s mine. Mom’s got a death grip on the money I made before I turned eighteen.”
“I’m thinking your mom and my mom would get along really well.”
Nick laughs. “That scares me.” He pauses. “Have I mentioned I miss you?”
I smile. “A couple times.” Now it is my turn to pause. “I miss you too.”
“I can’t wait until September to see you. I know that’s when Brian found out before, but I’ll die.”
And I’ll be living under a bridge, I think. “I’m going to get kicked out of school.”
“So if a plane ticket is waiting for you…”
My heart skips a beat.
“Then I might just need someone to meet me on the other side.”
May 9, 1998
He is not here. I have looked all around, but he is not here. I’ve traveled across the country for nothing. There’s only two old guys in suits, a young guy with floppy brown hair and a porn stache, and a little old lady leaning on a cane. There isn’t anyone here for me.
I take a step forward.
The porn stache guy rushes me.
I’m in his arms before I can shake him off. I’m lifted in the air and spun around. Only when I’m back on my feet and have slapped him across the face once do I take a look at his eyes.
He rubs his face, wincing. “Shhh.”
“Oh my God, I’m sorry. I just---*”
“Fans are getting crazy,” he says. “We just finished a show at Frontierland. Geesh, you don’t hit like a girl. Ow.”
I hug him tightly. He wraps an arm around my shoulder.
“Let’s get your bags.”
“I only have my carry on.”
He takes it from me and I feel his eyes scan my body. He can’t see much. I am covered from head to toe.
I am already dying from the humidity.
“Brian’s surgery was almost four hours,” Nick says as he guides me through the airport. “They found another hole. Thank goodness they did. If they had sewed him back up, he would have been in a mess of trouble.”
“So he’s fine?”
“He’s in recovery. He’s had a rough go of it. I guess putting him under was a fight. He was ballistic.”
“Wouldn’t you if you thought you might die on the table?”
Nick shudders. “I hope I don’t ever have to find out.”
We make our way out of the airport and to a small black car. Nick holds open the door for me. As I slide in, his wig flies off.
“THAT’S NICK CARTER!!”
From out of nowhere, a group of girls comes from a cluster of cars across the parking lot. Nick’s mustache slips down, covering his lip. He looks like a Halloween costume gone horribly wrong.
I jump as I hear a loud thump on the hood. Instead of running around, Nick scrambles across the car. He yanks open the driver’s door just as the first crazy girl gets to the car. A fist pounds against the window. I yank the hoodie up over my head.
“GET OFF THE CAR!”
Him speaking only makes it worse. The girls scramble on the car and I’m greeted to a flash of way more boobs and butts than I’ve ever wanted to see in my entire life.
“Close your eyes,” he commands. His fingers flex against the gear shift.
I hear the squealing of tires and imagine girls flying off the windshield like bugs. I’m relieved not to feel any human size bumps under the tires.
I open my eyes. Nick is white knuckled around the steering wheel. He smiles at me.
“Have I mentioned that I missed you?”
Chapter Thirty Three
Chapter 33 by evergreenwriter83
May 9, 1998
“So here it is. My casa. Su casa.”
He steps aside and I’m greeted with the view of Nick Carter’s first apartment as an adult. It is a far cry from the beach house that I vaguely remember. This apartment is small, pre-furnished, and in an odd corner of the city. It doesn’t scream Nick. Then again, he has just moved in.
“I know it’s not much, but it will do for now. We have to start somewhere right?”
He turns and looks at me with a cautious smile. “You, me...Ben.”
“I appreciate the help, but I don’t expect to mooch of you.”
“You’re not mooching!” he protests. “I remember you living in this small apartment when Ben was born and some asshole broke in and stole your TV. That’s not going to happen. Not on my watch.”
I have no recollection of this. The thought of some creep breaking into my place curbs my protests. I run my hand over the back of the couch and head towards the kitchen.
“The microwave is awesome. It cooks things in half-time. I had some Totino pizza rolls last night. Do you know how awesome it was to eat pizza rolls for dinner?”
I look at him. He grins. “My metabolism is awesome.”
I laugh. “I could go for some pizza rolls.”
He springs into action. He yanks open the freezer. His face falls. He opens his refrigerator.
“Crap. I kinda...ate everything.”
He holds up an almost empty jar of mustard. “Almost.”
I laugh. He hangs on the refrigerator. “Let’s go grab something to eat. There’s this place a couple blocks away. Then we can drive out to this place that looks out over the ocean.”
My growling stomach answers for me. “That sounds great,” I say gratefully. Nick swings the refrigerator door closed.
“Then we can come back so I can give you the rest of the apartment tour.”
“I’d like that,” I say truthfully. His excitement is so ridiculously adorable that I can’t help but smile. All my stress disappears.
It’s the Carter factor.
"It's a billion degrees out. Why are you still wearing that hoodie?”
He's right about the temperature. I'm dying. We're parked overlooking the ocean and it's so humid my eyelashes are even frizzing. Wrappers from two chicken sandwiches are at my feet. I made quick work of the fries.
"I'm having wardrobe issues because of the bump."
Nick looks surprised. He smiles. "You have a bump? Can I see?"
I pause. No one has seen my bump but me. It's my little secret. Showing it would make it somehow less all my own. I run my fingers along the hem of the hoodie.
"Part of it is the chicken sandwiches," I warn. "I've never eaten two sandwiches in my life."
"And two fries."
I glance down into the empty bag. Sure enough, I see two empty French fry pouches.
This baby has made me into a garbage disposal.
"It's fine. I'd get you ten more if you want 'em. So....can I see?"
He can't mask his curiosity. I grab the heavy material and lift it up. The t-shirt underneath, unable to cover the stretching skin, hovers above my navel.
"Wow. It's such a…bumpy little bump."
"Little?" To me, the changes are massive. Nick just reaches out his hand and places it gently on my belly.
"Hi Ben," he says softly. "It's Nick. I can't wait to see you. You be a good little guy and don't break any of your mommy's ribs or organs or anything."
I laugh. He keeps leaning closer and closer. "We'll go play basketball and do paintballing and you'll remind me to wash my hands after I go to the bathroom. It's going to be great."
I'm not prepared for his lips on my stomach. They're so gentle.
"I love you, Benners."
Tears fill my eyes. Nick looks at me and smiles.
"Living through this again...it's going to be different."
He sits back up. "I already know the only girl in the world for me is you. I know what a real family is like with you and Ben. This time, I don't want to wait 15 years to get married."
My heart stops. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” he glances out at the ocean. “I want to get married. Like now.”
“Now?” I am sure I’m not hearing him correctly.
“Well not now as in this second. I mean now as in...soon. Next month? Two months?”
He turns towards me. “I even got this.”
I have a bad feeling about the ‘this.’ He slides his hand in his back pocket and pulls out a small velvet pouch. He yanks it open and tips it upside down.
A gold ring falls into his palm.
“It was my great-grandma’s. I called and asked him for it. Before...in the memories, the ring was ‘lost’ after my grandpa died. This isn’t how I wanted this to play out, but I couldn’t wait. Court, will you marry me?”
My throat tightens. This is totally not how I imagined a proposal would happen. Nowhere in my mind did I think I’d be sitting in a car that smelled like greasy fast food with my bare, pregnant belly hanging out, staring into the eyes of an eighteen year old with a cherished family heirloom in his hand who stares back like a lovesick puppy.
I love that he’s a lovesick puppy.
“Nick, I---” I take a deep breath. “I can’t answer your question.”
His eyes widen. “What?”
“I can’t answer your question. I’m pregnant with Brian’s child. This is going to be so hard to tell him and then if I tell him I’m engaged to you. He didn’t believe Ben was his child in the first place, right? How much worse would that make it?”
Nick sinks back into his seat, his fingers curling around the ring. He closes his eyes and presses his head back against the rest.
“I’m an idiot. The longer I’m here, the dumber I get. I’m a stupid, fucking eighteen year old.”
“You’re not stupid,” I argue.
“Yes, I am. I just...I just don’t have the patience. I can’t imagine waiting as long as we did to be together. I can’t sleep just thinking about being with you. It’s driving me crazy.” His eyes fly open and he looks at me. “I’m crazy for you.”
His free hand reaches out and snakes through my hair. Next thing I know, he is kissing me hungrily. I submit to the feeling of his lips on mine and we meld into the seats. Nick’s hand slides across my stomach again and then I hear it…
The distinct sound of metal hitting metal.
He stops, his hair falling down into his face.
“I dropped the ring between the seats.”
Two hours later, four metal shaving cuts, and one ripped pair of jeans later, Nick’s great-grandma’s ring is back in the pouch and we’re headed back to his apartment. I hold the hoodie against my stomach, relieved at the feel of the air on my bare arms. Nick looks frustrated, sad, and tortured.
He is constantly being cock blocked. There’s no other way to say it.
“Once Brian’s well enough...can we go see him? I want to tell him about this. I think then I won’t feel so nervous about everything. And then…”
His eyes shift over to me. He almost rear ends the car in front of him. “Then?”
I smile. “You know.”
He turns his attention back to the road, but his grin is evident.
“Wanna go tomorrow?”
“He just had surgery!”
“I’m eighteen and desperate.”
“I’m pregnant and pukey.”
“The perfect pair.”
Chapter Thirty Four
Chapter 34 by evergreenwriter83
"How can I not be?"
"Because I'm with you."
I exhale. As comforting as he means it to be, being with Nick while telling Brian, 'hey how's the scar running down your chest? By the way, ya knocked me up!' scares the shit out of me.
"Is he moving again?"
I shift in my seat. "A little."
Nick takes his eyes off the road for a second and I squirm again. A little movement is an understatement. I feel like a soccer match is going on between a hoard of butterflies. I don't know if it's all the baby. I don't remember Nick being this bad of a driver. I keep hitting an invisible passenger side brake.
"I can't wait til he kicks. We need to find you a new hoo-ha baby doctor. That guy we saw was an ass."
"I don't think he particularly thought I was awesome considering I couldn't give any paternal history or the father's name. He saw 'whore' stamped across my forehead.
"I could have given most of Brian's information. I know his height and weight and pants size. Oh and the fact his heart sucked but now doesn't."
"And how's pant size helpful?"
Nick narrowly avoids a cab. I think I pee myself a little.
"I dunno. I just know it."
I run my hand over my belly. I have seen a lot of pregnant women, but I don't remember seeing women four months along as gigantic as me. I am either going to birth a whale or I need to lay off the fast food.
"He sounded totally happy when I told him I was gonna visit. Kevin came last week and AJ and Denise came. Howie talked to him on the phone for like three hours. He's surrounded by old people. He'll be happy to see you too. Old ladies keep hitting on him."
I lick my lips. Nervous...nervous doesn't define it. "What about Leighanne?"
"She's at some modeling audition thing for a few days. That's why this is the best time to tell him. The first time Leighanne was around and what a pain in the ass that was. Southern girls aren't ladylike all the time. She about threw down."
I grimace. "Sorry I'm going to miss that one."
Nick laughs and I try to calm my nerves. Brian's tucked away at a swank rehabilitation center in upstate New York. When I think of New York, I think city. This is serene.
This is almost like being back in the Midwest.
Thirty minutes later, Nick rolls to a stop outside of a locked gate. The sight of the gate brings back a memory I can't quite grasp...
"Nick Carter. Here to see Brian Littrell."
The voice doesn't come back on the intercom, but the gates slowly swing open. My memory disappears just as fast as it came.
"This is pretty nice. I almost want to go get an organ ripped out to chill out here for awhile."
He parks under a big dripping tree that will definitely pile a whole bunch of crappy brown whirls gigs on top by the time we come back out. I get out and stretch my legs. I am instantly thankful for the lack of humidity.
But then I spot him.
How I see him through a fence and halfway through the garden, I don't know. I make out the dark blonde hair and the big tennis shoes and I just know. Before Nick can head to the front door, I tug him the opposite way.
"The gates locked from the inside," Nick says. He hops it easily. I start to lift a leg and he about has a heart attack.
"There's a latch! Chill!"
Brian's voice carries. Nick lifts the latch. I try to position myself so Nick is blocking me from sight.
That plan lasts less than a minute.
"Hey Rok," Nick says, turning around.
Brian looks thin. Too thin. Too pale. Too tired. Too everything. He wheels up faster than I expect and I swear my eyes lock on his, unwilling to move. The looks pass fast.
"How are you feeling?"
Brian doesn't answer. He is staring at the orb expanding the front of my shirt outward. Nick looks at me.
"Do you remember Courtney?" Nick asks in the same tone someone would use if asking a child if they remembered their mailman from three moves ago.
"Orlando Courtney," Brian says thickly.
A horrible thought occurs to me. I am going to give him a heart attack. I grab the back of Nick's shirt. I have to stop him. We can tell Brian I drank bad water and have worms attacking me from the inside out. Anything but--
"She has something to tell you," Nick continues.
"Orlando Courtney is pregnant," Brian says dumbly. There's no other way to describe the sentence. "Like pregnant pregnant."
"Like February in Orlando pregnant," Nick unhelpfully adds.
They both look at me. I see an old lady practicing walking across the yard. She holds her arms out, extended in both directions to keep her balance.
I feel like I need to do the same. Or talk.
"Hi Brian," my voice cracks. "This is...awkward. I wanted to see how you were doing and uhm
..uhm...just let you know that...uhm...it's just something you needed to know but..."
"You're having Nick's baby?"
Nick looks like he's about to say yes. He just see how erratic my pupils are moving. I realize instead of killing Brian, I'm just killing myself. Any second I will self combust and no Backstreet Boy will have to worry about me or a baby or anything...
"It's yours," I say in one big breath.
Brian's face fills with the most color I've seen since I spotted him. He looks at Nick, then me, then Nick. Slowly, he grins.
"This...this is awesome."
Chapter Thirty Five
Chapter 35 by evergreenwriter83
Nick looks like he’s going to faint. I’m pretty sure that’s how I also look. “Aw...Awesome?”
Brian laughs. “Absolutely. This has to be the greatest prank you’ve pulled. It took me a minute to figure out, but wow.” He looks at me. “You even look pregnant. It doesn’t even look like a basketball or anything.”
Nick and I both seem to understand where Brian’s mind is at the exact same time. Nick looks at me, confused. Obviously this didn’t happen the first time around.
“No, Brian. She’s pregnant. Really pregnant. This isn’t a joke. I got an apartment in Orlando and bumped into Courtney. I remember seeing her with you on your birthday. She wanted to come up here and tell you in person.”
Brian shakes his head. “No. No, you can’t be pregnant.” He looks at me and the color is quickly draining from his face. “Right?”
I really want to tell him he’s right and run away. The panic spreading across his face is sending me into my own panic. Combined with the baby moving at the speed of popcorn popping…
Nick, on the other hand, isn’t so kind. Before I can swat him away, he lifts up my shirt enough to show that I’m not smuggling a small cantaloupe or piece of sports equipment underneath.
Nick steps back as I pull down my shirt. We both look at Brian. He swallows hard.
“No offense, but how do I know this baby’s mine? Kevin just read that a girl in Japan who claimed she was pregnant with his baby just gave birth. They showed a picture of the baby and it’s part black.”
“Why do I imagine that AJ had a joke about that?”
Brian almost smiles. Almost. Then he stares at my stomach again. “He did.”
“There’s a test,” I say softly. “They can do it and it will tell you.”
“But you’re not doing that,” Nick argues.
I look at Nick. “I will.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“It’s not that dangerous.”
“What the hell are you two talking about?”
The doctor so eloquently called ‘Dr. Ass’ had mentioned the possibility of doing an amniocentesis since I didn’t have a clue on Brian’s family history. The moment he had mentioned the 1 in 200 chance of miscarriage, Nick flipped out.
But if it was needed to ensure Brian connected with Ben right from the beginning…
The change could only be positive.
“They can take a sample of fluid and do a DNA test.”
“But it’s dangerous,” Nick adds.
Brian sits back in his chair. He kicks his legs out in front of him, grinding the heel of his sneaker into the ground. He looks up at the sky. For a second, I think he’s crying, but then he looks at Nick.
“Why does this matter to you so much? I can’t believe that you just stumbled over a random girl I picked up in a bar months ago.”
I expect Nick to stutter, but he doesn’t bat an eye.
“I invited Courtney to our show in Orlando. Kevin found my cigarettes and instead of meeting Court like planned, I had to go get my ass reamed out. We’ve been friends for a couple years. By the time I came down to meet her, she wasn’t around. When I called her a few days later, she told me she got drunk and you guys slept together. She was so embarrassed she took off in the middle of the night. The more we’ve been hanging out the past few months...I feel like she’s more than a friend.”
It’s a story that I have a feeling he’s been perfecting for awhile. It’s so smooth and polished I actually believe it.
And Brian does. I can see it in his face. In the way the reality washes over him. He inhales so hard I’m afraid he’s going to pop his stitches.
“I’m back with Leighanne,” Brian says. “This...this is…” He runs a hand through his hair. “Is this test really dangerous?”
“Just a 1 in 200 chance of a miscarriage. That chance is really higher for women that aren’t as far along as I am. I’m seventeen weeks.”
“Seventeen weeks,” Brian repeats.
“But there’s that 1,” Nick protests. I think he knows that he is fighting a losing battle.
“I need this test done,” Brian says. “You’re not going to the press, right?”
“How soon do you get the results?”
Brian nods. He’s quiet for a minute.
“I’m kinda tired now.”
Nick takes the hint. “We’ll head out. But are you doing okay? I mean...the heart?”
“I feel like I’m eighty,” Brian gives us a forced crooked smile that kills me. “Of course I think the last twenty minutes just aged me a few more years.”
“I’m sorry,” I choke.
“My doctor will be in touch with yours,” he says. “If...if the test says...something we’ll talk. Okay?”
I know the ‘something’ covers a lot of things. I nod. “Okay.”
Nick gives Brian a hug, but I don’t step forward. Brian wheels away, shoulders hunched, and I feel the tears on my cheeks. Nick wraps an arm around me.
“Take it from me,” he whispers.
“That went a whole lot better than last time…”
“You still have all your hair intact.”
Chapter Thirty Six
Chapter 36 by evergreenwriter83
“I still don’t want you to do this.”
“Nick, I have to. I have to do this for Ben. If Brian finds out now think of what that could mean for their relationship.”
Nick doesn’t answer right away. He opens the refrigerator and I hear him shuffling stuff around. “But what will it do to Ben and mine’s?”
“He’ll just have two really awesome overprotective dads.”
Nick’s shaggy head pops up over the door. He smiles at me. “So you’re going to keep me around awhile.”
I smile back. “Maybe.”
The maybe is a ‘yes,’ but in the weeks since I’ve come to live with Nick Carter, I find that I really enjoy teasing him. A few times, I’ve even come close to accepting his proposal in his most adorable moment.
I laugh. “Maybe, maybe.”
Nick closes the door. He runs the small bottle of Sunny D down him. “This package only gets better,” he teases.
“The hair does, definitely.”
Nick’s eyes crinkle. “The hair’s driving me nuts, but it’s the 90’s. It’s my thing.”
“Uh-huh.” I stand up from my spot at the table and grab an apple. I rub it on my shirt until it practically sparkles. “Besides, who says if I stay with you that you won’t just get lazy and instead of the Nick I remember you’ll be thirty-four with a big beer belly.”
“No way. I’m keeping this machine in pristine condition. Which if you took a peek, I think you’d agree.”
I roll my eyes. “I’m fat and tired. My sex drive is gone.”
“You do realize you’re probably the first and last girl that will ever say that to me, right?”
I smirk. “Yup.” I glance at the clock and the lightness in the air pops like a balloon.
“We’ve got to get going.”
Nick’s smile drops too. “I don’t want you to do this. What if something bad happens?”
“Nothing bad will happen.”
“I read the risks.”
“There’s risks with aspirin. You’ve got to let me make this decision.”
Nick sighs. He unscrews the cap on the OJ and takes a deep sip.
“I don’t have to like it,” he says, his mouth still around the bottle.
“I’ll give you that,” I agree.
“Okay Courtney, we’re going to pull a little of the amniotic fluid through the centrifuge. It really is a simple procedure, but I’ll again go over the risks. Afterwards, you may have a little cramping. This should go away in a few hours. If the cramping doesn’t fade or intensifies, you’ll need to go to the emergency room for a follow up.”
Okay, so maybe the risks are a little worse than aspirin. Nick looks like he’s two shades above pea soup. I nod. “I understand.”
“Good. Now, just take a deep breath. No need to be nervous. First we’ll get the ultrasound transducer in place.”
I understand every single technical word the doctor spouts off to the nurse even though Nick looks like they are speaking Japanese. He eyes the doctor warily. I haven’t had time to find someone besides Dr. Ass. Besides, Dr. Ass seems to be warming up to me.
The technician gels up my stomach and I feel the gentle pressure of the wand. The ultrasound screen flickers to life and for a second I’m disoriented by the grainy cells of black and gray. Then I see…
“Ben,” Nick says before I can even open my mouth. He leans towards the monitor hungrily.
I watch in awe as a blurry arm lifts towards the round orb that is the baby’s head. It looks like an even tinier mouth opens to give the fingers entry.
“That’s good,” the doctor says. The image pauses and focuses even more. My eyes are glued to the screen. Each little movement makes my heart skip a beat.
“I’m going to insert the needle.”
I barely hear him. I am thankfully distracted. I barely feel the needle inserted in my skin.
No more than sixty seconds have gone by. I’m sure of it. I look at him in surprise.
The nurse looks up.
“Doctor, the baby just shifted. There’s…there’s another leg.”
“Another leg? Let me see.”
The nurse hands over the wand to Dr. Ass. He sits down and leans towards the screen. I’m already cramping. I want nothing more to shift to a different position, but instead I’m pinned by the wand digging deeper into my stretched flesh.
“That’s not a leg, that’s his penis,” Nick says helpfully. “Not that I know how hung his dad is, but…”
“Actually, it can’t be a penis. She clearly has a vagina,” the nurse explains.
Nick looks like he’s been punched in the gut. “Excuse me?”
“It’s a girl,” the nurse repeats. Her labia is swollen, but not that much.”
“La-bi-a,” the nurse enunciates.
Nick looks like he might throw up. “SHE?!”
I don’t feed into his horror. Mine is directed, rightfully so, to the more pressing issue. The doctor nods. “Ah yes, I do see the appendage in question.”
“My baby has three legs?”
“No, not at all,” the doctor smiles at me. “Your babies have four legs.” I feel the wand shift and wince.
The room is quiet. The nurse has her eyes fixed on Nick as if preparing herself to answer another question or sound out another word.
“We won’t make the little guy go through the poking too.”
“This is your first ultrasound?”
I nod. My mind has put all the little bits and pieces together. But four divided by two equals…
“The extra heartbeat was hidden on the monitor, but once babies get this old, they can’t easily hide. The little guy is fighting his sister for some more room. He’s quite cramped.”
“There can’t be two,” Nick stammers. “Ben’s an only child.”
“I’m afraid Ben is going to have to share some limelight with Benita,” the doctor laughs at his own joke.
I’m too stunned to do anything. Anything but look at Nick. The minute I do, I regret it.
I have never seen anyone look so crushed.
Chapter Thirty Seven
Chapter 37 by evergreenwriter83
Nick is the complete opposite of fine. I press my ear up against the bathroom door. I hear him cussing and then...silence. The superstitious part of me prays he didn’t just throw a mirror.
I press myself up against the wall and slide down. I press my hand against my cramping stomach and close my eyes.
Twins. Twins was never part of the game plan. How the hell did twins happen? How the hell do women carry twins? I can’t do it...I just can’t. I won’t be able to handle two babies. Two dirty diapers at a time. Two hungry stomachs…
Two shrill cries.
I decide right then and there that I hate sex. I will never have sex again. I hate that I somehow landed in Orlando and in Brian’s bed. I should have been in school studying to be a scientist. Then I’d be on the fast track to graduation and a job that paid crazy money. I’d have a fast two seater car and I’d earn the Nobel Prize and I’d be ridiculously happy…
The longer I sit there, I don’t believe it. Maybe the sex part, but not the other part. Something tells me that I would be extremely lonely.
But twins? That was going in the completely opposite direction.
Then there was Nick...Nick who was locked in the bathroom. Quiet.
The tone of his voice is so not fine. It’s the sound a voice makes when it’s accompanied by crying.
Nick crying is bound to make me cry.
I sit there until my butt falls asleep and my leg gets a giant charlie horse that has me scrambling back up and limping around. I run into a table.
I’m still rubbing my thigh as the bathroom door opens.
“Are you okay?”
Nick’s eyes are red-rimmed. He presses his head against the doorway.
“You’re going to end up with him. I know it.”
The desolation in his face breaks my heart. I ignore my throbbing thigh puncture.
“Nick, you don’t have to worry.”
“I only got you the first time after fifteen years. I don’t know how many times you two ended up floating back together like two...like two magnets. This was my chance. Now everything’s different. You’ve got a baby with a...a...labia! I’m eighteen years old! I shouldn’t even have to worry about labias.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ve worried yourself about labias for awhile.”
Nick sighs and rubs his face against his arm. “The only regret Brian ever had was not having a girl. He and Leighanne got pregnant after Baylee, but she miscarried. It was a girl. Now here you are...you’ve got like the perfect salt and pepper set. You’re going to end up in his kitchen wearing an apron and he’s going to come home from the road with pork chops and mashed potatoes and gravy waiting.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yeah,” I smile. “Cause I can’t cook. I can’t boil water.”
Nick scowls. “He won’t care. ‘Cause he’ll have an adorable little boy and an adorable little girl and a hot sexy singing wife. Leighanne will go back to Joe Pesci and probably give birth to a little meatball and I’ll just be left out in the cold. All ‘cause a labia ruined my life.”
“You kinda like saying labia don’t you?”
Nick gives me a watery smile. “What makes you think that?”
I don’t answer. Instead I walk over and wrap my arms around him tightly. He hesitates for only a second before he’s hugging me back.
He is the best friend a girl could have.
“You need to stop worrying. Do you realize what a worse mess I’d be without you?”
He nuzzles my neck. “I just don’t want to have to go through this again. Brian’s my best friend, but you...I’ll fight for you.”
“You don’t have to fight for me.”
“You say that now.”
“I’m never having sex again.”
“You say that now.”
“Brian’s going to pray over you or something and you’re going to be a goner.”
“Pray over me?”
“Girls find his praying sexy.”
I can’t help it. I start laughing. Nick’s arms tighten around me even more.
“Is it crazy for me to hope that the test comes back and I somehow am these kids dad?”
My laughter dies. I run my fingers through his hair.
“I have this feeling that stranger things have happened to us.”
Nick kisses my cheek.
June 24, 1998
“This is Dr. Hassel’s office.”
Hassel. Dr. Hassel. Talk about a coincidence.
“The results of your amnio are back.”
“As requested, we sent the results securely to...the other party,” the nurse says cryptically. I wonder if she even knows who the other party is. For our sake, I hope she doesn’t. I can just imagine the news getting leaked…
“The test is 99% conclusive that he is the father.”
For once, I didn’t even have to hold my breath. This I knew.
“Okay. Thank you.”
I start to hang up the phone when I hear the nurse’s voice again.
“Dr. Hassel would like you back in the office tomorrow morning.”
The nurse pauses. Now the nerves start.
“He reviewed the ultrasound and found something irregular. He needs you to come in.”
“It could be nothing,” the nurse adds. “Sometimes it’s just the way a baby is turned.”
“What? What is?”
I wait for her to say labia. I almost hope that she does. That way I can tell Nick when he gets back from the store and we can laugh.
“The doctor wasn’t able to see a few areas of the little girl’s heart. He just wants a closer look.”
“Hey, I got those Cheetos you wanted. Time for an orange finger fig--”
I turn around. Nick takes one look at my face and stops mid-sentence. The phone suddenly feels too heavy for my hand.
“Can you make it at 2?” the nurse asks. She sounds almost nervous.
“Yeah.” My voice sounds weird to my own ears. “2.”
Before she can say another word, I disconnect. I let the phone fall from my hand.
Nick thought the next bomb to drop would be Brian…
He was wrong.
Chapter Thirty Eight
Chapter 38 by evergreenwriter83
June 26, 1998
“In what world is 2 o’clock the morning? Didn’t she say he wanted you in the office in the morning?”
One thing I’ve learned about Nick is that in times of crisis he does one of two things. He totally withdraws or he never shuts up.
This is the never shut up mode.
“You know, whatever they say, we should really get a second opinion. I mean who can’t notice a twin right away? It’s not like there’s a lot of room in there to play hide and seek.”
I press my head against the car window. I’ve been up all night. There’s a chunk of Nick’s memories and my own that neither of us remember. What if this is it? What if Ben had a twin all along but she died?
The feeling of popcorn popping only grows worse the closer we get to the office. I imagine Ben in there saying ‘mom, we need help in here!’
“Yeah, I’m sure he was trying to figure out the whole third leg thing and didn’t take the time to count everything.”
I want nothing more to scream at him to shut up, but I can’ do it because I know he doesn’t even realize how the constant babbling is getting on my nerves.
“The parking lot isn’t even full. I bet the guy just wanted to go out to lunch first. If this was a real emergency they would have seen you as soon as they opened.”
As soon as Nick parks, I am out of the car. I gulp in air and the momentary silence like it is precious metal. I hear Nick’s door close.
I shake my head. He walks towards me and takes my hand.
Annoying chatter aside, I am at least glad that I’m not alone for this. I wonder if I’ve already gone through this alone…
The walk up to the office feels like a death march. Nick holds open the door and I head inside. I prepare to walk up and sign in, but a nurse intercepts me.
“They’re waiting for you in the office,” she says. I notice a flush to her cheeks. The flush deepens as she smiles at Nick.
The Nick worship has happened every single time we’ve come in. They all know he’s not the dad and I think the way they see him treat me gets all their ovaries pumping. But today...today this nurse looks like she’s going to explode.
Nick presses his hand against my back and we navigate the hallways. The nurse worms her way in front of me and pushes the door to the ultrasound room open. A rush of cold air greets me first.
Brian’s terrified eyes greet me second.
“What are you doing here?”
It’s not my question. It’s Nick’s. Brian gives him a look that could melt ice. He looks ten times healthier than we saw him just a few weeks ago.
“I got the results yesterday. I came down to talk to Dr. Hassel personally and he told me…” Brian’s words fade away.
“While the amniocentesis results are without question, admittedly, the surprise twin called the thoroughness of the rest of the ultrasound into question,” Dr. Hassel says. His voice is calm, but not comforting. He almost sounds bored. Why do scientific minds always seem so detached? “Upon further examination I discovered some limited views that raised concerns. After talking with Brian and examining his own history, I am even more convinced that we need to do a fetal echocardiogram on both babies and a more extensive ultrasound.“
“What kind of concerns?” Nick asks for me.
“A potential heart defect.”
I let out a sound that was half dying animal.
“Courtney, do we have your permission to conduct these tests today?”
I look at Nick. He looks like he’s been slapped.
Brian looks even worse. His head is in his hands and his scrawny legs are spread out, ending in giant tennis shoes that are bobbing up and down with the nervous tick of a man that can’t sit still. Someone has to hold themselves together.
But why does it have to be me?
“Yes, you have my permission.”
“Ah, they’ve moved around a bit. Here we can see the boy much better.”
“Is that an arm? Is he---” Brian leans closer.
“Touching his face,” the doctor finishes.
“And that’s all happening right now.”
Brian is in awe. Nick looks like it is killing him not to scoot up close to the monitor and join him. Instead he squeezes my hand, pressing his cheek against the fleshy part of my palm.
“Right now,” Dr. Hassel confirms. “It’s going to get a little less defined now as I concentrate on the heart.”
The room is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. The breathing of the nurse sitting near Brian is the loudest thing going on in the room. It’s the same one that looked like she was going to pee her pants when we walked in. Now I realize why.
The Littrell effect.
“Okay, I have a good view.”
Another machine is brought over and I lay as still as possible. The sound of a heartbeat fills the room and relief washes over even though just the sight of the baby touching his own face should have convinced me that he was alive.
The test goes on for ten minutes.
“Alright, now we find the little girl.”
If any woman has ever had some sort of fantasy of being pregnant and having the two hottest Backstreet Boys in the room while she’s getting an ultrasound, she needs to listen to me: there is nothing remotely sexy about it. I need to pee, Brian’s in prayer position and Nick looks like he’s going to dig his main vein in his arm out.
Rolling slightly when you have to pee is not an easy thing to do. I shift to my side, and instantly the pressure makes me want to curse.
Again, the silence descends while the doctor studies the screen. Every now and then a little glossy sheet of paper descends from the machine. I feel the additional pressure of the other machine.
The sound of a heartbeat fills the room. I don’t know if it is because I am already prepared for the worst, but it sounds different.
A bad different.
“Alright folks, it’s going to take a little while to get the official results.”
I am sandwiched between Nick and Brian. They haven’t said a word to each other.
“In your opinion, what is the unofficial result?”
“Atrioventricular canal defect.”
Brian sinks back into his chair. Nick leans forward.
“And that is?”
“ACD is caused by a poorly formed central area of the heart. Typically, there is a large hole between the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) and, often, an additional hole between the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). Instead of two separate valves allowing flow into the heart (tricuspid on the right and mitral valve on the left), there is one large common valve, which may be quite malformed.”
I blink rapidly. All I hear is ‘dead, dead, dead...’
“If the results agree with your diagnosis, what can be done?”
Dr. Hassel looks at me. I want to dig his eyes out. All of a sudden I’m angry. Incredibly, irrationally angry.
“Right now, both fetuses are relying heavily on you for major life-giving functions. The true danger is if the defect worsens in utero. This could result in a stillborn child and may put the other fetus in danger.”
“How will we know?” Brian asks.
“What’s this ‘we’ stuff?” Nick asks.
They look at each other.
“These are my,” Brian pauses. “my children. Courtney and I need to figure out what can be done.”
“It’s going to be more difficult with twins. One of the key signs is monitoring movement, but there’s no way to distinguish the activity when two are in such tight quarters.”
“And the baby boy could die too?” Nick chokes.
“It’s a risk.”
Nick slams back in his chair.
“This is your fault, Brian.”
“Excuse me? My fault? I’m sorry, but I find it creepy you’re so obsessed with a woman who is pregnant with my children.”
I don’t see Nick get up, but I hear the chair slam against the wall. A split second later, Brian’s chair hits the wall and there is a rush of blonde.
“NICK!” I scream, moving out of my chair just in time for it to go skittering across the small office.
All I can think of is that Brian’s going to end up dead, a mass of stitches split open.
Except, the scene playing out in front of me is vastly different.
Brian is beating Nick’s ass.
By a mile.
Chapter Thirty Nine
Chapter 39 by evergreenwriter83
“In breaking news, Backstreet Boys Brian Littrell and Nick Carter have been arrested after a fight occurring at a medical complex in Orlando, Florida. Sources report that no other people were involved. The band is on hiatus awaiting Brian’s recuperation from heart surgery on May 8. It’s not known what provoked the fight, but Carter was seen with a busted lip and black eye. Is the band headed for a break-up? “Everybody, stay tuned to MTV for all the latest. This is VJ Toby Amies for MTV News.”
The Orange County Jail is probably the grossest place I have ever been in. I’m sitting as far away from a drunk chained to one of the benches. He’s peed himself no less than three times in the past two hours.
In the other corner a drugged out hooker is slumped in a chair, her bangled arm hanging limply towards the floor. Every few seconds she snorts, looks wildly around, and then sinks back down into zombie-like position.
If I hadn’t needed a new OBGYN before, I needed one now. It had taken two uniformed police officers to break up the fight between Brian and Nick. Nick had not only a busted lip and black eye, but he also had a pretty nasty cut on his eyebrow from where Brian smacked his giant cross necklace against him trying to get him into a hole. Brian’s face was unharmed, but I hadn’t liked the look of the blood on his shirt. All I could picture were dozens of ripped stitches and his heart falling out right onto the ground.
I got up and got a Diet Coke from the pop machine. I wiped the can well on my shirt before opening it. The babies seemed to be playing a game of ping-pong behind my belly button. I tell myself not to complain. Movement is good.
The unknown of what happened the first time is haunting me. I don’t know why Nick remembers so much more than I do, but the fact that neither of us know what happened between February and September bothers me. Had baby girl Littrell never existed? Had she existed and died? Had I even gone for prenatal care? I had received a lecture the first time Nick and I had gone to Dr. Hassel for waiting so long. Had I waited until it was too late?
Was there a chance that I could bring two living babies into the world?
These were the heavy thoughts rolling around in my head as I sipped the Diet Coke that was two days away from expiration.
I was watching a rerun of Singled Out with Carmen Electra when Leighanne arrived. I almost spit out my last sip of my fizzy cola as I see her walk right up to the front desk.
In person, she’s gorgeous. Long blonde hair and a face with tiny, well-placed features. She’s crazy tan and perfectly dressed. Even her frazzled look is composed.
She’s a barbie doll.
In contrast, I am Violet Beauregarde after she ate the blue gum. My highlights are faded, my top is tent-like and my pants are holding up because of ample elastic. My feet are shoved into a pair of old flip-flops that I’m pretty sure I’ve carried from place to place since high school.
“I’m here to post bail for Brian Littrell,” she says breathlessly. The guy behind the desk almost blushes.
“Littrell and Carter’s bond hearing isn’t for another half hour. After that you can post. If you could have a seat…”
I watch the guy walk around the desk. He touches Leighanne’s elbow and points her towards the bench closest to me. I watch incredibly as he takes off his jacket and lays it down for her to sit on. I’m not sure he even looked up when I walked in.
Leighanne looks around, her blue eyes wide. She rubs her arms like she’s freezing and glances at the TV.
Then she looks at me.
It’s my fault really. If my brain cells were working adequately, I wouldn’t be gawking at her. But not, I had to get a play-by-play…
“Did you see them bring in a good looking dark blonde guy?” she asks me.
“Broad nose, bangs, kinda curly hair…”
I remember what Nick said. Last time I didn’t escape Leighanne’s wrath with all my hair in tact. With the worst acting skills in the world, I pretend to think.
“I think so…”
She lets out a little cry. “He’s my boyfriend. Did he look okay?”
I wanted to tell her that he looked a helluva lot better than Nick, but that would have opened up a whole mess of questions that I didn’t want to answer. “He looked okay,” I nod.
Leighanne dabs at her eyes and sits back. Again, she looks around, taking in the never-ending pee-er and the hooker. Then she’s back to me.
“When are you due?”
“Do you know what you’re having?”
My heart squeezed painfully. “Twins.”
Leighanne smiles. “Twins? How exciting! Twins run in my family.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that Brian and I will have a couple sets of twins. He wants a large family. A baseball team,” she laughs, a pretty little laugh. Ugh, it’s no wonder they ended up together. “Are you having twin boys? It looks like you might be carrying boys.”
I lick my lips. After a whole Coke, they shouldn’t be this dry. “One of each.”
She gives me an even brighter smile. “That’s awesome! Is your husband excited?”
I think it’s at that point that she realizes where we are again. Her brows furrow and she glances behind me. “Or is he--”
“I’m not married.”
The ‘ohh’ is so southern traditionalist that it makes me want to protect myself from the invisible pit of hell that opens up in front of me.
“Total whoops,” I add. God. Am I…..enjoying this conversation?
“Me and this guy got totally hammered,” I roll my eyes. Maybe I am a little bit of an actress. I’m Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. “You know...one thing leads to another...you bump and grind to The Train and…” so help me, the power of Nick makes me do what I do next. I form a hole with my fingers and shove the pointer finger of my other hand in and out.
I think Leighanne’s going to die.
We both turn to look at the front desk guy. He’s holding a sheet of paper.
“They got themselves bonded out.”
Leighanne bounces up and I do the clumsily not-even-that-pregnant-but-still-pregnant-enough stand-waddle. I think about heading outside and just waiting for Nick, but before I can take a step, Brian’s walking out. He still looks madder than a bull and for some reason, probably my extra girth, he only sees me.
“Court, you can’t stay with him. He’s a mad-man. I’m not going to let you deal with him. It’s not good for my babies. You can come home with me.”
The intake of air that happens behind me has enough blunt force wind to almost knock me backwards.
Brian pales. I step aside, sheepish.
Chapter 40 by evergreenwriter83
June 27, 1998
“What do you mean you’re leaving?”
“I mean I’m leaving.”
“But where are you going?”
The answer leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
“I’ve sold my soul, but my mom’s wired me some money. I’m getting a place.”
I zip my bag and give him a look that would shrivel plants.
“What you and Brian did yesterday was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. You guys are acting like I’m property rather than a human being. I’m a human being that is currently worrying about the well-being of two other human beings that need me more than anyone else.”
Nick tugs at his hair. “Listen, I’m sorry. I lost it. It’s just that I can’t handle all these curveballs. I snapped. You’re right. I haven’t treated you with respect. Just stay here. I don’t want to see you living in a roach motel.”
“I’m not going to live in a roach motel. It might be shocking, but I can support myself. I just had to pull my head out of my ass to do it. I’m not like a girl in one of those stupid romance novels. I can survive.”
Nick doesn’t answer. He watches me walk around and stuff more clothes in duffel bags.
The blow-up with Leighanne wasn’t as bad as I thought. I think the combination of Brian being arrested and then learning he had knocked me up was enough to direct her anger away from me and my hair. By the time I left, I was pretty sure she might get arrested for beating him up.
It was all very Jerry Springer.
And I was all very much over it.
“Can I just say one more thing?”
I sigh as I zip my final bag. “Yes?”
“You’ve got a high risk pregnancy. How are you going to support yourself without working?”
I narrow my eyes. I’ll blame it on the hormones, but I take his question as nothing but doubt on my abilities and sanity. Nick Carter, hero. Courtney Standiford, weak, pregnant scab.
“I’ve got that all figured out.”
“Can I at least drive you to wherever you’re going?”
“Are you ever going to talk to me again?”
I would have left our parting just like that, just for the sake of principle, but the look on his face as I grab my stuff is too much. I give him a quick peck on the cheek.
July 1, 1998
“Breaking News. Reports have surfaced detailing what the fight between Backstreet Boys Brian Littrell and Nick Carter was about. In an issue of People to be released early next week, a nurse dishes the dirt. It appears that Littrell, linked with actress Leighanne Wallace for the last year, is expecting twins with another woman. As if that isn’t juicy enough, the unnamed woman has recently been seen around town with Carter. It leads us to ask: Who’s the daddy? Stay tuned. For MTV news, this is VJ Toby Amies.”
I’m pretty sure that if I ever meet VJ Toby Amies that I am going to kick his nuts so far up into him that he will sing higher than Mariah Carey.
I stare out the window and a beautiful wooded lakefront land greets me. I’m covered in flour, but aside from mauling Toby Amies, I’m rarely calm. I am living in a beautiful bed and breakfast and I have a non-stressful job. Cooking is a lot like constructing a chemical reaction except that the result is much tastier.
My mom has, for once in her life, come through for me. I resisted and wrestled with whether I should, but finally I gave in and called her after the whole Leighanne debacle at the police station. Mom has lived her life being easy, but it's paid off for her in one way:
The woman has the best connections in the hotel and inn business.
It took three phone calls before she called to confirm my employment. Granted, accepting her help wasn’t totally standing on my own two feet, but I'm not being stupid either. My time for total pride will come after successfully giving birth to two live babies.
I don’t know exactly when it became my goal, but it happened quickly. The thought of keeping both of these little jumping beans safe consumes my every waking moment. It's the reason I need to get away from Nick and Brian and the whole mess.
The only thing I need to do now is focus.
“This is absolutely delicious.”
“How are you feeling?”
I’m sitting on a lovely wicker chair out on the front porch. I smile. The owner’s daughter sits down across from me with a heavy plate of pie. I've never made a pie in my life, but even the smell of it reeks of success.
“Great. I can’t thank your mom for letting me stay here and work.”
“That’s just how my mom is.”
Kal, short for Katherine Amy Lee, is twelve years older than me. Her little boy Leo looks just like her and her husband is some famous Hollywood director.
But I’ve learned that Kal is way more famous than he is. Kal is the rival Julia Roberts. I’ve spent the last week with her and Leo going through all of her movies that she’ll let him watch. For some reason, I have a vague recollection of other actresses being in some of the roles, but after each movie I can’t think of anyone else to play the role than Kal.
She’s also, for some reason, extremely interested in my well-being. Luckily, it’s not in the same suffocating way as two boys who will remain nameless.
“Do you ever get the feeling...that deja vu feeling?” she asks as she catches a wayward peach.
“Deja vu feeling?”
She smiles at me. “I feel like I’ve met you before.”
I laugh. “I feel the same way about you.”
“You know,” she cuts another sliver. As if on cue, Leo runs out to her, his mouth open like a baby bird. She feeds him the piece. “I think that we probably have some alter ego’s running around somewhere in sometime. We just repeat our lives in different ways and in different places. But when we run into someone from the past that feeling’s there. Does that make sense?”
“It makes perfect sense.”
“Take you and me,” she continues, feeding Leo another bite. “I bet in another life we were some Thelma and Louise gals. I probably made you do all the dirty work because you were so young and naive.”
I grin. “Like making pies?”
She laughs. “That’s what I like about you.” She steals a bite of her own as Leo runs away, presumably back in to find his grandma. “So what’s your dream?”
“Everyone has a dream. When I was growing up, my dad really wanted me to be a scientist. Luckily, I grew some balls and headed out to Hollywood instead. So what about you?”
“Well, I want to be a mom.”
Kal smirks. “You’re well on your way.”
I press my hands against my stomach. “True,” I admit. “I…” I close my eyes. Flashes of that fuzzy future swirl around. I’m just not sure how much I want to rely on it anymore.
“I want to sing,” I say assuredly.
“Then you’re going to sing for me.”
My eyes fly open and I stare at her incredulously. “Sure I am,” I laugh.
“No, I’m serious. You’ll sing for me.”
“Before I leave. But go on with your dream.”
I close my eyes again. “I want my children to be happy and healthy. I want them to feel safe and loved.”
“And you? Besides singing?”
I look at her again. The pie is gone.
“I don’t know,” I say honestly. I stare out over at the lake.
“I just want someone who doesn’t underestimate me. I want to be swept off my feet, but I don’t want to feel like I’m following. I want to lead.”
“Oooh,” Kal leans forward. She points a perfectly manicured nail at me.
“That right there is a statement of confliction. I think what you’re looking for is someone reactive. You can’t lead and be swept off your feet. But you can try. You, little mama, are looking for two very different guys.”
“There’s got to be one guy that can meet it all.”
“If there is, you’ll be the second luckiest woman in the world.”
“Because you’re the luckiest?” I guess.
“You’re smart,” she nods.
“I knew I liked you.”
Chapter Forty One
Chapter 41 by evergreenwriter83
July 3, 1998
“Thanks for calling me.”
“I thought you should be here.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Brian smiles at me. He nods towards the door and rocks back on his heels. He’s nervous. I’m nervous.
Hell, the babies even feel nervous.
“I’ve read all about this guy. People say he’s the best doctor in the state for prenatal care.”
“He’s also never called the cops on a client before.”
“Yeah,” Brian rubs his neck. “Not my shining moment. I have a criminal record now. My mom was so pissed, but once she heard about the babies...” he laughs. “She was mad and sad for a totally different reason. It’s really weird to say that, y’know? Babies, not pissed. I sound like an idiot, don't I? I mean, I’m only 23 and I’m going to be a dad. It’s…it’s scary.”
“It’s even scarier at 19,” I say softly.
“I’m really sorry. Trust me, I don’t go around getting girls pregnant. Leighanne had just broken up with me because I was going to delay my surgery again and it was my birthday and--”
“It’s just as much my fault,” I interrupt. “Is Leighanne speaking to you?”
Brian shrugs. “Not really. Not that I blame her.” He checks his watch. “Shall we go in?”
Dr. Henry Boone’s office is located in Orlando, but closer to the suburbs than the hustle and bustle of the inner city. The waiting room is small and we are shown right in the back.
“You’ve gotten bigger in just the time since I last saw you,” Brian says as he helps me up onto the table. The nurse bustles around before coming at me with the blood pressure cuff.
“That’s always a good thing for a mama to be,” the nurse smiles. I give her a smile back even as I try to yank down my shirt.
Everything hurts. My boobs hurt. My back hurts. My belly button hurts. I know there are women who absolutely love being pregnant.
I am not one of them.
“Blood pressure is fine,” the nurse says. “Dr. Boone will be in shortly.”
Brian is up and looking around before she even closes the door. He pokes at an internal model of a baby in the womb.
“Have you talked to Nick?” he asks.
“No,” I admit. “Not for about a week.”
The longest week of my life. While I love my hideaway, if I’m being completely honest, I’ve missed Nick. Badly. I stare at a poster charting week-by-week baby growth.
“He’s in love with you.”
I look at Brian surprised. He leans back against the counter, pulling himself up.
“God’s put us together for a reason. So I have to wonder what’s the probability that you’d give me a chance instead?”
I’m sure my jaw drops to the ground. “‘Scuse me?”
“Hello folks. How are we doing today?”
Dr. Boone bursts in like a cloud of energy. He’s squeezing my shoulder while I’m still picking my jaw up off the ground.
“Doctor,” Brian extends his hand. “Brian Littrell.”
“And Courtney Standiford,” Dr. Boone confirms with a glance at my chart. “Twenty weeks. Twins. Ah, atrioventricular canal defect in baby girl Littrell.” He sinks down onto a black swivel chair. “So what are we going to do with you guys?”
He smiles and Brian and me. Brian arches his brow and smiles at me. I am still dwelling on his question.
“My thought,” the good doctor forges ahead. “with your permission, is to bring in my top resident. Her name is Dr. Humphrey and she has the most current knowledge of cardio issues in the entire country. I’d like to work with her as a team to keep these babies safely growing in Courtney’s belly for as long as possible. When the time comes to deliver, we’ll also have a plan in place to give baby girl the most immediate care to decrease chances of prolonged developmental complications.”
It sounds too good to be true. Brian is looking at the doctor with almost hero worship.
“I prayed we’d find someone like you,” he says.
“And I prayed for a challenging case for a promising doctor. What do you say?”
Brian’s eyes lock with mine. I nod.
“I like it.”
He smiles. “Me too.”
Dr. Boone hops up and heads to the door. A second later a young, dark haired woman comes in. She doesn’t look old enough to be a resident.
“I’m Dr. Humphrey,” she says, extending her hand. She has a firm handshake. “I”ve read through your records so far. I’d like to plan on an echocardiogram weekly and an ultrasound every other week, increasing to once a week at week thirty.”
“From the tests, it looks like once we deliver the baby girl that we’re going to want to get her into surgery not long after. Chances are that she’ll be extremely blue once she can no longer depend on you. We’ll probably end up putting her under oxygen and scheduling surgery within twenty-four hours. The longer we wait the more risk we run. Of course, the surgery has its own risks.”
Too much information. I can almost picture Nick sticking his fingers into his eyes and trying to listen.
“What’s our chances?”
“If we can keep both babies in to thirty weeks I’ll consider that our first success. I don’t want to give percentages until we get a little more intimate.” She smiles at me. “I hope you’re not shy.”
I laugh. I like her. I trust her. I trust Dr. Boone.
“I feel better about things. Don’t you?”
I’m sitting in a cute little ice cream shop devoid of any customers besides him and I. The neighborhood is low traffic, perfect for a Backstreet Boy that needs to hide and the girl hated more than any other by diehard BSB fans.
“They’ve got a plan. That means a lot to me.”
I scrape a huge chunk of hot fudge from the corner of my bowl. Brian is inhaling the ice cream like its the first meal he’s eaten in years.
“Speaking of planning...we need to make one.”
“Yeah. You and me. After these babies are born they’re going to need both of us.”
The hot fudge is amazing. I almost moan in ecstasy. “I agree.”
“First, let me say this is not me telling you what to do. But I think we’re going to have to stay together at least in the beginning. And if you have enough room, that’s fine. But if wherever you’re staying now isn’t big enough, I’d like for you to move in with me. I’ve got a nice two-bedroom apartment minutes away from here.” He smiles. “My dining room table even has four whole chairs.”
“Brian, I just left Nick’s, I can’t--”
“I don’t mean now. I’m just saying if you end up on bedrest or the babies come early or whatever is going to happen, we need to be prepared. Keep it in the back of your mind, okay?”
I sigh. He has a point. There is literally no room at the inn for the twins. I know once I can’t physically work anymore that I can’t just stay there for free. Kal and I might be fast friends, but I can’t do that.
I’m not a leech.
“What about Leighanne?”
“Leighanne isn’t going to forgive me anytime soon,” Brian says thickly. “I love her, but I talked to my mom and dad a long time last night and I realize that there’s two other people that are going to be depending on me. I can’t be selfish. If things can work themselves out with me and Leighanne then God will make that happen.”
I want to ask him about his earlier question. What did he mean? What kind of chance did he want from me?
“Actually,” he slides his hand across the table. For a second, I think he’s going to hold my hand, but he lifts his hand and I see a key. It’s almost touching my fingers.
“Our tour starts again July 8. After July 11, I won’t be home until Labor Day. If you decide to, you can move yourself in. Even if you don’t move in, I want you to promise that you’re going to call me and keep me posted. If anything goes wrong, I’m off the tour. I’m serious, Court. I’m leaving and coming back here.”
He’s so passionate about this, about being a responsible dad, that I want to cry. This is what I had wanted for Ben the first time, wasn’t it?
Now it was coming true. Maybe this really was all working out for the better. Earlier care was going to save our little girl. It was going to make Brian a hands-on parent. It was going to make Nick---
What was it going to make Nick?
Chapter Forty Two
Chapter 42 by evergreenwriter83
July 4, 1998
“You’re pounding that dough awfully hard. Has to be guy troubles.”
I look up from a large hunk of pie crust. As usual, Kal is dressed like a Kennedy. Her big floppy straw hat dips, creating a shadow across her eyes. She looks like she’s just stepped off a yacht, which, in reality, probably did just happen. She whips off the hat and smiles.
“You could say that,” I admit.
“I know there’s two just by our conversation the other day. You want to squish them together to make the perfect guy.”
I laugh. “Kinda. Sorta. I don’t know. Life would be so much simpler if…”
“I’m pretty sure simple is boring. I think in a past life I must have led a really droll life because now I avoid it like the plague.” She walks over and presses her elbows into the counter, leaning back on the toes of her heels. “Spill.”
“There’s tons of stuff going on today. You don’t need to hear my problems.”
“It’s a lot more interesting than cleaning blueberry pie off of Leo,” she grins. “That’s Steven’s current task because I had some ‘pressing’ matters to attend to.”
We both laugh. I admit the dough is kneaded within an inch of its life and transfer some to my first pan.
“I had another doctor’s appointment yesterday. The babies dad invited me to stay at his place while he’s gone and that way I’ll already be settled by the time they’re born. He wants to live with me and he said something about whether I’d give him a chance. His girlfriend dumped him after she found out.”
“So obviously he’s not a hideous ogre since you’ve already slept with him.”
I laugh. It’s cathartic to make cohesive thumb presses all along the edge of the pie pan. “Let’s just say that I have never had a crush on anyone more. He’s cute, he fully relies on God, he comes from this normal, close-knit family, and admittedly,” I glance up. “The sex was good. I mean, my choice should be easy. I’m carrying his children, he’s single, I’m single. I should be moving today to see about making this work. But...”
I sigh. Maybe it's the fact that it's a holiday, but my mind can’t get off…
“But then there’s Nick.”
I smile. “Yeah, Nick. He’s not my type physically, or wasn’t...isn’t...I’m not making sense.”
“That’s okay, I like hearing you ramble. Go on. Tell me all about this Nick who I think I may or may not know of.”
I give her a look. She obviously knows. How couldn’t she? Anyone who watches MTV knows that the story of two Backstreet Boys getting arrested at an OB/GYN is the best joke ever. “He’s goofy, occasionally irrational, his hygiene is sometimes questionable, his wardrobe is huge but what he wears is limited, and….and he loves me unconditionally. He also happens to come from a family that rivals my own in disfunction and he’s overprotective and did I mention occasionally irrational?”
“Hmm...I think you did.”
“He’s this tall, scrawny, floppy-haired blonde guy who’s younger than me that thinks that we’re going to get married and live happily ever after.”
“And you won’t?”
“I don’t know. I think…”
I trail off. I don’t exactly know what I think. Or maybe I do.
“I think I miss him. It’s only been a week and I can’t stop thinking about him. He’s like a puppy dog.”
“Puppy dogs can turn into great studs,” Kal winks at me. “I know from experience.”
I laugh. She has no idea how true her statement is.
I already know Nick Carter turns into a stud.
The flowers show up before Nick does. Three dozen roses, one red, one white, and one blue. The kitchen immediately fills with the sweet silky scent that makes me want to never leave the room.
Nick shows up a half hour later. I watch him get out of the car dragging these two ridiculous teddy bear wearing Uncle Sam hats and a bottle of what looks like champagne. He’s wearing a gray tank top and bright blue basketball shorts with gigantic red Air Jordans.
I reluctantly leave the kitchen and meet him at the porch. The moment he sees me, he gives me a smile that could melt ice.
I can't help but smile back. "Hey."
"Did you like the flowers?"
"I love them."
"I brought these for Ben and Winnie."
"Yeah, I mean I gotta call her something. Fetus sounds like an alien. Baby Girl doesn't sound right. So I picked Winifred."
He grins. "I might be holding a little grudge still."
"Well, her name isn't Winnie."
"You have a name?"
"Is it boring? It's not Jackie is it? Please don't score any more brownie points."
I just grin. "I'm not telling."
"'I brought sparkling grape juice."
"That earns you a piece of pie."
"Have I ever told you I love pie?"
My face hurts from smiling.
"They you're going to love mine."
"Brian gave me a key to his apartment. It's closer to the new OB I'm seeing."
"He said it was his place."
"Are you going to take him up on that offer?"
"Not now. I want to wait. I need to stay busy."
"You could go on tour with us."
"I think that would be a bad idea. I've been able to escape here. I don't want to parade around the fans."
Nick stretches out on the porch swing. Across the lake, I can see a boat prepping the fireworks display.
"Don't be mad at me for missing you."
I snuggle up to him. It's the perfect night, little humidity, and damn if I haven't missed him. I feel better confessing about the key burning a hole in my purse. I am not feeling brave enough to tell him what Brian basked me about giving him a chance.
"I've missed you too."
"I am a bossy jerk."
"You both kinda are."
"Yeah, but I'm cuter doing it."
I laugh. "He kicked your ass. Your eye's still a little bruised."
I feel Nick's lips press into my hair. "I'd rather forget that my ass was handed to me by a guy fresh out of open heart surgery. I need to start pumping iron. If I start now I think I'll start ripping my clothes on accident even earlier. It's the buff effect."
"Or the fact you want to show off your junk."
He laughs. "Maybe. I like to hear the crowd go nuts. It doesn't take much. But I only have one girl I need to impress."
I look up at him. My tongue can still taste the sparkling grape juice. He leans down, ever so slowly and our lips meet.
This is right. This is good. I close my eyes and let my mind jump forward. This is the guy who I wanted to pounce on in the car in the middle of the desert....
My eyes fly open. Nick senses the change and pulls away. "What?"
"Why were we in the middle of the desert?"
"Before...before we came back here."
A light clicks on behind his eyes. "I totally wanted to just rip your clothes off with my teeth. We were in the middle of nowhere....and..." He squinches his face. "We went to find a building."
My heart starts beating faster. We almost have it...
Then the fireworks start. I jump and he holds me to keep me from falling. As the colors light the night sky, I lose it.
"I can't remember," Nick admits. "Aren't they beautiful?"
"Just like you."
I look at him and I feel like at that moment those women in the Harlequin books might not have been so crazy when talking about their well hung hunk. I might as well be the only other person on Earth in his eyes.
"I missed you," I whisper a split second before I kiss him.
In self-defense, my hormones are screwed up. I’m not totally in control of my senses.
Besides, he brought me giant stuffed teddy bears.
And non-alcoholic fizzys.
I can’t forget the roses.
He’s a great kisser. I love kissing Nick Carter. I don’t even care if he forgot to brush his teeth or gargle or anything. You forget all that stuff with your lips on his.
You forget all the crazy stuff, even if only for a little while.
Chapter Forty Three
Chapter 43 by evergreenwriter83
July 11, 1998
“Do you want the last hashbrown? Because you can totally have the last hashbrown.”
“No, it’s all yours.”
“You should see the breakfast we usually get at each hotel. It’s obscene. I swear AJ and I have eating contests. He ate seven biscuits with gravy yesterday. It made me want to throw up a little bit.”
“Enjoy the metabolism while it lasts.”
Nick laughs. “Yeah. Ten years from now I’m going to eat a little burger and wake up looking like Elvis during his fat years.”
“But Fat Elvis was still popular.”
Nick grins. “So was Fat Nick, but I got a rep to maintain.”
I roll my eyes, but I don’t mean it. It’s going to be a good day for a lot of reasons:
- I woke up knowing I’d see Nick.
- I just ate a ridiculously unhealthy, but delicious breakfast.
- I have a good report to give Brian on the babies.
- I’m with Nick.
- I’m going to the Orlando BSB concert.
- I don’t feel crappy.
- I don’t have to make any pies or quiches or anything.
- I’m with Nick.
“Dude, I made Howie eat six breakfast patties with hot sauce this morning. We barely got here in time before he ran to the shitter. He’s still in there. He’s crapping himself and moaning. I think I might have killed D.”
AJ looks extremely proud of himself. I almost don’t recognize him without the mass of tattoos. He just looks like a normal, scrawny kid.
Kinda like Nick.
Except the closer I look at Nick, I realize he’s not quite as scrawny as he was back in February. He’s filling out. He’s even grown a little taller to the height that I’ve grown accustomed to.
Or maybe I’m just totally hopeless when it comes to him.
“Dude, has he messed up his hair? You only win the $100 bucks if he’s messed up his hair.”
“Who can’t mess up their hair when ripping out their sphincter?”
Nick and AJ both grin. “Sphincter,” they say in unison.
Somehow I feel like I’m watching history in the making. Seven years later…
AJ sees me and nudges Nick. Nick grins at me.
“This is Court.”
“The famous Courtney.”
AJ walks over and I expect a handshake, but he hugs me tightly.
“You’ve made my life a helluva lot more interesting. Thank you.”
He pulls away and grins at me. “No, but seriously, this kid is obsessed,” he thumbs behind him to Nick. “But if you stick with him, you’re going to be raising three kids. So you might--”
Nick’s hand clamps over AJ’s mouth. “Do not listen to this guy.”
“You must be Courtney.”
The voice is smooth as silk and I know it immediately. I turn around nervously and look at my children’s 1st cousin, once removed.
“I am,” I say, holding out my hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
He shakes my hand. He has a strong handshake. Now I know how he managed to break down so many hotel room doors. “Kevin. How are you feeling?”
I swallow. “Good,” I reply truthfully. “So far.”
He gives me a smile that I can’t interpret. “Good. I hope you enjoy the show.”
A door flies open and some monstrous version of Howie Dorough stands in the doorway holding his pants around his waist. He frees one hand and points as if he’s going to catch a spell. Sweat is dripping from his face. “YOU!”
“What did I do?!”
I turn to look at Kevin, but he’s already gone. Like the shadow. He talks slowly and disappears stealthily.
He may or may not be Batman.
“I’m going to have you chill in one of the dressing rooms,” Nick says in my ear. His hand wraps around my arm.
“This might get ugly.”
I’m watching Live with Regis and Kathy Lee. I still haven’t seen Brian. I’m assuming he must be here.
Backstage is nothing like I pictured it. I imagined some fancy swank set-up, but instead its a mess of worn, scarred wood and cement floors and temporary things everywhere. It makes sense considering that every performer’s show is slightly different, but it still surprises me. Even the dressing rooms aren’t elaborate.
Except for the TV. The TV is a nice touch.
“That was awkward.”
Nick comes bursting into the room. He drops down on the coffee table.
“I forgot about Mandy.”
“My girlfriend. Ex-girlfriend. She just called. I guess I hadn’t broken up with her yet.”
“So you did?”
“Yeah. She was actually fine. The worst part was my mom.”
“Mandy lives right by my parents. My mom called me and started bitching.” Nick gives me a lopsided smile. “My mom excels at bitching.”
“My mom doesn’t waste the energy to bitch. She saves her energy for other sports.”
“That’s one of them.”
Nick leans towards me. “I think it’s fate that two kids that obviously come from screwed up mothers find one another. We’re the normal link to fix past generations fucked-up-ed-ness.”
I smile. “You may have a point.”
Nick sits back. I stand up. I’ve been sitting far too long. I press my hand against my lower back.
“Has Brian gotten here?”
I can’t hide my surprise. “Not yet?”
Nick shakes his head. “We have an interview with the local radio station. If he misses that, that’s when he’s in trouble. Management basically says the same thing to us every time. I’ve skipped those meetings a bunch of time. Only Kevin goes to every one. And Howie. But Howie’s still shitting.”
Nick looks delighted. “He might have to use tonight’s roses as toilet paper if he doesn’t stop soon.”
“We’ve all been there. Well..except Kevin. Kev’s too smart to fall for it.”
Nick jumps up.
“Do you want to come see the interview?”
I glance at the TV. I don’t think I can take another talk show.
“I’d love it.”
“So’s the radio station.”
“Sorry we’re late!”
Two guys, obviously the radio guys, walk in. I’m pretty sure that they’re apologizing only for themselves, but they step aside and I see they’re not alone.
Brian’s shirt is askew. He looks out of breath. He doesn’t see me. Two slender arms slide around his waist.
“It’s all my fault,” the slender arms admit. The owner of the arms smiles charmingly, nuzzling into Brian’s back. His hands cover hers.
Nick makes a weird throat nose. I am silent. I should have expected it, really.
I should know that Leighanne can’t stay away.
Chapter Forty Four
Chapter 44 by evergreenwriter83
July 11, 1998
“Howie you want the pastrami on rye?”
“Are you kidding me? I can’t look at anything. I need tea. I need…”
“That wasn’t normal hot sauce. You better watch your back.”
“I’m truly terrified.”
“Did I tell you she asked me out before she went out with Brian?”
The last question is just a mere whisper in my ear. I tear my gaze away from AJ and Howie’s continuing argument and look at Nick.
Nick smirks. “Yeah. I turned her down. She’s hated me since.”
My eyes travel across the room. Brian and Leighanne are sitting in a small corner, practically on top of each other. Except for one quick look in my direction, Brian hasn’t acknowledged me.
“Please don’t be upset. I’m sure he’s avoiding you so she doesn’t remove those giant gold earrings and go all West Side Philly on you.”
“I’d like to see her try. I’d frame a copy of her mug shot,” I mutter. I stab my fork clean through a huge chunk of cantaloupe.
Nick laughs. “I can just see it. Her making the duck face...a decade before the duck face became all the rage.”
“She’s kinda an addiction for him. I think in the back of his mind he probably realizes he’s heading down douche-bag road, but the sex with the twin airbags must be enough to keep him blind,” Nick dramatically covers his eyes, swooning against me. “To the truth.”
I laugh so loudly AJ and Howie stop bickering like an old couple. I jab Nick but he’s full on giggling. Giggling.
I see Brian glance my way. I ignore it.
Two can play this stupid game.
...You walked in, you were so quick to judge (quick to judge)
But honey he's nothing like me
Darling why can't you see
I'll never break your heart
I'll never make you cry
I'd rather die than live without you
I'll give you all of me
Honey, that's no lie
“That sounds good. That sounds real good. AJ, you can’t dry hump the floor during a slow song though.”
“Lou can suck my ass,” AJ laughs. “Actually, he can suck Howie’s. It’s already sore.”
“Why is this pick on D day?”
“D day? Really?”
Howie exhales so loudly that the sound magnifies through the entire arena.
“Brian, honey, can you run through As Long As You Love Me? Please?”
Leighanne is pressed up against the stage. I’m sitting a few rows back, my legs getting cramped from the small space. Brian gives her a smile that could melt a snowman. He crouches down. I see Nick turn, pretending to shove his mic down his throat. Even from my vantage I can see Leighanne singing along.
I don't care who you are
Where you're from
What you did
As long as you love me
Who you are
Where you're from
Don't care what you did
As long as you love me
I want to grab her by the Scrunchie holding up her I Dream of Jeanne hair. And not because her and Brian are back together. I don’t care about that. What makes me so incredibly pissed is that any woman would be such a bitch to two unborn children to start causing a wedge between father and children even before the babies were even born.
“I felt like I needed to get away from the laser beams that were your eyes.”
AJ’s voice startles me. I turn around to see him snickering. He sinks down in the chair behind me and one to the left, bracing his arms on the chair in front of him.
“I just wanted to say that I had a twin sister that died when we were born. I’m really praying for both babies. Brian will come around. They’re really all he’s talked about.”
AJ slides off his sunglasses and I’m treated to a look at his pretty, big brown eyes. I smile. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
“Actually, it’s all Nick’s talked about either. It’s really cramping my style. We play wingman for each other and since February I’ve had to go solo. It’s putting a damper on my game.”
I laugh. “How about Howie?”
“Yeah, Howie’s my back-up. I only torture those I love.”
“J, Fatima needs us all to run through the choreography!”
AJ bounces up, saluting Kevin. “Aye aye!”
I look back up towards the front. Leighanne’s clinging to the stage, Brian pretending to not dance on her fingers. Her eyes are crinkled up in delight.
“We doing Jam On? Cause that’s my song!” AJ declares, bouncing up the steps. I catch Nick’s eye. He smiles.
I smile. Nick’s got a wardrobe girl behind him and the black and red pants he’s wearing are the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. He motions towards them and holds up his hands.
I give him the thumbs up.
He gives me the finger followed by a heart.
That’s the way we flirt.
“I can't sit right next to Leighanne. Do you know how awkward that’s going to be? She wants to maul me. It's not like we'll talk. And then I have to sit there while she rubs up against the stage during As Long As You Love Me. Nick..."
I know I'm whining. I am not a natural whiner, but damn, this situation calls for major whine...
“My vote is for you to sit backstage, but I got veto’d. There’s too many crazy light effects and pyrotechnics and moving around for this show. And they’ve got the crappiest smoke machine.”
"Smoke inhalation would be preferable over sitting next to Leighanne."
“We have a whole friends and family section. You won’t necessarily be sitting together.”
“Friends and family?”
Nick looks a little sick. “Yeah.”
“As in Brian's family."
Nick nods. "It's a surprise."
"And your family?”
Nick looks more than a little sick. “Yeah. I was going to tell you a little later…”
“How much later?”
"I probably told you too late..." he sighs.
"THERE YOU ARE! Aaron, come with me!"
Chapter Forty Five
Chapter 45 by evergreenwriter83
July 11, 1998
“Nick, there you are!”
A mess of blonde hair comes at Nick. Before he can react - run, duck, or any other defensive position - she has her arms around him, squeezing him tightly. Aaron isn’t far behind. I had forgotten how cute he was when he was little.
“There’s tons of people out there to see you!” Aaron says excitedly.
“It’s a sold out show,” Jane agrees, beaming. If I didn’t know what I did know about her, I probably would have probably thought that she was just a proud mom.
But I know better.
“Yeah, well…” Nick shrugs. “Mom, this is Courtney.”
I look at him in horror. I was hoping that I could stay invisible. I don’t want to meet Jane Carter.
She doesn’t fully finish my first name. Her eyes go to my stomach and I swear that if her heart was even one tenth worse than it was that she would succumb to a full out heart attack right then and there.
“Wow, she’s fat,” Aaron says.
“She’s pregnant,” Jane says.
“Twins,” Nick adds. He looks like he’s enjoying himself and I want to smack him for it.
“Twins,” Jane repeats.
“They’re mine, actually.”
The voice comes from behind me. I turn my head and almost come nose to nose with Brian. He gives me a little smile.
Hey? There’s so much that I want to say in response to that hey.
“I want you to meet my mom and dad.”
Oh, this is too much. Too, too, too, too much. I am already getting the evil eye from Jane. There’s no way that I can face Jackie and Harold Littrell.
“I’m sure they’d rather talk to Leighanne,” I squeak. I feel like a mouse. My voice is a squeak. Next I’ll just start hunting round for cheese…
Brian winces. “About that…”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
The words come out meaner than I wanted them to. Or maybe I wanted them to come out that mean. I don’t know.
“We don’t have time,” Nick cuts in. “We’ve got to get in the huddle.”
“They want to meet you,” Brian says, still wearing the wounded look. “After?”
I make a little shoulder motion that I hope can’t be interpreted. Nick takes my hand.
“Let’s go in the huddle.”
“Who? What? Me?”
Nick smiles at Jane.
“Courtney’s my girlfriend.”
“You are evil.”
“C’mon, look who I was talking to.”
“I never said I was your girlfriend.”
“I’ll pay you to be my girlfriend whenever mom’s around. That look was priceless. Do you know that she actually pulled me aside while you went to the bathroom to warn me about giving you money? Then she asked me for money. I fucking hate her.”
“Nick, let’s go!”
Before I can form an answer, Nick takes my hand and I’m heading right towards the Backstreet huddle. The first thing I notice is Leighanne pressed right behind Brian. Nick worms us both in and I’m unfortunately beside the two of them. Nick shoves my hand into the throng.
“BSB, WHAT TIME IS IT?” Nick screams. For a moment, I think my eardrum is broken.
“It’s timeeeee for me to go to work y’all!”
I’m greeted with the sight of Leighanne grinding into Brian.
“What kind of work?”
Nick is already turning me away, his arm wrapped tightly around me. He’s dressed, like Brian, in Fox Artic blue and white.
“HARD WORK, HUNH!”
I feel his lips near my ear.
“Just go enjoy the show. You’re gonna hang out with AJ’s mom, Denise.”
Relief floods over me.
“Anything for you,” he promises.
I know he means it.
Somebody told me that you're not my kind
So have I lost my mind?
You keep on doing all the things I like
You've got me hypnotized
But that's the way I like it
My eyes don’t leave Nick’s. He owns the stage. Except he loses on the sexual scale. That award goes to…
“I think Alex forgets that his mom’s in the audience tonight,” Denise whisper-shouts at me.
And there are people that say what they really mean
She said she'd always be there
She said she'd always care
But just when you think that you can
Trust that someone you love
Tell me why, or do you know
How stars can fall from above?
I’ll be damn if the song doesn’t get to me every single time. I’m so mad at Brian I could spit nails, but I’m still standing, singing along, and crying my eyes out.
Leighanne is a row up to my right. She’s swaying along, standing right next to Jane.
Somehow fitting. Somehow.
Once, as Brian finally stands, his eyes meet mine and he smiles.
Oh how can I make you see
Just what you did to me?
Baby, baby the love that we had was so strong
Don't leave me hangin' here forever
Oh baby, baby this is not alright, let's stop this tonight
The babies love music. I have no doubt that both of them are fine by the sheer amount of movement the music is stirring up. My hand presses against my side and I take a deep breath. The concert is taking my breath away.
Or maybe it’s the sight of Nick in the black shirt and suit jacket.
I'd walk halfway around the world
For just one kiss from you
Far beyond the call of love
The sun, the stars, the moon
As long as your love's there to lead me
I won't lose my way believe me
Even through the darkest night you know
Nick is a sweaty blonde mess. I’m burning up and I’m not even under the lights. Nick’s probably dying for a shower…
My mind is going to dark places, just like it always does when I go to a show. The difference is that I actually don’t have to leave with the rest of the fans.
Nick’s sexiness is lost during Get Down. The addition of a Gilligan’s Island red hat, red shirt, and goggles counteracts the hotness of the black t-shirt.
It belongs in the ‘what the hell were you thinking?’ book of bad wardrobe choices.
There’s no way I’m not going to tease the hell out of him for it.
My heart starts thudding. It’s amazing to think that Everybody Backstreet’s Back is actually the new single. The energy from the crowd seeing clips from the video is ridiculous. On stage the crew, dressed as grim reapers, are placing coffins.
The screams as the pyrotechnics go off is deafening.
And suddenly the coffins are opened and there he is. Back in just black, minus the goggles, and his hair slicked back. He climbs up on the upper platform and heads right over to the balcony overhang. Our eyes meet.
Am I sexual?
And I find myself answering the only logically way I know how.
The backstage is mayhem. The crew is already packing up. Family mills all around everywhere. I recognize Howie’s mom. I see Denise turning AJ’s hat the right way.
“Courtney? I’d like ya to meet my mom and dad.”
I stiffen. I knew the odds were not in my favor. I put on a smile and turn around.
It’s time to meet the parents.
Chapter Forty Six
Chapter 46 by evergreenwriter83
July 11, 1998
“How are you feeling?”
Jackie Littrell might be the cutest mom in the whole world. Her brown hair with a reddish tint is held perfectly in place with what smells distinctly like Aquanet.
“Very well, thank you. It’s nice to meet you.”
I want to say more, but I can’t. Meeting normal parents has never been my strong suit.
“You take care of my grandbabies, okay?”
This request comes from Harold. I always debated who Brian looked more like, but up close and personal I can tell that the genes in the Littrell family are male dominated. His receding hairline reminds me of Brian’s, but more importantly the smile is all Brian. I can’t not smile looking at the man.
“They’re my top priority, Mr. Littrell.”
“Call me Harold.”
I just nod. Harold looks like he might cry. Jackie wraps wraps her arm around Brian’s and squeezes.
“You were fantastic tonight, honey.”
“Damnit, lay off, okay? Just lay off. And while you’re at it, leave Aaron alone. If you love us at all, stop milking us for all we’re worth!”
I see Nick tear through the crowd, walking right between AJ and Denise. His face is red all the way to his ears. Jane is dragging Aaron, trying to catch us.
“Nickolas Gene Carter this is no way to talk to your mother! I’ve been your manager for--”
“Well, you’re fired. You’re FUCKING fired! Brian’s done more for me than you have.”
“Is that why he knocked up your girlfriend? If you want to complain about a money grubbing woman, I think you better just look at that huge belly she’s showing off all over!”
The whole backstage area turns quiet, so quiet you can hear a pin drop. Nick’s hands curl into fists and he stops.
I see Leighanne hovering by a large curtain. She actually looks smug, as if Jane has taken the words out of her own mouth.
“Jane--” Brian steps forward. Nick throws out his hand.
“Not your fight,” he hisses.
Brian looks between mother and son. He looks back at me.
“Courtney, why don’t we get you out of here…”
He keeps talking, but I don’t comprehend what he’s saying. A fuzzy memory of being backstage is stirring around in my brain and it’s so overwhelming that I feel like crying. I am terrified. My body tenses, preparing myself…
Preparing myself to faint.
July 12, 1998
“Babies are fine. I think you just have too much excitement for the day. I want you to go home and rest.”
“No, we won’t go that far yet. She just needs to stay calm.”
I almost laugh. Calm? My life is anything but calm. I am flanked on either side by a Backstreet Boy. I watch the lines on the fetal monitor.
“This is all my mom’s fault,” Nick grumbles.
“I didn’t help matters much either.”
“Both of you are going to kill me,” I declare. I watch the nurse remove the monitor. I almost wish I could stay hooked up to it 24/7. That would help alleviate at least one of my worries.
“Why don’t you stay at the apartment?” Brian asks. I shake my head.
“No, I want to go back to the inn.”
“But the apartment’s close to the hospital,” Nick argues. “That’s why we leased---”
He stops. Brian groans.
“We?” I repeat. “Who’s we?”
“No one,” Nick says quickly. I look at Brian.
“I thought you said it was your apartment.”
“It is,” he says, not meeting my eyes. He’s lying. “Kinda.”
“It’s yours,” Nick says. “Brian and I decided to lease it together. We made a whole gameplan while we were sitting in the clink.”
I don’t know whether to be furious. On the one hand, at least the two of them are working together. But, on the other hand…
“I’m thinking one of us should stay here for a couple days,” Brian says.
Nick sees the look on my face. I know it’s the only reason he says what he does. He sinks back in his chair.
“I think we should do what Court wants.”
Brian looks at him and then at me. I smile.
“I’ll be fine. You can’t blame me for fainting. I don’t do the whole meet the parents thing. And then having Jane on top of it….” I shift on the bed. I fully believe better beds would heal people a million times faster. Then again, maybe the beds are so uncomfortable to get people to leave sooner. “I’m going back to the inn…”
“You guys are both going. I’ll call if I need you.”
Both of them look like they’re going to argue.
Both of you,” I amend. “I promise.”
Chapter Forty Seven
Chapter 47 by evergreenwriter83
September 19, 1998
I walk, well waddle, into Dr. Boone’s office thinking that it is going to be the same routine as always. I’ve spent one day every week for the past 10 weeks walking into this office. Every time is the same.
But today, I’m wrong. Today is not the same routine.. I know as soon as the heart monitoring device goes on that there is something abnormal.
The minute Dr. Humphrey rushes in, my worries are doubly confirmed.
“Fetal age?” Dr. Humphrey asks.
“32 weeks, 1 day.”
“She’s closest to the cervix and in vertex position.”
“It would have to be today.”
“Agreed. I won’t know until after we deliver her, but I’m hoping that we can hold off on surgery for a month.”
Dr. Boone looks at me. Dr. Humphrey continues to stare at the monitor.
“Her heart rate was a little low last week, but not enough for me to want to concern you,” he says gently. My eyes widen. How could he not tell me? “But today it’s even worse and I don’t want to wait another week to see if it rebounds. I want to induce you today.”
My blood runs cold. “Induce me? Today?”
“I’d like to get you officially checked in and registered and the drip started in a half hour.”
I feel like I’m being pranked. “Thirty minutes?” I squeak. This can’t be happening. I am not ready. I am so far from ready it isn’t funny. I don’t have cribs or car seats or…
“This can’t be happening,” I shake my head. “Brian and Nick are in Argentina for crying out loud. There’s no way that I can have these babies without them being here…”
“Inducing can take a long time especially because you’re under 37 weeks. I’d say you’ve got a twelve-hour window. The main thing is that your body is no longer supporting your daughter as much as she needs. It’s going to be better to get here out here and apply direct treatment.”
The words hit me hard. I really thought at this point I would make the remaining eight weeks. I try to keep the tears at bay.
“Can I make the call?”
“Of course you can. Let me just unhook you and you can go ahead and use your cellphone.”
I can barely lay still while they unhook me. The moment the door closes, I’m on my phone, my heart hovering in my throat. Brian has called me only once since the tour started. Nick, on the other hand, calls me every single night. I screw up the international calling no fewer than five times, my hands shaking.
I’m going to give birth. My whole life is about to change.
I glance at the clock. It’s 2:00. In Argentina, it’s 3:00. They have just one more show before coming home…
Nick’s voice jars me back. “Nick?”
My voice sounds scared even to my own ears. I hear something crash in the background on Nick’s end on the call.
“Court? Everything okay?”
“Not...exactly. Baby girl’s heart rate is slowing. They’re inducing me.”
“About a half hour.”
“A half hour?!”
“They said I’ll probably be in labor a long time.”
“Fuck that. My luck sucks. I’m leaving now.”
“You have the show.”
“Fuck the show. You’re more important. Ben’s more important. Winnie’s more important.”
I laugh. “Nick, her name isn’t Winnie.”
“She’s always going to be Winnie to me,” Nick laughs. “I love you, okay? I love you. We’ll be there soon.”
My heart melts. “I love you too,” I say softly. “And Nick?”
He sounds breathless. “Yeah?”
There’s a long pause. “Yes?”
My whole chest feels like it’s going to combust. If I wasn’t sure they hadn’t induced me yet, I’d be convinced I was on the verge of contractions, so great was my nervousness.
“If you still have your great-grandma’s ring,” I pause. “The answer is yes.”
The pause is even longer this time. “Yes as in...you’ll marry me?”
I smile. I’m two seconds away from bursting into loud, ridiculously hormonal sobs. “Yes. I love you. I miss you. I love you. I love that you call me every night with some ridiculous story just to make me laugh.”
“They’re all true.”
“I have no doubt,” I sniffle. “I want to be with you even though you’re sometimes too bossy and sometimes irrational.”
“Always,” I laugh. I wipe the tears streaming from my face.
“Listen, Court, I’m going to hang up but we’re going to be there before you know it. Just be strong and calm, okay? I’ll bring the ring. I’ll bring flowers. I’ll bring you whatever you need.”
I close my eyes and smile.
“Just bring you. You’re all I need.”
Contractions. Contractions are no longer the little accent that allows you to combine two words into one. No, contractions are hell. They start as a tight lapband at my navel and then slowly shoot along either side, leaving me hunched over and breathing between clenched teeth. Just when I think there might be reprieve, the pain lands in my back like a freight truck is shooting forward and then creeping back in reverse. All of my nerve endings are on fire.
Then there’s the nurses. The nurses telling me to just take deep breaths and chew ice. I have gone through more ice than anybody even should. My bladder should have exploded by now…
Except instead of my bladder it is my water that breaks. No one ever tells the truth about what happens when your water breaks. I’ve always been lead to believe that it’s a slow trickle that doesn’t last very long, a minor inconvenience in the whole birth plan.
My water breaking is a multi-hour event. Every half hour another gush bursts loose, soaking me, soaking the bed, soaking the floor...my body contains enough water to replenish the world’s oceans.
And the sweat...don’t get me started on the sweat. Sweat between my boobs, sweat down my back, sweat on the back of my legs…
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if there was much progress. Dr. Boone hadn’t been lying when he said that the whole thing would take awhile even after the induction began. The hands on the clock seem to be going backwards.
Dr. Humphrey comes in around 11:00 p.m. She checks my progress (not much) and checks the babies vitals (girl, still low; boy, still strong). She gives me a sympathetic smile.
“Try to get some sleep,” she says. “The nurse will give you a pill that should at least dull the contractions slightly.”
“Thank you,” I say gratefully. Those are magic words. I imagine that Dr. Humphrey has an ethereal light around her as she walks out of the room. It’s only after I get the pill and the pain only gets worse that I start cursing like a sailor.
I’m still cursing at 3:00 a.m. when the door to my room flies open and Nick and Brian practically fall in. Dr. Humphrey is right in the middle of checking my hoo-ha.
“What did we miss?” Brian gasps. I clutch my sheets, my jaw aching.
“Absa-fuckin-lutely-nuttin,” I groan, my back arching clear up off the bed.
“Actually, they’re just in time,” the doctor says. She looks at me and she has the audacity to smile.
“You’re going to start pushing soon.”
Chapter Forty Eight
Chapter 48 by evergreenwriter83
September 20, 1998
I’ve never been the type of person that stays up all night. Even when I was in middle and high school, I was always the first girl asleep at sleepovers. This would often be to my disadvantage, especially in high school when the girls got high and didn’t just pull mild pranks like putting your hand in warm water. In my world, girls were worse prankers than guys.
Dr. Humphrey lied. She lied about the pill that would make me more comfortable and she lied about me being able to push. Somehow baby girl Littrell changed her mind and decided to take a nap before embarking leaving me in this limbo. I kept praying for Ben to get impatient and just push her out, but that didn’t happen.
Anyhow, back to sleep. When you are trying to squeeze something the size of a cantaloupe out of something else that is usually just a little larger than a grape, there is no sleep. There is only absolute agony.
Until the moment when that special someone says the three best words in all of the English language:
“Want an epidural?”
“Oh hell yes.”
Brian is a pile of nerves. He can’t sit still for a moment. He’s pacing, he’s on the phone, he’s staring at the TV, he’s making fake jump shots with wadded up kleenex. The trashcan is overflowing. He looks like someone who has just spent ten hours on a plane.
Nick is the opposite. Nick is holding my hand, getting ice chips, staring at the monitors, and only whimpering slightly as I break the tiniest bones in his fingers. Nick is the one that stands in front of me while the doctor of mercy shoves the needle in my back, numbing my lower extremities.
“Should you be doing this?” he asks nervously. “You could get paralyzed.”
“I signed the papers,” I snap as a contraction takes hold before the medicine can kill the pain. Oh, God I hope the medicine kills the pain. “I’ll cut my own legs off if it helps.”
“You should feel a little better in just a minute. The full effect will take fifteen,” the anesthesiologist says. I nod against Nick’s chest.
I should have gotten that guy’s name because, unlike Dr. Humphrey, he didn’t lie. In just a minute the contraction pain seems less. In fifteen minutes, I’m watching an episode of Friends, the one where Phoebe has the triplets. Totally fitting.
“You’re doing awesome,” Nick says, rubbing my hand.
“You’re doing great,” Brian agrees, tugging on his hair. “This is intense.”
I don’t know what to say. Actually, I want to sleep. The epidural is amazing. I think I might even drift off into a sleep snoring epidural cloud of euphoria because Dr. Boone’s voice scares the living daylights out of me. Even worse is seeing him with his hand up my vagina and not even knowing he is down there in the first place.
“The epidural has helped,” he says encouragingly. “We’re going to have you start pushing in a few minutes. Guys, I need you to get gowned up. I’m going to get the nurse team in here.”
The sleepiness fades away. I clutch Nick’s hand, not in pain, but in terror. He looks equally nervous.
“It’s okay,” he whispers. “It’s all going to be fine.”
I look over at Brian but he is already getting a gown on. He looks like he might be going in for an execution. He eyes the place where my legs are kinda flopping open warily. It’s a totally different look than the one he gave me the night we monkey humped.
People start filing into the room. I think it is a side effect of the epidural that my inner monologue gets very sarcastic and witty. Everyone gets a nickname: Boondocks, Humpday, the doctors. Curly, Pudge, and Franklin the nurses.
My vagina is a regular party hangout.
“Courtney, initially I was going to try to delay the birth of your baby boy,” Dr. Humphrey is saying as she prepares a small tray. I try not to think what she might be using the scalpel for. “But, he looks to be the larger of the two and I think the risk of infection if we try to stop the delivery and wait for him isn’t the right choice in this situation. The other benefit is you’ve been able to hold out until 32 works. They’re going to be preemie, but nothing points to there being anything we can’t handle here. Okay?”
I don’t answer her right away. After all, hasn’t she just lied to me twice?
“Okay,” I finally say, feeling like a mumbling teenager. “Should my legs be tingling?”
I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but it results in another jolt of juice that makes me feel like I could lay here and squeeze out an elephant. Screw the cantaloupe. I’ve got a clown car ready to roll!
Somewhere in the midst of all this someone shuts the TV off. You know things are about to get real once the TV gets turned off. Brian hovers off to my right. Nick is right beside me. The nurses keep going in and out until Dr. Boone shoves his hand up me for one more check.
“Courtney, it’s your show,” he smiles.
I’m not so sure it’s my show, but a second later I’m convinced. A spotlight that looks like the underside of an alien orb comes on and the whole bottom half of my bed disappears. Suddenly my feet are in stirrups and my ass is hovering in outer space.
“Go ahead and take a deep breath and push,” Dr. Humphrey commands.
All eyes are on me. Well, not me. Not really. If they were on me, they’d be looking at my eyes. Every single damn pair of eyes in the room besides Nick’s is on my hoo-ha. Even Brian’s. Brian’s eyes are kinda bugging out of his head like a...like a bug.
I take the deep breath and push, but I’m not sure if I accomplish anything. I can’t really feel pushing and it seems more like me cramming my chin down on my chest and grunting really loud. I can’t help but think my description could be used in high schools across the nation as birth control. There’s nothing sexy about grunting like you’re Howie after AJ has spiked your breakfast sausage…
The phrase ‘Good. Again.’ is repeated no less than fifty times. My chin actually starts to hurt. Nick’s lips, covered in a mask, press against my forehead at random intervals and I’m sure that my efforts are in vain. I’m sure that there’s no way in hell that I’m going to be able to…
“Here’s her head.”
“OH MY GOD.”
Brian’s words jar me out of the endless cycle of chin down, push, grunt. I look at him and he looks at me. His words are slightly muffled, but his face is creased and I know he’s smiling.
“This is amazing.”
“A couple more pushes,” Dr. Humphrey urges.
I tear my gaze away from Brian’s. It takes a couple more tries to get into that same old pattern. Chin down, push, grunt...chin down, push, grunt...chin down, push, grunt…
A cry. A cry that scares me, thrills me, startles me, stops my pulse, and makes my heart race.
I hadn’t expected to hear her cry. I had expected...I don’t know what I had expected, but when Dr. Boone lifts my daughter up into the air everything else seems to exist but the tiniest little baby…
The cry stops as soon as it begins and I let out a scream. Brian takes a step forward, but the nurses, Pudge, Curly, and Franklin descend and I see just my little girl’s foot as they start working on her in the corner.
“Is she okay?” Nick demands.
Dr. Humphrey is already following the pack of nurses. “We’re going to get her on oxygen immediately,” she says loudly, feeding into the urgency by raising the volume. “Just be with Courtney. She still has some work to do.”
It’s then that I remember. I have another baby to deliver. Another series of chin down, push, grunt…
I just start doing it without being asked. I didn’t give a damn whether the doctor was ready or not. Suddenly every second passing seems like a second lost in my daughter’s life and my ability to make sure she’s okay. Chin down, push, grunt…
The time is endless, or so it seems. Nick tells me later it is about eight minutes.
“Brian, want to do the honors?”
I’m right between push and grunt when Brian settles down between my legs. He looks at me again and then down and I see a look on his face that I can’t even describe. Nick has inched down slightly too. Brian looks back up and the look disappears.
“I can’t,” he squeaks.
Brian looks at Nick and Nick looks at Brian. There’s just a split second of a silent conversation that goes on before Brian steps aside. Suddenly Brian sinks down on a chair right beside my head and takes my hand and it’s Nick. Nick who has not in all this time since we landed outside the House of Blues been granted access to my hoo-ha. And now…
“A few more pushes Courtney,” Dr. Boone commands.
I’m exhausted. The epidural is holding and my adrenaline is fueling me, but I know that the crash is imminent. The worry for my daughter is killing me. I give a pathetic grunt/push.
I hear a cry, a muffled cry, but a cry. I lower my chin and squeeze Brian’s hand.
This ends now.
“Good, good!” Dr. Boone shouts encouragingly. “Nick get ready...I slipped a shoulder...you do the rest.”
“Hey buddy, hey buddy, hey buddy,” Nick chants and I look down to see him blubbering like a baby….
A baby who, a few seconds later, he is holding with so much love and awe in his face that I can’t even stand it.
A baby who starts screaming his lungs, his healthy lungs, his healthy heart, out loud.
Even though he’s still the second smallest peanut I’ve ever seen.
“Ben,” I laugh through a thick cloud of tears.
“Benjamin Thomas Littrell.”
“Nice name,” Dr. Boone says. He smiles. “And your daughter?”
I’ve heard other people say that sometimes things can change all in a moment. For months I’ve kept a name so secret and so close to my heart. It was the only possible choice. I open my mouth, but instead of the name I chose, a name that admittedly, I see yelling with ‘Carter’ at the end, I say the only other logical choice…
“Winnie Jacqueline Littrell.”
Chapter Forty Nine
Chapter 49 by evergreenwriter83
September 21, 1998
Winnie Jacqueline Littrell born September 20, 1998. 3 lbs, 6 oz. 16.5 inches long.
Benjamin Thomas Littrell born September 20, 1998. 4 lbs, 13 oz. 17.2 inches long.
Courtney Marie Standiford, 9 perineal stitches, inability to control her bladder, bleeding like a horror movie…
And absolutely, incredibly blissful.
Oh, and never ever having sex again. Ever. Ever.
Things are a little blurry after the action in my vag area moves off and begins to tend to the babies. Brian is with them, but Nick stays, hovering by me, eyeing Dr. Boone warily as he continues to work on me. His face turns gray and the nurse says something about afterbirth. Nick quickly shuffles up to me, planting a kiss on my absolutely sweaty forehead.
“You were amazing. Ben is amazing. Winnie is...amazing. Winnie? Are you sure. I was just teasing…
“She can’t be anything but Winnie. There was a moment,” I say almost groggily. Nick just smiles down at me.
“Well, I’m going to be corny, but she’s a fighter...a winner. Did you hear that cry? She isn’t going to give up easily. God, we’re going to have our hands full.”
I watch Nick run a hand through his hair, smiling at me and then staring off towards the other end of the room. I see Brian hovering over Winnie, nodding at whatever the nurse is telling him, his eyebrows knitted in worry.
Worry. Love. It’s a good thing. A very good thing.
In fact, I’m so busy staring at Brian that I don’t see the nurse walking towards me with Ben. She places her hand on my shoulder and leans down.
“Do you want to hold your son?”
The question is ridiculous. She might as well ask me if I would like to breathe today. I hold out my arms, hungry to see his little face.
His beautiful, little, perfect face. His pink cheeks. His pink hands. His pink fingers. His pink chin. His pink nose.
“He’s like a little wrinkled little Gremlin,” Nick says in awe. “So little. You’re so little Benny.”
Ben’s eyes open and it’s like looking into Brian’s eyes. He yawns and turns his head. I lift his cap slightly and see a light mattering of light brown/dark blonde hair. I press my lips to his forehead.
I’m hopelessly in love.
I’m a mom.
No one ever tells a woman about the things that you go through after you’ve given birth. Somehow, the world has painted the picture of a blissful, sweaty, charged by adrenaline mom who sits up proudly in the hospital bed holding her newborn. What they don’t mention is the first, shaky trip to the bathroom once the epidural wears off and the way the whole room quickly looks like the scene of a murder because your lower extremities no longer work.
They also don’t talk about sitting on the toilet for an hour with a bag of warm water suspended above you and pouring into a pan you’re hovering over trying to soothe the burn of stitches that make me scared that one wrong move will rip my whole bottom and all my guts will run out.
Of course, all of it is too horrifying to admit. Every time Nick asks me if I’m okay I lie. If he knew the truth…
Then again, I was never going to have sex again.
Brian’s parents arrived early in the morning. Winnie was holding her own, still bluer than her brother and on oxygen, but moving, her blue-blue eyes alert and looking around curiously, her fingers curling and then unfurling as if it was the most fascinating hobby in the world.
“They said they’d probably wait a month for Winnie’s surgery,” I tell Nick. We’re sitting in my room, letting Brian have his time with his parents and the babies in the nursery. I pick at a turkey sub. “So she’s bigger.”
“What about Ben? When can he come home?”
Home. I’m not sure where home is. I thought I had a little more time to consider it. The turkey slides down my throat. “His weight is actually fine since he’s over 4 lbs., but he’s got a little jaundice, so they’re keeping him under the lights. They’re thinking a week.”
“When do you get to go home?”
“Probably tomorrow,” I say reluctantly. I can’t think about dragging myself Frankenstein’d butt home. Again, wherever home may be. I had called Amy, Kal’s mom and my boss, early this morning. She had congratulated me and told me she already had my replacement on the way. It shouldn’t have hurt, it really shouldn’t have, but it did. It had been the plan all along, but I didn’t like the feeling of being replaced.
Then again I had much bigger fish to fry.
“This is going to sound bossy,” Nick reaches over and grabs one of my potato chips. “But the apartment is all yours.”
I look up at him just as he bites into one of the yellow crisps. A large hunk falls onto his shirt. He scoops it up and shoves it into his mouth.
“I don’t do charity.”
Nick gives me a lopsided smile. It’s the same smile that got me Subway rather than hospital food. I imagine the nurse running down the block, her heart exploding, just to get a sub for the Nick Carter. “It’s not charity. It’s your baby daddy doing his part.”
“My baby daddy?”
I laugh. “Baby daddy it is.”
“Brian’s over the moon,” Nick said. “It’s a good thing.”
I smile. “It is.”
“Not that I’m not over the moon,” Nick adds. “Because I am. Winnie looks just like you.”
I laugh. “You think? Is it the wrinkled pink-ness?”
Nick practically smirks. “I haven’t seen any of your pink-ness except for the sight of human beings coming out.” He rolls his eyes to the ceiling. “I won’t ever be able to get that image out of my head.”
“I’m assuming you’re scarred for life,” I say almost relieved. I grab a chip and imagine Nick’s and my life together, two celibate souls, scarred permanently from the stitch-inducing birth I’d just endured.
“It was amazing,” Nick says, shattering my thoughts. “You were amazing. And catching Ben...oh my God, I will never…” he shakes his head. “You chicks need more credit.”
I laugh. “Us chicks?”
Nick kicks back. “You birthing chicks,” he amends.
I push his shoulder and then lean into it.
“It’s hard not to love you,” I mumble. He pressed a kiss into my hair.
“That’s my evil plan.”
Brian comes back to my room about afternoon, holding a vase full of flowers. Nick is sprawled on the guest couch, his long leg bent over the side, his mouth open in dead sleep. He glances at Nick and then smiles at me. I smile back.
“For you,” he motions towards the flowers.
He pulls a chair up and sits by me. “How are you doing?”
“Better,” I say, surprised that it’s almost actually the truth. A recent dose of pain meds has done miracles as has another toilet cooch bath with the warm water. Oh the horror stories they don’t tell you…
“Good,” Brian looks at his hands, picking at the edge of his pinky. “So, Leighanne wants to come see Winnie and Ben.”
I glance at the flowers with new suspicion. Suck-up flowers?
His head pops up in surprise. “Okay?”
I evaluate the word. It kinda came out without me running it through all the possible scenarios. “Yeah, okay. I mean, Nick caught Ben, the least I could do is let her…see them.”
Brian smiles, a million watt smile that would probably send the same nurse that had hooked NIck up with the sub running to go get him an extra large pizza with everything on it.
“That’s awesome. Listen, I don’t know if Nick’s talked to you, but the apartment…”
It’s deja vu, just a different Backstreet Boy. “He did. Thank you. I really...I appreciate it.”
“There’s no thank you necessary. I’m...I’m a dad. It’s…” he laughs incredulously. “It’s amazing. They’re beautiful. Are you kinda numb? Because I feel just...numb.”
I smile. “That’s exactly how I feel.”
Brian leans over and hugs me. I wrap my arms around him. A rush of something I can’t even describes comes over me. I feel, for the first time, that everything is going to work out perfectly. I’ve got a second chance and adding Winnie in has only made things infinitely better.
Nothing can go wrong.
“Leighanne’s flying it. She should be here soon.”
Brian pulls away and I nod. He hops up and stared at Nick.
“If there was anyone that I’d share this with, it’s Nick. He’s good for you.”
I smile. Anytime I hear Nick’s name, I can’t help but smile. “I agree.”
Brian gives me a dimpled grin and heads out the door. I lean back and flip on the TV. I know I should sleep; my time for sleep soon will be nonexistence. But a few minutes of TV won’t hurt…
I watch a talk show for about fifteen minutes before I start nodding off to sleep. I’m almost there when the show is interrupted. A local news anchor appears on the TV…
“This just in. We have reports of a crash. A small plane carrying 10 individuals has crashed en route to Orlando from Atlanta, Georgia. Crews are on the scene now. Primary reports indicate that the pilot radio’d in about a potential issue with the plane’s fuselage. We hope to have more news about the individuals on the plane and any survivors as the information is available. Tune in for our First News at 5 for the latest…”
Chapter 50 by evergreenwriter83
September 28, 1998
“I don’t know how to tie a tie. I don’t even know if I should go to this thing. Should I go?”
“Of course you should go. He’s your best friend.”
“I want you to go.”
“Oh, no way. I can’t go. I would be the last person that she would want to see at her…”
I trail off. I can’t say the word.
Leighanne Wallace was one of the ten people on board the small plane that went down about ten minutes from Orlando. There were no survivors. It had taken several days even to identify which body was hers.
Just thinking about it makes me sick.
“Do you want me to drop you off at the hospital?”
“Absolutely,” I say standing before him making a nice windsor knot in his tie. “Where else would I go?”
Nick gives me a small smile. It feels wrong to smile today. “I know. Hey, did you like the double bassinet?”
“I loved it. Great surprise”
“I snuck it in yesterday when you were with the kiddos.”
While Brian’s world fell apart, Nick had taken to slowly building mine in the apartment. The day I was released from the hospital, Nick was the one to pick me up. I was just grateful to be out of the confines of a hospital room even though I hated leaving the babies. My babies.
I walked into an apartment with a living room with two nice looking used couches, a large bedroom with a double bassinet placed right beside it, and a fully decorated nursery next door. The paint job was horrible, a light yellow with bright blue trim. Nick told me he had done it himself. There was no way I’d change one drip or streak.
I had only been in the apartment for three days, but I already loved it. I could walk to the hospital. I knew even after I brought Ben home and then Winnie that we’d be just a minute away from help.
“I’ll come get you after...after…” Nick says, scratching his chin.
“Tell Brian,” I pause. “Tell him I’m thinking about him.”
Nick nods. “I can’t imagine…” he trails off and I think I see tears in his eyes.
I swallow a lump in my throat. Leighanne. Dead. Neither Nick nor I had mentioned the future as we remembered it since it happened. It seemed like her death was the final reminder that this future was not going to be the same. Not by a long shot.
“Ben’s doing fantastic,” the nurse smiles. “Dr. Boone would like to talk to you about scheduling his release.”
Ben’s hand wraps around my finger as I look up. “Really?”
The nurse smiles. “His jaundice has really cleared up.”
“I can take him home?”
She laughs. “Give me a second to find the doctor.”
I look down at Ben. Winnie’s in the next room, the room for more serious cases. I’ve ping-ponged between them for two hours. I imagine a time when I’ll finally see them side by side. It’s all I yearn for.
Dr. Boone appears about fifteen minutes later. He smiles down at Ben. “Handsome boy.”
I beam. “The most.”
“Want to take him home?”
“Tomorrow morning? I know Brian…” Dr. Boone clears his throat. “I know tomorrow would work better for him.”
“Yeah, it would,” I think, stroking Ben’s hand with my finger. He has a strong grip. “I think it would help distract him. A good distraction.”
“Babies will do that to a person,” Dr. Boone agrees. “Dr. Humphrey would like to get Winnie’s surgery scheduled for October 15. I’m hoping we can have the two of you sign the papers tomorrow.”
“The 15th?” I repeat. “She won’t be a month old.”
Dr. Boone nods. Understanding. Calm. “She’s holding her own, but we want to see her thrive, not fight. Now that we’ve had more detailed scans of her heart, we’re confident that it will be a routine procedure. Well, as routine as infantile heart surgery goes.”
“Then how long after that?”
“Until she’s home?”
“Two weeks minimum. Four weeks max.”
A month. That meant that in six weeks I could have them both home. I wished I could speed up time. I lean over and kiss Ben’s forehead.
“You’re coming home, buddy. And your sister, too. Soon.”
September 29, 1998
“He’s big enough?”
“He’s big enough.”
“And they’re sure? About Winnie? About the chances at success?”
“They’re done all the tests.”
Brian stares past me at a spot on the wall. He looks horrible. His face is gray, the light in his eyes dim.
“Brian, I understand if you’re not up for this,” I press my hand into his arm. “I can--”
“He’s my son. I’m helping you bring him home. I…” he wipes his face with his free hand and exhales. “This sucks. I just wanted to jump in after her yesterday. Everybody was looking at me like it’s all my fault. Damnit, it is my fault.”
“What’s your fault?”
He doesn’t answer. I stare at him incredulously.
“You’re not going to take the blame for a plane crashing,” I said softly.
“Of course not,” he shoots back, a hard edge to his voice. “But she wouldn’t have been on that plane if--”
He trails off and I get it. I don’t want to get it. I want to take back the act of ‘getting’ it. “What? If the babies hadn’t been born when they did? If she hadn’t decided to come see you? You can’t blame our children. You can’t blame me. You can’t blame her. There’s too many variables.”
“I can blame whoever the damn hell I want to blame.”
He turns from me, his hands balled into fists.
“Let’s go get Ben.”
“Not like this,” I argue. “I don’t want this hanging over our heads, invading my first memory of our son leaving the hospital.”
Brian’s shoulders sag. “I’m sorry. I,” he moans, his body shaking. “I can’t do this. I can’t…”
I creep towards him slowly. “Brian,” I press my hand against his back. “You need time. I get it.”
His tears fall off his cheeks and go airborne they fall so fast. “Take Nick. Just take Nick.”
My hand makes slow circles on his back. “What?”
“Take Nick. Nick will bring Ben home with you. I saw him sitting in his car around the corner. I know he wants to. I know…” he sighs. “I know that’s the better choice.”
“You’re Ben’s dad. You should--”
“But I can’t,” he shakes his head. When he looks at me, I see how tired his eyes are. How red. “I’ll go later and sign the papers for Winnie. I just need a few days. I need to separate the thought of my children from Leighanne dying. I just don’t know how…”
He tugs at his hair. “I just don’t know how.”
“If you came in today and you were acting like you were already over her, already over IT, then there’d be something wrong with you,” I said reasonably. “I’d rather we have this talk today than it fester in you for years.”
“I’m already letting my children down,” he says. I can almost see the tightness in his chest. The panic. I shake my head.
“No you’re not. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Somehow fifty more it’s okay’s got him out the door and into a cab. Five minutes later, I was at the hospital with Nick.
“He should be here,” Nick mutters. “It’s going to be like last time. He’s going to just withdraw, just for a different reason. Well, not even a different reason. It will still be her. Just in a different way.”
“Nick, that’s horrible.”
I don’t answer. Nick and I walk silently down the corridor. I struggle to refocus. Nick’s holding Ben’s car seat. The car seat makes it real.
He’s coming home.
Chapter Fifty One
Chapter 51 by evergreenwriter83
October 3, 1998
I don’t know what sleep is anymore. I know that I used to enjoy it, but now...now it seems like something only in a myth. I have worn a hole in the carpet, walking around and around and around. My arms are numb from the same bouncing motion over and over again.
Ben loves to cry.
Ben really loves to cry.
I know that babies cry when they need something, but I have done everything for him. He’s regularly fed. He’s regularly changed. He’s regularly bounced, loved, burped, swung...and yet he still cries.
Nick and Brian were both gone, pulled away by Lou and the rest of management for a meeting on their next album and preparing for getting a key to the city of Orlando. These were the pressing issues of the moment.
Not a screaming baby.
“Ben, it’s okay, buddy,” I cooed. “Are you hungry?”
I was hungry. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. Or slept.
What was sleep again?
Ben cried so much that I hadn’t even made it to see Winnie in the last twenty four hours. The guilt was immeasurable. I wished more than anything that I could pass Ben off, get a few hours of sleep, and then go to the hospital. What I wouldn’t kill for my mom to be here…
But my mom wasn’t interested in coming. She wasn’t interested in being a grandma. Hell, it shouldn’t surprise me. She isn’t very interested in being ‘mom’ let alone ‘nana.’
It wouldn’t even be so bad if I had a friend…
October 4, 1998
“I just so happened to be between movies right now. Leo started this crazy preschool that serves all these swanky finger foods. When I went to preschool we ate glue and I didn’t turn out bad. But hubby...well, y’know ‘Hollywood’ has to live up to the standards.”
Kal breezes in with a rush of lilac scented perfume. I can’t believe I called her.
I can’t believe she agreed to come.
“For as long as movies take in pre-production, it’s hard to believe that it takes a month to film, don’t you think?”
I nod. Or at least I think I nod. My body is on the cusp of shock.
“You look like hell. Where’s the two men that got you into this situation?”
Kal just grins. “It sounds dirtier that way.”
“Ugh, I can’t think about dirty.”
“That I believe. You look like shit. Gimme that handsome boy.”
My arms barely break away from my body. Ben’s cries increase as he slides into Kal’s arms. I rock backwards.
“Go to sleep. Now. It’s a command.”
“HIM AND I WILL HAVE A TALK!” Kal yells over the cacophony.
“HE’S MALE! WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?”
I give her a smile. “Thank you.”
“GO TO SLEEP!”
I stumble down the hallway. I don’t know what sort of cosmic forces were in play to make one of Hollywood’s biggest actresses want to be my friend, but I wasn’t going to complain.
October 5, 1998
“How’s my girls?”
“I’m exhausted. Winnie’s doing good. She smiled at me this morning.”
I smile up at Nick. He swings into a chair, his long legs tucking up, pressing against me. “You look so tired. We shouldn’t have left.”
I lean against him. “I have reinforcements.”
“Kal’s here. She’s helping me.”
“Kal? Movie star Kal? Like Ginger on Gilligan’s Island Kal?”
I laugh. “Yup.”
He nuzzles my neck. “Brian’s having a rough time. He threatened to quit about three times. Kevin finally smacked him. Not like a guy hit or anything. It was more of a southern ‘snap out of it’ slap. He followed it with a hug. Those cousins are weird.”
“Where is he?”
“He went to go check on Ben. He’ll head over here soon. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“He’s not going to expect to see Kal there.”
Nick smiles. “That should be an interesting conversation. I’m kinda sorry I’m missing it.”
“Brian’s not her favorite person.”
“Maybe she’ll take pity on him. I mean, given the circumstances.”
I sigh. “Yeah.” I turn around, looking up into his face. I’ve gotten used to young, floppy haired Nick. I’ve gotten used to his oversized clothes and the slight scent of french fries mixed with a splash of some off brand shower gel. “You guys are going to be here for Winnie’s surgery. Right?”
“Of course. Brian has the date committed to memory. He pretty much snapped at Lou when some stupid possible appearance was mentioned on that day. It was awesome. We really need to ditch that asshole, actually.”
I don’t answer. I glance back at Winnie, touch her little fingers.
“I keep thinking about Leighanne.”
I nod. “I can’t stop. I can’t stop thinking about what I know and what’s lost and...where is that going to put Brian? I can’t really picture a world where Brian’s not with her. Will that make him a different person? I mean, obviously it will. But…”
“You’re not thinking about….”
“Being with him?”
Nick’s forehead is knotted. I want to run my finger over the tension lines. I smile.
“No, you’re kinda stuck with me,” I say lightly. “Actually,” I pause. “I can’t even think about relationships right now. All I can hear is Ben’s screams, even when I’m here. I think about taking care of Winnie after the surgery. Truthfully, you’d be better off finding someone that doesn’t have so much baggage. Someone that is willing to have sex again.”
Nick laughs. LAUGHS! As if I said something hilarious. “You’ll have sex again.”
“You have no idea the battlefield of my body,” I say seriously. He just grins.
“Trust me…” He rubs my shoulders.
“You’ll have sex again. But with me. A lot. And it will be good.”
Chapter Fifty Two
Chapter 52 by evergreenwriter83
October 15, 1998
"I'm in time. Please tell me I'm in time."
Time. It's a funny word. It's a funny thing. Time is a snail. Time is a race car. Time is our friend. Time is our enemy.
Time stands still.
Brian looks like he's been crying. He stares past me at Winnie and relief floods his face. "I had a nightmare-" he shakes his head. "But they haven't taken her in yet."
"A half hour," I say way calmer than I really am.
He walks closer and sits down in the empty chair to my right. He touches Win's hand and smiles.
"Hey beautiful," he coos.
Actually slurs is more accurate. I take a closer look at him. I inhale him.
"Brian," I hiss. "Are you drunk?"
He shakes his head, but he doesn't look my way. I lean closer.
"You smell horrible. You shouldn't be drinking. God, you just had surgery yourself. What the hell are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking," he pauses. "That life is shitty."
I shake my head. "I'm going to ask you to elaborate, but not now. Right now, I'm just going to sit here with you and we're going to pray for a successful surgery and you're going to think about how good coffee is going to taste."
He lowers his head.
"Our father, who art in heaven..."
They put Winnie under at 7:30 a.m. It is the hardest thing for me to watch. I see her eyes flutter closed and I'm not sure that I'll see them open ever again. I clamp my hand to my mouth and try to stifle a sob.
Brian sits quietly, hands clasped around his cup of coffee. He doesn't even try to stem his tears.
Nick, reliable Nick, wraps his arm around me. Nick who made it just in time to place a kiss on Winnie's forehead.
Nick who had spent as long as he could with Ben before coming here to me.
"It's awkward waking up and seeing a movie star in the kitchen," he told me. "That's an awesome friend you have. Not just for watching Ben." He had lowered his voice and smiled. "She told me she's rooting for us."
Us. Him and me. It just sounded right.
"She's going to being," Nick whispers, bringing me crashing back to the here and now. "Once this is done she gets to come home and rule the roost with you. Ben and I will just sit back and watch."
He kisses my forehead and I snuggle into him. I don't know how long we stand there, but finally my stomach growls and Nick frowns.
"I'll go get you something to eat," he decides. "Bri, can I get you something to eat?"
"Sure," he says timelessly. "Breakfast sandwich."
Nick pecks my cheek and gives Brian a thumbs up. I haven't told him about Brian's drunkeness. It doesn't seem overly important at the moment. Nick leaves the room and I sit across from Brian. He looks up.
"Did you sleep last night?"
His mouth quirks up. "Only when I passed out. Then I had that nightmare..." He trailed off.
"Have you talked to anybody?"
He sits back like I've slapped him. His fingers press deeper into the styrofoam. "What's there to talk about?"
"Your feelings? Your memories?"
"Memories suck. I wish I could just travel back in time and change everything. Throw your drunk ass at Nick--"
"Excuse me? My drunk ass?"
"You know what I mean," he rakes his hand through his hair. The humidity seems to curl it ten times worse than usual. "Then on the other hand..."
"The other hand?"
"I wonder if God somehow made her plane crash to solve my inner turmoil. To make my decision for me."
I almost groan out loud. It's a 'oh no, here we to again' sort of feeling. "Brian, we weren't ever a we. We were more like a crash and burn."
"Do you want to tell our kids that? I don't want them to have that picture of a relationship."
"The picture they'll have is of two parents who are good friends and co-parents. I think it's better than what I grew up with or what Nick grew up with. The whole 'for the kids' theory is flawed."
Brian sighs. "I know, but where I grew up it's not a world with tons of steps and halves and co families. It's just family."
"Too boring," I smile, nudging his knee. He manages a twitchy smile.
"I know you didn't like Leighanne, but I had this whole idea of what life would be like with her. Now, I don't know...I feel like I failed her, I've failed you...I don't deserve a woman."
"How about a man?"
The look on his face is priceless. I smirk. He smiles.
“I hope Ben and Winnie get your sense of humor.”
“I seem to recall that you’ve been voted class clown of the group.”
His eyes crinkle. “The kids are doomed.”
“Doomed? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with laughter.”
Brian smiles. Really smiles.
A few minutes later, he takes my hand.
I don’t pull away.
“What the hell’s taking so long? This shouldn’t take so long. She’s this big,” Nick holds his hands barely apart. “How long does it take to fix something this big in something this big?”
There’s a lot of random hand measurements that follow. I’ve taken to rocking slightly, staring at the clock. The DAMN clock.
The surgery is going on six hours and I’m sure that the doctor is in there just dreading coming out to tell us that it has all gone horribly wrong. I am a second away from an anguished sob.
I make a lot of promises to God. If Winnie makes it through, I’ll make sure to give her the best life ever. I’ll spoil her rotten. I’ll devote my entire life to her happiness. I’ll--
“Miss Standiford? Mr. Littrell?”
Brian and I bounce out of our chairs. After so many hours, Brian is completely sobered up. Nick, already up and pacing, reaches the doctor first. “How is she?” he asks.
The anguished cry I’ve been holding back comes out. Brian’s hand falls to my back.
Dr. Humphrey looks at me and smiles.
“It’s delicate work on someone that small with a heart that small,” she says gently.
I wait for it...I wait for the ‘but’ that will ruin my entire life.
“But she’s doing great. We were able to do the necessary repairs. Her vitals look really good. She’s already pinking up. I’m very optimistic.”
I close my eyes and laugh/cry. I’m pretty sure everyone else would hear it as a snort.
“She’s okay,” Brian says, his voice warm on my ear.
“She can see her mommy and daddy in a half hour. We’ll just have to have you scrub up.”
“Parents only. I’m very sorry.”
I open my eyes. Nick stuffs his hands in his pockets as Dr. Humphrey walks away. I see his shoulders slump. I open my mouth, but Brian beats me to it.
“He’s family too,” Brian says. He smiles at Nick. Nick smiles back. I can practically see the tension of the past months melting away.
“He deserves to see her just as much as we do,” Brian adds.
“After all, he’s going to be her step-dad.”
Chapter Fifty Three
Chapter 53 by evergreenwriter83
November 1, 1998Orlando, Florida
“So I did something that you’re going to kill me for.”
“That I’m going to kill you for? Why does this make me nervous?”
“Because nervousness always comes before plotting someone’s demise.”
“You’ve watched too many movies.”
“No, I’ve been in too many movies.”
I laugh. Kal doesn’t. I really do get butterflies.
“What did you do?”“The last time I was up there when you brought Ben home…”
“When you saved my sanity?”
"Yeah, that time.”
“Well, remember when he had that really bad night and you woke up and fed him and changed him and finally after about four hours I came in and I sat up with him?”
How could I forget? “Yes.”
“Well, you were sitting there rocking him and singing to him and I may or may not have...well, taped it."
Silence. I yank off my socks and deposit them in the sadly growing pile by my bed. “You taped it?”
"Because your voice is amazing.”
“No voice is amazing at 3:05 in the morning.”
“It doesn’t make Ben stop crying.”
“He has horrible taste.”
I smirk. “So this is your big confession?”
“No, it’s just part one. Hey, it’s quiet on your end. Where’s Ben?”
“Brian took him to see his parents.”
I glance at my nightstand at a little framed picture of Ben’s baby face. Tears spring to my eyes. “Yeah, it’s killing me.”
"Did he fly?”
“No, he drove. Which didn’t make me feel much better. At least Brian hasn’t gotten drunk since Winnie’s surgery. That I know of.”
“He’s the most eligible bachelor in America right now. He doesn't need to drink. Where’s baby face?”
I brush the tears from my eyes and laugh. “Nick?”
“Yeah. Baby face. Jail bait.”
“He’s not jail bait.”
"He is to me. I’m old.”
“You’re not old.”
“Then I’m in my prime,” I can almost see Kal smiling. “And I’ve distracted you from my confession so I feel his conversation is headed for success.”
“Not anymore. What’s part two?”
Kal sighs dramatically. Then again, Kal can sigh at least ten different ways. I still wonder why she’s chosen plain me to befriend when she could have any Hollywood starlet to pal around with. I wiggle out of my gym shorts. I had been about to enjoy a bath when the phone rang. I wrap the cord from the landline around my finger.
"I may or may not have given the tape to a friend."
"A friend?" I kick the shorts off from my right ankle. "What kind of friend?" I yank my shirt clumsily over my head.
"A phone sex operator."
I'm stuck in my shirt, sputtering. "A what?!"
She laughs. "Kidding. No, a friend in Nashville. Great guy. Working his way up in the music biz. He likes your sound. Says you have twang."
"Yeah. I told him you were from California and he was surprised. His bet was on Kentucky or Alabama."
I roll my eyes. The shirt falls to the floor. "Hunh."
"Anyhow, he passed the tape on and they want to meet you."
I pause, my fingers at my bra clasp. "Who?"
"The execs at Lyric Street. Goodman primarily. Meeting with the founder is huge. He usually puts people on these projects."
"New record label. That's actually good that they're newer. They give their artists more specialized treatment. They'll hone your sound rather than try to convert you to theirs."
"Wait, what sound? I don't have a sound."
"You totally have a sound."
I finally slide my bra along my arms and deposit it with the rest of my mess. "Kal, that was really nice and all, but I just had twins. Winnie doesn't even get to come home for another 10 days."
"They're booked until February. I just want to get you on their calendar."
I sigh. I vaguely remember the adrenaline rush of being onstage. Then again, I didn't have twins...
"I don't know."
"Do it," Kal says. "For me."
"Why do you care?"
Anyone else would probably have been insulted. Not her. I could almost picture her grin. "Because you can't deprive the world of your talent. Plus, I love vacationing in Nashville. Every time I come to Orlando, my mom's crushed if I don't visit her too. It's a perfect plan."
I laugh. "I'll think about it."
"Is that a yes?"
"No! It's an I'll think about it. I've got to go take a bath before Nick comes to take me to the hospital."
"A bath only to go to the hospital? Or...."
She lets the 'or' disappear in space. "Or?"
"Hasn't it been six weeks?"
It takes me a moment to realize what she's getting at. Once I do, I groan. "No 'or.' I'm never having sex again."
"We all say that. Trust me it's just like riding a horse."
"Honey, I had to get 22 stitches with Leo. I felt like Frankenstein, but I promise you that the body is an amazing thing. Sex is actually better--"
"My sex drive was destroyed."
Kal just laughs. "Have you stopped leaking? That was the only awkward thing. The airborne milk is an 'oh shit' moment."
I head into the bathroom not quite believing I'm having this conversation. "They gave me a pill that took care of...that. It wasn't like I could breast feed."
"Lucky bastard," Kal declares. "I walked around with cabbage leaves on the girls like I was friggin Eve. I had a fever and the blockage and the pain...Christ, the pain."
I start the water, sliding the stopper into place. "Can I call you later with my decision?"
"After your sexy time with baby face?"
Nick's face flashes before my eyes. I blush. I can't remember what sex with Nick is like. The future continues to blur and disappear. I wonder if he can remember, but I know I'll never ask.
"No sex. Ever," I say stubbornly.
Kal just laughs. "Alright, well just think about it. February. Country music superstar."
I close my eyes, letting the steam bathe my face.
"Will do," I say.
There's a quick exchange of good-byes and I'm free. I settle my body down for a bath. It's been forever since I've enjoyed a bath instead of a shower. I lay my head back and feel my whole body relax...
I must fall asleep. It's the only logical explanation I have because I don't hear him come in the apartment. I don't hear him walk into the bathroom or kneel down. I don't feel his hand in the water, soaking up water into a soft cloth.
No, the first thing I notice is the feel of a washcloth sliding over my chest and Nick's fingertips brushing through the watery trail left behind. I don't panic because I know his fingertips. Just knowing that I already know what his fingertips feel like makes me know that I'm hopelessly his. I hear his breathing, heavier and shorter.
I open my eyes slowly and he meets my gaze even as the washcloth trails over my navel in a slowl sensuous circle. He doesn't say a word. Neither do I.
I just want to find out where the washcloth goes next.
Chapter Fifty Four
Chapter 54 by evergreenwriter83
November 1, 1998
The steam is rising all around me even though the water has grown cool. Nick's hand, the one holding the cloth, slides down my abdomen and I draw in a breath as it dips lower. He pauses and I see the corners of his mouth lift.
It seems cruel to explain to him that I'm never having sex. I mean, technically he's my fiancée, but I know there is no human way anything is going to be visiting the land down under ever again. Especially...
"Ohhhhh," my back arches and his blonde head lowers towards mine. He has dropped the ruse of the washcloth. It's all him, his palm pressing against my inner thigh and his fingers...
"You're so beautiful," he whispers before his lips meet mine.
I can't imagine anything beautiful about me. My hips are permanently wider, the bones shifting so badly from two babies throwing all nighters that I know that I'm never going to be able to fit in a pair of low rise jeans again. And my ass...the hugeness of it escapes all odds.
Then there's my stomach. My stomach which has still not managed to recede properly even though there's no longer little feet or an ocean's worth of water there to distend it. There's still stubborn skin hanging. I know all those famous people who show their 'beach body after baby' are full of shit. They must have a good plastic...
"Nick," I moan. He's making it seem like sex might just be possible. He's gentle. And rhythmic. I hear only the soft lapping of the water as his hand moves. He makes my toes curl.
"It hasn't been just you and me for so long," he says huskily. "I saw you in here, your eyes closed, and well...I want you so bad I think I'm going to die."
I look at him and my breath catches. He's looking at me like I'm the juiciest steak he's ever laid eyes on. A big, wide hipped, giant assed, steak.
"I don't think I can--"
I might as well just shoot him. His perfect, puckery lips part. "I'll be so gentle. I'll stop anytime."
The ground rules sound fair. I think about my conversation with Kal. I won't ever tell her she was right. I find myself smiling just thinking about the smug look on her face.
I nod then and he pulls the stopped out of the tub. I feel like literally the only thing I have going for me are my boobs. Dried up, but forever larger. And at least not hanging. Like my stomach. Oh god, the water probably masked how disgusting I look...
"Hold my neck."
"What?" I'm panicking about the stretch marks. Dear God, the stretch marks!
"Wrap your arms around my neck."
He's wearing a jersey and a pair of worn jeans. He smells like laundry soap. I wrap my arms around his neck feeling like a wet noodle. A fat wet noodle.
I don't expect him picking me up like I'm a portable stage speaker. I literally squeal as his arms flex and hoist me up our noses touching, the water streaming off me...probably like Niagra Falls.
"This is the first time," he smiles coyly.
"The first time," I repeat dumbly.
"Technically," he says. He's not even winded. Why isn't he even winded? His arms have to be dying. "Though I can remember hundreds more."
Hundreds? God, I was a whore.
"I'm terrified," he grins. I like his terrified look a little bit too much.
"I think the doctor may have permanently made me un-sexable," I warn him. He just laughs.
He must see the worry wrinkle between my eyes because he kisses that exact spot. "I'll stop anytime," he reminds me.
I hold onto him tightly as he carries me into my bedroom. I figure he'll drop me like a sack of potatoes, his arms giving out, but he lays me down like I'm glass, his jean leg pressing against my bare one. Our breathes don't leave the little cocoon we create with our arms, mine still around his neck, his on either side of me.
"Court," he whispers, pressing his lips against my own. His name is lost into his mouth as my hands fall from his neck, wrapping around him. I greedily try to pull him closer, but he keeps himself held, suspended above me. I don't know how,long we go before oxygen, but when he pulls away, he silently yanks off his shirt.
In the 11 months since we returned to our past, his body has filled out. I must look surprised because he laughs, kissing my forehead, my cheek, my neck. His hand leaves it's position beside my head to cup my breast.
"I keep dreaming about this," he says almost starstruck. "Almost a year...it's been driving me crazy. That night we kissed on the porch...it took everything for me not too..."
I cut him off with a kiss. His voice is too raspy, his touch too good. I can tell he's only lingering the moment for my own comfort. I can tell by the way his lower half slides against me that he's dying.
And my lack of memories of him is too embarrassing to admit. I want to be able to remember. To know Nick like he obviously knows me, every sensitive spot on my entire body. My hands press against the zipper of his jeans and he growls, closing his eyes tightly.
"I might be sexable," I rationalize. He laughs, his eyes still closed.
"No maybe," he licks his lips.
I bury my face in his neck, inhaling the scent of Downy. His breath tastes like cinnamon and I wonder if it's toothpaste or candy, not caring if it's the latter rather than the former. My fingers deftly undo his jeans and my hands round his ass, such a NICE ass, sliding them down along with his boxer briefs.
It seems much more imminent with both of us naked. I press my hands against his shoulders, squirming into a sitting position. "Lay down."
He smiles, his long body falling first to his side then his back.
His chest and abdomen are not defined as I remember. There's a youthfulness there, a softness to it. A definite smoothness - the sight of all of the uninked skin...skin that will thicken up with muscles over time, defining a series of tattoos. Nick Carter’s badass body in the ‘before’...
I press my lips to his shoulders, working my way down. I see his stomach tense as I reach certain points and I smile. He is my playland.
Sex is totally possible. It’s consuming my mind.
“Court, baby,” he moans. His fingers brush against my bare back, working their way to my breasts, tweaking the over sensitized nipples.
I pull away from him before I succumb. I want this time. I want these memories burned into my brain. I want it to be just us, just two young kids, learning each other over and over again.
“I brought condoms,” he says as I run my tongue down the length of him. The word ‘condoms’ comes out almost a yelp, a ‘touchdown Jesus’ sort of yelp. I hold out my hand. I feel his body shift, hanging at an odd, surely uncomfortable angle. There’s some rummaging and then I feel the foil package in my hand. I rip it with my teeth.
“There’s still one more growth spurt left,” he adds. I spit out the foil in my mouth and look at him for a split second before laughing.
“I sure hope not,” I say. “You’re going to kill me.”
He stretches his arms out above his head and smirks. The smirk does me in. I take my sweet time rolling the condom on, feeling his toes curling and uncurling. He has gigantic feet.
“Have I mentioned the whole year wait thing?” he says through almost clenched up teeth. I nod, my hand sliding back up him, my breath hot. I press my lips against his thighs. They haven’t yet filled out. They’re not to the point where I want to bite them unrelentlessly. But still, they’re strong. Strong and…
I squeal as he flips me over like I’m a feather. His hands curl around my hips and he gives me a look, a smile really, that starts at his eyes rather than his mouth.
“This is going to end badly if I don’t take over,” he says.
“Badly?” I smile.
“Embarrassingly,” he says huskily. “for me.”
“Well, we don’t want--”
I don’t get to finish. He kisses me hard, his tongue probing, running along my teeth. I have a split second panic, wondering if I finished shaving my legs, before I realize that at this point it doesn’t matter. His chest pressed into mine and he feels so right curled into me that it seems ludicrous that I wouldn’t have noticed the first time. Why I had kept him waiting so long…
“I’ll stop anytime,” he reminds me. He pulls my right leg, the last bit of resistance, so it’s hooked around him.
I remember the stitches.
I’m not so sure.
I’m picturing a scene out of Nightmare on Elm Street.
My throat makes an indescribable noise. Nick pauses, but I curl my fingers into his shoulders, the noise lingering like air being let out of a balloon. Once it passes, my voice returns.
“Don’t ever stop.”
“Are you okay?”
“More than okay.”
“You wouldn’t lie?”
I curl my pinky around Nick’s. It seems like such a monumental action. Hell, lying next to Nick naked is a monumental action in and of itself.
Death could come and I’d be okay with it now. Now that Nick is burned into my brain.
The world is all about him.
My world, at least.
Nick’s hand slides under the sheet, his hand running the length of my leg and curling around my hip. He kisses me slowly, lazily. Happily.
“I love you.”
I curl into him. I would crawl into him if I could. “I love you, too.”
He smiles into my cheek. I can tell every time he moves a muscle. That’s how close we are. “Thank you for not letting me wait so long this time.”
I close my eyes. “How long did I make you wait before? My memory...so fuzzy.”
My eyes fly open. “2003?”
Nick smiles. “Yeah. You know how to string a guy along.”
I can feel his heartbeat under my palm. I sigh.
“I was an idiot, then.”
Nick’s hand leaves my hip. Soon, his hand is in my hair.
“I don’t know why we came back here like we did, but I don’t ever want to leave. I don’t want a life without Winnie. I don’t want a life without you, fighting so hard for you, not knowing if I’ll ever be with you or not.”
“I agree,” I say softly. “I just wish…”
“I just wish Brian got his happy ever after too. Then it would all be perfect.”
Nick pulls me closer with a tug to my hair. He kisses me for an eternity, but I almost wish it was two eternities instead. When he pulls away, his kisses my nose. My cheek. My eyelids.
“I think,” he pauses to kiss my forehead.
“We shouldn’t underestimate Brian’s own happily ever after. Maybe,” he kisses my earlobe. “It’s his turn to take the scenic route. If so, it’ll be worth it in the end. You’ll always be worth it.”
I open my freshly kissed lids. His eyes sparkle into mine.
Chapter Fifty Five
Chapter 55 by evergreenwriter83
November 15, 1998
“Someday, we’ll look back and never believe that she was drowning in this carseat.”
“Winnie’s small but mighty. Aren’t you beautiful?”
Her face is like a little china doll’s, but her eyes, her beautiful blue eyes stare up at me and sparkle like she understands every single word. Her mouth opens into a perfect little pink pucker and I press my lips against her cheek.
“It’s crazy. They’re both going home.”
I meet Brian’s eyes and we smile. For the first time in awhile I notice the bags are gone around his eyes. I brush a wayward piece of hair out of my eyes and adjust Winnie’s seat straps.
“How are you doing?” I ask.
“Better,” he pauses. “When I went home with Ben, mom suggested I pay a visitor to our church. I had a really good talk with the pastor. He helped me try to make sense of everything. He made me feel like Leighanne…” I can see the moisture pool in his eyes. “Leighanne didn’t suffer. She was met with the welcome arms of Jesus and God himself. And I should stop thinking that I was the one who killed her.”
“We all could have told you that,” I said. “You were in the same room as Nick and I.”
“Yeah, but that’s the thing. I felt like I killed her nine months earlier than that. I didn’t think she’d ever give me another chance, but she did. Yet, she reminded me about it all the time,” he sighs. “But that didn’t matter. I would have spent my whole life trying to make it up to her.”
“And you wanted that?”
Brian leans over, fixing Winnie’s blanket. Her little arm shoots out and her hand wraps around Brian’s finger. His face melts into a smile.
“I don’t know. I just know that she wouldn’t have been on the plane if it hadn’t been for me.”
“She did it because she loved you. If you’re going to dwell on anything, just keep that thought that she loved you and you loved her. I won’t even tell you that you shouldn’t worry or cry or you should move forward. I won’t because I’ve never been there. But I’m here if you ever need to talk.”
“Thanks Court. I really appreciate it. I--you’re an amazing person.”
I laugh. “No, I’m really not.”
“You are. Nick’s lucky to have you.”
“And you’re lucky to have him.”
I smile. Brian picks up Winnie’s car seat. It weighs only slightly heavier with her little body in it. I brush away a tear, a happy one.
“I’ve heard that cute kids are chick magnets,” I say lightly. Brian laughs.
“I only care about being a good dad. It’s time I grew up. I mean, when Nick Carter has a more mature outlook on life than I do, I know it’s time to step up.”
“Nick’s full of surprises,” I muse. I think of his bright eyes and gorgeous smile. His floppy blonde hair and his scrawny arms. Then I think about the years ahead. My heart begins to race.
Life is good.
November 20, 1998
“Honey, you need some sleep.”
“You haven’t let me help you yet. It’s why I came back with Brian. You need your strength.”
I look at Jackie warily. My ears are ringing from the dual tones of shrill cries. I clutch Winnie, sure that she’s feeding off the tension, but unable to let her go.
“Just a few more minutes,” I say.
Jackie hums, or at least I think she does. It comes to my ears through the hum. She scoops up Ben, smiling down at him lovingly.
“He looks just like Brian when he was a baby,” she says softly even as he screams up at her. She strokes his cheek. “Lungs just like him, too.”
I smile even as I sink down into the rocker. I study Winnie closely as she screams. There’s no sign of purpling, but I still worry. I worry every second when she’s awake. I worry every second that she sleeps.
“Do you ever stop worrying?” I ask.
“Of course not,” Jackie says with a laugh. “I’m not sure that a mother can ever stop worrying about her babies. Not after carrying them and seeing them grow from within. It’s part of our nature.”
I slide Winnie up, my hand rubbing along her back. “My mother’s never worried,” I admit.
“Well,” she smiles at me. “Us good mothers do. Us good mothers also like to informally adopt the ones with un-worrying mothers.” She sits down beside me with Ben. “Nick’s my unofficial son, you know.”
We begin to rock in time. “Really?”
“Mm-hmm. Nick doesn’t know this and I don’t think Brian will ever tell him either, but Brian was his legal guardian when they first started out and were over in Europe. Brian even brought him for Thanksgiving one year. I remember seeing this look in his eyes. I know his mom and dad are still together, but he told me...he told me all about the fighting. He practically raised his siblings. I think to the outside world he comes off as immature, but he’s really something. He has a good sense of responsibility.”
My eyes, just a few seconds ago heavy, are wide open. “I know. Just the way he is with Winnie and Ben…”
“He loves you.”
I don’t need to look at her to see she’s smiling. “I think Brian does too, but I can tell...whenever you talk about Nick. You two remind me a little of Harold and I.”
“Oh, yes. We were young and we didn’t have a clue what life had in store. It’s sweet to see the two of you like that. Just the glimpses I’ve seen…”
She trails off. We rock in silence and eventually, blissfully, Winnie and Ben fall asleep.
“Are you two going to get married?”
I keep rubbing Winnie’s back. I don’t want to jinx anything by stopping. “Eventually. We’re unofficially engaged,” I say. “He’s holding onto the ring. Management’s asking Nick and I to wait. Nick’s so popular and they think that getting married might hurt the group.”
“And he’s listening?”
“I’m making him listen,” I admit. “I’ve got this...audition myself with a record company. It might be something. It might not.”
“I wondered. I’ve heard you sing to the babies. You have a beautiful voice.”
“”Thank you. But really, Nick and I aren’t in a hurry. We want to see what happens. I mean I have a feeling Backstreet is going to explode even more in the next year.” I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. If she only knew...
“So we have to figure out how things will work with them on the road all the time. No matter what, the babies are the first priority.”
“That’s fair,” Jackie says. “And smart. Either way, I’m happy to have you and Nick in our family.”
My heart melts.
“I can’t think of a better family to be in.”
Epilogue by evergreenwriter83
June 19, 2014
Kal - Nashville, Tennessee
The library is crowded, but with my sunglasses and baseball hat, I am actually unrecognizable. It’s a refreshing feeling. It’s been a few years since I went back to live the life I’d always wanted. Now I can’t imagine any other. A husband. Leo. Laura. Two kids, the love of my life, and a movie career. I had it all.
And I wasn’t the only one.
Nick and Courtney had finally gotten engaged January 1, 2001. Yet, tabloids were speculating about the end of Nick and Courtney’s love affair in the midst of the Black & Blue tour. Both of my friends careers were red hot and rumors of infidelity were high. Courtney was touring with Keith Urban and there was no doubt there was chemistry. Nick was hanging out with Krystal Harris, the singer signed to BSB’s new label. I was sure that there was nothing to the rumors…
But I couldn’t do what I’d been wanting to do for awhile until I made sure…
I make my way to a short-time use computer and sink down at the station. I glance around. Deserted. People are lounging around with their tablets or cell phones. I look back at the screen and double click on Google Chrome.
It takes me only a few minutes to find the information I need. I can’t keep the smile off of my face.
Courtney Ford and Nick Carter Wedding Photos! - People Magazine, May 2002.
Brian Littrell Weds Maggie Delaney - People Magazine, September 2004.
Brian Littrell and Wife Maggie Welcome Son Baylee - People Magazine, July 2005.
Courtney Ford and Nick Carter welcome 1st child, daughter Finley Nichole - People, September 2007.
Courtney Ford’s Stalker Arrested - Nick Carter Cleared of All Charges - People, March 2009.
Nick Carter and Courtney Ford Celebrate 10th Wedding Anniversary - People Magazine, May 2012.
Winnie Littrell Shines as Fiona in Shrek Musical - Cumberland County Playhouse, August 2013.
Nick Carter and Courtney Ford Announce Pregnancy, Reality Show - Entertainment Weekly, June 2014.
I look at Courtney’s face on the screen, smiling brightly in the arms of Nick.
“Congratulations, my friend,” I whisper before logging off.
September 4, 2014
The trip back is quick and painless. I have become far too used to travel. I stare at the device in my hand and take a deep breath. I know our futures and they are good. I drop the device to the ground and close my eyes.
I lift my foot and send it crashing down. I hear the satisfying crunch under my feet.
It is gone. The last travel device. Perhaps somewhere there are scientists slaving away in a lab trying to solve the time space continuum puzzle. Perhaps it will happen many years from now.
None of it matters.
All that matters is that my friends and I have the time of our lives.
Yesterday, today, tomorrow…
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.