June 20, 2014
"There I am on my first day of school. You promised me that day that I'd get a car when I turn sixteen. I think you said something about a Mustang or something."
Benjamin Thomas Littrell is the most awesome teenager that I have ever been around in my life. Considering I spent a summer teaching science to high schoolers when I was 28, this is saying a lot. He is handsome and gorgeous and protective of me. I know this as soon as Nick tells him about the trip out of the hospital. His sparkling blue eyes turn angry and he asks me no less than five times if I am okay. The amount of testerone in the room overwhelms me.
"Okay, so you didn't say that," he admits. I can't help but laugh. He gives me an impish grin and turns the page of a large photo album that is spread across my lap.
It is surreal to see myself in photographs that I have never taken. I see myself for the first time pregnant and a page later holding a baby. I see myself backstage at Backstreet Boys shows in countries I've never been and each picture shows Ben growing a little bigger, a little taller. He clings to me in every picture unless he is with Brian or Nick. I realize quickly that he idolizes Nick just as much, if not more, than his dad. There are pictures of Brian at each important stage of his life, but infinitely more pictures of Ben with Nick doing every day random things like eating at McDonald's, playing video games, or even just sleeping.
Nick's own metamorphosis intrigues me in the photos and I feel like I am practically dissecting each photograph. It is odd to see Nick, no older than nineteen, holding baby Ben calmly and happily even while looking more like a much older brother than a future stepdad. There is not a year of Ben’s life when Nick isn’t there.
Conversely, it is even odder to dissect Brian's photos in the album. In the first photo of him and newborn Ben, his face is filled with nervousness and pure unadulterated fear. This tension lessens only slightly in each photograph until Ben is about five. This is when I can see a proud, loving dad. It appears that Brian’s timeline stayed on track. The only difference, I realize, is the existence of Ben.
I also realize that the change in Brian’s attitude starts only when the photos begin to include, for the most part, Baylee. I look at Nick and I can tell that he knows what I am thinking. He nods slightly.“Are you remembering now, mom?”
Ben sounds so hopeful that I almost lie to him, but I know that will only do him more harm. An unusual feeling of protectiveness comes over me.
“I’m sorry,” I say, truly meaning it. “I must have hit my head pretty hard.” My head, besides overwhelmed, scared, and exhausted, feels perfectly fine.
Nick stands up. As he walks by me, he gently touches my shoulder. “I’m going to go put away the pizza. Keep looking. Ben, show her that picture where your missing your two front teeth. That’s one of my favorites.”
“Only because you kept making me say sit because it sounded like--" Nick covers his mouth playfully and cackles. Ben grabs his hand and twists. Nick breaks free. “Nice try, Bruiser.”
I enjoy the exchange and I’m almost sad to see Nick leave the room. What is wrong with me? I would dwell on that thought, but Ben turns to another page and I am saved or so I think. I stare at an 8 x 10 of myself on a stage in a pair of tight jeans and a short translucent shirt. A pink guitar is hanging around my neck and I am singing. I look happy. And gorgeous. I didn’t think that combination was possible.
“This was the CMA’s,” Ben says proudly. “You won best female artist last year. It was awesome. Dad was there and he freaked out worse than you.”
Ben’s smile drops. He brings his hand to his mouth and nibbles on his pinky nail. I notice how jagged it is. “No, Nick,” he mumbles. He pulls an entire sliver of nail and wipes it on his jeans. “They’re both kinda my dads, y’know?” He wants me to know, he wants me to remember so bad that I want to cry.
“I get it,” I say. The next part hurts me to say and I don’t know why. “Just like I’m sure Leighanne’s kinda like your mom, too.” I lean over and hug him. He hugs me tightly, but when he pulls away he’s smiling a little.
"No,” he shakes his head. “She’s not. You’re my one and only best ever mom. She’s just...y’know...my stepmom.”
I am speechless. He looks down and turns another page in the photograph, a dimple appearing and disappearing as he begins to explain another photo. He nudges me and laugh.
I don’t think I could love anyone more.