June 21, 2014
“It’s fine. Do you want a Xanax? I have a Xanax.”
“I don’t do drugs.”
“Well, actually, this one time…”
I lean forward and close my eyes. I am hyperventilating and we have not even boarded the plane. Nick had purchased tickets at 4:00 in the morning, right before we finally gave in to sleep. The compact was safely housed in a wall safe at the house.
“Can we go paintballing while we’re there, dad?” It totally hadn’t phased Ben when he woke up and Nick announced we were leaving for Sacramento. A spur of the moment trip obviously wasn't a rare occurrence. Then again, he had probably spent his whole life on tour busses. Anyhow, his excitement was helping keep me from throwing up.
“Sure. Maybe we’ll see if Uncle Kev wants to drive up and join us. And AJ. You know AJ’s already up to it. His ego's bruised from being creamed the last time. He wants a rematch bad."
Ben cracks his knuckles and laughs maniacally. “They’re goin’ dowwwwnnnn.”
“Team Carter for life,” Nick laughs. His hand brushes my back. He leans against me. “Are you sure--”
“No drugs,” I assure him. “It’s just...I’ve never flown before.”
“Mom, you fly all the time.” I glance over at Ben. He’s frowning now. “Actually, should you even be flying with a concussion?”
Nick and I exchange a look. Ben isn't dumb.
“The doctor thinks maybe a trip would do mom some good. I thought we’d hang around Sacramento a day or two then go chill at the beach house."
I am tempted to ask what beach house, but I know that Nick in my real life has an L.A. beach house. The man was to ocean like carbon and oxygen were to air.
“That sounds cool. Man, I wish I was little still so we could go to Funderland Park. Remember when Leighanne fell out of Oscar the Fisher?”
Nick starts laughing. “That was epic. She was so--” he stops but Ben snickers.
“I know she was hungover. She made dad hunt around for her sunglasses like she had lost her wedding ring or something. She’s a lush.”
“What? It’s the truth.”
Nick looks like he wants to agree with him badly. Instead he just smacks him lightly on the back of his head. “Just don’t call your stepmom a lush. Your dad would be totally pissed.”
Ben just shrugs. There is an awkward silence for a second and then Ben grins. "Well, if somehow I end up getting a little brother or sister we could take them to Funderland Park before I go off to college."
I look at him in surprise. No kid wants a sibling. I know I never did. Well, maybe I had before dad had left. Lord knows I had never wanted any of mom's boyfriends to be a sperm donor. Luckily, it hadn't happened.
"Who says I'm letting you go off to college?" Nick tries to say it seriously, but fails. Ben laughs. "Shut up."
"Don't think a baby will distract your mom or me from missing you Benny-wenny-iddle-umpkins," Nick coos. Ben dodges a pinch to the cheek, but just barely. He is laughing harder. "I hate you so much, dad."
But he doesn't. He loves Nick unconditionally. No teen would want a step-sibling unless they really loved their step-parent. I decide to test the waters. If anything it keeps my mind off the plane.
"You have Baylee. You don't really want another sibling, right?"
Nick stops trying to tickle Ben. Ben stops laughing. He looks at me as if I have lost my mind.
"You'd at least let me be a brother to a new baby," he says. Before I can stop him, he grabs his bookbag and marches across the waiting area. I watch in stunned silence as he heads towards the Starbucks in our concourse, his shoulders scrunched and high.
"I might have forgotten to mention that there's a little animosity there," Nick tries to joke. I look at him and he drops the act. "Brian didn't embrace the dad thing until Baylee was born. You saw that for yourself in the pictures."
"Leighanne's always treated Ben like a stepson. Baylee is the sun, the Earth, and the moon. Ben couldn't hold him when he was born because Leighanne thought he was too little and might drop him. He seriously has only been alone with his brother three times and each of those times was because it was just Brian and me with them. Those are the times that they laughed hysterically together. They'd be awesome brothers, but..."
"This sucks. She sounds horrible."
"I might have a little bit of a grudge against her. The thing is, like Ben said, she's not that bad. I mean I really can't see Brian with anyone else. Of course, you've disagreed on that."
Nick stares ahead and I realize he's watching Ben talk to a pretty redhead who looks like she's sixteen. She is smiling and laughing enthusiastically. "Then again, love makes all of us act a little crazy."
We are silent, both watching Ben flirt with the girl. Nick sighs.
"I really want a daughter, but I see things like this and realize just how long of a jail sentence I'm going to have to serve. I would have been over there shielding her from Ben already."
"But Ben's just a sweet boy. He's adorable and harmless."
Nick snickers. "Those are the ones you have to watch out for the most. Those are the ones that are raised right, but still get underage girls drunk and pregnant."
I wince. "But it's Ben."
To my relief (and immediately after, my horror) they announce our flight. Ben gestures towards us and the girl smiles in our direction. She tugs on the napkin he hold around his cup. He hands it to her and she bows her head over it, her hand gripping a pen I didn't realize she had.
"She's giving him her number."
"Atta boy?" I look at him surprised. "But you just said--"
Nick laughs. "I said if she were my daughter I'd be over there. I can't help but be a little proud of his skills. He learned everything he knows from me,"
I roll my eyes. "I highly doubt that."
"Dude, dad, she gave me her number." Ben practically runs up to us. "What you said worked."
Nick gives me a 'told you so' look as he stands up and grabs our bags. I make a split second decision.
"I'll take the Xanax."