I wrapped another section of hair around the curling iron and blew a short puff of air out from between my lips. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t stop glancing at it. The little plastic stick was perched precariously on the side of the sink; the tiny pink cross that adorned the display window was simultaneously the greatest and most terrifying thing that I had ever seen. I still couldn’t believe that it was real, but the four other sticks bearing identical pink crosses confirmed that it was true. I was going to be a mother.
I gently fluffed the long tendril of hair that dropped from the curling iron and glanced down at my still flat stomach as I reached for another section. It was impossible for me to imagine what I was going to look like with a round belly, but that didn’t stop me from turning sideways and gazing at my profile. Maybe my breasts would finally get bigger.
Having a baby had been Brayden’s greatest dream. Even after the cancer diagnosis, he had been hopeful; banking his sperm sample so that we would still have the option to conceive once he entered remission. Tears clouded my vision as I watched another curly segment of hair fall over my shoulder. It had been almost eleven months since Brayden’s funeral, and I still found myself reaching out for him in the middle of the night and turning my head to look for him whenever the floors creaked.
Even though I was terrified of becoming a single mom, I was proud of my decision to carry out Brayden’s final wish. On the day of his passing, he had urged me to use the sperm sample; to try for a child that was part of him and part of me. I had been afraid that my friends and family would try to talk me out of it, so I had gone through the insemination procedure alone. It had been my early Christmas gift to myself.
Thankfully, when Brayden had banked his sperm sample almost two years ago, had chosen one of the most highly regarded fertility clinics in Atlanta. The doctor who had performed the procedure, Dr. Lisa Hoeg, had been wonderful. In fact, she had appeared to be almost as anxious as I was to find out the results; urging me to call the clinic the moment that I obtained a positive pregnancy test.
I wrapped the final section of hair around the wand and waited for the curl to take shape. The last thing that I wanted to do was go to work, but I had no choice. Brayden and I had given up our lives in Georgia in order for me to accept the position at Planet Hollywood. I owed it to Brayden to make sure that my career was a success; especially, now that I would soon have a baby to support.
Although our move to Nevada had taken place months before Brayden’s cancer diagnosis, I still felt that as though the stress of the move is what had triggered his illness. Maybe if we had stayed in Atlanta where everything was easy and familiar, I wouldn’t have been preparing for parenthood all by myself. It was only fitting that Brayden had selected the Atlanta clinic to preserve his sperm sample; essentially ensuring that I would conceive our baby back home in Georgia where everything good in our lives had occurred.
Glancing again at the positive testing stick, I unplugged the curling iron and gave my now perfectly wavy hair a few final scrunches for good measure. Apart from the whole peeing on a stick and discovering that I was pregnant thing, today was a big day. Today was the day that one of the fastest selling residencies in Planet Hollywood’s modern history was finalized. Today was the day that the most high-profile project of my career officially began. I checked my side profile one final time before turning off the light in the bathroom. Today was not about being pregnant. Today was about being professional; about trying not to appear outwardly terrified as I locked eyes with all five members of the Backstreet Boys.
“So, we’re all in agreement about the nineteen song set-list?”
I smiled, albeit somewhat nervously, as I started into Kevin Richardson’s green eyes and waited for the other guys to respond. Between the pregnancy and Nick Carter’s still drop-dead gorgeous smile, my mind was in a perpetual state of disarray. I was actually amazed that I had managed to last as long as I had without drooling on myself or saying something stupid.
“Does that include the encore?”
I flipped my gaze away from Kevin’s green eyes to Howie’s brown ones. He had directed the question at me. I hastily glanced down at the series of papers that I had spread out on the table; mentally berating myself for not knowing the answer without having to check.
“There would be time for you to do one additional song for an encore.” I paused; fidgeting anxiously with my pen. “If that’s what ya’ll want to do?”
“Where are you from?” Nick dropped the question randomly into the middle of the discussion. He issued me a small smirk. “You sound like you should be a part of the Kentucky cousins; all southern and shit.”
“Me?” I was slow to get over my surprise. I hadn’t been expecting to answer anything about myself. “I’m from Atlanta.”
I cringed ever-so-slightly as the words left my mouth. I was now distinctly aware of just how much my voice pulled at the vowels and softened the consonants – ‘At-laaaan-aa’.
Nick gave me another good-natured smirk. “I should have known that you were from Georgia.”
“What are you getting at with that comment?” Brian skillfully flicked an empty gum wrapper across the table at Nick; effectively nailing the blonde directly between the eyes. He laughed softly. “Ya’ll grew up in Florida. It ain’t like you aren’t from the south too.”
“Yeah, but I don’t sound like I’m from the south.” Nick rubbed at his forehead and began searching for the assaulting gum wrapper. “You three sound like drunken hillbillies.”
“I think the most important thing that we can all take away from this conversation is that Nicky actually knows that Atlanta is located in Georgia.” It was AJ’s turn to smirk. “And he didn’t even need to ask Siri.”
“He should know where Atlanta is!” Brian shot back. “After all, I resign in Georgia.”
“Oh my Goooood! I was like thirteeeeeen when I said that!” Nick actually whined; his voice adopting an annoyingly high-pitched quality. “Why do you guys always have to remember everything?!”
AJ laughed loudly and turned to me. “In case you’re confused, Nick once told a reporter that he ‘resigned’ in Florida. To this day, that comment is quite possibly one of his finest on-screen blunders.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ve fallen off of the fucking stage on live TV.” Nick located the balled-up gum wrapper and launched it at AJ’s face. “That’s way more stupider than me saying the wrong word.”
“That comment coming from the grown-ass man who just said ‘more stupider’ ...” AJ dodged the gum wrapper and continued to laugh.
“You’ll have to excuse them.” Kevin shook his head and rolled his eyes in my direction. “They’re like children; small children.”
“So, back to the set ...” Howie involuntarily jerked backwards in the midst of swiveling to face me; cutting himself off mid-sentence as the gum wrapper pelted him in the temple. He grabbed the tiny ball of paper off of the table and whipped it back in AJ’s general direction. “What the hell, man!?”
“Children.” Kevin continued to shake his head. “I’m surrounded by children.”
I bit at my bottom lip, but I couldn’t completely suppress my laughter. I was used to dealing primarily with managers and publicists, so I had been a bit unsure about what to expect when my boss had informed me that I would be meeting with the Backstreet Boys directly. I had become even more anxious about my first headlining assignment when I had found out that the five men sitting before me wanted to be directly involved in every aspect of their Vegas residency. Usually, the artists themselves barely spoke to me. I was just another person in their entourage who coordinated everything that they needed to do in order to bank roll millions of dollars.
“So, Abby ... can I call you Abby?” Nick caught my eye as I struggled to hide my amusement. “Are you sick of us yet?”
“Not just yet.” I could feel my nerves dissipating as I held Nick’s gaze. “But I haven’t even known you guys for a full twenty-four hours yet.”
“Some people can’t even handle us for a full five minutes.” AJ interjected.
“Speak for yourself!” Brian quipped. “I’m super likeable!” He flashed me a goofy grin and wiggled his eyebrows.
“Dear Lord ...” Kevin raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Can we get back to the set-list discussion please? Are we doing an additional song for the encore or not?”
“Yes, yes to the additional song!” AJ slapped his palms against the table to make it official. “Twenty songs in total.”
“Thank you.” Kevin turned to me again. He was starting to look worn out. “Nobody will hold it against you if you run away.”
I let out another string of laughter as I made a note of their decision to perform the additional song. “Unfortunately, I don’t get paid if I choose to run away. So, it looks like ya’ll are stuck with me until the beginning of July.”
“I feel as though there are probably worse people that we could be stuck with.” Howie grinned. “When are we back here full-time for rehearsals?”
I quickly reorganized my papers as I confirmed the answer to Howie’s question. “Behind-the-scenes production and promotional work starts in exactly four weeks. The goal is for you guys to film most of the promotional materials and to get all of the necessary photography out of the way before the beginning of February. So, that means that I’m going to need ya’ll to think about the set-list over Christmas and to send me a final version before January 9th. If you could send it to me sometime during the first week of January, that would be idea. I’ll also need you to sign off on the stage set-up before rehearsals can start. Full-time rehearsals officially begin the third week of January. I’m pretty sure that I sent most of this information over to Jenn already ...”
“Yeah, she definitely has it.” Kevin confirmed. “From what we’ve seen so far, I don’t think that we’ll be making any changes to the stage design. Do you have any idea when we’re doing all of the wardrobe stuff?”
I nodded. “Wardrobe fittings and approvals are slated for the week before your full-time rehearsals start. Do you guys have any definitive confirmation as to which nineteen songs you’re going to perform during the main set? What about a potential order?”
“Well, we definitely know that we’re opening with ‘Larger Than Life’.” Nick drummed his fingers against the table.
“Ummm, I’m pretty sure that we’re gonna open with ‘Everybody’, dipshit!” AJ countered. “Right, fellas?”
“The show is fucking called ‘Larger Than Life’.” Nick argued. “Why the fuck would we open with any other song? Besides, we need to save ‘Everybody’ for the encore.”
“You want to save our biggest fucking crowd pleaser until the very end of the show?” AJ raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “Why would we hype everyone up just to send them home?”
Kevin let out a grunt of frustration and brought his hands up to cover his face. He peered at me from the sliver of space in-between his fingers. “We’re gonna have to get back to you about the details of the set-list.”