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Chapter Ten

"Nick, the show's over. It's two in the morning. Why are you stalling?"

I looked at Lauren, hands on hips, and tried to put on my best dumb face.

"I'm not stalling."

"Then why aren't we going back to the bus to talk?"

I scuffed the toe of my sneaker into a sidewalk crack and worked my jaw side-to-side. I had promised Bri that I would pick Bentley up by one. I exhaled.

"Nick, my bags are packed. I'm ready to give you another chance and come back."

I looked over at her, her dark hair falling around her shoulders. She really was beautiful. "Really?"

She smiled. "Really. As long as you've respected our look, no touch policy--"

Ah, there it was. I had to tell her. There was no way to hide the bolted down baby crib or the fact I'd be getting a call soon with DNA results. I wrapped my hand around a nearby light pole and swung my body around it. It was fun the first time, so I did it again.

"About that," I said. "Remember when I was recording in Tennessee and we had that little fight?"

"The one where you threatened to kill yourself with a butter knife?"

I scowled. "Only after you threatened to stab me with a spork!"

"Well, you were being a douche."

I swung around the pole a third time. I couldn't even remember what had started our disagreement. I just knew what I had done afterwards.

"Yeah, so," I paused to swing a fourth time. "I did a couple all nighters in the studio. I needed Starbucks to stay awake and I kinda...did the girl behind the counter."

She grabbed onto my flannel shirt, stopping my fifth spin. "What?"

I clung to the pole with the feeling that keeping a huge hunk of metal between us was wise. "I slept with the Starbucks girl," I repeated. I slid my foot backwards and found where the sidewalk dipped off into the street.

"Why didn't you tell me when we made up?"

"Because I couldn't take it back," I reasoned (which was also the understatement of the century). "And we had broken up for those few days. So I didn't really cheat."

Lauren's eyes narrowed and she stuffed her hands in her short vesty jacket that stretched across her chest. The silence was thick.

"Okay, well, it sounds like we just need to regroup and work more on the trust thing," she said slowly.

My heart melted. No girl ever gave me more than one do-over. She was perfect. I felt my courage building. I let go of the lightpole.

"There's one more little thing," I said. Before she could ask, I continued. "Yesterday morning someone dropped a baby off by my bus door. Turns out Starbucks girl says I knocked her up. I've done a DNA test to make sure because I figure out what to do with him." I paused to laugh. "Can you believe i--"

I didn't get to finish my question. Lauren's purse connected with my crotch. She carried one of those gigantic suitcase things that I'm pretty sure had a brick in the bottom. I grabbed at my junk and fell to the ground, sure I was going to throw up blood.

"Goodbye Nick," she snapped. I watched her heels click down the pavement through watery vision.

I knew I should have kept the lightpole between us.

After getting my nuts shoved into my throat, I decided to go back to the busses. We were due to leave soon. Part of me wanted to chase after Lauren, but the smarter part of me told me not to press my luck. I grabbed a cab and hunched down, poking at my extremities in misery as we headed towards the arena.

It was pretty quiet in the lot as I limped back to the bus. I got the door open and hobbled up inside, wincing at the upward movement. The interior was dark and I thought I was alone until I heard Bentley's babble. I reached up and clicked on a light.

I froze.

Down the hall going towards my bedroom, Brian stood there holding Bentley. Beyond him, in my bedroom was Wood. Standing beside him was a midget. In a lime-green mong. Otherwise known as a man thong.

And to top it all off, the midget was holding a pie; a pie that permeated spoiled tuna stank all through the bus.

"What the hell is going on here?" I yelled.

Ben let out a shriek.



He had the weirdest expression on his face, somewhere between illness and drunken stupor and... I dunno what. He blinked. He blinked again. "Why the hell is going on here?" he asked.

I ignored the fact that he'd said why in a sentence that should've asked what. "Nick, Danny was just --"

"Inviting the freaking circus over for brunch?!" he cried.

I glanced at Danny. He was holding a swiffer mop with a lime green scrubby head. Granted the room still smelled like fish and diaper, but... "The circus?" I asked, confused. I leaned closer to Nick to get a whiff of his mouth. "Oh holy crow Carter," I gasped, "How the hell much did you --"

"WHY IS THERE A MIDGET ON MY BUS?!" he screeched.

Ben immediately began to scream, too.

Danny's face erupted into an expression of absolute pissed-off-ed-ness. "Midget?" he growled, "MIDGET?"


"Nick, why don't you calm down? You smell like you drank the entire Jack Daniels' factory and..."

"MIDGET!" he bellowed over Bentley's screams.

"I'm short but I'm not a midget," yelled Danny, throwing the rank mop onto the floor with bravado. He glowered at Nick, "I could wreck you, you hulking... crane..."

"Danny," I gasped, "Please! Someone here has to be the mature one."

"MATURE ONE?" Nick shrieked. "Who the hell brought the midget?!"

I turned and looked at Nick, "THERE ARE NO MIDGETS YOU IDIOT!"

"Then what the fuck is that on the floor?"

"A mop," I snarled, "And maybe if you weren't so shit faced you'd be able to see that it's not a---"

"OFF MY BUS!" Nick screamed.

Danny happily obliged, muttering something about the taller they stand, the harder they fall as he went out the door, but I stood my ground. I stared Nick down. "Get the fuck out of here," Nick slurred.

"No," I answered firmly.

Nick glowered at me. "Go away," he said, "Leave me alone."

"I can't," I responded, "Ben is here, so you wouldn't be alone, and I'm not leaving you alone with him in your current state."

"I'm not drunk," Nick growled.

"No? Then expalin why a Swiffer Wet Jet looks like a freaking midget to you then, please. I'm quite interested in this one," I retorted, then added before he could speak, "You always complained when you were younger about how horrible your Dad was for getting drunk and letting you down but right now Nick --- right now, you're exactly like him."

Nick, who'd been on the war path thirty seconds prior, now froze and his face fell and he stared at me with wide, deeply hurt eyes. Tears started to fall down from the corners and he dropped onto the couch in a defeated way as Bentley screamed from the crib. Nick looked up at me, "She hit me in the crotch," he whispered, "Really... really... really hard."

"You cheated on her, you deserved it."

"Yeah, I know," Nick replied.

"Where is she now?" I asked. I sat down next to him.

"She left," he whispered.

I sighed and pulled Bentley out of the crib and sat down next to Nick. Ben struggled against my grip, trying to climb onto Nick, but I wouldn't let go of him. I imagined him getting some sort of contact high off Nick's breath from all the JD. Nick leaned back into the cushions, but rolled his head to look at Bentley. "She was okay when it was just the Starbucks girl," he said quietly, sadly. "She was gonna give me a do-over. Til she found out about Benny."

I glanced at Nick.

He reached out a hand and let Ben grab onto his finger. Bentley pulled Nick's finger into his mouth and started teething on Nick's knuckle. Nick smiled in a sleepy sort of way. "I thought women were supposed to like babies?"

"When they come from their wombs or when they belong to complete strangers," I answered, nodding, "Not when they come from the girl your boyfriend knocked up."

Nick sighed. "Am I really like my dad?" he asked after a long moment of Ben sucking on Nick's finger. Ben pulled the finger out and analyzed it, staring at his own drool hanging off it, before sticking it back in his mouth.

"You don't have to be," I answered.