The next day I was back at the recording studio with the fellas. God had blessed me by making Nick a blonde to the Nth degree. He’d seemed to completely forget about my dilemma and had been busy whining about a hangnail he had on his left hand. “I don’t wanna bite on it, you know?” he said, studying it intensely as he sat on the couch. Brian was in taping his audio layers. “I mean, once you start biting your nails you don’t stop – just look at BRok’s fingers.”
“Like you don’t gnaw your nails to the ground,” Howie grumbled, “C’mon Nick, you’re full of crap.” Howie had turned around from the soundboard to roll his eyes at Nick.
Nick looked deeply affronted. “I do not gnaw my nails to no ground,” he responded, his jaw a jar. He narrowed his eyes. “You’re so fulla crap, dawg.”
Howie shrugged, “Just reporting what I see, Carter,” he replied, then turned back to watch Brian’s progress in the booth.
Nick looked at me imploringly, “I don’t bite my nails,” he said.
“Yeah you do,” I answered.
“Aw shut up, and you pick your nail beds,” Nick snapped in an attempt at biting back. He was like a Chihuahua dog, snapping because he’d been snapped at. I quickly tucked my hand underneath me, hiding that I’d been picking at my fingers at that very moment.
“Yeah but I’m not I de-ni-al.” I got up off the couch, abandoning him and sat with Howie by the soundboard. Howie smirked over at me quietly as Nick began to flare up in further denial behind us on the couch.
“How’s it going?” he asked after a pause, once Nick was lost in his whining enough that he wouldn’t eavesdrop and pester me. “With your dad, I mean,” he clarified.
I shrugged, “I went back to talk to him again. I exploded like holy hell on him,” I admitted, “But… afterwards, I dunno, it was kind of like everything was said, and there wasn’t anything more to be pissed off about…”
Howie nodded. “Like getting it off your chest…” he smiled sadly. “What’d he say? When you exploded?”
“He agreed with me,” I said.
Howie took a deep breath. “It sounds like he’s serious this time, J,” he said. He looked at me, straight in the eyes. “What’d you say he’s got?”
“But what kind?” he asked. I shrugged. I hadn’t thought to ask him. “Do you know the prognosis or anything?”
“Not a clue,” I replied. “I literally only know what my mum told me…” I said.
Howie shrugged, “You might want to find out,” he said.
I stared at the soundboard, letting Howie’s words sink in slowly. After a long moment, I looked up at him. “D?” I asked.
“What was it like?” I asked, “What’d you feel like when your dad died? Like when you found out he – he was going to…?”
Howie shifted uneasily in his chair. “We didn’t believe it at first, none of us. I mean, we’d been through the loss of Caroline and… it seemed… cruel, I guess, that we’d lose Papi, too,” he said. He sighed and shook his head. “We all denied it like crazy. We told ourselves it wasn’t happening, that we were being set up to see a miracle happen, that God was going to show off what He could do for us and pull Papi through it all…”
I studied Howie intently as he spoke. He sucked his lips into his mouth, catching them with his teeth. After a long pause, he looked me solidly in the face. “It’s different for you, AJ,” he said slowly, “Because you’re gaining him and losing him at the same time.”
“So… It’s probably hard for you to feel much of anything,” he said.
“So this is okay? It’s normal that I don’t feel like I’m losing anything?” I asked.
Howie nodded, “I guess, for your situation.”
“I just feel so… so guilty,” I admitted. “Like the other day, I was there and the nurse was changing his chemotherapy bag and… It was weird because it was like it hit me that it was chemo in there, you know? The guy’s literally fighting for his life, against his own body, and I’m sitting there bitter…” I looked down at my lap, “And worse, almost relieved…” My eyes travelled up to Howie’s.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty,” Howie said quietly. “You’re a bigger man than most would be,” he added.
I shrugged, “I dunno about that.”
“Do you seriously think Nick would be up there with his dad if it this was his situation?” Howie pressed. “Do you think Brian or I really understand what you’re going through to be able to say we would be, either?”
I shrugged again.
Howie shook his head, “J, it’s not easy, what you’re doing. It’s not easy at all. You’re letting go and forgiving for things that literally defined you for a lot of years.” He reached over and patted my shoulder, a sad, yet proud smile on his face. “Don’t feel guilty for doing a good thing.”
I swiped at my eyes with the back of my hand and looked away. Just in time, too, because Nick suddenly popped up between us. “Hey,” he said, “Who wants to speed up the tape and make Brian sound like a chipmunk? Anybody?” Nick grinned wickedly and reached for the dial as Howie muttered in Spanish.
“Have you been thinking of names for the baby?” Rochelle asked, running her palm across my chest. We were sitting on the couch in the living room, Gone With the Wind playing on TV. Honestly, we’d both lost interest a long time ago, but neither of us had actually admitted that we’d lost interest in the movie. This was the first shot at small talk either of us had taken. She ran her fingernails down the stitch in my chest.
I blinked at her, “Names? Already?”
“Well we know it’s a boy and all,” she pointed out. She smiled, “What do you think of Christopher?”
“The next thing that comes to my head immediately is Robin,” I replied.
“Ew,” Rochelle said, her nose wrinkling. “Yeah, no.” She hummed, “What about Alex Junior?” she asked.
I smirked, “Other things come to mind that I’d rather not be associated with my baby,” I said pointedly.
Rochelle’s cheeks grew red, then she laughed, “Okay, scratch Junior.”
“Please do,” I answered, laughing quietly.
“Gross,” she laughed, though. After a long pause she said, “Elijah?”
“Wood?” I smirked, “Hey you know what wood reminds me of…?”
Rochelle sat up, “You are just fascinated with penis euphemisms today!” she said, laughing. Rochelle shook her head, “Bad Monkee.”
“Think of baby names, then I’ll punish you all night,” she answered.
I smiled and rubbed her back gently. “I think it’s gonna be something we’ll just know when we see the baby, you know?” I asked, “I feel like I need to know him before I name him.”
“He feels like a Gerard to me.”
“Dude, have you not seen Everybody Loves Raymond?” I demanded, “Cousin Gerard?”
“There’s a cousin Gerard?” she asked.
“He’s the one with the accordion…”
“Ohhh.. Yeah, no, no Gerard.”
I kissed her forehead, “The name will come to us, don’t worry about it…” I paused. “Can we go have sex now?” I asked.
Rochelle laughed and shook her head, “You’re such a dog.”