May 9, 1998
“So here it is. My casa. Su casa.”
He steps aside and I’m greeted with the view of Nick Carter’s first apartment as an adult. It is a far cry from the beach house that I vaguely remember. This apartment is small, pre-furnished, and in an odd corner of the city. It doesn’t scream Nick. Then again, he has just moved in.
“I know it’s not much, but it will do for now. We have to start somewhere right?”
He turns and looks at me with a cautious smile. “You, me...Ben.”
“I appreciate the help, but I don’t expect to mooch of you.”
“You’re not mooching!” he protests. “I remember you living in this small apartment when Ben was born and some asshole broke in and stole your TV. That’s not going to happen. Not on my watch.”
I have no recollection of this. The thought of some creep breaking into my place curbs my protests. I run my hand over the back of the couch and head towards the kitchen.
“The microwave is awesome. It cooks things in half-time. I had some Totino pizza rolls last night. Do you know how awesome it was to eat pizza rolls for dinner?”
I look at him. He grins. “My metabolism is awesome.”
I laugh. “I could go for some pizza rolls.”
He springs into action. He yanks open the freezer. His face falls. He opens his refrigerator.
“Crap. I kinda...ate everything.”
He holds up an almost empty jar of mustard. “Almost.”
I laugh. He hangs on the refrigerator. “Let’s go grab something to eat. There’s this place a couple blocks away. Then we can drive out to this place that looks out over the ocean.”
My growling stomach answers for me. “That sounds great,” I say gratefully. Nick swings the refrigerator door closed.
“Then we can come back so I can give you the rest of the apartment tour.”
“I’d like that,” I say truthfully. His excitement is so ridiculously adorable that I can’t help but smile. All my stress disappears.
It’s the Carter factor.
"It's a billion degrees out. Why are you still wearing that hoodie?”
He's right about the temperature. I'm dying. We're parked overlooking the ocean and it's so humid my eyelashes are even frizzing. Wrappers from two chicken sandwiches are at my feet. I made quick work of the fries.
"I'm having wardrobe issues because of the bump."
Nick looks surprised. He smiles. "You have a bump? Can I see?"
I pause. No one has seen my bump but me. It's my little secret. Showing it would make it somehow less all my own. I run my fingers along the hem of the hoodie.
"Part of it is the chicken sandwiches," I warn. "I've never eaten two sandwiches in my life."
"And two fries."
I glance down into the empty bag. Sure enough, I see two empty French fry pouches.
This baby has made me into a garbage disposal.
"It's fine. I'd get you ten more if you want 'em. So....can I see?"
He can't mask his curiosity. I grab the heavy material and lift it up. The t-shirt underneath, unable to cover the stretching skin, hovers above my navel.
"Wow. It's such a…bumpy little bump."
"Little?" To me, the changes are massive. Nick just reaches out his hand and places it gently on my belly.
"Hi Ben," he says softly. "It's Nick. I can't wait to see you. You be a good little guy and don't break any of your mommy's ribs or organs or anything."
I laugh. He keeps leaning closer and closer. "We'll go play basketball and do paintballing and you'll remind me to wash my hands after I go to the bathroom. It's going to be great."
I'm not prepared for his lips on my stomach. They're so gentle.
"I love you, Benners."
Tears fill my eyes. Nick looks at me and smiles.
"Living through this again...it's going to be different."
He sits back up. "I already know the only girl in the world for me is you. I know what a real family is like with you and Ben. This time, I don't want to wait 15 years to get married."
My heart stops. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” he glances out at the ocean. “I want to get married. Like now.”
“Now?” I am sure I’m not hearing him correctly.
“Well not now as in this second. I mean now as in...soon. Next month? Two months?”
He turns towards me. “I even got this.”
I have a bad feeling about the ‘this.’ He slides his hand in his back pocket and pulls out a small velvet pouch. He yanks it open and tips it upside down.
A gold ring falls into his palm.
“It was my great-grandma’s. I called and asked him for it. Before...in the memories, the ring was ‘lost’ after my grandpa died. This isn’t how I wanted this to play out, but I couldn’t wait. Court, will you marry me?”
My throat tightens. This is totally not how I imagined a proposal would happen. Nowhere in my mind did I think I’d be sitting in a car that smelled like greasy fast food with my bare, pregnant belly hanging out, staring into the eyes of an eighteen year old with a cherished family heirloom in his hand who stares back like a lovesick puppy.
I love that he’s a lovesick puppy.
“Nick, I---” I take a deep breath. “I can’t answer your question.”
His eyes widen. “What?”
“I can’t answer your question. I’m pregnant with Brian’s child. This is going to be so hard to tell him and then if I tell him I’m engaged to you. He didn’t believe Ben was his child in the first place, right? How much worse would that make it?”
Nick sinks back into his seat, his fingers curling around the ring. He closes his eyes and presses his head back against the rest.
“I’m an idiot. The longer I’m here, the dumber I get. I’m a stupid, fucking eighteen year old.”
“You’re not stupid,” I argue.
“Yes, I am. I just...I just don’t have the patience. I can’t imagine waiting as long as we did to be together. I can’t sleep just thinking about being with you. It’s driving me crazy.” His eyes fly open and he looks at me. “I’m crazy for you.”
His free hand reaches out and snakes through my hair. Next thing I know, he is kissing me hungrily. I submit to the feeling of his lips on mine and we meld into the seats. Nick’s hand slides across my stomach again and then I hear it…
The distinct sound of metal hitting metal.
He stops, his hair falling down into his face.
“I dropped the ring between the seats.”
Two hours later, four metal shaving cuts, and one ripped pair of jeans later, Nick’s great-grandma’s ring is back in the pouch and we’re headed back to his apartment. I hold the hoodie against my stomach, relieved at the feel of the air on my bare arms. Nick looks frustrated, sad, and tortured.
He is constantly being cock blocked. There’s no other way to say it.
“Once Brian’s well enough...can we go see him? I want to tell him about this. I think then I won’t feel so nervous about everything. And then…”
His eyes shift over to me. He almost rear ends the car in front of him. “Then?”
I smile. “You know.”
He turns his attention back to the road, but his grin is evident.
“Wanna go tomorrow?”
“He just had surgery!”
“I’m eighteen and desperate.”
“I’m pregnant and pukey.”
“The perfect pair.”