‘ ... There ain't no handbook / You're on your own / Got no instructions / When it comes to love / See once you do something / Can't be undone ...’
This is the tale of a massive mistake with an unbelievable outcome.
It’s the stuff that Telenovas (and Jane the Virgin) are made of!
You’ve been warned ...
Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Brian, Group
Genres: Drama, Romance
Warnings: Death, Sexual Content
Chapters: 10 Completed: No
Word count: 24118 Read: 908
Published: 02/24/17 Updated: 04/28/17
1. Prologue - Panic by KeepThisSecret
2. Chapter 1 - Like A Child by KeepThisSecret
3. Chapter 2 - Boys Will Be Boys by KeepThisSecret
4. Chapter 3 - Roll With It by KeepThisSecret
5. Chapter 4 - Weird World by KeepThisSecret
6. Chapter 5 - Movin' On by KeepThisSecret
7. Chapter 6 - Lose It All by KeepThisSecret
8. Chapter 7 - More Than That by KeepThisSecret
9. Chapter 8 - That's The Way I Like It by KeepThisSecret
10. Chapter 9 - Just to Be Close to You by KeepThisSecret
Prologue - Panic by KeepThisSecret
“And then he said that he wants a divorce! Can you believe that?!” Maci pulled a pair of disposable surgical gloves out of the box and snapped them over her fingers in one well-practiced motion. “He’s acting like this entire situation is my fault! Like, seriously, what is wrong with him?! I’m not the one who got caught rolling around with some barley-legal, overly-inflated, crazy-Botoxed bimbo!”
“Are you sure that you’re okay to work today?” Lisa watched Maci wipe away her tears with her upper arm in order to preserve the cleanliness of her gloves. “I’m pretty sure that this place won’t burn to the ground if you take the day off.”
“I’m fine.” Maci lied. “Besides, I need to be here in order to keep my mind off of him.”
“Okayyyyy ...” Lisa raised her eyebrows. She had known Maci long enough to realize when her business partner was lying through her teeth, but she could also understand her friend’s desire to keep her mind off of her current marital troubles. “Do you want to start with the washings or with the fertilizations?”
Maci shrugged. “Fertilizations, I guess.”
Maci sniffed away the remainder of her tears and took a deep breath. Seven years of marriage down the drain because her good-for-nothing husband couldn’t keep it in his pants. What was she going to do now? Her thoughts drifted to her own children as she glanced down at the lab sheet and gathered the items that she needed to fertilize the first set of eggs for the day. What was she going to tell the kids?
“Well, Leighanne Littrell, I really hope you’re sure about this.” Maci mumbled; reading the name sticker affixed to the egg sample. “Forty-seven years old with only two good eggs left. Your husband must be a bloody saint for you to even be considering this shit.”
“Is talking to yourself part of the healing process?” Lisa looked up from preparing her first sperm sample of the day; separating the weak swimmers from the strong ones and concentrating the healthy sperm into the insemination syringe. She grinned at Maci. “Or is that just your craziness coming out?”
“A little bit of both.” Maci laughed. “I don’t understand what possesses some people to go through with all of this.” She waved her hand in front of her face dismissively. “I mean, take this Mrs. Littrell lady for instance.” Maci tapped her well-manicured finger against the Petri dish containing Leighanne’s recently harvested eggs. “She’s almost fifty years old and she already has a teenage son. Why is she even bothering to try to have another baby?”
It was Lisa’s turn to shrug. “Some people are just, you know, weird!” She paused; a smile creeping across her face. “Did you say ‘Mrs. Littrel’l? If the sperm donor’s name is Brian, you can forget all about this lady’s questionable desires and just go right ahead and shoot that sample right up in me!”
“You’re disgusting.” Maci feigned shock. She was used to Lisa making crude comments on a fairly regular basis. “And, just so you know, I’ve already checked for the Backstreet connection, and the sperm sample is from some guy named Brayden.” Maci ran her finger across the lab sheet to confirm that she had the right donor before grabbing the sample off of the table. “So, it looks like you won’t be getting a healthy dose of Backstreet sperm, today.”
“Damn!” Lisa set the first completed syringe of the day down in the holder and snapped her fingers. “I mean, he’s no Nick Carter, but Brian Littrell is still totally do-able.”
“You have problems.” Maci shook her head. “Like, actual problems.”
“Do I?” Lisa challenged. “You were probably thinking about doing the exact same thing. I mean, you didn’t even pretend not to know that I was talking about Brian the Backstreet Boy.”
Maci snorted. Coming to work had definitely been the right decision; Lisa’s antics were exactly the type of mental distraction that she needed. Still smiling, Maci carefully pulled Brayden’s sperm sample into the syringe and tapped her fingers twice against the glass vile to make sure that the sample was completely free of air bubbles. She leaned towards the microscope and focused in on the two miniscule eggs resting in the Petri dish.
Crazy or not; Leighanne Littrell deserved every possible chance of having another baby, if that’s what she really wanted. Taking a deep breath to steady her hand, Maci expertly injected both of the eggs with the sperm sample. The fertilized embryos were scheduled to be implanted into Mrs. Littrell’s aging uterus in exactly three days.
Maci stood up from the microscope; pleased with her work. It was a well-known fact that she was one of the most highly renowned doctors specializing in IVF in the greater Atlanta area, and she took pride in the knowledge that she had helped so many women achieve their dreams of having a child.
“Oh. My. God.”
“What’s the matter?” Maci re-directed her attention at Lisa’s words. She peered at the other woman in concern. Her friend’s skin actually appeared to be turning a deathly shade of grey. “Why are you just staring at me like that?”
Lisa swallowed hard. She felt like she was about to be sick. “Brian Littrell’s name is on this sheet.”
“On what sheet?” Maci didn’t need to ask the question; she could see that Lisa was clutching the lab sheet between her noticeably trembling fingers. Her stomach churned. Maybe she should have stayed home from work after all.
“Maci, did you just fertilize Leighanne Littrell’s eggs with Brayden Lukas’s sperm?”
“Yes ...” Maci was suddenly having trouble breathing. “That was the name of the donor that was across from her name on the sheet. I checked. I double checked.”
“You read the wrong name.” Lisa could already see her still blossoming medical career coming to a fiery end. She and Maci co-owned the practice; they were liable for each other’s mistakes. They could both lose their licence to practice medicine for making this type of an error. “Brayden Lukas should have been matched with Abigail Lukas. She’s supposed to be inseminated with his sperm this afternoon.”
“No.” Maci shook her head in denial. She crossed the room and took the lab sheet away from Lisa. “There’s no way that I made a mistake. I’ve never made a mistake!” She quickly located Leighanne’s name on the paper and ran her finger across the table to check the male counterpart. Her heart stopped; ‘Brian Littrell’.
Maci’s eyes settled on the name ‘Brayden Lukas’; listed directly below the name ‘Brian Littrell’ on the chart. She bit at her lower lip and re-focused her attention on the Petri dish that was still under the microscope; on the eggs that she had fertilized with the wrong sperm. Maci’s entire body felt numb. It wasn’t like she could just admit her mistake to the Littrells, harvest some more eggs, and attempt the procedure again. Leighanne only had two good eggs left in her entire body, and she had just injected them both with some other man’s sperm.
“Abigail Lukas is coming in this afternoon?” Maci was thinking as she spoke; trying to figure out what to do. “And we still have the sperm sample from Brian?”
Lisa nodded slowly. She had a pretty good idea of what her friend was going to say next, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. “Yes to both.”
“We don’t have to say anything about this to anyone.” Maci locked her eyes with Lisa’s. “Given Leighanne’s age, there’s a higher chance that the procedure will be unsuccessful than successful. Besides, we’re implanting the embryos at three days. You and I both know that waiting for day five blastocysts would give her a higher chance of becoming pregnant. I’ve never said this before, but it’s actually a good thing that the Littrells chose not to risk the potential for suboptimal laboratory conditions and went with the three day implantation option for both embryos.” Maci paused briefly to collect her racing thoughts. “I can still perform Leighanne’s procedure. There’s no way that it’s going to work, and the Littrells will never find out about the sperm mix-up.”
“But, what about Abigail Lukas? She’s only thirty-four.” Lisa didn’t even bother to disguise the tremor in her voice as she located Abigail’s file and flipped it open to confirm the woman’s age. “What if we go ahead with the insemination using Brian’s sperm sample and she manages to conceive? The potential for success is much higher for her; closer to 20%.”
“We could always just ask Brayden to provide us with another sample.” Maci actually smiled as the idea came to her mind. “This can work, Lisa! Like I said, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Leighanne’s implantation will fail. So, if Brayden supplies us with another sperm sample and we use that sample for Abigail’s insemination then nobody will ever find out about any of this!”
“That would be a good solution.” Lisa sighed as she scanned Abigail’s chart. “Unfortunately, Brayden is no longer around to provide us with another sample. He passed away from an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer almost a year ago. He and Abigail were hoping to have a baby once he entered remission. So, he banked a sperm sample in preparation as his doctors had told him that the cancer would make it nearly impossible for the two of them to conceive naturally. It seems as though Brayden passed away before he could provide the sperm bank with any additional samples; even though, that was apparently the plan as he had pre-paid for three bank spots.”
The smile left Maci’s face. She was back to feeling nauseous. “So, we’ll just have to use Brian’s sample for Abigail’s insemination procedure and pray to God that it doesn’t take.”
“But what if it does take?!” Lisa stressed. “It’s not like we’re dealing with a sample from some random guy off of the street. We’re talking about a celebrity; about a man with a face that millions of women across the world are able to recognize. If the procedure ends up being successful and Abigail pops out a miniature Backstreet Boy, we are going to be in a serious heap of career-ending trouble!”
“We could potentially be in serious career-ending trouble either way.” Maci argued. “If I admit to the Littrells that I messed up, they’ll undoubtedly take the situation to the media and the reputation of our practice will be ruined. We’ll be out of business faster than the college will be able to revoke our licences. But, if we play the odds and both of the procedures turn out to be unsuccessful, then we’ll walk away from this whole thing free and clear.”
“Still, if Abigail becomes pregnant with Brian’s baby, then we will have no choice but to inform both her and Brian about the mix-up. We could do jail time for intentionally concealing the identity of the child’s father. Personally, I would rather lose my medical licence and become a hermit than spend any amount of time behind bars.” Lisa countered. “Why don’t we just inject Abigail with a syringe full of water or something?”
Macil rolled her eyes. “That’s probably even more unethical than using the wrong sperm sample. Abigail has paid us to provide her with a chance to have a baby. I would rather give her a small chance to have another man’s child than give her absolutely no chance at all. Besides, other women conceive using anonymous donor sperm all the time. It’s not like Abigail has to know who the father is.”
Lisa narrowed her eyes. “Brian isn’t an anonymous sperm donor. He didn’t get paid to provide his sample, and he definitely didn’t consent to have his sample used for another woman’s procedure. So, if you want me to agree to this nonsense, you have to promise me that we will tell both Brian and Abigail the truth if she becomes pregnant.”
“Fine.” Maci glanced at the clock. Abigail was due to arrive at the clinic in less than an hour. “On the off chance that Abigail’s insemination procedure is successful, we’ll tell both her and Brian about my mistake.” She looked pointedly at Lisa. “Deal?”
Lisa gave in to Maci’s pestering despite the growing ball of doubt that was slowly, but surely, taking over her entire stomach. She hastily picked up Brian’s sperm sample and, with shaking fingers, peeled off the identification label. Lisa scribbled ‘Brayden Lukas’ on another label and affixed it to Brian’s vile with a heavy heart. For the first time in her career, she found herself praying to every single God that she could possibly think of that Abigail’s insemination procedure would fail.
Chapter 1 - Like A Child by KeepThisSecret
** Brian **
“You said that if the results came back positive that you would give it a try.” I struggled to keep my voice low; to prevent everyone else in the waiting room from overhearing. “Why are you doing this to me now? Why are you trying to get out of it?”
“It’s my body, Brian!” Leighanne wrapped her cardigan around her chest and lowered her voice to match mine. “You can’t tell me what to do with it!”
“I’m not telling you to do anything! You said that this is something that you wanted!”
“Mr. and Mrs. Littrell?” A heavy-set nurse stepped into the waiting room. She scanned the sea of anxious couples before settling her eyes knowingly on me and Leighanne. “Ya’ll can come on back now.”
I stood up from the creaky vinyl chair and issued the nurse a small smile. I feigned interest in the medical posters that adorned the walls as I waited for Leighanne to collect her purse. I didn’t want to risk making eye contact with any of the other people in the waiting room. It was bad enough that the nurse had said my last name aloud for the entire room to hear. If someone were to recognize me, the news would be all over social media before I could blink.
The plump nurse led us down a short hallway to an examination room. She paused briefly to consult the medical chart that had been placed next to the door before ushering the two of us into the room.
“Mrs. Littrell, you’re going to need to be undressed from the waist down.” The nurse gestured towards the examination table. “Just cover yourself up with the blanket once you’re situated. The doctor will be with you in just a few minutes.”
“Do you not want to do this?” I waited until the nurse had closed the door firmly behind her before I opened my mouth. “We can just call it off and go home if you’ve changed your mind.”
I could taste the bitterness in the back of my throat as the words left my mouth. I knew that I sounded spiteful, but I couldn’t be bothered to disguise my emotions. Leighanne knew how much this meant to me. She knew how much I wanted this, and she had agreed to it. Less than a week ago, she had rested her head on my chest and told me that she was overjoyed about the fact that her test results had come back positive. She had told me that she was excited at the prospect of undergoing the procedure. Now, she was looking at me as if I were a venomous snake that was about to bite her.
“It’s just happening awfully fast.” Leighanne turned her back on me as she began to unbutton her jeans. “I thought that I would have some more time to process things, that’s all.”
For the second time in less than five minutes, I found myself staring blankly at the medical posters that were tacked to the walls. No matter how much I loved the sight of my wife’s body, I couldn’t bring myself to look at her as she stripped off her panties and settled herself onto the exam table. The warmth was creeping up my neck; the awkwardness in the room was palpable.
I waited until Leighanne had covered herself with the blanket before I stopped pretending to read the poster about the male reproductive system and turned to face her. This wasn’t turning out how I had imagined. I felt like I was forcing my wife to do something against her will.
Our relationship had been somewhat strained for the past three years, and a small part of me couldn’t help but wonder if Leighanne had said ‘yes’ to my request simply to convince me to stay with her. It was no secret that every single aspect of Leighanne’s life was dependent on mine; on my career, on my schedule, on my fans, on my financing. Our lack of a prenuptial agreement meant that I would lose millions of dollars if I walked away, but Leighanne would lose so much more than money if our marriage dissolved. Without me, she would have limited business prospects, a limited amount of followers, limited publicity, and a very limited sense of purpose. My wife may have been blonde, but she definitely wasn’t stupid. She knew how to play the game.
Still, the biggest part of me wanted this venture to be a success. I knew it was naive of me to believe that adding another source of stress to our relationship would make things better, but I was truly hopeful that it would. Realistically, I had wanted this for so long that I had made myself blind to the notion that anything could possibly go wrong.
“This isn’t how this is supposed to happen.” I gave voice to my thoughts. “Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this if we’re angry at each other.”
Leighanne let out a long, heavy sigh. “I’m not mad at you, Brian. I’m just – I just want some more time.”
“We don’t have more time.” I took a step closer to Leighanne. “We both read the report. We both know that this is likely our one and only shot. There are only two viable eggs ...”
“I understand all of that, Brian.” Leighanne snapped. “I’m not an idiot. I know that my insides are old, and dried up, and useless.”
“I never said any of that!” I shot back. “You’re trying to make me out to be the bad guy here, but I’m not. Your age has never been a factor, and you know that. Never, in my life, have I blamed you. I’ve never questioned you; even when you turned down my idea to have this procedure done earlier.”
“I guess I just don’t understand why this is such a big deal to you.” Leighanne let out another heavy sigh. “Why can’t you just be happy with Baylee? He’s a good kid ...”
“This has nothing to do with Baylee.” I clenched my teeth. “This is about you and me and the expansion of our family. This is about something that I want more than anything else in the world. This is about you supporting me for once!”
“You think that I don’t support you?!” Leighanne hissed; her face turning an angry shade of red. “I do nothing but support you, Brian! Our whole damn life revolves around you and your career.”
“Without me and my career, you wouldn’t have a life!” I could feel the venom bubbling up my throat. “You only support me when it benefits you. Now, I’m asking you to support me even if it means that you don’t get exactly what you want.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Littrell?” A tall blonde woman entered the room at the exact moment that Leighanne opened her mouth to spit fire back at me. “I’m Dr. Maci Bridgewater. I’ll be performing your implantation procedure.” She gave us both a wide toothy grin that appeared somewhat forced. “Are we all ready to get started?”
“You’ll have to ask my wife how she feels” I flashed my own forced smile at the doctor. “I’m more than ready to get started though.”
“And, how about you, Mrs. Littrell?” Dr. Bridgewater turned to Leighanne with her fake smile still firmly intact. “Are you excited?”
I took a few, what I hoped to be subtle, calming breaths as I waited for Leighanne to respond. It was painfully obvious that the doctor could sense the tension in the room, and that it was making her uncomfortable. Even though I didn’t necessarily want to, I shuffled up next to the side of the examination table and took Leighanne’s hand in my own. Her fingers felt slack in my grip; a perfect metaphor for our relationship – barely hanging on.
“I don’t know if ‘excited’ is the right word to describe my current feelings.” Leighanne plastered on her own manufactured smile. She lay down on the table and spread her legs so that her feet were resting in the stirrups; readjusting the blanket to keep herself covered as she got into position. “Let’s just get this done, shall we?”
“Okay then ...” Dr. Bridgewater cast me a fleeting glance as she sat down on a wheeled stool and positioned herself between Leighanne’s legs. “It’s okay if the two of you need to talk privately first. I can always step out for a minute ...”
“Dr. Bridgewater, my husband is very anxious for me to become fat and pregnant. So, if you wouldn’t mind hurrying this along so that I can make my mani-pedi appointment that would be just peachy.” Leighanne shot me a condescending smirk as she spoke. “Besides, Brian here doesn’t have time to talk because he’s flying out to Vegas in a couple of weeks, and he apparently has things to do before he takes off to spend time with a bunch of random women.”
I was clenching my teeth so tightly that my jaw was starting to ache. “I’m going to Vegas for work.” I directed my comment at the back of Dr. Bridgewater’s head as she hurried to organize her equipment. “Most of the people who come to see me perform are women. I’m not going to Vegas to spend time with a bunch of hookers or anything. Of course, from the way my lovely wife is speaking, I’m sure you thought that I was headed to a brothel.”
“I know who you are, Mr. Littrell.” Dr. Bridgewater issued me her first real smile of the appointment before leaning forward and angling a long tubular instrument between Leighanne’s legs. “You can let your cousin know that he’s aged exceptionally well.”
Leighanne let out a snort. I didn’t know if it was intended to be directed towards the doctor’s comment about Kevin, or if it was in response to the procedure. Either way, a few seconds later, Dr. Bridgewater pushed herself backwards on her stool and pulled the blanket back down to fully cover Leighanne’s legs.
“All finished!” Dr. Bridgewater practically chirped. She stood up and peeled off her gloves. “You will know in two weeks if the procedure is a success. Would you like me to remind you about what to watch out for; to discuss some early pregnancy symptoms?”
“That won’t be necessary.” Leighanne was already pushing herself up into a sitting position. “I remember everything all too well from the last time, thanks.”
I unclenched my teeth for the second time throughout the course of the appointment and breathed a sigh of relief. At least, Leighanne had gone through with it; at least we had a legitimate chance now.
“What are the chances that this will be successful?” I carefully avoided Leighanne’s heated stare as I asked the question. “Is there anything that she – that we can do to increase our chances?”
“There’s nothing that you can do now except wait.” Dr. Bridgewater reached out and gave my arm a reassuring squeeze. “In your wife’s case, the potential for a successful pregnancy is quite low; between 2% to 5%. However, if you have faith, anything is possible. So, all I can advise you to do is continue to pray.” The doctor smiled her second genuine smile of the appointment before releasing her grip on my arm. “If it makes you feel any better, Mr. Littrell, I will also be praying about the outcome of your wife’s procedure.”
Chapter 2 - Boys Will Be Boys by KeepThisSecret
** Abigail **
I wrapped another section of hair around the curling iron and blew a short puff of air out from between my lips. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t stop glancing at it. The little plastic stick was perched precariously on the side of the sink; the tiny pink cross that adorned the display window was simultaneously the greatest and most terrifying thing that I had ever seen. I still couldn’t believe that it was real, but the four other sticks bearing identical pink crosses confirmed that it was true. I was going to be a mother.
I gently fluffed the long tendril of hair that dropped from the curling iron and glanced down at my still flat stomach as I reached for another section. It was impossible for me to imagine what I was going to look like with a round belly, but that didn’t stop me from turning sideways and gazing at my profile. Maybe my breasts would finally get bigger.
Having a baby had been Brayden’s greatest dream. Even after the cancer diagnosis, he had been hopeful; banking his sperm sample so that we would still have the option to conceive once he entered remission. Tears clouded my vision as I watched another curly segment of hair fall over my shoulder. It had been almost eleven months since Brayden’s funeral, and I still found myself reaching out for him in the middle of the night and turning my head to look for him whenever the floors creaked.
Even though I was terrified of becoming a single mom, I was proud of my decision to carry out Brayden’s final wish. On the day of his passing, he had urged me to use the sperm sample; to try for a child that was part of him and part of me. I had been afraid that my friends and family would try to talk me out of it, so I had gone through the insemination procedure alone. It had been my early Christmas gift to myself.
Thankfully, when Brayden had banked his sperm sample almost two years ago, had chosen one of the most highly regarded fertility clinics in Atlanta. The doctor who had performed the procedure, Dr. Lisa Hoeg, had been wonderful. In fact, she had appeared to be almost as anxious as I was to find out the results; urging me to call the clinic the moment that I obtained a positive pregnancy test.
I wrapped the final section of hair around the wand and waited for the curl to take shape. The last thing that I wanted to do was go to work, but I had no choice. Brayden and I had given up our lives in Georgia in order for me to accept the position at Planet Hollywood. I owed it to Brayden to make sure that my career was a success; especially, now that I would soon have a baby to support.
Although our move to Nevada had taken place months before Brayden’s cancer diagnosis, I still felt that as though the stress of the move is what had triggered his illness. Maybe if we had stayed in Atlanta where everything was easy and familiar, I wouldn’t have been preparing for parenthood all by myself. It was only fitting that Brayden had selected the Atlanta clinic to preserve his sperm sample; essentially ensuring that I would conceive our baby back home in Georgia where everything good in our lives had occurred.
Glancing again at the positive testing stick, I unplugged the curling iron and gave my now perfectly wavy hair a few final scrunches for good measure. Apart from the whole peeing on a stick and discovering that I was pregnant thing, today was a big day. Today was the day that one of the fastest selling residencies in Planet Hollywood’s modern history was finalized. Today was the day that the most high-profile project of my career officially began. I checked my side profile one final time before turning off the light in the bathroom. Today was not about being pregnant. Today was about being professional; about trying not to appear outwardly terrified as I locked eyes with all five members of the Backstreet Boys.
“So, we’re all in agreement about the nineteen song set-list?”
I smiled, albeit somewhat nervously, as I started into Kevin Richardson’s green eyes and waited for the other guys to respond. Between the pregnancy and Nick Carter’s still drop-dead gorgeous smile, my mind was in a perpetual state of disarray. I was actually amazed that I had managed to last as long as I had without drooling on myself or saying something stupid.
“Does that include the encore?”
I flipped my gaze away from Kevin’s green eyes to Howie’s brown ones. He had directed the question at me. I hastily glanced down at the series of papers that I had spread out on the table; mentally berating myself for not knowing the answer without having to check.
“There would be time for you to do one additional song for an encore.” I paused; fidgeting anxiously with my pen. “If that’s what ya’ll want to do?”
“Where are you from?” Nick dropped the question randomly into the middle of the discussion. He issued me a small smirk. “You sound like you should be a part of the Kentucky cousins; all southern and shit.”
“Me?” I was slow to get over my surprise. I hadn’t been expecting to answer anything about myself. “I’m from Atlanta.”
I cringed ever-so-slightly as the words left my mouth. I was now distinctly aware of just how much my voice pulled at the vowels and softened the consonants – ‘At-laaaan-aa’.
Nick gave me another good-natured smirk. “I should have known that you were from Georgia.”
“What are you getting at with that comment?” Brian skillfully flicked an empty gum wrapper across the table at Nick; effectively nailing the blonde directly between the eyes. He laughed softly. “Ya’ll grew up in Florida. It ain’t like you aren’t from the south too.”
“Yeah, but I don’t sound like I’m from the south.” Nick rubbed at his forehead and began searching for the assaulting gum wrapper. “You three sound like drunken hillbillies.”
“I think the most important thing that we can all take away from this conversation is that Nicky actually knows that Atlanta is located in Georgia.” It was AJ’s turn to smirk. “And he didn’t even need to ask Siri.”
“He should know where Atlanta is!” Brian shot back. “After all, I resign in Georgia.”
“Oh my Goooood! I was like thirteeeeeen when I said that!” Nick actually whined; his voice adopting an annoyingly high-pitched quality. “Why do you guys always have to remember everything?!”
AJ laughed loudly and turned to me. “In case you’re confused, Nick once told a reporter that he ‘resigned’ in Florida. To this day, that comment is quite possibly one of his finest on-screen blunders.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ve fallen off of the fucking stage on live TV.” Nick located the balled-up gum wrapper and launched it at AJ’s face. “That’s way more stupider than me saying the wrong word.”
“That comment coming from the grown-ass man who just said ‘more stupider’ ...” AJ dodged the gum wrapper and continued to laugh.
“You’ll have to excuse them.” Kevin shook his head and rolled his eyes in my direction. “They’re like children; small children.”
“So, back to the set ...” Howie involuntarily jerked backwards in the midst of swiveling to face me; cutting himself off mid-sentence as the gum wrapper pelted him in the temple. He grabbed the tiny ball of paper off of the table and whipped it back in AJ’s general direction. “What the hell, man!?”
“Children.” Kevin continued to shake his head. “I’m surrounded by children.”
I bit at my bottom lip, but I couldn’t completely suppress my laughter. I was used to dealing primarily with managers and publicists, so I had been a bit unsure about what to expect when my boss had informed me that I would be meeting with the Backstreet Boys directly. I had become even more anxious about my first headlining assignment when I had found out that the five men sitting before me wanted to be directly involved in every aspect of their Vegas residency. Usually, the artists themselves barely spoke to me. I was just another person in their entourage who coordinated everything that they needed to do in order to bank roll millions of dollars.
“So, Abby ... can I call you Abby?” Nick caught my eye as I struggled to hide my amusement. “Are you sick of us yet?”
“Not just yet.” I could feel my nerves dissipating as I held Nick’s gaze. “But I haven’t even known you guys for a full twenty-four hours yet.”
“Some people can’t even handle us for a full five minutes.” AJ interjected.
“Speak for yourself!” Brian quipped. “I’m super likeable!” He flashed me a goofy grin and wiggled his eyebrows.
“Dear Lord ...” Kevin raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Can we get back to the set-list discussion please? Are we doing an additional song for the encore or not?”
“Yes, yes to the additional song!” AJ slapped his palms against the table to make it official. “Twenty songs in total.”
“Thank you.” Kevin turned to me again. He was starting to look worn out. “Nobody will hold it against you if you run away.”
I let out another string of laughter as I made a note of their decision to perform the additional song. “Unfortunately, I don’t get paid if I choose to run away. So, it looks like ya’ll are stuck with me until the beginning of July.”
“I feel as though there are probably worse people that we could be stuck with.” Howie grinned. “When are we back here full-time for rehearsals?”
I quickly reorganized my papers as I confirmed the answer to Howie’s question. “Behind-the-scenes production and promotional work starts in exactly four weeks. The goal is for you guys to film most of the promotional materials and to get all of the necessary photography out of the way before the beginning of February. So, that means that I’m going to need ya’ll to think about the set-list over Christmas and to send me a final version before January 9th. If you could send it to me sometime during the first week of January, that would be idea. I’ll also need you to sign off on the stage set-up before rehearsals can start. Full-time rehearsals officially begin the third week of January. I’m pretty sure that I sent most of this information over to Jenn already ...”
“Yeah, she definitely has it.” Kevin confirmed. “From what we’ve seen so far, I don’t think that we’ll be making any changes to the stage design. Do you have any idea when we’re doing all of the wardrobe stuff?”
I nodded. “Wardrobe fittings and approvals are slated for the week before your full-time rehearsals start. Do you guys have any definitive confirmation as to which nineteen songs you’re going to perform during the main set? What about a potential order?”
“Well, we definitely know that we’re opening with ‘Larger Than Life’.” Nick drummed his fingers against the table.
“Ummm, I’m pretty sure that we’re gonna open with ‘Everybody’, dipshit!” AJ countered. “Right, fellas?”
“The show is fucking called ‘Larger Than Life’.” Nick argued. “Why the fuck would we open with any other song? Besides, we need to save ‘Everybody’ for the encore.”
“You want to save our biggest fucking crowd pleaser until the very end of the show?” AJ raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “Why would we hype everyone up just to send them home?”
Kevin let out a grunt of frustration and brought his hands up to cover his face. He peered at me from the sliver of space in-between his fingers. “We’re gonna have to get back to you about the details of the set-list.”
Chapter 3 - Roll With It by KeepThisSecret
** Brian **
“Are you sure that you don’t need any help?” I knocked on the bathroom door. “I think it’s been more than two minutes now.”
Actually, it had been exactly two minutes and nineteen seconds since Leighanne had disappeared into the bathroom. Scratch that; it had now been exactly two minutes and twenty-two seconds since Leighanne had locked the bathroom door in my face and peed on the little plastic stick to determine whether or not the implantation procedure had been successful. I knocked again; desperate to know the outcome. When Leighanne had first found out that she was pregnant with Baylee, the two of us had watched hand-in-hand as the little pink cross had materialized in the testing window. We had both been so excited back then. Now, I felt entirely alone in my excitement; projecting my eagerness at the wooden door to the master bathroom.
“I’m fully capable of peeing on a stick, Brian.” Leighanne’s snide response drifted out through the closed door. “I don’t need any help to go to the bathroom. Besides, I already told you that taking the test is pointless. I’ve been spotting for the past two days. My period is coming.”
My heart was sinking faster than a popped balloon. “Does that mean that the test is negative?” I once again directed my question towards the bathroom door. “Are you finished?”
“See for yourself.” Leighanne yanked open the bathroom door with such force that I actually had to take a step backwards. She thrust the testing stick forward and waited for me to take it out of her hand before walking off towards her closet. “You knew that it was a long shot anyways.”
I dropped my eyes to the piece of plastic in my hand. A solid pink line occupied the testing window. There was no little pink cross. The test was negative. There was no baby. I was not going to be celebrating a Christmas miracle.
“I’m going to the store to pick up some tampons.” Leighanne breezed out of the closet; purse in hand. “Do you need anything?”
I shook my head. My brain was barely registering the words that were coming out of my wife’s mouth. All I could focus on was the fact that the test was negative. We had waited too long.
“Brian, I know that you’re upset.” Leighanne gently laid her hand on my arm. “But, we already have Baylee, and he’s amazing. You should be happy about that.”
I forced myself to swallow past the lump in my throat. I had been praying almost non-stop for a positive outcome since we had left the clinic. I had practically been begging God to bless us with another baby; so much for my faith.
“Brian?” Leighanne increased the pressure on my arm. “Are you okay? Did you really think that the test was going to be positive? You couldn’t have ...”
The lump in my throat was growing. I couldn’t even force myself to tell Leighanne that I wasn’t okay; that I had truly been hoping against all hope that the procedure would be a success. To make matters worse, the look on my wife’s face was only compounding my devastation. All of the fake compassion in the world couldn’t disguise the glimmer of relief in her eyes; Leighanne was happy that the test was negative.
“We’ll get through this.” Leighanne gave my arm a final squeeze before planting a soft kiss on my lips. “We can get through anything.”
I said nothing; dropping my attention back to the stick of plastic in my hand. For the first time in our married life, I was really questioning our relationship. Couldn’t Leighanne see that I was miserable? Couldn’t she understand that I had wanted this baby more than anything else in the world? Couldn’t she feel that the spark between us was gone? Couldn’t she hear the tiredness and the desperation in my voice? The two of us were on the brink of destruction, and Leighanne either didn’t realize it or just simply didn’t want to accept it.
“Aren’t you supposed to check in with the guys soon?” Leighanne was still talking as if everything was normal. She let go of my arm and walked over to her dresser; spraying herself with perfume. “You said that you had that thing to do over Skype ...”
“Yeah ...” I cleared my throat to dislodge the lump in my airway. “... we have to talk to Abby about the set-list.”
“Abby?” Leighanne’s eyebrows rose ever-so-slightly. “Who’s that again?”
“The girl – lady – woman from Planet Hollywood; our residency co-ordinator.” I struggled to explain what Abigail did. “She’s like the Vegas version of Eddie and Jenn put together.”
“Right.” Leighanne still didn’t look impressed. “Do you want to go out to eat later; after you’re done with your meeting and I’m back from shopping?”
“I dunno ... maybe.” I, once again, looked down at the negative pregnancy test in my hand. The last thing that I wanted to do was go out in public. If I was being completely honest with myself, the last thing that I wanted to do was spend any time with Leighanne that wasn’t absolutely necessary. “I’m pretty tired ...”
“Well, we can decide when I get home, I guess.” Leighanne dismissed my feelings with a quick wave of her hand. “Are you sure that you don’t need me to get you anything while I’m out?”
“I’m sure.” I delivered my first completely honest comment of the conversation as I watched Leighanne head for the door. “Take your time. I’m sure my Skype thing will take a while.”
“Dude, you look like shit!” Nick’s voice blasted through the laptop speakers. “Are you sick?”
“Nah, I just, you know, have a headache.” I rubbed at my temples and turned down the volume.
Of course, Nick had been the first to answer my Skype call. He was usually the last one out of all of us to accept a group call request, so my shock had been noticeable when his face had suddenly invaded my computer screen. I had been hoping for Howie or Kevin to pop up first; someone who couldn’t read me like an open book.
“What happened?” Nick pressed. “You seriously look like someone took a dump in your Corn Flakes.”
“Leighanne and I are just – just going through some stuff at the moment.” My mind flashed to the negative pregnancy test that was currently hidden at the bottom of the bathroom garbage can. “We’ve had a bit of a disagreement.” I paused. “Although, I’m not entirely sure if she realizes the fact that we’re not on the same page.”
Nick cocked his head to the side. “You need a break? You want to come out here for a bit? Not right now, obviously, but you can come out next week ... after Christmas and all that shit.”
“What’s that?” AJ’s face abruptly appeared on the screen as he accepted the call request. “Brian’s coming to spend some time with us?”
“J, I can totally see up your nose!” Nick pulled his face away from his computer and scrunched up his own nose in disgust. “Move back from the camera, man!”
“You mean like this?” AJ moved even closer to his own computer and angled his face so that the camera was pointing directly up his left nostril. “Is this better?”
“What the ...” Howie joined the conversation at the exact moment that AJ began to flare his nostrils. “Why does this shit always happen to me?”
“Jesus Christ!” Kevin’s exasperated face popped up on the screen. “I thought that I was supposed to initiate this call. I walked into the office to get my laptop and the stupid thing was already ding-donging away.”
“Your cousin is clearly more organized than you are.” AJ pulled his nose away from the camera and winked at the screen. “I guess you’re just getting too old to keep up with us. Also, in case you didn’t realize, you just used the word ‘donging’ ...”
“I’m getting too old for a lot of things.” Kevin answered dryly. “Did I miss anything?”
“Just AJ’s disgusting nose hairs.” Howie shuddered.
I smirked as AJ made a big show out of pretending to be offended. I couldn’t wait to get to Vegas full-time; to start rehearsing, to spend some time with the guys, and to blatantly ignore the problems that were currently plaguing my personal life. There had been a time when I was tired of touring, when I had just wanted it all to come to an end. Now, I was craving the fame. I needed the insanity, and the screams, and the constant high of being on stage. I just needed an escape; a way to forget about everything except for the music, and the fans, and my brothers.
“Hey, guys!” Abigail’s face abruptly materialized in the middle of the computer screen. “Ya’ll weren’t playin’ when ya’ll said three o’clock, huh?”
I quickly checked the time at the bottom of the screen; 3:04 P.M.. Considering our tendency to run on ‘Backstreet time’, it was actually a miracle that we were all online and waiting for her. Of course, Abigail didn’t need to know anything about our chronic lateness just yet. She would have plenty of time to figure out our tendency to run behind scheduled in the upcoming weeks.
“What can I say?” I laughed softly. “We like to be punctual.”
Nick actually cackled. “Yeah, we’re definitely known for our on-time-ness!”
“Punctuality! You idiot!” AJ corrected. “No one with even half a brain says ‘on-time-ness’!”
“You don’t need to be mean.” Nick huffed. “Besides, Brian started it by lying to Abby about us being punctuation, or punctual, or whatever the fuck it is that he said.”
“Punctuation?!” It was Howie’s turn to cackle. “Jesus, Nick, go download a dictionary app or something.”
“Oh my God! We’re not even in the same room and we can’t keep it together!” Kevin slammed his palm into his forehead. “This residency is going to be the death of me. I swear to God, I’m too old for this.”
My eyes drifted to the little square of the screen housing Abigail’s face. She was smiling, but her eyes were darting back and forth at an alarming rate as she tried to keep track of the nonsense that we were each spewing at her. There was something endearing about her distinct lack of desire to keep us on track. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about getting the job done. It was as if she somehow just knew that we would eventually get there on our own. We had spent far too many years listening to people scream at us to hurry up, to do things their way, and to keep our opinions to ourselves. It was definitely refreshing to work with someone who at least appeared to respect the fact that the five of us were now responsible for managing ourselves.
“I’ve read all about ‘Backstreet time’.” Abigail laughed; putting air quotes around the final phrase. “I think it was actually part of your press package ...”
“Seriously?” Howie stopped laughing. “I mean, I know that we’re kind of, like, notoriously late for a lot of stuff, but we’re not that bad.”
Abigail smirked. “I was joking ...”
“So, back to the setlist!” Kevin clapped his hands so sharply that it made me flinch. “Abigail, I emailed our final version over to you. Did you get it? Are we good to go?”
“Almost.” Abigail held up a few sheets of paper to prove that she had, indeed, received Kevin’s email. “I ran it by Bill, your production lead, and he’s concerned about the length of time between the acoustic portion and the second up-tempo grouping. Basically, to make everything work as it should in terms of timing, you need to increase the acoustic break by one song and decrease the proceeding up-tempo set by one song. You guys can take some more time to think about it. I, honestly, wasn’t expecting to have this conversation with you so soon. I just saw ya’ll on Monday!”
“I think that ‘Treat Me Right’ is the song that we should drop.” Howie spoke up almost immediately. “Kevin’s not on the track anyways, and we’re already doing better up-tempo crowd pleasers in the first set.”
“I agree.” AJ provided his support. “Fellas?”
Kevin, Nick, and I indicated our agreement without discussion, and Abigail quickly noted the change. I braced myself for what was about to come as I watched her pen move across the paper. The acoustic portion of the show had been our biggest source of contention while we had been putting together the initial set-list, and I definitely didn’t want to revisit the suggestion that I knew was about to be made.
“We should add ‘Darlin’’ to the acoustic set.” Kevin voiced the words that I hadn’t wanted to hear. “Initially, we only dropped it to save time anyways.”
I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. If Kevin and I had been in the same room, I would have been highly tempted to punch him in the face. He knew how I felt about the situation.
“I still think that ‘Madeleine’ is a better choice.” I forced myself to open my eyes; to make myself sound civil. “It has a more modern sound.”
“Yeah, but we’ve been riding the nineties nostalgia wave pretty hard these past few months.” Kevin continued to push his opinion. “A lot of the people who are going to come to see us will want to hear the older stuff. Hell, some of the people who come to see us in Vegas won’t even realize that we released an album after Black and Blue, let alone four albums!”
“Kev, you know that I can’t do it.” I struggled to keep the tremor out of my voice. “You know that I can’t carry practically a full song on my own three times a week, especially not without heavy musical accompaniment. Let AJ and Nick sing ‘Madeleine’.”
“While I have to agree that our fans would probably love to hear ‘Darlin’’, I’m not about to push Brian into doing something that he doesn’t feel ready to do.” AJ chimed in. “You guys already know how I feel about this. I vote for ‘Madeleine’.”
“Abby, you know our music, right?” Nick interjected. “The five of us have already fought about this shit. What do you think?”
“Me?” Abigail twirled a chunk of hair around her finger and bit at her bottom lip. “I mean, speaking as someone who’s in charge of promoting your show and of making sure that you guys actually make some money off of this whole thing, I think that you’re better off going with the song that will make you sound the best as far as the critics are concerned. So, if Brian feels as though he can’t carry ‘Darlin’’ on a consistent basis, then you ought to go with ‘Madeleine’ and let him rest his voice. Both of the songs are good, but if Brian’s current vocal situation is going to be the deciding factor then there’s really nothing to discuss.” She paused briefly. “You could always slot ‘Madeleine in for now and switch it out for ‘Darlin’’ later if Brian feels up to it. Or, you could do a mash-up type melody with ‘Anywhere For You’, “Darlin’’ and ‘Undone’. That would still give Brian some lead vocals, but it would allow the rest of you to easily jump in to back him up, if necessary, without it sounding awkward.”
I let out the breath that I didn’t even know that I had been holding. Abigail’s words couldn’t have been any truer. As much as it killed me to admit it; my voice was weak. I knew that I sounded terrible when I pushed myself beyond my current level of ability. The only way that I was going to make it through our entire residency with even a shred of my decency still intact was to give my voice the rest that it needed. I had to put my pride aside and let the other guys help me out, even if that meant taking a step, or two, backwards.
“I agree.” Nick backed Abigail up; just like I knew he would. He grinned stupidly into his laptop camera. “Let’s go with the mash-up option. It gives Brian time to shine without killing himself. Besides, the ladies will go crazy if Kevin steps in to sing on ‘Undone’.”
Chapter 4 - Weird World by KeepThisSecret
** Abigail **
I drummed my fingers against my thighs in anticipation. I couldn’t figure out why it was taking so long. After all, I had taken a total of eight pregnancy tests and they had all come back positive. There was no possible way that the one I had just taken had shown anything different; especially, considering the fact that I had taken the eighth at-home test less than an hour before I had walked into the clinic.
My phone pinged with an incoming text message, and I hastily swiped my finger across the screen; happy for the distraction. I laughed softly to myself as I read the message from Kevin. The man was going to give himself heart-failure if he didn’t stop trying to micro-manage every single aspect of the guys’ lives. The Christmas holiday had apparently done nothing to slow down his thought process. Judging by his overuse of the panicked faced emoji, he was now quite clearly losing his mind over the fact that the production crew was refusing to go ahead with the required set changes without one of the guys officially signing off on the altered set-list document.
My laughter faded away as I hastily fired back a response indicating that I would look into the situation after I was finished with my current appointment. Aside from Dr. Hoeg, I hadn’t told anyone that I was pregnant. It was still way too early to make an official announcement to my family and friends, and I definitely didn’t need my coworkers thinking that I was no longer up to the challenge of running the Backstreet Boys’ residency simply because I was pregnant. My growing baby was a blessing, and I didn’t want anyone convincing me otherwise.
Flipping to my email application, I quickly scrolled through the series of unopened messages. I mentally cursed myself as I clicked on the message that Bill had sent to me close to six hours earlier. The subject line said it all; ‘Signature Required – Cannot Proceed’. My heart started to beat faster. This was a critical piece of information that I shouldn’t have missed.
Maybe the pregnancy was going to turn out to be a bit of a burden. After calling Dr. Hoeg to inform her of my positive test results, and learning that I needed to come into the clinic as soon as I hit the five week mark for my first follow-up appointment, I hadn’t been able to properly focus on anything else. Despite reassuring my boss, Mike, that I would be gone for less than seventy-two hours and that I could easily manage all of my responsibilities remotely, I had swiftly dropped the ball on one of the most important aspects of the guys’ residency.
My stomach churned as I skimmed through the rest of the email. I needed to deliver a hard-copy of the revised set-list signed by one of the guys to the production department before tomorrow at midnight. Bill had been pretty explicit in his email; if I didn’t meet the deadline, there was a good chance that the custom-fit elements of the stage set-up wouldn’t be ready for opening night. I took a deep breath in an attempt to calm my nerves. This was not the end of the world. I could fix this.
I almost dropped my phone as the door to the exam room swung open. Dr. Hoeg stepped into the room, followed closely by another woman in a white lab coat. I could feel the anxiety pulling at the corners of my mouth as I hurried to stuff my phone back into my purse. Both of the women were sporting smiles that seemed even more forced than my own. The general feeling in the room was one of overall discomfort.
“Is something wrong?”
I could barely get the words out. Surely, my lab results had revealed something strange. Why else would Dr. Hoeg have made me wait so long only to reappear with another doctor for reinforcement?
“Is – is the test negative?”
“No.” Dr. Hoeg took her own noticeably deep breath. She sat down on one of the small stools and motioned for the other woman to do the same. “The test that you took here is also positive. You are, indeed, pregnant.”
“Oh – oh good!” I breathed; my eyes darting back and forth between the two female doctors. Neither one of them appeared to be genuinely happy for me. “So, what’s the problem? Is there something wrong with the baby? Did my blood work show something strange?”
“Ms. Lukas, I’m Dr. Bridgewater.” The blonde doctor finally introduced herself. She leaned forward on her stool as if she were stealing herself to tell me something terrible. “I’m afraid that we – that I made a horrible mistake in relation to your insemination procedure and; subsequently, to your current pregnancy.”
“A mistake? What kind of a mistake?” I turned to Dr. Hoeg. “I don’t understand. You were the one who performed my procedure.”
“Yes, but I was the one who confused the sperm samples.” Dr. Bridgewater was noticeably sweating by this point. “Ms. Lukas, I’m so very sorry to tell you that you were inseminated with the wrong sperm. The baby that you’re carrying is not a product of you and your late husband.”
I blinked once, twice. My mouth fell open. “What!?”
“You were accidentally inseminated with another man’s sperm.” Dr. Bridgewater repeated her admission; her voice shaking. “I’m so sorry ...”
“So, this baby is not Brayden’s?!” I jabbed at my stomach. The bile was rising in my throat. I was starting to feel lightheaded. “Whose baby is it?!”
“We actually aren’t at liberty to tell you that.” Dr. Hoeg inserted herself into the conversation. She reached out and gave her fellow doctor’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “This has never happened before ...”
“Wait a minute!” I held up my hand for silence. “You’re telling me that you accidentally pumped me full of some random guy’s sperm, got me pregnant, and now you can’t tell me who the father is?! I trusted you! Brayden trusted you! What the fuck am I supposed to do now?! What even happened to Brayden’s sample? Is some other random woman pregnant with my husband’s child?!”
“Your late husband’s sperm was inadvertently used as part of an implantation procedure that turned out to be unsuccessful.” Dr. Hoeg let out a small sigh. “I’m afraid that we can’t really tell you anything more than that.”
I stared at the two women in disbelief. “So, you’re saying that Brayden’s one and only sample is gone?”
Dr. Bridgewater nodded; tears in her eyes. “I’m so very sorry, Ms. Lukas.”
I leaned back in my chair. There were so many things that I wanted to say, but it was impossible for me to think clearly. I wanted to yell. I wanted to cry. I wanted to physically destroy the two women sitting in front of me. But, I did nothing. I said nothing. I just sat there; stunned. Brayden’s sample was gone forever. I would never be pregnant with his child.
“There are still many options available to you.” Dr. Hoeg pressed several pamphlets into my clammy fingers. “You should take some time; think things over.”
I shook my head ever-so-slightly to clear some of the fog away from brain. “What about the father of my baby? Doesn’t he have a right to know about what’s happened?”
“He does.” Dr. Bridgewater acknowledged. “He and his wife are scheduled to come into the clinic tomorrow afternoon to discuss the situation.”
“And then what?” I pressed. My disbelief was slowly giving away to anger. “You already said that you can’t tell me his name.”
“If you’re both in agreement, we can arrange for the two of you to be able to contact each other anonymously. We can route your initial correspondence through a third-party email system that would allow the two of you to communicate without revealing any of your personal information. If, at a later date, the two of you decide to exchange more detailed information that would be entirely up to you.” Dr. Hoeg quickly jumped in to pacify my growing hostility.
“But, if I agree to the initial correspondence and the baby’s father doesn’t then I’ll never know who he is?” I pushed for clarification. “Right?”
“That’s correct.” Dr. Hoeg confirmed. “Either one of you will be able to initiate the first conversation, but you both have to agree to allow us to connect you. If you’re interested, I can bring you the consent form that you have to sign.”
I bit at my lower lip and looked down at the pamphlets in my hands; quickly turning them over as I caught sight of the word ‘abortion’. The bile was still simmering in my throat. “Go ahead and bring me the form.” I choked. “My baby has a right to know who their father is.”
My brain was still fuzzy as I walked out of the clinic. I was tempted to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming, but I knew that the nightmare that I was currently living was real. I tossed the abortion and adoption related pamphlets into the trash as I zipped up my jacket and headed for the parking lot. Even if Brayden wasn’t the father, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to continue with the pregnancy. All I could do now was pray that the actual father signed his ‘Consent to Contact’ form. Even if, after speaking to me, he decided that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with me or with the baby, I would at least be able to provide my child with the name of their biological father when he or she became old enough to start asking questions.
My phone started to ring just as I reached my rental car, and I struggled to pull it and my keys out of my purse at the same time. I accepted the call without looking at the display and greeted the caller on autopilot.
“Planet Hollywood events; you’ve reached Abigail Lukas.”
“So formal ...” Kevin’s deep southern drawl invaded my ear. “I thought that we had moved past the formal stage.”
“Kevin, hi! Sorry! I didn’t look at the display.” I babbled, still fumbling with my keys. All of my work-related problems rushed back into my brain as I finally managed to open the driver’s side door and slide into the car. “My appointment ran late ...”
“This appointment didn’t have anything to do with me or the fellas, did it?” Kevin’s tone remained jovial, but I could still detect a hint of stress behind his words. “I know that we can sometimes be a bit of a hassle.”
“No, no, it had nothing to do with any of you.” I reassured him. “I’m actually in Atlanta taking care of some – some personal stuff. I’m flying back to Vegas tomorrow morning ...”
I abruptly trailed off as the solution to the stage production problem smacked me in the face; Brian lived in Georgia. He could sign off on the required paperwork, and I could hand-deliver it to Bill as soon as I stepped back into the venue tomorrow afternoon. Well, Brian could sign the papers provided that he was actually at home and provided that his cousin was willing to tell me how to find him.
“Sorry, did you say that you’re in Atlanta?” Kevin repeated. “My youngest son just decided to start screaming for no apparent reason and drowned you out.”
“Yes, yes I am in Atlanta.” I hurriedly replied so that Kevin wouldn’t ask me any pressing questions. “Actually, I was hoping that I would be able to meet up with Brian while I’m here in Georgia. Bill just needs one of you guys to sign off on the revised set-list documents; he doesn’t care which one of you that is.”
“Yeah, sure, let me just get you Brian’s number. Or, do you have it already?” Kevin drawled. “He lives about an hour outside of Atlanta, but I’ll leave it for you guys to figure out how you want to connect.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.” I parroted. “You better give me his number. I can’t remember if I have it in my phone. I do know for a fact that I’ve never texted him or anything though.”
I leaned my head back against the seat and resisted the urge to breathe a sigh of relief as I waited for Kevin to rhyme off his cousin’s phone number. At least I had managed to avert one major crisis.
I absently rubbed my free hand across my stomach and blinked back the tears that were finally threatening to fall. Tomorrow afternoon, some random man was going to learn that he was going to be a father. Tomorrow afternoon, another person’s life was going to be forever linked to mine, and there was a pretty good chance that I would never even get to learn his name.
Chapter 5 - Movin' On by KeepThisSecret
** Brian **
“Are you sure that you don’t want to come with me? I just need to sign, like, one piece of paper. I’ll be finished in less than a minute.” I squinted into the morning sun; watching as Leighanne hoisted her massive purse onto her shoulder.
“It’s fine, husband.” Leighanne adjusted her sunglasses. “It’s obvious that you don’t really want to spend time with me, so I’ll just meet you back here in an hour.”
I sighed. Even though Leighanne’s eyes were hidden beneath tinted lenses, I could tell that she was glaring at me. I should have just cut my private pity-part short and pretended to have enjoyed all of her ridiculous Christmas trees and holiday festivities. Faking my happiness would have made my life so much easier.
“I’m going to have my hair blown out.” Leighanne continued. “You don’t think that stupid doctor is going to ask me to lay down do you?”
I sighed again. “I have no idea what she wants. The only thing that the receptionist told me on the phone was that Dr. Bridgewater needs to speak to us about the procedure.”
“I don’t know what there is to talk about.” Leighanne quickly glanced up and down the street to make sure that no one was in earshot. “My period has already come and gone. It’s been, like, a month since they injected me. I’m not pregnant.”
“I know.” I slipped the car keys into my pocket. “You’ve told me.”
Leighanne leaned forward and gave me a perfunctory kiss on the lips. “Enjoy your business meeting.”
I watched my wife walk away; the unmistakeable scent of Dior lingered in the air long after she had turned the corner, and I couldn’t prevent another sigh from escaping my lips. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t pin-point the exact moment that our relationship had changed. There was no doubt in my mind that I still found Leighanne attractive, that I still loved her for being an amazing mother to Baylee, and that I still cared for her. Yet, something in my mind had shifted so far out of place that it was now completely obvious to me that I no longer wanted to spend all of my time with her. For the first time in more than a decade, I desperately wanted my life to be separate from Leighanne’s.
I turned to see Abigail walking towards me. She tousled her abundance of long, dark hair with her fingers; sweeping it over the top of her head in an attempt to prevent the wind from blowing it back across her face. Once she could see properly, she issued me a small, almost shy, smile.
“You could have waited inside. Aren’t you cold?”
“Oh, nah, I’m not cold.” I took my hands out of the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt and smiled softly back at her. “I’m a Kentucky boy, remember?”
“Yes, yes, how could I forget?” Abigail’s smile started to look less shy. “I’ve heard your fans reference the Kentucky cousins many times.”
I stepped forward to greet her, but stopped short; unsure of how to proceed. I pretty much just hugged everyone that I met, but it had been a long time since we had taken on a new female staff member. Maybe Abigail wasn’t a hugger? Maybe she would feel as though I were crossing some sort of professional line if I just randomly put my arms around her in the middle of the street.
“So, I’ve brought the papers.” Abigail spoke up as if she could sense my sudden awkwardness. “Do you mind if we go inside?” She gestured towards the small, non-descript coffee shop just to the left of where we were standing. “You may not find it cold, but this wind is brutal as far as I’m concerned.”
“Sure, yeah, of course.” I hurried to go ahead of her to open the door. “So much for my good southern manners, huh?”
Abigail smirked and let out the tiniest little laugh. “You’re pretty well-mannered compared to the rest of your friends. Well, judging by what I’ve seen and heard so far anyways.”
It was my turn to smirk as I raised my eyes to meet Abigail’s. Our eyes locked easily in a friendly exchange as I allowed the door to close softly behind us. “You seemed taller the last time that I saw you in person.” I observed; taking note of the fact that we were almost exactly the same height.
“I was wearing heels last time.” Abigail laughed. She moved towards one of the small tables tucked out of the way against the wall. “I had to make a good impression for my first meeting with the Backstreet Boys.”
“So, you meet us once and you no longer need to impress us?” My smirk grew larger. “I see how it is. Does that mean that we no longer need to make an effort either?”
“You guys were dropping f-bombs and throwing garbage at each other less than five minutes after I walked into the room.” Abigail reminded me as she took a seat at the table and began to unbutton her jacket. “Is that what ya’ll consider to be making an effort?”
“You make a fair point.” I relented. “Do you want a coffee or anything?” I nodded at the counter as I watched her start to pull papers out of her purse. “I mean, I know that you have to catch a flight ...”
“I have a good few hours before my flight leaves.” Abigail tousled her hair for the second time so that it bounced back into place around her shoulders. “A coffee would be great.” A sudden flash of apparent remembrance crossed her face as she reached for her wallet. “But, uhh, make it a decaf coffee. I’m, ummm, cutting back on caffeine as part of – as part of my New Year’s resolution.”
I gently shook my head to indicate that I didn’t need her money. “That’s the quite possibly the worst resolution that I’ve ever heard.” I informed her over my shoulder as I headed for the counter. “But, I’ll get you a decaf coffee if that’s what you want. I, on the other hand, will be pumping myself full of oh-so-wonderful caffeine.”
“You’re not with the wife, today?” John, the same guy who was always behind the counter, greeted me with a goofy grin. “Who’s the new lady?”
“Leighanne is getting her hair done.” I glanced at the selection of pastries in the display case before ordering two coffees; one regular one decaf. “And that’s Abigail. She works for me and the fellas.”
“Does she now?” John nodded appreciatively as he counted back my change. “Do you think she’d be interested in a middle-aged coffee shop owner?”
“I have no idea who she would be interested in. Hell, I don’t even know if she’s married or anything.” I stuffed my change into the tip jar and raised my eyebrows at John. “I am fairly certain that your wife isn’t going to be at all interested in her though.”
“Touché!” John laughed. “You can’t blame me for askin’ though. She’s got that cute, southern girl-next-door look down pat.”
I shrugged in response. “You know that I’m married, Johnny. I ain’t lookin’.”
“You may not be lookin’, but you ain’t blind either!” John called after me as I picked up the drinks and started back towards the table. “I’m gonna be watchin’ you, man!”
“You come here a lot, I assume?” Abigail raised her own eyebrows as I set the coffee cups down on the table and slid into the seat across from her. “What was all that about?”
“I’ve been stopping in here ever since I moved to Georgia.” I skirted the last part of Abigail’s question. “Leighanne and I come in and bother Johnny pretty much every time that we’re in Atlanta.”
Abigail nodded in understanding, but her eyebrows were still somewhat raised. “Thanks again for agreeing to come into the city. It really makes my life a hell of a lot easier.” She added some milk to her coffee and took a tentative sip to test the temperature.
“It’s fine. Leighanne and I had to come into Atlanta to get some stuff done today anyways.” I hurried to keep talking; to prevent myself from thinking about the appointment at the clinic. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t meet up with you last night. I was just – just busy.”
I dumped some milk into my own coffee to keep myself busy. There was probably no point in admitting all of my current life struggles to someone who I barely knew. I was about to spend the next few months of my life seeing Abigail on an almost daily basis. There was no sense in telling her that I had spent all of last night moping around my house and avoiding my wife because I was upset about a failed fertility procedure. In other words, there was no need for her to know that I was a complete train-wreck right away.
“Don’t worry about it.” Abigail dismissed my unnecessary apology. “I was ... busy with my own stuff last night anyways. I think I told you, or maybe it was Kevin, that I was in town for an appointment that took some more time than I expected.” She quickly dropped her eyes to the table; suddenly appearing immensely interested in the document that she had pulled out of her purse. “Anyways, here’s the stuff that I need you to sign.” Abigail slid the papers towards me and handed me a pen. “Thanks again.”
“You did mention that you were here for an appointment of some kind.” I accepted the pen and quickly scribbled my name at the bottom of the second page. “Is that all I need to do?” I asked. “We don’t want Kevin having a complete shit fit because I’ve missed something.”
“I also need you to initial here.” Abigail leaned forward and flipped back to the first page of the document. She tapped her finger against the paper to indicate where I needed to make my mark. “Then you’re done.”
My attention landed on Abigail’s right ring finger as I moved to write my initials in the spot that she had identified. The large diamond grabbed at the sunlight pouring in through the window; making it almost impossible to miss.
“I lost my husband almost a year ago.” Abigail pulled her hand away as soon as she realized where my eyes had wandered. “He had cancer.”
I raised my head so that I was looking Abigail directly in the face. I didn’t know what to say. Offering my condolences didn’t seem sufficient, but I knew that I wanted to say something. Her face was a strange mixture of acceptance and grief; tough yet emotional.
“You don’t have to say anything.” Abigail reassured me; as if reading my mind. “I know that it upsets people when I tell them, but what else am I supposed to do? I guess I should just stop wearing my rings, but it still feels wrong to take them off.” She shrugged. “It has been almost a year. I should be used to the single life by now.”
“You’ll know when you’re ready to take them off.” I assured her. “I’m sorry for – for making you bring it up.”
“Don’t be.” Abigail’s face adopted an almost wistful expression. “I don’t mind remembering him.”
I sat back in my chair and used both hands to cradle my coffee cup between my fingers. There was so much more that I was tempted to ask, but I held back. I was suddenly overcome with just how strange it felt to be sitting and talking with someone who I barely knew. Everyone else who held a prominent place in my life had seemingly been there forever. Even the people who worked for us were permanent fixtures. It had been years since I had needed to get to know someone new.
“I think your wife is waiting for you.” Abigail raised her eyebrows to indicate that I needed to turn around. “At least, I’m pretty sure that blonde woman with the massive tote bag is the same lady that I’ve seen you holding hands with in pictures.”
I swivelled around in my chair and stole a quick glance through the large picture window. Leighanne was, indeed, standing on the street and rooting around in her gigantic bag; probably searching for her keys to let herself into the car and out of the cold. I looked down at my phone and confirmed that it had been over an hour since Abigail and I had first entered the coffee shop.
“You’re right; that’s my wife.” I turned back to face Abigail. “You should probably get going yourself. After all, Kevin will literally murder you if you miss your flight and don’t deliver those papers on time.”
Abigail let out a full-blown southern giggle as she stood up and swung her jacket over her shoulders. “Is that your way of telling me that, out of all of you, Kevin is going to cause me the most trouble?”
I let out my own string of laughter as the two of us made our way towards the door. “Nah, Nick is the one who will cause you the most trouble.” I pulled open the door; waving goodbye to John before the two of us stepped outside into the chilly winter breeze. “Kev is just going to be a total pain in your ass.”
“Good to know.” Abigail’s laughter faded away as a large gust of wind whistled down the street. “I guess I’ll be seeing you next week then.” She looked down at her feet before returning her attention to my face. “Thanks again for finding time to meet with me. I promise that I’ll try to be more organized from now on.”
“I didn’t mind. Like I said, I needed to be in the city today anyways.” I stole a quick glance at the car; Leighanne was waiting in the passenger seat, watching me through the window. Her expression was perfectly neutral, but I knew that she probably wasn’t pleased about having to wait. “I would ask you to come and meet Leighanne, but it’s cold and I’m sure she doesn’t want to get back out of the car.”
“That’s fine.” Abigail smiled. “I’m sure that I’ll be seeing her all the time in Vegas anyways.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure; of course you will.” I returned Abigail’s smile and took a small step backwards. All of my awkwardness and uncertainties surrounding our initial meeting had resurfaced, and I was now unsure of how to say goodbye. “Have a safe flight.”
“I will.” Abigail took her own step backwards. “See you soon, Brian.” She gave me one final smile before turning and heading off in the opposite direction.
I took several seconds to watch Abigail hurry off into the wind before I turned around and walked quickly to the car. I gave Leighanne a small wave as I crossed in front of the vehicle to get to the driver’s seat. She smiled stiffly back at me, and I found myself bracing for the exchange that was inevitably going to take place as soon as I entered the car. I had no idea what had happened, but my wife’s expression made it perfectly clear that I had done something wrong.
Chapter 6 - Lose It All by KeepThisSecret
** Brian **
“I thought you said that you just needed to sign something.” Leighanne’s interrogation began the moment that I sat down in the driver’s seat.
“I did.” I stuck my key in the ignition and started the engine; hoping that the radio would be enough to stop her questions.
“It took you over an hour to write your name?” Leighanne raised her eyebrows. She turned down the radio as I looked over my shoulder to check my blind-spot before swinging the car out into the flow of traffic headed through the downtown core.
“I guess so.” I tightened my hands on the steering wheel. “You said that it was going to take you an hour to get your hair done.” I paused and dared a quick look at Leighanne out of the corner of my eye; she still looked annoyed. “Your hair looks nice, by the way.”
Leighanne let out a grunt to which I couldn’t quite decipher the meaning. “What did you guys put in the job ad? If you’re over thirty, don’t bother applying?! That girl looks like a child!”
“Abigail works for Planet Hollywood, not for us! We had absolutely no role in hiring her!” I shot back. “I don’t know what criteria Planet Hollywood uses to select their employees, but seeing as how they’ve been in business for ages, I’m assuming that they tend to hire only those who are highly qualified.”
Leighanne grunted again. “She still looks like a child. How old is she?”
I let out a silent sigh of frustration through my nose. I was not going to get sucked in to this argument again. I was not going to spend the entire drive reassuring Leighanne that she was pretty. If she didn’t already know that I found her attractive then she wasn’t nearly as intelligent as I always gave her credit for. If my commitment to our relationship wasn’t enough to convince her that I wasn’t interested in looking at other women then she deserved to fall victim to her own unsubstantiated doubts.
“She’s probably around Nick’s age.” I made a random guess as to how old Abigail was as I slammed my foot down on the gas pedal to make it through a yellow light.
Leighanne grunted for a third time. “I’m sure Lauren is pleased.”
I rolled my eyes to the roof of the car; biting my tongue to keep my sarcasm to myself. Leighanne knew absolutely nothing about Nick and Lauren’s relationship. It probably would have sent her into heart failure to know how their marriage worked. Leighanne had no idea just how well-behaved I actually was. Any minor indiscretions that I may have secretly committed in the past were nothing compared to what all of the other guys had gotten up to with their respective wives’ knowledge.
“I’m sure that Lauren hasn’t even given a second thought as to who is running our residency. She’s busy. She has a baby to take care of, remember?” I pulled into the parking lot of the clinic and rammed the car into park with a satisfying jolt. “Are we ready to go in?”
Leighanne gave me cut-eye with her peripheral vision. She pushed open the passenger door and stepped out into Georgia’s pathetic excuse for a winter day without looking me properly in the face. I waited until she had slammed the door and had given herself a few steps of a head-start before I opened my own door. My stomach was already unsettled. I didn’t know why Dr. Bridgewater had asked us to come in, but I was absolutely positive that I wasn’t capable of digesting any more bad news.
Thanks to her head start. Leighanne was already speaking with the receptionist when I stepped into the clinic. The waiting room was crowded, and I felt my stomach surge with relief as the receptionist informed us that we didn’t have to wait. The middle-aged woman pulled a manila file folder off of the desk, and motioned for me and Leighanne to follow her down the short hallway to the same room where Dr. Bridgewater had administered Leighanne’s failed procedure. She ushered us into the room without a word and pulled the door closed; leaving Leighanne and I alone in our less than companionable silence.
Not even two agonizing minutes later, Dr. Bridgewater greeted us with a tight smile as she entered the exam room. “Mr. and Mrs. Littrell, thank you so much for coming in.” She gently placed her hand on the upper arm of the woman who walked in after her. “This is my colleague, Dr. Lisa Hoeg.”
“”It’s nice to meet you.” I extended a generic greeting to the new doctor on behalf of myself and Leighanne. My anxiety level was rapidly approaching the roof line, and Leighanne’s permanent scowl definitely wasn’t helping. “Is everything okay? Why have you asked us to come in?”
“We’re going to get straight to the point.” Dr. Bridgewater quickly sat down and motioned for Dr. Hoeg to do the same. “Mrs. Littrell, there’s been a little bit of a – of a complication with your implantation procedure.”
“What kind of a complication?” Leighanne spoke for the first time since the two of us had walked into the clinic. “Is there something wrong with me? Have you infected me with something?”
“No, no, nothing like that!” Dr. Hoeg hastily reassured us. “The problem is actually related to the sperm sample that was used in the embryo fertilization process.”
“What was wrong with my sample?” My stomach flipped. The notion that the procedure may have failed because of something to do with me was almost too much for me to handle.
“Nothing.” Dr. Hoeg sighed. “Actually, Mr. Littrell, your sample performed exceptionally well.”
“I used the wrong sperm sample during the fertilization process.” Dr. Bridgewater interjected herself back into the conversation before I could say anything else. “I didn’t realize my mistake until it was too late.”
“Soooooo, what does that mean exactly?” Leighanne’s eyes were narrowed into the tiniest slits I had ever seen. “If you didn’t use it to fertilize my eggs than where did Brian’s stuff go?”
“Your husband’s sperm was accidentally used as part of another woman’s procedure.” Dr. Bridgewater looked as though she were on the verge of being sick herself. “And that woman is now approximately five weeks pregnant.”
I squeaked. I actually let out a sound that could only be described as a high-pitched moan; similar to that of a wounded bird. I gasped. It didn’t feel as though any air were reaching my lungs.
“I’m sorry, what?!” Leighanne’s voice had also become dangerously high-pitched. “So, what was used to fertilize my eggs?”
“The samples were swapped. So, the sperm that was supposed to be used for this other woman’s insemination procedure was mistakenly used to fertilize your eggs and vice versa.” Dr. Hoeg spelled it out for us. “We’ve already spoken with the other woman, with the women who received Mr. Littrell’s sperm sample, and she’s agreed that you can contact her anonymously if that’s what you both want to do.”
“This girl – this lady is keeping the baby?” I swallowed hard. “She’s keeping my baby?”
“We’ve discussed the other options that are available to her, but she has yet to tell us that she isn’t going to continue with the pregnancy.” Dr. Hoeg confirmed. “I’m so very sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Littrell ...”
“But she has no idea who the father is?” I interrupted; still struggling to wrap my head around the information that was being thrown at me. “She has no idea who I am?”
“That’s right. The only way that she will find out who you are is if you tell her yourself. But first, you have to agree to let me and Dr. Bridgewater connect the two of you anonymously.”
“Fine.” I agreed to sign the consent form at the exact same moment that Leighanne stated her outright refusal.
I stared at my wife in shock; fully aware of the fact that my mouth was hanging open in disbelief. Leighanne’s jaw was set. She looked ready to murder both of the women sitting before us.
“You’re not getting in touch with this woman.” Leighanne deadpanned. “If she finds out who you are, Brian, you’ll end up paying for this stupid baby for the rest of your life. Is that what you want? Besides, can you imagine what will happen if the media gets a hold of this information? No, we are having absolutely nothing to do with any of this. As far as I’m concerned, the two of us are going to walk out of here today and never look back. We’re never going to see or talk to any of the people associated with this clinic ever again.”
I was making fish sounds now; opening and closing my mouth in incredulity. “Yes, Leighanne, that is what I want. If I’m the father of someone’s baby then I want – no, I need – to know who that woman is. I don’t care if it costs me millions of fucking dollars!”
“You’re not signing that form, Brian.” Leighanne folded her arms across her chest. “I won’t let you.”
“Can she do that?” I turned my attention to the doctors. “Who needs to sign the form; just me or both of us?”
“Technically, we only need your signature, Mr. Littrell.” Dr. Bridgwater looked back and forth between me and Leighanne. She looked like she wanted to run from the room and hide. “It’s partially your baby, Mr. Littrell. Not your wife’s.”
“See!” I refocused my attention on Leighanne in triumph. “You can’t prevent me from doing anything.”
Leighanne didn’t even flinch. “Brian, if you sign that consent form, our marriage is over. I mean it. I will take Baylee and walk away from you the very second that you sign your name.”
I could feel the doctors’ eyes on me as I searched for a response. The heat was creeping up my neck; part anger, part shame, and part utter embarrassment. I couldn’t believe that Leighanne had actually threatened to end our marriage. The fact that she had issued the ultimatum in front of other people was completely unfathomable. Leighanne was always the first one to insist that our personal business needed to be kept private, but apparently that stipulation did not apply to our current situation.
My head was pounding. Part of me wanted to call Leighanne’s bluff and ask for the paperwork, but the other, more sensible, part of me wanted to keep quiet. What if I signed the form and Leighanne actually followed through on her threat? If she left, I would lose Baylee. My time with him was already limited due to my hectic schedule; there was no way that I would be granted primary custody if it came down to a court battle.
I also had to consider the fact that the woman who was currently walking around with my baby in her womb might want absolutely nothing to do with me. Even if she agreed to talk to me, there was no guarantee that she would want me to know her identity or to be a part of the baby’s life. For all I knew, she was happily married and this entire situation had angered her spouse as much as it had infuriated Leighanne. If I took the gamble and signed the paperwork, I could very well be left with absolutely nothing.
“Do I have to sign the papers today?” I cleared my throat in a useless attempt to disguise my emotion. “I think – I think that Leighanne and I need to talk about it.”
“You can sign the form at any time.” Dr. Hoeg reassured me. “I know that this has been a lot to take in.”
“There’s nothing to discuss.” Leighanne huffed. She got to her feet and hoisted her purse over her shoulder. “You can bet your ass that you won’t be seeing me or my husband again.” She paused as she reached the door to reconsider her words. “That is, unless we decide to launch a massive malpractice law suit against the two of you.”
I cringed as the threat left my wife’s mouth. I had absolutely no intention of taking any form of legal action against the clinic. At the moment, all I wanted to do was get out of the room before things got even worse. I flashed what I hoped was a reassuring smile at Dr. Hoeg and Dr. Bridgewater as I hurried to follow Leighanne out into the hallway.
“We’ll be in touch.” I lowered my voice to ensure that Leighanne wouldn’t overhear as I addressed the doctors. “Don’t get rid of the paperwork. I may – I may be back to sign the consent form. I just – I just need to convince my lovely wife to see things my way.”
Chapter 7 - More Than That by KeepThisSecret
** Abigail **
“You’re serious?” Mia stared back at me in shock. “You’re not shitting with me?”
I sighed. “I’m totally serious.”
After spending several painfully long days agonizing over the news that I had received at the fertility clinic, I had finally decided to come clean about my pregnancy to Mia; my co-worker and resident best friend in Vegas. I had unloaded every single disastrous detail onto her slender shoulders in one fell swoop; including, the fact that my plan was still to go ahead with the pregnancy and raise the baby on my own.
“You don’t look pregnant.” Mia shook her head. She dropped her hand to my stomach and pressed her fingers lightly against the fabric of my tank top. “You don’t feel pregnant.”
“The baby is like the size of a jellybean!” I playfully smacked her hand away and criss-crossed the fabric of my cardigan across my stomach. “What do you expect; for baby to be kicking away in there already?”
Mia laughed. She gathered her long dark hair between her fingers and quickly pulled it into a high ponytail. “I still can’t believe that the baby isn’t Brayden’s! I have to say that you seem to be handling this whole thing exceptionally well. If I were in your position, I would be looking into hiring a lawyer not an OBGYN!”
I shrugged. It was hard to explain my lack of anger when I didn’t quite fully comprehend it myself. I was understandably devastated that the baby wasn’t Brayden’s, yet I still couldn’t fathom terminating the pregnancy. It had been almost a week since Dr. Hoeg and Dr. Bridgewater had informed me of their mistake and, although I still resented them for what they had done, I no longer wanted to tear their respective eyeballs out of their sockets.
“I guess I just know that I’m running out of time.” I settled on an answer that was at least partially true. “This is likely the only chance that I’m going to have to become a mom. I doubt that I’m ever going to find someone to replace Brayden. Hell, even if I do manage to find a new man and fall madly in love with him, I’ll probably be too old to conceive by the time we even get around to start talking about having a family.”
“You’re thirty-four!” Mia admonished. “You make it sound like you’re pushing fifty. When you find the next love of your life, you two will still have plenty of time to make a whole gaggle of gorgeous brunette babies.”
“So says the woman who’s only thirty-one and getting ready to walk down the aisle in, like, nine months.” I shot back. “At thirty-five you’re considered a high-risk pregnancy. So, I really don’t have any good years left as far as having babies is concerned. Besides, I haven’t even been on a date since Brayden passed away. Where is this new completely perfect man going to come from?”
Mia let out a long laugh. “I fully offered to set you up with a Tinder profile.” She winked playfully at me as she collected her papers from the table. “I just hate to think that you’re going to be doing all of this by yourself.” She added; growing serious again. “Brayden would be okay with you moving on. You know that, right?”
I shuffled my own papers together and stood up from my chair. “I’m not doing it alone. I have you, and my other friends, and my parents. Well, at least I’ll have my parents’ support once I actually get around to telling them about the pregnancy.” I paused; thinking back to Mia’s earlier light-hearted comment. “Why do you assume that I would only have a brunette baby? What if the father is blonde?”
“You do like blondes.” Mia acquiesced. She paused, likely picturing Brayden’s mop of naturally light blonde hair in her mind. “What do you have on the go for this afternoon?”
I quickly glanced at the time on my iPhone as the two of us left the cafe area of the lower lobby. “I have to check in on the Backstreet promo shoot. They should be about two hours into it by now. I haven’t actually met with any of the guys since they all came back into town yesterday, but Bill told me that one of them showed up late and held up his production meeting by almost an hour last night.”
Mia rolled her eyes. “So, the Backstreet time rumours are totally true, huh? I’m so glad that I didn’t get put on their residency team. My OCD wouldn’t have been able to deal with their lateness.”
I snorted. “You act like Brit-Brit is any better. Besides, the boys have been super easy to get along with; totally down to earth and completely lacking in the drama department. If all I have to police is their punctuality than my first stint at co-ordinating a headlining act is going to be a cake walk.”
“I guess the fact that they’re all pretty easy on the eyes also helps.” Mia grinned. “I’m convinced that Britney hates me simply because I’m the only one on her team who doesn’t bend over backwards whenever she bats her eyelashes.” She lowered her voice as the two of us entered the main lobby and headed towards the elevators. “Who knows; maybe you’ll get to live out the fantasy of every teenage girl who grew up in the 90s and be swept off of your feet by a Backstreet Boy.”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. “Mia, they’re all married men with children now. I’ll consider myself lucky if they all remember my name when I walk into the room.”
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” Mia giggled her way through the over-used cliché. She pushed the ‘up’ button on the elevator panel and checked to make sure that we were the only ones waiting before she continued. “I’m about to be a married woman and you would still have to literally hold me back from tackling AJ McLean.”
“That’s because you have absolutely no will-power.” I teased as the elevator dinged its arrival.
Still laughing, the two of us stepped into the elevator. Mia pushed the button for the second floor offices, and I hit the button for the penthouse suite. The boys were having a series of different promotional pictures taken, and the photographer in charge of the shoot had left me explicit instructions about requiring private access to the exclusive suite for the entire afternoon. Based on the way he had spoken to me on the phone, I seriously hoped that the guys hadn’t added to his overall displeasure by failing to show up on time. He had made it quite clear that his time was precious and that anyone who wasted it was guilty of committing a heinous crime.
“Me?!” Mia feigned innocence. “I’m not the one who keeps talking about how nice a certain southern Backstreet Boy is.”
“Brian is super nice!” I defended myself. “He’s a very nice, very married man.”
“He bought you one coffee, Abs.” Mia wiggled her eyebrows as the door opened onto the second floor. “You’re really going to have to raise your standards if you’re hoping to get back into the dating world.”
“You’re terrible!” I informed her as the doors started to close. “And don’t go starting any crazy rumours. He’s not my type!”
“That’s right; Nick is!” Mia shouted her final comment through the crack in the door. “Go get em’, girl!”
I shook my head at the tightly closed doors. At this point, I had no time for Tinder, or dating, or for anything that wasn’t related to the baby or, in a purely professional sense, to the Backstreet Boys. Between the constant feeling of nausea that I was starting to experience at the beginning of every day and the overwhelming sense of fatigue that was starting to settle over me pretty much all day long, it was quickly becoming a massive accomplishment to simply get out of bed in the morning.
“Are you Abigail?”
The elevator doors slid open into the penthouse suite, and I visibly started at the man with the clipboard. He was quite possibly the thinnest human being that I had ever laid eyes on. He had an intense poof of black hair, eerily pale skin, and sunken green eyes that were currently shooting daggers into my soul.
“Yes.” I was almost afraid to answer. I stepped out of the elevator next to the waif of a person and forced a smile. “Can I help you with something?”
“You’re the Abigail who’s in charge of all of this?” Stick Man waived his twiggy hand in the general direction of the activity that was taking place behind him.
I felt my smile waver. “Yes.”
“We have Abigail!” Stick Man screamed; his voice reaching a pitch that I had never witnessed another man achieve. “Abigail is on site, people!”
I winced; bringing my hand up to my ear to make sure that it wasn’t actually bleeding. “Is there a problem?” I addressed my question to Stick Man, but he was already several paces ahead of me and motioning wildly for me to hurry up.
Having no other choice, I trailed after Stick Man’s miniscule denim clad backside. The room was buzzing with people scurrying madly about in every direction. Lighting techs, wardrobe personnel, hair and makeup artists, and a random assortment of people who I assumed to be the other, more important, people’s personal assistants were taking up what appeared to be every single inch of available space. I actually found myself blinking more than usual as I struggled to take it all in.
“Finally! Are you Abigail?”
I recognized the photographer’s voice from the phone. I looked past Stick Man and directly into the eyes of, yet another, very angry looking man. Although larger than Stick Man, Miles Hemmingworth, celebrity photographer extraordinaire, barely existed. He was dressed all in black; the skin-tight pull of his clothing accentuating the fact that he was painfully thin. He had a camera slung around his neck, and a startling assortment of lenses were hanging from his waist by a belt that I was entirely positive weighed more than he and Stick Man did put together.
“So, you’re the one who’s responsible for this disaster then, are you?” Miles narrowed his already squinty eyes into slits. “You do realize that this is going to put us severely behind schedule, and I believe that I’ve already explained to you that my time is very valuable.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand what’s wrong.” I dared to look away from Miles to assess what was happening around me. Everyone appeared to be busy. “What’s the problem exactly?”
“So, is my bit done or what?”
My eyes followed the sound of Nick’s voice. He was shirtless; sprawled out on the oversized king bed with his arm draped lazily across a scantily clad blonde model. Despite his words, he didn’t appear to be in any hurry to get up; his gaze firmly planted directly at the woman’s ample chest.
I did a double take. What was happening? The guys were supposed to be doing promotional photos for the inside of the Axis and for the new billboard ads. They were not supposed to be doing anything that involved half-naked women.
“You, don’t move!” Miles snapped his fingers at Nick. “We still need to get the second shot.” He turned back to me. “I’m missing a model; the one who’s supposed to be paired with McLean. I need you to find her.”
“The one who is supposed to be paired with AJ for what?” I stared back at Miles; dumbfounded. “I thought that you were doing the billboard photos. Why are the guys not wearing suits?! Why is that woman barely wearing clothes?!”
I flipped open the file folder that was clutched between my fingers and began to rifle through the pages. Even as I went through the motions, I knew that I wasn’t going to find the explanation. I had already read through every single piece of paper associated with the promotional photo shoot. I knew that there was no mention of female models or lack of clothing.
Miles flicked his hand in my face as if I were completely stupid. “Oh, we’ve already finished with those boring photos. You’ll have lots of the standard pretty-boy shots to use in your marketing materials. But, this – this is what you hired me for!” He whipped his hand in the direction of half-naked Nick. “I bring the sexy without the trashy! Jenn is a genius for thinking this up, and I’m even more of a genius for bringing the concept to life!”
“The sexy without the trashy?” I couldn’t help myself. I parroted his words back at him; incredulous. “Do you have any paperwork authorizing you to perform – to execute this genius concept?”
Miles rolled his eyes. This time, he snapped his fingers at Stick Man. “Wyatt, give the lady the paperwork.” He then smirked at me. “Once you’ve confirmed that my creative genius has been authorized, I trust that you’re going to look into finding me my missing model?”
I opened my mouth to protest, but Miles had already returned his attention to Nick and the busty blonde. He ordered them back into position and I actually let out a small gasp as the woman swung herself up and threw her legs across Nick’s body. She tossed her neck back and stuck her breasts out. The two of them looked like they were about to shoot the cover for an adult video. Of course, Nick didn’t seem at all bothered by the situation; he dug his fingers into the blonde’s waist as a wicked expression overtook his face.
I literally snatched the papers out of Wyatt’s bony fingers. My eyes started to hurt as I feverishly scanned the two page document. To my complete amazement, the current situation actually appeared to be legitimate. Miles had, indeed, been contracted to produce a series of images that were going to be used for none other than a ‘What Happens in Vegas ... Stays in Vegas’ promotional run to hype up their pricey VIP packages. The overarching concept was to place each of the boys in two different ‘sexy’ situations with a female model. When the ads went to print, the faces of the female models would be cut-out in order to allow members of the general public to imagine themselves in the shots. The ads would be run with the tag-line: ‘Wanna get up close and personal with the Backstreet Boys? Remember, what happens in Vegas ... stays in Vegas.”
I shook my head before glancing at the signature line at the bottom of the second page where the boys’ manager, Jenn, had scrawled her name in her big loopy handwriting. Her signature gave Miles not only permission to proceed with the shoot, but complete creative direction as well. I flipped back to the first page of the contract to confirm that Jenn had also arranged for five female models to be on set for the duration of the shoot. Apparently, Miles had sent her a special request that the models were to have been selected to match each boy’s height.
“So, are you going to find me my model?” Miles took a break from barking orders at Nick and his half-naked co-star to address me. “This needs to be finished today.”
I gritted my teeth and turned away from Miles without answering his question. I needed to talk to one of the other guys; one who didn’t currently have his happily-married fingers crushed into the flesh of some twenty-something model. After a few seconds of searching, my eyes finally settled on Howie. He was perched on the arm of a sofa in the adjoining sitting area of the suite; talking to AJ who was sitting in a make-up chair.
“Howie!” I took off in his direction; waving the contract papers in the air to get his attention. “Howie!’
“Oh, hey, Abigail.” Howie immediately stood up as I approached. He set his bottle of water down on the back of the couch and stepped forward to envelop me in a friendly hug. “We were just wondering when you were gonna pop back into our lives.”
“I’ve been here for a few minutes actually.” I returned Howie’s hug with my own; the gesture helping to lower my blood pressure. I couldn’t help but notice that he smelled distinctly of women’s perfume as I pulled away. “I would have come up to check on the shoot sooner if I had known about this – about this situation.”
“Yeah, Jenn kind of surprised us with this one.” Howie rubbed at the back of his neck. “I mean, the concept seemed okay when we all signed off on it, but this Miles dude is a bit ... a bit intense.”
“Yeah, just a bit.” I agreed. “So, you are all okay with what’s happening here? Why did I not know about this?” I paused; considering Howie’s slightly anxious expression. “Have you already done your pictures?”
Howie let out a nervous laugh. “I was the first one to go. Kevin went second. My wife is not going to be very happy ... even with the chick’s face cut out ...”
“You didn’t know this was happening?” AJ spoke up in-between his powder application. “Jenn is supposed to be communicating everything with you. We’ve all told her that like a hundred times.”
“Well, she definitely failed to mention any of this to me.” I struggled to keep the annoyance out of my voice. “It would have been nice to know that you guys were going to be doing more than just the standard promotional pictures today. Ya’ll are supposed to be in another production meeting by five o’clock. I don’t even know when all of this is supposed to wrap now ...”
“We’re not wrapping any time soon if you can’t locate my missing model.” Miles stopped snapping pictures of Nick and the blonde woman just long enough to yell at me.
“I didn’t know anything about this until five minutes ago!” I snapped back. “How am I supposed to find some random model when I didn’t even book her in the first place? I don’t even know her bloody name! So, I’m terribly sorry, Miles, but you’re going to have to figure this out for yourself. I realize that you’re time is very valuable, but I’m sure that you and your creative genius will be able to come up with an amazing solution to preserve every single second of your precious time.”
“Damn!” AJ laughed loudly at my outburst. “Remind me never to piss you off. Shit just got real!”
Miles fully lowered his camera. The activity in the room continued, but everyone had grown quiet. It was abundantly clear from the deafening silence that I had just committed a massive blunder. Nobody challenged Miles Hemmingworth; nobody.
I licked my lips and steeled myself for the words that Miles was about to unleash. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Brian and Kevin standing off to the side. They were each holding a tray of Starbucks cups, and they were both watching the situation unfold with an eerily similar expression of confusion and apprehension. It was obvious that they had just walked into the room and that they had, subsequently, missed my earlier remarks.
“What are you, like, a size four?” Miles abandoned his position and took a step towards me. His eyes were flashing with satisfaction. “How tall are you?”
Chapter 8 - That's The Way I Like It by KeepThisSecret
** Abigail **
“What does it matter how tall I am?” I paused. “And, yes, I am a size four, but I hardly see how that is relevant to ...”
Miles held up his hand to silence me as he took another step forward. “I’m done with the two of you now.” He barked at Nick and the leggy blonde. “I’ve got all of the shots that I need.”
Nick and the barely-clothed woman quickly disentangled themselves from each other and parted ways rather awkwardly. While she promptly collected her robe and scampered off towards the opposite end of the suite, Nick stood up from the bed rather slowly. He performed a quick adjustment to his pants, but it was glaringly obvious that he was more than a bit uncomfortable. I quickly adverted my gaze as he started to approach us; well aware of the fact that I was blushing almost as deeply as he was.
“Damn, Nicky!” AJ whooped as Nick leaned across Howie to retrieve his discarded t-shirt from the couch. “Were you having a good time over there or what?”
“Dude, you totally just touched my arm with your bulge!” Howie leaned out of Nick’s way and made a big production out of looking disgusted.
“He was asking her to wiggle around on top of me and shit.” Nick yanked his t-shirt over his head and glared at Howie before addressing AJ. “Just wait until it’s your turn, man. You try keeping it under control when you’ve got fuckin’ boobs in your face and ...” He stopped and looked at me as if he had suddenly just realized that I was standing there. “Oh, hey, Abby ...”
“Hey, Nick.” I could feel the heat coursing through my face as I forced myself to keep my attention fixated above his shoulder blades. My mouth pulled itself into a smile. “What’s, ummm, up?”
“Ohhhhh shit!” Kevin let loose an uncharacteristic stream of laughter at my comment. “What’s up? Priceless!”
Nick gave me a look of disbelief, but I could tell that he was trying hard not to laugh himself. He shook his head and rubbed at his forehead. “Not you too, Abby! I mean, I expect stupid comments from the fellas, but not from you! How is it possible that we’ve corrupted you already?”
“Yes, yes, erections are hilarious.” Miles interjected himself into our friendly banter with a massive eye roll.
“Not as funny as someone saying the word ‘erection’ in a room full of people.” Brian nudged his cousin in the ribs; successfully eliciting another round of laughter from the older man.
Miles, however, didn’t seem to find Brian’s comment to be particularly amusing. He whipped his head around and gave Brian such a scathing look that he immediately fell silent. After he was satisfied that Brian had gotten the hint, Miles returned his full attention to me. His painfully slender body was now positioned dangerously close to mine.
“Let's try this again. How tall are you?”
I sighed; giving in. “I dunno; five foot six or seven ... maybe.” I shifted my weight uncomfortably under Miles’s stare. “Why?”
“You have an excellent side profile.” Miles used his weirdly long fingers to turn me around so that he was staring at me from the side. “You’re so average looking that it’s endearing.”
“Thanks?” I raised my eyebrows at his backwards compliment.
“You’re going to make up for your rudeness by standing in for the model that you can’t find.” Miles reached out and pulled some of my hair over my shoulder. He stepped back and studied me for another minute. “Take your sweater off.”
“I’m not modeling for anything!” I practically shrieked. I grabbed at my cardigan and pulled it even tighter around me. “Have you lost your mind?! I’m a Planet Hollywood employee! I can’t just spend company time standing in for missing models. If you really need another girl, I’ll phone a local agency and get you another one.”
“So trivial.” Miles sighed. “You’re being paid to work for the band, right? It’s your job to make sure that this promotional shoot gets done. I’m going to cut your face out of the picture anyways. Nobody will ever know that it’s you. Besides, you’re the right height and the right shape. Well, I mean, technically your boobs should be a few cup sizes bigger and you could stand to drop down to a size two, but otherwise you’re really quite cute.”
I let out a hiss of indignation. I had never felt more self-conscious or unattractive in my entire adult life. “Well, I’m really not going to do you any favours now! If you’re going to cut out my face than why don’t you just use the same model for AJ and Brian? They’re practically the same height anyways. ”
For the second time since I had walked into the room, Miles looked at me as if I were completely clueless. “I need all of the boys to be with a different girl. I can’t have two of them mackin’ on the same chick. It will be totally obvious when all of the ads run side by side.” Miles sighed. “Listen, sweetie, if you don’t do this for me then I will let everyone know that you single-handedly fucked up the release of the promotional materials for what is currently the fastest selling residency in Vegas history.” He paused for dramatic effect. “What do you think that an announcement like that will do for your career as a residency coordinator?”
“There’s no need for that!” Kevin swiftly came to my defence. “Abigail had nothing to do with the arrangement of this shoot or with this ridiculous concept. If you keep threatening her then I will have absolutely no problem telling you to take your pictures and to shove them up your ...”
“Thanks, Kevin.” I beamed my appreciation at him before he could say something that he would eventually come to regret. “But, it’s fine. I can stand in for a few stupid pictures if that’s what Miles wants.”
Although it made me feel better to know that Kevin had my back, I knew that I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Unfortunately, Miles was a bigger deal on the Vegas strip than the Backstreet Boys would probably ever be. If Miles Hemmingworth spoke badly about you then your career was over. Period. End of story.
“Wonderful!” Miles clapped his hands as if I had just agreed without any kind of hesitation. “Now go on and take off that stupid sweater, so that I can see what I’m working with.”
The chatter in the room resumed almost immediately after I gave in to Miles’s request. Apparently, everyone else was allowed to be happy once Miles was happy. I begrudgingly removed my cardigan and deposited it on the arm of the couch next to Howie. I placed my hands on my hips and turned to Miles; hoping that I looked indifferent. In reality, I felt completely overexposed even though I was still fully clothed. I tugged at my black camisole and mentally cursed myself for choosing a skimpy tank with spaghetti straps and lace detailing.
“Stand up!” Miles ordered AJ out of the make-up chair. “I need to see how this looks.”
“Yes, sir!” AJ shot out of his seat and gave Miles a formal salute accompanied by a smirk.
Nick and Howie let out almost indistinguishable snorts of laughter, and I had to bring a hand up to hide my own smile. Miles looked less than impressed with AJ’s antics.
“Where is the girl who is supposed to be with him?” Miles pointed at Brian and snapped his fingers. “I don’t have all day, people!”
“Here! I’m right here!” A petite, young, dirty-blonde haired woman hurried out of the cluster of models and practically bounced into position next to Brian. “I’m Lucy.”
“I don’t care what your name is.” Miles deadpanned. He grabbed my arm and practically shoved me against AJ’s chest. “Grab her by the hips and then don’t move.” He instructed.
“Yes, sir.” AJ whispered his earlier statement into my ear. He brought his hands up so that they were resting lightly on my hips and gave me a private wink. “So, this is kinda awkward, huh?”
“Kind of.” I rolled my eyes. “This is definitely not in my job description.”
I raised my hands to AJ’s shoulders and bit at my lip to keep from laughing. He was now drumming his fingertips lightly against my hips as we both awaited further instructions. I could hear Nick and Howie whispering to each other in the background between their snorts of laughter.
Miles returned after a few more awkward seconds. He studied me and AJ with his fingers on his chin. “Since you’re not legally doing this under a modelling contract, I suppose that you’re not going to be willing to take your top off, are you?”
I had to stop myself from laughing directly into AJ’s face. “You’re lucky that I agreed to take off my sweater. You either work with the tank-top, or I’m out!”
“That’s what I figured.” Miles sighed dramatically. He considered the situation for a few more seconds before snapping his fingers at Lucy. “Come here and take her place.” Miles pulled me out of AJ’s grip and shoved me off towards Brian. “Go stand next to the southern one.”
“I wonder if he’s aware of the fact that Kevin and I are both technically the southern ones?” Brian quipped as I took up my designated position next to him. He took a sip of his coffee and gestured towards the tray holding the other cups. “I got you a decaf one; just in case you were here when we got back.”
“Better!” Miles’s announcement cut into our conversation. “So, so much better! I am a genius!”
I looked over to see AJ and Lucy sandwiched together. Miles was beaming at the two of them as if he had just orchestrated a perfect match on eHarmony. Somewhere along the way, Lucy had removed her top and AJ was practically drooling down into her insanely pushed-up, lace-wrapped cleavage.
“Yeah, this is real classy alright.” Kevin sighed. He ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head at AJ. “Channing Tatum is going to be able to reuse these posters for his Magic Mike show.”
I looked back and forth between the Kentucky cousins. “Howie said that you guys all agreed to do this shoot. Is that not the case?”
“We were a bit ... mislead.” Kevin grimaced. “I’m gonna have some serious words for Jenn the next time that I talk to her, that’s for sure.” He sighed once more. “But, technically speaking; yes, we did all agree to go ahead with the idea.”
“I just don’t want anyone to be, you know, upset.” I stressed. “Like your wives ...”
Kevin laughed softly. “The wives are used to the girls hangin’ around. Posin’ for a couple of racy pictures ain’t no big deal. They’re down with it; know that it’s a part of the job.”
“Most of them do, anyway.” Brian muttered. He looked up and caught my eye; blushing as he realized that he’d just criticized his own wife. “And those of them that don’t have learned to deal with it in their own way over the years.”
“You’re supposed to be the good one, right?” Miles broke into our conversation by hurling a random question at Brian. He, once again, placed his spindly fingers against my skin and dragged me forward. “The goody-goody Christian one?
“Sure.” Brian rolled his eyes. “If you want me to be the good one then I guess I’m the good one.”
“So snotty!” Miles laughed. “Anyways, the whole covered-up look will make perfect sense if you’re supposed to be the good boy. We wouldn’t want you to touch any boobies that don’t belong to you.”
“The last time that I checked, no boobies actually belonged to me.” Brian retorted.
Kevin literally chocked with laughter at Brian’s comment. He waved his hand in his cousin’s general direction to apologize before slinking off to join Howie and Nick who were now both perched on the arm of the sofa; seemingly enjoying the fact that Miles was giving everyone a hard time but them.
“You know what I mean.” Miles spun me around so that I was standing mere inches away from Brian; our noses were practically touching. “Yes, this will work.” Miles abruptly plucked the coffee cup out of Brian’s hand and dropped it directly into the trash.
Brian opened his mouth to say something about the coffee, but he promptly closed it again as Miles began to circle the two of us. I felt decidedly awkward. With AJ, the situation had been a joke. With Brian, the proximity was too much; too personal. We were both just standing there with our arms dangling at our sides and trying not to stare directly into each other’s faces. It was glaringly obvious that we were both anxious about the prospect of having to touch each other, and it was even more obvious that we were both trying to hide it.
“Okay!” Miles brought his hands together in one extra-loud clap. “Let’s get things back on track! Church Boy, you’re up!”
Chapter 9 - Just to Be Close to You by KeepThisSecret
** Brian **
I took a step backwards out of Abigail’s personal bubble and gave her a small smile. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had felt so completely and utterly awkward. It was like I was a teenager all over again; afraid to make the wrong move. It was one thing to pose with some random woman who I would never see again. It was something entirely different to be asked to put my hands all over a co-worker who I would be seeing every single day for the next six months.
Although none of us had been expecting the shoot to be quite as revealing as it had turned out to be, I had pretty much known what it was going to involve when I had agreed to it. Although he had hidden it much better than Nick, Kevin had admitted during our coffee run that he, too, had lost control during his session with the statuesque red-head that Miles had paired him with. Of course, Kevin and Nick could easily laugh off their embarrassment; content in the knowledge that they would never see their partners again. What was I going to do? If anything were to happen during our shoot, chances are that Abigail and I would never be able to look at each other again without thinking about it.
“Let’s go!” Miles snapped his fingers for the umpteenth time. “I need the two of you over here!”
I clenched my teeth to keep myself from unleashing a stream of obscenities at the scrawny narcissist and took a deep breath in an attempt to calm myself down. I needed to relax. All I had to do was pose for a few stupid pictures. I had posed for millions of pictures. This wasn’t going to be any different.
“Good luck you two.” AJ winked at me and Abigail as we shuffled past him and the other guys. “Abby, remember to cut Brian some slack. He gets excited pretty easily.”
I jammed my middle finger into the air and narrowed my eyes at AJ’s smirking face. “Asshole.”
“Shirt off, now!” Miles flapped his arms in my direction as soon as Abigail and I stepped up next to the bed. He quickly snapped a few test shots, presumably to assess the lighting, while he waited for me to follow his instructions. “You’re a bit shiny, Church Boy.” He lowered his camera and wiggled his fingers in the air to summon one of the make-up artists. “Powder! Powder, now!”
A woman with a brush appeared by my side in record time. She somehow managed to whip the brush across my entire face even as I pulled my shirt up and over my head. I unintentionally caught Abigail’s eye as the make-up artist applied even more power to my forehead, and she hastily pulled her own eyes away from my chest; seemingly embarrassed at having been caught looking.
I wiggled my eyebrows playfully to ease some of the tension as I tossed my shirt towards the couch that the rest of the guys were sitting on. “There’s nothing hotter than a guy who wears foundation, right?”
“Censor!” Howie’s high-pitched yell drowned out Abigail’s giggle.
Nick snatched my shirt out of the air, and made a big show out of hugging to his chest. “Get ‘em B!”
“Don’t ya’ll have something better to do than watch?” I yelled back. I could feel my neck starting to get hot.
“Nothing in life is better than watching you embarrass yourself!” Nick laughed manically. “Besides, ya’ll watched me pitch a fuckin’ tent!”
I closed my eyes briefly and swore softly under my breath. When I opened my eyes, Abigail was staring back at me with an amused expression on her face.
“You’re friends are really great people.” She teased. “Soooo supportive.”
“I hate them.” I stated with mock seriousness. “I hate every single one of them.”
“Get together!” Miles screeched from his position atop a small step-stool. “Brian, come on now, put your hands on her hips and pull her close to you. Abigail, or Abby, or whatever the hell it is that everyone calls you, put your hands up on Brian’s chest! Let’s get this done, people! I still have to shoot the tattooed thing!”
Sensing my hesitation, Abby tentatively made the first move. She stepped forward and brought her hands up to my chest; her fingers sliding over my skin before coming to rest close to my shoulders. I followed Miles’s instructions and placed my hands on her hips. She licked her lips as I tightened my grip, and I found myself wondering what was going on in her head. Was she feeling as self-conscious as I was? Was she at all worried about how awkward this was about to become?
“Jesus Christ ...” Miles lowered his camera and gave the two of us a withering look. “You could fit a whole other bloody obese person in-between the two of you! Get close to each other! You both look fucking terrified.”
Abby tilted her head so that she was staring directly into my face. “I’m totally over thinking this.” She admitted. “It’s just work, right? Let’s just go ahead and get this done so that we can all make it to the production meeting on time. It will be over faster if we just do whatever it is that Miles wants us to do.”
“Okay.” I swallowed some of my anxiety. “I just – I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
“It’s fine.” Abby smiled reassuringly. “It’s just work. Pretend that I’m, like, a backup dancer or something.”
“It needs to look like the two of you are about to kiss.” Miles was still barking instructions. “Abby, hook one of your hands into the front of Brian’s pants and bring the other one up behind his neck. Close the bloody gap for fuck’s sake! He’s not going to attack you!”
This time, Abby followed Miles’s instructions without hesitation. She curled her right hand under the waistband of my jeans and pulled my towards her as her left hand snaked up into the hair at the base of my neck. I responded instinctively; leaving my left hand on her hip and moving my right hand to the small of her back to bring our bodies together. For a moment, I forgot all about the camera. I leaned forward and parted my lips; my eyes closing ...
“Got it!” Miles exclaimed. He pulled his camera away from his face and quickly reviewed the shots. “Damn! Some of those are actually super hot.”
My eyes immediately snapped open. I hastily stepped away from Abigail and gave her what I hoped was a non-anxious looking smile. The blood was pounding in my ears. I felt like I had done something wrong, even though I knew that I hadn’t.
“Okay, let’s get the second shot.” Miles motioned for his waif of an assistant to reposition his step-stool closer to the bed. “I can’t decide who should be on top for this one.” He rambled on as if he were talking about something completely generic. Miles turned to me. “We’ll have her straddle you first just to see how it looks. Go ahead and lie down on your back.”
I balked at him. “Are you sure? I mean, can’t we just ...”
“Of course, I’m sure.” Miles shot back. “You know what you agreed to; one standing shot and one lying down shot. Relax, Church Boy, most of your buddies have already done it and none of them have been struck down by a lightning bolt.”
I sighed; mentally cursing Jenn and her stupid idea and her even stupider decision to hire Miles. Realistically, I knew that I had no choice. I also knew from what had just happened that my body had absolutely no concept of the fact that this was ‘just work’.
Knowing that I had no way out, I flopped down onto the bed; being careful not to glance in the other guys’ direction as I waited for Miles to give Abigail her instructions. Less than a minute later, Abby appeared above me looking, thankfully, as uncertain as I felt. She swung one leg across me; straddling my hips as Miles’s starving assistant covered our lower halves with the duvet.
I should have kept my eyes on the ceiling as Abigail followed Miles’s instructions to lean forward. Instead, I allowed my attention to wander to the tops of her breasts and to the ever-increasing strip of bare skin as her tank-top slowly slid up her stomach. I swallowed hard as Abby moved her body over mine. I could feel myself starting to twitch as our chests pressed together, and my heart started to beat faster. I needed this to end – now!
“I need you to be higher up.” Miles barked at Abby. “Move closer; like, you’re going to nuzzle his neck.”
I inhaled sharply as Abby dragged herself upwards and her body pressed down onto mine. I knew that she could feel my growing excitement as she wiggled around and tried to reposition herself, but her attempt to avoid it was only making things worse. Her breath was warm on my neck; her lips dangerously close to my skin.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered; mortified by the fact that my jeans were growing increasingly tight. “I just ...”
“Don’t think about it.” Abigail whispered back; her lips grazing my neck as she spoke. “Just let him get the shot.”
“I’ve changed my mind! Raise your head and look at him!” Miles screamed at Abigail from behind the camera.
Abigail shifted her weight once again. She raised herself up so that her face was now in line with mine and, subsequently, provided me with a direct view of her cleavage. I dug my fingers into the soft skin of her waist as her hips, once again, pressed down against mine. I couldn’t help it; I let out a barely audible groan of enjoyment as she twisted against me.
“Please stop moving.” I begged. My voice sounded strained even to me. I could only imagine what it sounded like to her.
“Okay! That’s it!” Miles announced. As he did before, he stepped down off of his stool and began to quickly scroll through the shots. He laughed softly to himself. “These are going to turn out so well ...”
“Are you – are you okay to get up?” Abigail slid off of me immediately after Miles made his announcement. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, but made sure not to disturb the heavy blanket that was still covering the lower half of our bodies. “Do you need a minute?”
I needed more than a minute. I needed to be alone. I needed to not be wearing skinny jeans.
“I’m okay.” I lied. I forced myself to look her directly in the face; to smile as if everything was normal.
“Out of the way!” Miles waved his hands at us as if we were a couple of pesky flies. “I need to re-set for the tattooed one.”
Abigail snorted and rolled her eyes. She slipped out from underneath the duvet and crawled off of the bed, leaving me to sort myself out.
“Here.” AJ sweetly handed Abigail her sweater as he walked over with his underwear-clad co-star in tow. He tossed my t-shirt at my face and grinned down at me. “How you doin’, Bri?”
This time, my groan was fully audible. I sat up and pulled my t-shirt over my head. My body was still throbbing, but at least I had calmed myself down to the point where I could stand up without fully embarrassing myself. I swung my feet to the floor and glared at AJ. “I’m doin’ just great.”
AJ wiggled his eyebrows and leaned forward so that he was whispering directly into my ear. “Maybe I should have fought to keep Abby as my partner. It looks like she gave you a pretty good show. We all saw you checkin’ her out. What were your hands doin’ underneath those blankets, huh?”
I narrowed my eyes; fully prepared to ream AJ out, but Miles stole my opportunity by beginning to hurl instructions at just about everyone in the room. I let out a sigh of defeat as I was hastily pushed to the side by one of the make-up artists. The last thing that I needed was for the other guys to give me a hard time every time that Abby was around. I just wanted to move on and forget all about the pictures and all about the fact that Abby and I had likely just violated every single line in Planet Hollywood’s professional relationship policy.
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.