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Chapter Three

“Well?” Rochelle was clutching the wheel, an envelope in her hand, as I climbed into the passenger side of the truck. I slammed the door and stared out the window, a lump rising in my throat. I felt my eyes grow wet. “How’d it go?” she whispered. She reached out and laid a gentle hand on my shoulder.

Her touch was all it took.

I curled toward my knees and covered my eyes with my hands and my shoulders shook. Rochelle was probably the only person in the entire world that I would’ve allowed myself to fall apart like this in front of. I felt hot tears rolling across my cheeks, striking my palms like acid rain.

“Oh sweetie,” she moaned, “It’s okay. It’s okay, Monkee…” Her fingernails ran across my back, which was shaking as I tried not to sob audibly. Rochelle stayed patient with me, rubbing my back for long minutes as I let out the emotion of a four year old boy, left to stand at the door and wait for his father… the emotion of a twenty year old man, betrayed by the father he thought had returned at last.

When my cries finally slowed, she whispered, “Wanna see the baby?” I looked up, swiping my eyes with the back of my tattooed hand, and nodded. Rochelle held out the envelope to me. “I have to warn you, though, Monkee,” she said quietly, “There’s no mistaking what it is.” She smirked.

I opened the envelope and stared down at a glossy print out of a teeny tiny lima-bean shaped baby boy. I stared down at the picture, my heart slamming in my chest, and ran one of my black-polished fingers across the blue-grey-blackish image of the sonogram. “Jesus,” I whispered quietly, “There he is.”

Rochelle smiled and leaned against my shoulder, “There he is,” she agreed. She looked up at me, “I hope he’s exactly like you, Monkee,” she whispered.

“I don’t,” I answered. “I want him to be healthy and happy and handsome and smart and –“

Rochelle laughed, “Are you saying you’re sick and depressed and ugly and stupid?” she asked.

I shrugged, “If the shoe fits.”

“You’re a jackass,” she whispered. “You’re a sexy beast of a man and you know it.” She kissed my cheek.

I looked at her. “I want him to be like you. With your big heart and your eyes – your fucking sexy eyes…” I reached and wrapped my arms around her. “But I know one thing he’s definitely going to have.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“His dad,” I answered… my eyes straying over her shoulder towards the bricks of the hospital building… up the side to the window from which I’d just been peering out.

That night, I had a nightmare.

I was four years old and standing at the front door of our house, palms pressed to the screen, staring out between my mum’s legs at the front lawn, where my father was walking away, carrying that maroon duffle bag of his over his shoulder. He was wearing a baseball cap and the car keys jingled from his the ring, which he’d put around his finger. I could hear myself crying under the shouts of my mother. I woke with a start at the sound of the car door slamming.

I sat up in bed, and stared across the dark room. Rochelle slept on beside me, but I stayed awake the rest of the night, studying the silhouette of the street lamp, glowing through the closed blinds in the window, trying to remember if he’d even said good bye.

“What’s up with you today?” Nick asked, “You’re worse than el douche, the pissed of Mexican.” He thumbed over his shoulder at the studio door.

I took a drag off my cigarette and shrugged. In Howie’s defense, Nick’s middle name could’ve been Spaz that day. He’d so far managed to fuck up every one of his lines in the song we were taping and spilled coffee dangerously close to the soundboard, scaring the you-know-what out of the producer. Even Brian had been irritated with Nick’s ADD tendencies today, but, as usual for Brian, that was being overlooked and only Howie was labeled el douche.

But apparently I was worse than him.

Nick was staring longingly at my smokes as he said that. I dutifully held out the pack to him, but he shook his head and put up his hands in protest. “Aw hell nawh,” he said, “Lauren’s Spidey-senses are probably tingling just knowing I’m standing out here with you in such close proximity to smoke. If I smoke, I’m S-O-L in the S-E-X department for, like, I dunno, a decade probably.”

Somehow I doubted it would be quite that long – Lauren seemed to be just as much of a horn dog as Nick was – but I shoved the pack back into my ass pocket anyways. He was probably the smarter of us anyways, having quit smoking the year before. I was on again, off again. More on again than off again, though. Granted, it’d been almost two weeks this time since I’d last smoked… but that’s what nerves will do to you, I guess.

Nick leaned against the studio’s exterior wall and studied me for a long moment. “Seriously J,” he said, “Whatsa matter?”

I suckered a deep breath. I hadn’t planned on telling the fellas anything about the happenings with my father… and honestly, even if I had planned to tell them, the last of them I would’ve told was Nick. I know it seems like of them Nick would be the best candidate to talk to about it, just because there are so many parallels between our experiences – shitty dads named Bob unite! – but he was also the Backstreet Boy most likely to use the fuck’im, who needs him anyway approach to getting over the whole ordeal.

I shrugged, “I’m fine,” I said.

Nick’s eyebrow shot up. “Real fine or AJ fine?” he asked.

Damn him.

“Just fine,” I repeated, shrugging. I chucked my cigarette down and stomped on it with the ball of my foot. I could feel Nick still studying me, his eyes working like peroxide. He was trying to draw it out of me. In my mind, I imagined him giving me ogling, crazy-looking eyes like he was some kind of cartoon hypnotist or something. I looked up. He wasn’t ogling, just standing there with knitted brows – concerned.

“J, you can talk to me, man,” he said in a helpful voice.

I sighed. It was rare that Nick took his own head out of his ass to notice someone else’s problems even existed, and then to offer to talk on top of it… It’s not that Nick’s self-centered or anything, but he has a narrow world scope is all. Like he cares about other people, but sometimes he just gets so wrapped up in his own bullshit that he doesn’t notice other people. That’s the main problem between him and Brian these days – they both have their own shit that they’re absorbed in and neither really has the time they used to be able to give to the other.

Somehow I felt like I had to reward Nick for poking his head out of his own Nickenesian mire.

“It’s just… my father,” I said slowly.

“What’s wrong with him?” Nick asked, “Is he okay?”

Again with the assuming I meant my step-father.

I sighed, “My actual father, Nick,” I said, “The sperminator.”

Nick’s eyes widened, “What’s that jackass want?” he asked.

And now begins the fuck’im approach.

“I dunno,” I answered with a shrug.

“Money?” Nick guessed, “Fame? Babes?”

“He’s dying,” I answered.

“Dying?” Nick asked. His face paled ever so slightly, which was something I hadn’t seen happen since Rio, that time when we got stuck on the bus with a huge ass mob blockading our safe entrance to the hotel. He stood upright, jammed his hands into his pockets and stared at me. “Why?” he asked stupidly.

“Fuck if I know,” I answered, “Cancer. I guess Mother Nature realized what an asshole he is and decided to take him out. Good riddance.” The words sounded harsh, even in my own ears.

Nick’s face paled further. “Dawg,” he whispered, “That’s your father you’re talking about.”

This was the exact opposite of what I’d expected from Nick. I stared at him in relative disbelief. I mean, Nick was usually count-on-able for at least understanding that parents suck ass. He was the king of suck ass parents. I kind of wished he’d gone with the fuck him approach… at least that would’ve been easier to stomach than this.

“No,” I said darkly, “It’s the man who impregnated my mother once upon a time.”

“Dude, it’s more than that,” Nick argued persistently, “I mean, you share like DNA with the guy… yanno? That deep biological shit,” he added, “Blood.”

“Well fuck blood,” I said, “He walked away. Blood means shit when it’s splattered all over the place.” I turned to the studio door, determined to end the conversation before I felt any worse, but Nick grabbed my elbow and stopped me. “I’m fine,” I snapped before he could ask.

Nick’s voice was quiet, “Did you go see him at least?”

“Yeah, I saw the fucker,” I answered, “He tried to apologize to me. Like saying some pretty words will take away all the shit and pain and torture he caused. Like sorry can make him unpack his fucking duffle bag.”

Nick lowered his grip from my elbow and said quietly, “It can’t take away the crappy years but it can give you a second chance.”

“So if your father said sorry to you, you’d accept it?” I asked him.

Nick shrugged. “If he was dying, I might.”

“Aren’t we all dying?” I asked, “Little bits at a time.”

Nick shrugged again. “I’m just saying, if it was me and it was my dad…” he shook his head, “I wouldn’t be fine. Not even AJ fine.”