November 15, 1998
“Someday, we’ll look back and never believe that she was drowning in this carseat.”
“Winnie’s small but mighty. Aren’t you beautiful?”
Her face is like a little china doll’s, but her eyes, her beautiful blue eyes stare up at me and sparkle like she understands every single word. Her mouth opens into a perfect little pink pucker and I press my lips against her cheek.
“It’s crazy. They’re both going home.”
I meet Brian’s eyes and we smile. For the first time in awhile I notice the bags are gone around his eyes. I brush a wayward piece of hair out of my eyes and adjust Winnie’s seat straps.
“How are you doing?” I ask.
“Better,” he pauses. “When I went home with Ben, mom suggested I pay a visitor to our church. I had a really good talk with the pastor. He helped me try to make sense of everything. He made me feel like Leighanne…” I can see the moisture pool in his eyes. “Leighanne didn’t suffer. She was met with the welcome arms of Jesus and God himself. And I should stop thinking that I was the one who killed her.”
“We all could have told you that,” I said. “You were in the same room as Nick and I.”
“Yeah, but that’s the thing. I felt like I killed her nine months earlier than that. I didn’t think she’d ever give me another chance, but she did. Yet, she reminded me about it all the time,” he sighs. “But that didn’t matter. I would have spent my whole life trying to make it up to her.”
“And you wanted that?”
Brian leans over, fixing Winnie’s blanket. Her little arm shoots out and her hand wraps around Brian’s finger. His face melts into a smile.
“I don’t know. I just know that she wouldn’t have been on the plane if it hadn’t been for me.”
“She did it because she loved you. If you’re going to dwell on anything, just keep that thought that she loved you and you loved her. I won’t even tell you that you shouldn’t worry or cry or you should move forward. I won’t because I’ve never been there. But I’m here if you ever need to talk.”
“Thanks Court. I really appreciate it. I--you’re an amazing person.”
I laugh. “No, I’m really not.”
“You are. Nick’s lucky to have you.”
“And you’re lucky to have him.”
I smile. Brian picks up Winnie’s car seat. It weighs only slightly heavier with her little body in it. I brush away a tear, a happy one.
“I’ve heard that cute kids are chick magnets,” I say lightly. Brian laughs.
“I only care about being a good dad. It’s time I grew up. I mean, when Nick Carter has a more mature outlook on life than I do, I know it’s time to step up.”
“Nick’s full of surprises,” I muse. I think of his bright eyes and gorgeous smile. His floppy blonde hair and his scrawny arms. Then I think about the years ahead. My heart begins to race.
Life is good.
November 20, 1998
“Honey, you need some sleep.”
“You haven’t let me help you yet. It’s why I came back with Brian. You need your strength.”
I look at Jackie warily. My ears are ringing from the dual tones of shrill cries. I clutch Winnie, sure that she’s feeding off the tension, but unable to let her go.
“Just a few more minutes,” I say.
Jackie hums, or at least I think she does. It comes to my ears through the hum. She scoops up Ben, smiling down at him lovingly.
“He looks just like Brian when he was a baby,” she says softly even as he screams up at her. She strokes his cheek. “Lungs just like him, too.”
I smile even as I sink down into the rocker. I study Winnie closely as she screams. There’s no sign of purpling, but I still worry. I worry every second when she’s awake. I worry every second that she sleeps.
“Do you ever stop worrying?” I ask.
“Of course not,” Jackie says with a laugh. “I’m not sure that a mother can ever stop worrying about her babies. Not after carrying them and seeing them grow from within. It’s part of our nature.”
I slide Winnie up, my hand rubbing along her back. “My mother’s never worried,” I admit.
“Well,” she smiles at me. “Us good mothers do. Us good mothers also like to informally adopt the ones with un-worrying mothers.” She sits down beside me with Ben. “Nick’s my unofficial son, you know.”
We begin to rock in time. “Really?”
“Mm-hmm. Nick doesn’t know this and I don’t think Brian will ever tell him either, but Brian was his legal guardian when they first started out and were over in Europe. Brian even brought him for Thanksgiving one year. I remember seeing this look in his eyes. I know his mom and dad are still together, but he told me...he told me all about the fighting. He practically raised his siblings. I think to the outside world he comes off as immature, but he’s really something. He has a good sense of responsibility.”
My eyes, just a few seconds ago heavy, are wide open. “I know. Just the way he is with Winnie and Ben…”
“He loves you.”
I don’t need to look at her to see she’s smiling. “I think Brian does too, but I can tell...whenever you talk about Nick. You two remind me a little of Harold and I.”
“Oh, yes. We were young and we didn’t have a clue what life had in store. It’s sweet to see the two of you like that. Just the glimpses I’ve seen…”
She trails off. We rock in silence and eventually, blissfully, Winnie and Ben fall asleep.
“Are you two going to get married?”
I keep rubbing Winnie’s back. I don’t want to jinx anything by stopping. “Eventually. We’re unofficially engaged,” I say. “He’s holding onto the ring. Management’s asking Nick and I to wait. Nick’s so popular and they think that getting married might hurt the group.”
“And he’s listening?”
“I’m making him listen,” I admit. “I’ve got this...audition myself with a record company. It might be something. It might not.”
“I wondered. I’ve heard you sing to the babies. You have a beautiful voice.”
“”Thank you. But really, Nick and I aren’t in a hurry. We want to see what happens. I mean I have a feeling Backstreet is going to explode even more in the next year.” I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. If she only knew...
“So we have to figure out how things will work with them on the road all the time. No matter what, the babies are the first priority.”
“That’s fair,” Jackie says. “And smart. Either way, I’m happy to have you and Nick in our family.”
My heart melts.
“I can’t think of a better family to be in.”