Lexie was nervous, Leah could tell. Lexie had been quiet since she got up this morning, which wasn't like her. She stared at the TV as it rattled on and on. She didn't seem to register that the boys were rough housing all around her. Eight year old John launched himself on to the couch right next to her and innocently crawled into her lap. She took him in her arms and kissed his cheek.
"Lexie? Are you okay?"
"Hmm? Oh, I'm fine, John-John." She smiled.
"You're too quiet."
"I'm just thinking about stuff." She smiled down at him.
Six year old Tyler crawled up on the arm of the couch. He pulled her braid out from behind her and began to pull it apart.
"Are you worried about that little boy?" John asked.
"Huh?" Lexie asked.
"That little boy, the one you're here to help. You worried about him?" John asked.
John and Tyler didn't know that AJ was Lexie's dad, they thought Howie was. They never questioned the age gap, or the fact that Lexie didn't look anything like their parents. They hadn't asked why Lexie never went to BSB functions either. The boys had met all the other group members, but Howie had also kept them pretty sheltered from the fame of the Backstreet Boys. That meant they didn't know the boys very well and were too young to make any connections.
"Daddy says he's gonna be better soon." Tyler said quietly, trying to unknot her hair.
"We hope so." She nodded. "Come on you guys, let's go to the park." She said, trying to get from under John, but Tyler added himself to the pile.
Their laughter reached Howie as he came up from the basement studio into the kitchen where Leah was watching. Leah's arms were crossed and a damp dishtowel hung from one of her hands. The late afternoon sun filtered through her golden hair, causing it to splash haphazardly on the tiled kitchen floor.
"How she's doing?" He asked, seeing Lexie trying to struggle out from under the boys.
"All right, I guess." She shrugged. She never turned toward him. Howie headed toward the refrigerator.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I don't know if this was a good idea. . .what if little Alex doesn't make it? How will she feel then?"
"I couldn't not ask her." He sighed. "He is her little brother and AJ. . ." He pulled a soda out of the refrigerator and closed the door, popping the can open. He took a drink as she continued.
"I know, I know. I'm just scared for her and AJ's family." Leah sighed. "We're so lucky Howie. All of OUR children are healthy and happy. . ."
"Yes, we are and we have to remember that." He said, hugging her from behind.
Lord knows she was right. They were lucky. Their children were healthy and happy. They had a wonderful life together and he had been able to give her everything she had ever needed. She in return gave him everything he had ever wanted.
Leah turned in his arms and caught his face in her hands. "I love you, Howie." She said with so much honesty, his emotions caught in his throat. She kissed him gently. "Thank you for everything." She whispered.
Lexie watched John and Tyler run, climb, and terrorize the park. She had re-braided her hair and replaced the clip on the walk over there. How was she going to make it through the rest of the afternoon, waiting for the call? AJ had said they would hear today.
Lexie just shook her head. She'd seen a thousands of pictures of him, seen hours of video tape and film footage, but she had never seen him like she did last night. She had felt good about their first meeting so far, but in the last couple hours, she began to doubt herself. What would happen if little Alex died anyway? Would he blame her or would it just be another reason for him to avoid her for the rest of her life?
As much has she wanted to believe it didn't matter, the realization that it did matter creeped up on her. God, after all of these years, she still wanted to know. Why? Why did he walk out on her? What had she done to make her own father hate her so much? And what if Alex lived? Would he thank her and be gone again? Would Lexie ever be able to. . .
STOP IT! She screamed in her head. It doesn't matter. . .it doesn't! He doesn't love you, he has never loved you and you have no right to betray Howie like this! You're stupid and selfish! She screamed to herself.
Lexie couldn't stand it another moment and it was getting dark. She rounded up the boys and headed home the three blocks to the house. She opened the door and John and Tyler ran in to get juice from the refrigerator. Leah and Howie had been sitting at the kitchen table talking when they came in. Tyler slopped his half-full glass to the table and climbed up on Leah's lap. John gave a flying leap into Lexie's arms, she carried him over, and they plopped into a chair next to Howie.
"Any word?" she asked. She watched her parents exchange glances.
"Yes, you're a perfect match." Howie said.
"Thank god." She sighed.
"What's going on? Is this about that little boy?" John asked, looking back at Lexie.
"Yes," Howie smiled, "They found some new medicine that might make him better."
"Mommy?" Tyler asked, looking up at his mom. "Can I get what the little boy has? Am I gonna die?"
"No, no, honey." She said, "You're gonna be just fine, you're very healthy."
Without warning, Lexie put John down and ran upstairs to her room. She could hear Howie calling after her, but she couldn't stop. She was sobbing on her bed when she heard him knock and then come in.
"Honey? Lexie? What's wrong?" he asked, sitting on her bed.
She couldn't answer, she just threw herself into his arms and cried like a child. When she calmed down, Howie knew there was something on her mind and she didn't want to talk about it. Ever since she was little, he had gotten used to her solitary moods. She'd brew for days on a problem, then come talk to him only as a last resort.
"I'm sorry, Dad." She said, wiping her eyes.
"It's all right. This is going to be a very emotional time for all of us." He said, not knowing if that's what she wanted to hear.
"So, what do we do now?" she said, wiping her eyes. She sat up, outside of his reach, absently tucking a stuffed animal in her now empty arms.
"Well, we have to go to the hospital tomorrow." Howie said.
"There is some pre-donor counseling you have to go through. . . they just want to talk to you."
"Okay." She nodded.
"You'll have to be admitted tomorrow too. I can have your mom pack some things."
"No, I'll do it. Can I bring my Discman?"
"Sure, I'm sure it'll be okay." He said, pulling her back into his arms and kissing the top of her head.
"How long will I be there?"
"I'm not really sure. They'll explain all of that when we arrive tomorrow at noon."
"Are Grandma and Grandpa going to be there? Should I call them?"
"I already did, of course they're going to be there." He smiled. "So is Polly and. . ."
"God, are they all going to show up?"
"Probably." He chuckled.
"I don't know if I want that." She said. After a pause she asked, "Is AJ going to be there?"
"I don't know. Do you want him to be there?" he asked. Her answer was a shrug. "Well, if you do I'll call him."
"You would?" she asked. She pulled away and looked up into his face. In the last 10 years, he had never offered to call AJ for her.
"Yes." He said seriously.
"Thanks, Dad." She nodded, cuddling back into his arms.
"Sure, honey. Anything for you." He said, resting his cheek on her hair. "I'm very proud of you, Lexie. You're doing the right thing and I know how scary this is."