"Put your arms out."
I did as I was told. The male officer patted me down. I jumped when he ran his hands a little too close to the man purse.
I put my arms back down. The officer walked back around and glanced at his clipboard.
"Did you bring anything for the prisoner?"
I blinked. "Was I supposed to?" I had a momentary vision of a large bouquet of flowers. Do people bring prisoners flowers?
The officer smiled. "Nope. Makes my job easier."
"That was my plan."
He didn't catch my bad joke. He pointed down a hall. "Head down this hall and go into the room at the very end at the right. A guard will bring Britney in."
I felt my nerves spike as I headed down the hall. Yes, I wasn't a stranger to jail. But prisons? This was new for me. It wasn't a place I wanted to visit on a regular basis.
I just wanted answers.
When I got to the end of the hall, I opened the door on the right and entered. It was a plain room, save for the two padded chairs placed in the center. I sat down on the edge of one, folded my hands, and stared at the floor. I thought about Ben. Benny who had been screaming like he was being murdered when Bri had called. I hoped my suggestion on singing worked. I had never felt more miserable about leaving something in my life.
The sound of the door opening broke my worry cycle. I looked up just as Britney walked in. A female officer was in front of her. The officer undid Britney's cuffs and pointed at a clock on the wall.
"A half hour," she said. Britney nodded. The officer stepped aside. It was all I could do not to gasp.
My attention had gone right to Britney's protruding stomach. She didn't speak until the officer closed the door.
"So you found me," she said. She didn't sound angry. More...I dunno...resign ed?
"You're pregnant," I said. She lowered herself, as pregnant women do, awkwardly in the chair. "Tell me about it."
I pointed. "That's not mine."
"No shit. Why are you here?"
I stared at her dumbfounded. "Why am I here? You left Bentley in front of my bus!"
"Is he okay?"
I detected worry, but at the same time, a detachment. How the hell could anyone detach themselves from Bentley?
"He's fine," I said. "Why didn't you tell me about him?"
Britney smiled. "How was I suppose to do that? You're kinda hard to get a hold of! It's not like you left your number."
"Then how'd you find my bus?"
"I didn't. I've been in here forever," she said, a scowl forming.
"My sister. She got knocked up too and couldn't take care of him anymore. So she hired someone to get Bentley too you."
I felt nauseous. "She just gave him to some strange guy? Did she check his credentials? Did she--"
"Listen, it worked out didn't it?"
"You tell me. Why are you here?"
She stretched out, sitting manlike in the chair. Her arm rested above her belly. She tilted her head and looked at the ceiling.
"My boyfriend and I were short on cash. He had the brilliant idea to rob a bank. We were going to take the money and head to L.A. We were going to have enough money for me to try to get an agent and for me to record my first album."
"You seriously thought you'd get away with robbing a bank?"
She looked back at me. I noticed her eyes were shiny. "We didn't have a choice. I was sick of eating Ramen Noodles and serving up frappes for famous artists who dumped my demo CD in the trash on their way out."
"You didn't give me a demo CD," I said.
"No, I didn't. It was because of you that I got to record that CD."
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. During that whirlwind week, I had brought her to the studio. I remembered recording a couple tracks in between--
"I'm sorry," I said. She shrugged.
"Not a big deal."
"Ben's a big deal."
She smiled. I don't know if it was because she was preggo, but she looked incredibly shiny and pretty when she smiled. Even in a jail jumpsuit. "You like him?"
"Of course I do. I--I love him."
"So you'll take care of him."
"Yes," I said, surprised as how strong my answer came out. "But what about you? You're still his mom. You--"
She shook her head. "I love Bentley, but I'm not mom material. It just feels like a job. Diapers, feeding. He's fussy all the time. He deserves better and you can give him that. If you're here for me to sign some paper dropping rights, just gimme a pen. I meant what I said. I love him, but I can't take care of him. Not now. Not ever."
I couldn't believe I was hearing a woman talk about a baby that way. It kinda reminded me of Lauren. Why did I pick women whose maternal instincts were the equivalent of a can of lima beans?
"Well, what about that?" I asked. I pointed at her stomach. She glanced down, almost in surprise. She opened her mouth and a cross between a sigh and a groan escaped.
"Yeah, I can't wait until this is done."
"Done?" I had visions of a turkey.
"My fucktard boyfriend knocked me up. He's doing time at the men's prison. He only wrote me once after I told him I was pregnant and that was to send me a form waving his rights. He had it made up by a lawyer and everything. That's when I knew I had to send Bentley to you. I mean, I don't have someone like you to take care of this one. I'm working with Family Services to at least get this little girl adopted out. Someone's got to want a little girl, right?"
It was as if I had a symphony. Wait, a cacophony. No, an...an...epiphany. I wanted Bentley. Britney didn't want anything to do with Bentley. Britney was pregnant. Brian and Leighanne wanted a baby, but couldn't make a baby. Britney, evidently a fertile mertle, didn't want this baby either.
"Listen, I want to help you. When you get out of here, if you decide to go to L.A., I can see what I can do to get you in to talk to the right people. As for Ben, I don't have papers for you to sign today," I found myself saying slowly. "But I can get them to you." I took a deep breath.
"And I might be able to help you with your bun situation, too."
"WWWWWWWAAAAHHHH!" Bentley pushed the cheerios off the tray. "BBAAA!" The banana flew away. "WAAAAAAA!" Kick, kick, kick. More screaming.
I'd put Nick's CD on repeat. It was still playing. I knew every breath he took on the whole record. Every gasp for air, every syllable. I felt like I could've gone to town against our most obsessive fan and beat her in trying to recite Nick's lyrics. I'd love to do a Don't Forget the Lyrics rematch using I'm Taking Off for the finale.
But Bentley was not stopping. Apparently Day Three of Where's-My-Daddy was as much as Ben could take. I don't know if it was my imagination or not, but Bentley's screams were much louder than they'd been the last two days.
"Ben, you gotta eat... Please..." I tried shoving a spoonful of mashed carrots into his mouth. He deflected the spoon, sending orange mooshy matter across the room, spattering on the cabinets.
Suddenly the door to the bus opened. "Benny!" Nick's voice was excited.
Ben instantly stopped screaming and whipped his head around to look at Nick, his eyes wide. He struck his fat arms into the air. "Dadadadadadada!!" he screamed. Nick scooped the kid up from the high chair and Bentley grabbed onto his shirt in his tight fists and clung for dear life.
Nick looked at me. "You look like crap," he said.
"Thanks." I stood up and hit the stop on the stereo. I sighed a heavy breath of relief. "Oh praise the Lord. No offense or nothing, but if I heard Special one more time I was going to have to strangle you."
"I'm going to my bus, and I'm going to bed."
Nick eyed me. "Don't you wanna know about Britney?" he asked.
I was so exhausted I could barely stand up, I'd completely forgotten about why Nick was gone, only that he wasn't here to make Ben stop screaming. I stood half suspended between my desire for information and my desire to collapse onto a mattress and count sheep.
Nick's smile spread slowly, like an infectious disease. "I have something for you," he said. He slipped Ben into the high chair, where he cooed and grabbed at one of the Cheerios that hadn't take a kamakatzi dive off the side, and unzipped the duffle bag he'd dropped onto the floor by the door. He reached inside and pulled out a plain, non-descript envelope and handed it to me.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Look at it," he answered.
Cautiously, I opened the envelope. With Nick and his practical joker ways, one can never tell what might be in an unmarked envelope handed to one by him. I slit the top with my finger, and peered inside. There was a small photograph. I pulled it out. It was an ultrasound.
The black and white ultrasound image swam before my eyes. The curling shape of a baby, whose little face was silhouetted against amniotic fluids and swirling darkness, with a precious button nose and little fingers and little toes... I stared at it, then I looked up at Nick. "Who's is this?" I asked.
Nick smiled. "Yours... if ya'll want her."