Do You Believe in Magic? by evergreenwriter83
Summary:

"Love isn't a decision, it's a feeling. If we could decide who to love, then life would be much simpler,
but much less magical."

Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Group, Nick
Genres: Dramedy, Romance
Warnings: Death, Sexual Content
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 30 Completed: No Word count: 33253 Read: 41429 Published: 05/30/13 Updated: 06/29/14

1. Chapter 1 by evergreenwriter83

2. Chapter 2 by evergreenwriter83

3. Chapter 3 by evergreenwriter83

4. Chapter 4 by evergreenwriter83

5. Chapter 5 by evergreenwriter83

6. Chapter 6 by evergreenwriter83

7. Chapter 7 by evergreenwriter83

8. Chapter 8 by evergreenwriter83

9. Chapter 9 by evergreenwriter83

10. Chapter 10 by evergreenwriter83

11. Chapter 11 by evergreenwriter83

12. Chapter 12 by evergreenwriter83

13. Chapter 13 by evergreenwriter83

14. Chapter 14 by evergreenwriter83

15. Chapter 15 by evergreenwriter83

16. Chapter 16 by evergreenwriter83

17. Chapter 17 by evergreenwriter83

18. Chapter 18 by evergreenwriter83

19. Chapter 19 by evergreenwriter83

20. Chapter 20 by evergreenwriter83

21. Chapter 21 by evergreenwriter83

22. Chapter 22 by evergreenwriter83

23. Chapter 23 by evergreenwriter83

24. Chapter 24 by evergreenwriter83

25. Chapter 25 by evergreenwriter83

26. Chapter 26 by evergreenwriter83

27. Chapter 27 by evergreenwriter83

28. Chapter 28 by evergreenwriter83

29. Chapter 29 by evergreenwriter83

30. Chapter 30 by evergreenwriter83

Chapter 1 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter One


March 1

Nashville, Tennessee

A quick search on Google defines karma as destiny or fate, following as effect from cause. Looking back, I think I've always believed in karma. In elementary school I was always nice to everyone, even the girls that were absolute bitches, because Santa only liked the good little kids, y'know? I used to daydream that the girl that stuck gum in my hair so I had to get it cut so short adults called me 'he' would wake up on Christmas morning with lumps of coal, or better yet, dog poop in her stocking.

In college, I studied hard and got good grades, knowing that teachers could see true brains versus lazy bullshiters. I knew the more I excelled, the better chance I had at scholarships. Sure, I only got two small scholarships, but it was an effect from the cause, right?

Getting married and having a baby were just the icing on top of my good karma cake. I had never done drugs, I paid all my bills on time, I vaccinated my dog...the list goes on and on.

I had even, for all intents and purposes, chose an ideal husband. Good Christian teacher marries upstanding doctor. Until Rielynn came along, we had a great arrangement. I taught third grade; he worked twenty hour shifts. Somehow in the four hours we did see each other, baby made three, but his crazy work schedule and the new need for me to become full time housewife had me reconsidering the consistency of my aforementioned karma cake. Staying home alone with a baby day after day without adult interaction could wear a person down bad.

My breaking point hit one early morning right at the turn of March. The heat was still on because it was still chilly outside in the mornings. I knew people in other parts of the country had it worse, but my toes always froze on the hardwood floors. Putting on socks would have been too easy of a solution. Besides, I was the one staying home and Charlie could more than afford the bill. Hell, he deserved to pay for my heat. It was my own little slice of justice.

Anyhow, I had managed to wake up before Rielynn, a feat in and of itself. My shower done and cup of coffee in hand, I had actually turned the TV to something that wasn't the Sprout channel when I heard her.

Laughing.

That should have been my first clue. Rielynn was not a morning person. I took a quick sip of my steaming life brew and headed down the hall to her room.

I knew I was in trouble before opening the door. The stench was overpowering.

The visual sight was almost indescribable.

Poop was everywhere. On the walls, on the crib, on her hands, on her toys, in her hair, on her sippy cup...

"Holy shit," I groaned.

Rielynn obviously thought she had become a fabulous painter. Delighted with her work, she clapped her soiled hands together. She only stopped when I reached for her. Before I could stop her the hands shot up.

A supposed-comforting pat to my cheek ensued.

It took no less than three hours to sort out the mess. By the time I had the last load of wash in the dryer and had scrubbed my face for the twentieth time, Rielynn was happily watching Barney in her high chair, little bites of scrambled egg and rice chex scattered on her tray. I sank down on the couch and looked at her curly brown hair.

"We're going to do something exciting today," I said aloud. Rielynn looked my way.

"Tada," she said. "Woof."

She lowered her hand and instantly the brown curly mop that was our annoying poodle, Captain Kangaroo, nuzzled his muzzle into her baby fat fingers and took the bite of food she offered.

"You read my mind baby girl," I said, even though she was clearly no longer paying attention to me.

"The zoo it is."

Little did I know that in less than two hours, my decision would give a whole knew meaning to karma as I knew it.
Chapter 2 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Two


March 1

For some reason that is completely unknown to me, my daughter is fascinated with the arthropod exhibit. For those not in the know, arthropods are creepy crawlies. Bugs, spiders, crustaceans...basically everything I hated in life.

I sometimes wish there was such a thing as a maternity test.

Anyhow, Rielynn had her little face glued to the case housing the Mexican Redknee Tarantula while I stared at the ceiling trying not to think about all of the free spiders living happily with their caged brethren. The thing was above seven inches from furry leg to furry leg and it was more bumble-bee colored than red. As for knees, well, I didn't even know spiders had knees.

"Cookie? Cookie?"

Rielynn's chirpy voice made me look down. She had one of her animal crackers pressed to the glass, trying her damndest to feed the thing. I squatted down, trying not to make direct contact with the monter.

"Spider doesn't eat cookies," I said. My eyes darted to the sign. "He eats crickets are," I swallowed hard. "baby mice."

It was Charlie's theory that we shouldn't sugar-coat anything for Rielynn. I knew that came from a person with a scientific mind, but then again he didn't have to explain to a two-year old why---

"Baby? Baby?"

Her eyes grew wide.

My point exactly.

Needless to say, the arthropod exhibit was mercifully cut short. I knew that she would forget about this little trama by the next time we visited, but at least today we were going to be able to enjoy the more cuddly creatures a little longer before she totally copped out on me.

We had lunch at a picnic table setup between Flamingo Lagoon and the Critter Encounters. I had learned on my first trip that it was wise to have lunch before your child stuck her hand into a hungry animal's slobbery mouth. Rielynn was fixated on the flamingos, bringing small broken up bites of PB&J without much thought. Her cheeks puffed out as she chewed, a little grin appearing every few seconds.

"Jews, jews, jews!!!"

In another setting, one would think an anti-Semite was among us, but on a Friday at the zoo, it was just a toddler screaming for his juice. I turned to look, my suspicions confirmed when I saw a blonde little boy near Rielynn's age, arms flailing as he tried to climb out of his umbrella stroller.

No crisis.

Except...

The blonde guy sitting on the corner of the other picnic table was rooting through a giant white insulated cooler, split down the side and held together with duct tape, looking panicked. He glanced at the boy and then back down.

"Park, just a second," he said.

I knew I should look away, after all I had been there, done that more times than I cared to admit, but I didn't. Two energy drinks, an unopened container of (unwashed, I'm sure) strawberries, potato chips, and an unopened pack of Kraft American Cheese singles came out of the cooler.

No juice.

"JEWWWWWSSS!!!!!!! WANT JEWWWWWSSSSSS!!!"

Even though his eyes were hidden behind a pair of designer shades, sheer panic spread across the dad's face. The little boy was beginning to hold his breath. He would either blow or pass out if---

"I have some extra juice."

From my insulated, pink and white polka dotted lunch container (complete with hippo plastic sandwich containers), I pulled out an extra box of apple juice.

"Yum!" Rielynn said, grabbing her sippy cup full of the liquid as if I had produced the box as a reminder of her own afternoon cocktail. I stood up, waving the box like one of Willie Wonka's golden tickets.

To the dad, that was exactly what the box appeared to be. I could see it in the way the lines around his jaw faded as he took it. He made quick work of dumping it into the boy's sippy cup.

"JEWWW----ahhhhh."

"Thank you."

He slid off his glasses and smiled. "You saved my life."

His eyes were a gorgeous shade of blue, brought out more by his tan. I didn't think it was fair that anyone have a tan in March. "I'm Nick."

"Macie," I said. The smile didn't fade.

"You have no idea how bad Juice-opalypse can get."

"Oh," I looked over my shoulder. "I think I can."

Rielynn had finished her juice. She had finished her sandwich. The cookies were out of her reach. She drew in a deep breath.

I braced myself.

COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

Nick started to laugh.

"I think these two should meet," he chuckled. I made the three long strides back to our table and dug into the bag. A second later, Rielynn was in soggy cookie heaven. I looked back at Nick.

"Rielynn," I said, by way of introduction. Nick smiled.

"Parker." He slid his shades back on. "Petting zoo?"

I hesitated. Sure, I had just saved him and his son from Juice-opalypse, but he could be an axe murderer. For all I knew the kid wasn't even his. He could have gone to rent-a-kid and this was just some big ploy...

A ploy to what? Spend time with a woman who had literally just yanked her hair into a ponytail without even brushing out the giant knot she'd been working on for days?

"Sounds like a plan," I found myself saying.

"Awesome," he sounded relieved.

"I hate to take on the goats all by myself."
Chapter 3 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Three


March 1

The walk to the petting zoo for a normal person would have taken all of three minutes from the picnic table. Factor in two two-year-olds and the voyage took fifteen.

It's amazing how two people can have a conversation even while changing a dirty diaper and recapturing a child who has figured out how to unbuckle their own stroller. For instance, I knew Parker was two months older than Rielynn, had an incredibly bendy thumb for being a persistent thumb sucker, and was mesmerized by the sound of Velcro.

He also liked to watch himself pee.

When I was pregnant with Rielynn, I had secretly prayed to the head SIC (stork-in-charge) for a girl. I knew all about girls. I didn't want to worry about circumcisions and jock itch and all that boy stuff.

Needless to say, my prayers were answered. Rielynn was born a perfect six pound, eleven ounce girl.

But there was something entirely amusing watching the blonde little guy, holding his shirt, his pudgy belly on display, giggling at the arch coming from him and splattering right on the ground while Nick rummaged around in what looked to be the most horribly put together diaper bag ever.

Of course, I was so busy watching Parker's performance that I didn't realize until Rielynn started running past me, a big, proud smile on her face, that she had executed her escape.

"Rie, get back here!"

She turned to look at me and laughed. My warning caused her to move faster. Fortunately, my adult stride covered more ground than her Herman Munster stomp. I scooped her up, swinging her back and forth playfully.

Admittedly, this is probably why she runs away so much. I've made it a game.

Disciplinarian of the year, I am not.

"That's a river dude," Nick said behind me. I glanced over to see him yanking up Parker's shorts. He smiled over at me. "Sorry."

"Don't be," I said.

It was on the tip of my tongue to say something like, 'you have your hands full,' but I stopped. I knew how annoyed I got when people said that to me. Instead I pushed the empty stroller while Rielynn hitched a ride of my hip.

"I know it looks like I don't do this a lot," he said. I opened my mouth to answer, but he didn't give me the chance. "But this is just my natural state of being."

He said it so seriously that I couldn't help but laugh. I was still laughing as we entered the petting zoo.

“Go-go-go-go-go-go!!”

“Caca! Caca! Caca!”

“Go-go?”

“Caca?”

Nick and I looked at each other.

“Goat,” he explained. “Parker’s favorite.”

“Alpaca,” I pointed. “Rielynn’s.”

Rielynn squirmed excitedly against me, her tiny face alight. Our first stop was the feeding machines. Surprisingly, Nick was actually prepared. More prepared than me. He dropped quarters into several machines.

“Help yourself.”

“Thanks,” I said gratefully, feeling a rush of camaraderie. My friends were either single or had children that were three times older than Rie. I was a ship alone at sea. My attempts at befriending other mom’s at storytimes, parks, and The Little Gym had failed miserably. There was only so much talk about organic foods, nursery feng shui, and designer diapers that I could take.

Even though he had insinuated his fear of taking on the goats alone, we split up. Rielynn wouldn't have it any other way. Alpacas came first. She knew the drill well. I sprinkled some of the food pellets into her tiny palm as she stood there, her big green eyes locked onto the furry alpaca. As always, they eyed her suspiciously. The smaller the person, the more destructive to ‘paca psyche. Eventually the enticement of food did win out. An especially cute black and white one took the bait, its lips suckling at Rie’s palm.

“CACA! CACA! LUB CACA!” she shrieked.

The alpaca chortled, or whatever alpaca’s did. He backed up. Even though I couldn’t see its eyes under all that fur, I imagined that they were probably bugged out in a definite ‘what the fuck?!’ look.

We fed a white one and an ecru guy before the word spread to stay away from the brown haired squealing toddler. Rie stood still for a few moments longer before her attention started to wane. She turned and surveyed the area.

“Goats?” I suggested. She nodded.

The goats were housed in the back of the petting zoo. Signs announcing the closure of the area for renovation were posted every so often. We had picked the right day to come.

With the random animal noises coming from all corners of the immediate vicinity, I didn’t realize anything was going on until I was almost on top of the action. The bleating of the goats was loud and frantic and I scooped Rielynn up. I didn’t do it a moment too soon either. Just as her feet left the ground I saw a goat run by with part of a shirt in its mouth.

Now, I don’t pay much attention to what other people are wearing, especially guys clothing, but I had a sneaking suspicion when I saw the pure cotton, jagged material. It was a light grey color, one that not many women wear on a daily basis.

“The goat ate my shirt!”

“Go-go yum!”

Parker was giggling hysterically. A zoo attendant was trying to play referee. The lower right half of Nick’s t-shirt was gone.

“What happened?” I asked in wonder.

“The goat went after the food in my pocket.”

“Why were you keeping food in your pocket?”

“Parker put it there.”

“‘oo me?”

The boy’s eyes were identical to his dad’s. He did a great hand motion, holding them up and out with a casual shrug.

“We’re closing the exhibit early today,” the keeper said. “Renovations,” he explained. Somehow I doubted it was just because of the renovations. “I think our job’s done here anyhow,” Nick said. He scooped Parker up. “Right, Mr. Innocent?”

“‘oo me?”

Some parents would get angry with such a reply. Instead, Nick kissed his forehead. He glanced at me almost cautiously. “I usually take him on the train next,” he explained. “Care to join?”

“Tain! Tain!”

Rielynn wasn’t a stranger to the train. I was truly surprised my path hadn’t crossed with this crazy, goat-eaten stranger before. Feeling the need to continue the wittiness of kids and adults alike, I formed a slow smile.

“‘oo me?”
Chapter 4 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Four


March 3

Rielynn and I were outside in the front yard when Charlie's Audi pulled into the drive. Rie was engrossed in her hippo bubble blower, but I lifted my hand in a wave as he stepped out.

"Hey, stranger."

For working 63 hours straight, he didn't look in horrible shape. Certainly not as bad as his intern years. He gave me a lopsided smile.

"Hey, Mace."

It took him a beat, as if he was thinking about some missing part of the salutation exercise. He leaned to the left.

"Hi, Rielynn."

Rie looked up. "Hi-hi."

She smiled and pointed. "Boob-ah!"

"Bubble," he pronounced correctly. "Nice." He yanked open the passenger side door and pulled out his briefcase.

"Do you want to go the gym class today?" I asked hopefully. "Or the park? Or--"

“Can’t,” he shook the case. “I have to finish adding notes to some of my patient files and then I’ve got to crash. They want me back in tonight.”

In my mind, I fell to the ground, fists and feet flying in a heavy mommy-overload tantrum. In reality, I just smiled.

“I understand.”

And, I did understand. It wasn’t like I didn’t know going into this what a doctor’s schedule was like. Charlie firmly mapped out the whole process: the twelve years of schooling, internship, and specialized training. The hyena-like fight for residency. It was all part of (insert finger quotations here) the life plan.

He was four years older than me, thirty-two compared to my twenty-eight. I had felt like the big you-know-what on campus for dating a medical student. It had been one of those whirlwind romance things that so many people hear about but don’t really believe happen. But believe me, it did. The thirty second rundown would go something like this: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl date madly around papers, tests, and extracurriculars. Boy proposes to girl. Girl accepts. Quickie wedding in the courthouse. My graduation. More school for him. Temp job. Relocating for his internship. Teaching job. House. Baby. No more teaching job.

Bubbles.

"I could be up for a promotion if I keep this up," he said, his face finally showing excitement.

"Less hours?" I asked hopefully.

"No, but more prestige. I'll be in my office."

I watched his retreating back. I didn't know how to feel exactly.

"Pop!" Rielynn shrieked, popping a bubble that dared float to close to her face.

Pop, I repeated in my head.

That was as good as any definition.

I felt popped.



The parking lot for the Little Gym was packed. I squeezed the car into the last available spot and stared at the doors with a mixture of dread and determination. I had washed my hands of the morning crowd, but since I wasn't a quitter, decided to try the afternoon mommies on for size. I figured afternoon mommies might be more like me, unable to get their act together to show up by 9:30 in the morning.

I hauled the diaper bag out and yanked open the backseat. Rielynn fought the buckle, in effect fighting me at the same time. By the time I hauled her tush out of the seat, I was sweating.

That was my workout for the day.

The interior of Little Gym always reminds me of Chuck E. Cheese, just without the pizza. Or beer. Just the sheer amount of noise and blur of little bodies was enough. It looked like I was just late enough to have missed even more fun with bubbles.

There were only so many bubbles a mommy could take.

"Welcome! Who's your little beast?"

Now. I know an explanation is an order. The strawberry blonde with the big fake perky you-know-what's that descended upon me the second I stepped over the magic threshold wasn't being rude. The class for two's is the Beast class and as such, all little participants are beasts. And yes, us parents pay to have our children called that.

Such is living in America.

"Rielynn," I said.

"Me!" Rie confirmed.

Who will forevermore just be referred to as SBB (strawberry blonde boober) smiled wider. "The transfer from the morning group! Welcome!"

I wondered just exactly what she'd been told about us. The plasticity of the smile worried me. "You're just in time for the obstacle course!"

The obstacle course was what prevents me from calling this attempt at crushing Rielynn 's Olympic dreams. She loves the obstacle course. Even the WORD being spoken aloud brings a squeal outta her.

"Eeeeee!"

The defense rests.

For description sake, the obstacle course involves a ramp, a ball, a hanging bar, and the bouncy mat. Usually kids and parents spread out so as not to cause a traffic jam in one place, but the afternoon moms (who hadn't even turned to look at the late comer, aka, me) were clustered around the bar. So as not to alienate myself already. I maneuvered Rielynn over.

"Just look at him hang!"

"He's got your arms."

"He's strong."

"Look how he loves it!"

This was the kind of chatter I would have expected at the monkey exhibit at the zoo. Somehow I managed to squeeze between two broad shoulder mamas to see exactly what was on display.

Surprisingly, I recognized the entertainment immediately.

Nick was flanked, literally flanked by women. He was holding Parker and looking a little like a little stupid poodle (think Captain Kangaroo) cornered by a pack of wolves.

"Back off sister," a voice hissed in my ear. One of the broad shouldered mamas had caught on to my break-in. "What's going on?"

She glanced towards Nick and smiled. "The new member of the group. I about messed myself when he walked in."

I placed the woman's age at thirty, thirty-two tops. I glanced at Nick in confusion.

"Who? That's just Nick. I met him at the zoo a couple days---"

The woman stopped gawking at me and just went for interrupting instead.

"Just Nick?" she repeated. "Girl, that's Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys.

I craned my neck. Suddenly ancient issues of Tiger Beat floated through my mind. Sure enough...

"I was a 98 Degrees fan," I said meekly.

Broad shoulder mama just shook her head and turned away. The group seemed to move even closer. I stepped back.

Leave it to me to spend a day with a celebrity and not even realize it!
Chapter 5 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Five


March 3

“We’ve got to stop meeting this way.”

He had managed to get away from the group. SBB had stepped in, rerouting the other six mothers and their respective toddlers to the other three corners of the world. She must have sensed my high level of non-threat because she placed Rielynn and me with Nick and Parker.

For a second, he looked panicked again, but then something in the recesses of his mind must have led him on a mental trail back a couple days to the zoo, Juice-opalypse, and the rather uneventful, even relaxing train ride. Without shades to block them, I saw the relief that filled his eyes.

“Macie, right?”

“Right,” I confirmed. “Nick, wasn’t it?” I asked, knowing full well it was. I bent down. “Hi, Parker.”

Parker smiled. “Hi-hi.”

“Hah, hah, hah, hah,” Rielynn, panting like a dog climbed the ramp, dropping to her knees to loudly smack her palms against it to maximize the noise potential of this particular obstacle. Parker, finding her technique fascinating, quickly followed suit.

“Heh, heh, heh, heh!”

“I haven’t seen you here before,” he said. The two kids started back up the ramp, Rielynn slightly in the lead.

“We’d been going to morning Beasts.”

Parker caught up on the down ramp, mostly because he had an impressive tummy slide that worked much better than the meaty pads on Rie’s hands.

I didn’t realize Nick had leaned so close until his breath was on my ear. “The afternoon mom’s are crazy.”

I laughed and turned, started to come nose-to-nose with him. My eyes widened in surprise and we both did a quick step-back. I covered my emotions with a smile.

“So are the morning moms.”

Nick nodded. “I figured they were. Lauren’s friends with a couple of them,” he nodded around the room. “so she really didn’t want me to switch.”

“Your wife?” I concluded. “No, Rielynn!”

Rie had grabbed Parker’s ankle in an attempt to regain the lead. She sat back quickly, eyes faux-innocently wide and held her hands up, chubby fingers skyward.

“Parker, play nice,” Nick warned. Parker gave him a tiny-toothed smile. Then, sensing no imminent danger, they were back at it.

“Yeah, Lauren’s my wife,” he confirmed after we had watched several second of commenced play.

“So you’re not a regular here,” I said, slightly disappointed and not really knowing why except that he seemed normal. Like me, he hadn’t dressed for success. I was hunkered down in my favorite green hoodie and black yoga pants, he in horrible bright blue jogging pants and a grey Star Wars t-shirt.

“I have been for the last couple months,” he corrected. “She goes out of town a lot.”

“Well, it’s nice to see a stay-at-home-dad,” I said.

“I’m not really a stay-at-home dad.” He sank down on the ground and I followed suit. Parker had found a ball and he had discovered the wonders of gravity by pushing it down the ramp. Rielynn assisted by pushing it back up.

“Oh?”

He grinned. “I know they told you.”

I laughed. It was pointless to play dumb. Besides, he could see I wasn’t going to eat him alive. “They told me.”

“I take him with me. On tour.”

“How does that work?” I couldn’t imagine taking a toddler on a bus. Or a plane. Or however famous musicians travel.

“I hire a nanny to help.” Nick leaned over and grabbed another ball. I noticed he had a long torso. “Rielynn, here!”

Parker had decided to commandeer the ball. I hadn’t even seen my own daughter about ready to have an end-of-the-world meltdown. She watched the trajectory of the ball rolling her way and clumsily scoop it up.

“Foo-foo!”

“Thank you,” I interpreted. Nick smiled. “You’re welcome, sweetie.”

Play resumed. We had spent an extraordinarily long time at the one station, but I didn’t feel like moving, and obviously neither did he.

“I used to make fun of the other guys with their kids, but since Parker’s been born I haven’t really let him out of my sight. I’m not father of the year by any means, and sometimes I think space would be nice. But then I watch him fall asleep or see how happy he is to see me in the morning and it’s worth it, y’know?”

I closed my eyes. “I know exactly what you mean,” I said softly. I couldn’t count the number of times I had thought about running away, sitting on a sandy beach with a margarita in my hand. Or looking at a shirt covered in spit-up and thinking about the days when I didn’t have to smell like three-week old milk. But then Rielynn would give me a random hug or pick me a dandelion and the selfishness flew out the window.

:”Does your husband come every now and then?”

Nick had changed the subject. Unfortunately, the subject was me. I hated talking about my little corner of the universe.

“Charlie’s a doctor. His hours are long and crazy.”

“Parents, switch stations!”

We had taken the ramp away from the others too long. SBB looked right at us after the announcement and we knew we had to get up. We took the balls away with loud protest and then Parker clung so tightly to the ramp that Nick literally had to pry his fingertips out of the foam. He sidled up to me slightly out of breath.

“The bouncy mat?” I suggested. He nodded.

“The second most comfortably place to sit,” he assured me.

The bouncy mat was a hit. Between a bucketful of scarfs, beanbag animals, and the comfort in knowing that even when the kids fell they had little risk of breaking a bone, it was a popular station for kids and parents alike. Nick and I sat at the very corner of the mat. Rielynn ran towards the scarves; Parker the beanbag animals.

“You don’t look old enough to be married to a doctor.”

I laughed. It was pointless to try to beat around the bush. Like a band-aid, I let as much information as I was willing to share rip at once. “I’m twenty-eight. He’s thirty-two. I taught special needs third graders until Rielynn was born.”

“Did you like it?”

I looked over at him. His eyes were glued to me. I blushed.

“I loved it.”

“So why don’t you teach anymore?”

“Charlie wanted me to stay home with Rielynn,” I paused. “Not that I’d want it any other way either.”

“Well, people should get to have their cake and eat it too.”

I leaned forward. Parker and Rielynn were playing tug-o-war with one of the scarves. Rielynn looked like she was having a blast. Finally, a friend whose parent mommy didn’t want to kill!

“Would you guys like to come over to our house after this?”

I looked back at Nick, surprised. He looked hopeful. I looked back at Rielynn.

The answer was easy. I smiled brightly.

“We’d love to.”
Chapter 6 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Six

March 3

Nick’s house was tucked away in a Nashville suburb that I had never frequented. From the looks of the houses I rationalized that my lack of visiting was because I didn’t hob-knob with many country music stars and celebrities on a daily basis. Most houses were brick, all were large, and the area was picturesque, the type of scenery that people put on Tennessee postcards that vacationers scoop up to take back home. The entry hall was brightly lit and framed with prints by local artists. There were several scuff marks on the floor, the pattern hinting that basketball shoes were the culprit. A half-full sippy mug was left on a long table below a coat rack that took up half the wall.

“I gave the cleaning lady the week off and I haven’t done anything yet,” Nick explained. He pulled Parker’s jacket off and hung it on one of the hooks. I followed suit with Rielynn’s jacket, a cute pink and white raincoat with a matching inside liner.

“Your home is beautiful,” I said. He smiled.

“Thank you. Let me give you the sixty second tour.”

He had either given this tour many times with Parker along or he just knew the attention span of a toddler was roughly fifty-five seconds long. The lower level consisted of the hall, a large kitchen, an equally large dining room, a living room, a guest bathroom and a playroom. Double doors off the kitchen gave me just a quick glimpse of an impressive backyard. The upstairs contained the master bedroom and bath, Parker’s room, two guest rooms, what Nick lovingly declared his creative room, and another bathroom. The messiest rooms were Parker’s and the ‘creative’ room.

“Absolutely incredible,” I declared as I followed him back down the stairs.

“It’s my dream house,” he admitted. “Well, one of them.”

I didn’t ask him how many houses he had. It was a question I never thought I’d ask in my life and part of me wanted to keep it that way. The idea of a guy whose shirt looked like it had been bought at Walmart several years ago having multiple houses kind of blew my mind.

“Pay, pay,” Parker insisted.

“We can either go to the playroom or head outside. I’ve got to admit that the backyard is kind of a pit right now though.”

Somehow I highly doubted the backyard was a pit. I had glimpsed just enough to know that it was impressively large and the grass wasn’t abnormally high. Yet, the idea of getting coats back on didn’t appeal to me in the least.

“The playroom sounds great,” I said. Nick grinned.

“It’s always the coat factor, isn’t it?”

I laughed. “You read my mind.”

“You know what they say,” he said, reopening the door to the playroom. “Great minds think alike.”

The playroom was bigger than our living room at home. The sad part was that we lived in a nice upper-middle class neighborhood. I’ve had others envious of all of our space. I would hate to see what someone with even less would think of it all.

“It’s been said I spoil him,” Nick said, once again practically reading my thoughts. “But kids need a shitload of stuff, you know?”

“Oh I know,” I agreed, thinking about the wall to wall toy bins in our living room, Rielynn’s own pots and pans in the kitchen, and the long string of clothes all through the house.

We settled down on a really comfortable overstuffed couch in the corner of the room. Nick stretched out his legs and I did the same. He was at least three, if not four, inches taller than me.

“Have you lived in Nashville long?” he asked.

“Not really,” I admitted. “We moved down right before Rielynn was born. We lived in Illinois before this. Fairview Heights. Not far from St. Louis.”

“That’s a really nice area,” Nick said. “I had a friend that lived there once.”

The way he said ‘friend,’ made me wonder just which category of friend it truly was. He must have seen the wheels turning because he grinned. I couldn’t help but notice that he had a very attractive smile/grin combination.

“Girlfriend,” he clarified. “for a short time.”

I nodded. Rielynn was sitting the wrong way in a cute giant-eyed Playskool car, her butt resting on the squeaky horn. Parker was pushing it from behind, struggling, but determined.

“So how did you and Lauren meet?” I asked, surprised that I had remembered her name. I must have actually been listening to another adult, something that was a rarity these days.

“Through a mutual friend. It wasn’t even a hook-up. We hung out as friends for awhile and we clicked and I think both of us thought, ‘why not’?” He looked almost wistful. “We helped each other through some pretty rough times.”

“Those are the best relationships,” I said. He didn’t answer right away. We watched as Rielynn climbed out and the two little ones switched positions. It amazed me they could coordinate so well without speaking more than a few inconclusive babbles.

“How about you and Charlie?”

“School,” I said automatically. “He was first year med school and wanted to pick up some extra money. I needed help with my chemistry class."

"And a different kind of chemistry developed?" Nick surmised. I smiled.

"You could say that," I said. It was funny how talking about it, thinking back on those days, made it seem like a million years ago.

The kids had moved on to a large magnet table when Nick's cell rang. He stood up, sliding it out of his back pocket.

"Excuse me," he said, heading towards the hall.

I was a good girl for about five minutes. My eyes stayed glued on the kids. The only problem, if you can call it a problem, was that they were both entertained and being good. My attention wandered.

There was a shelf of albums on a bookcase that otherwise held board and picture books. I stood up and took down one of the leather covered albums. I tried to assuage my guilt by rationalizing that anything in the playroom was placed their for touching. With that mantra on repeat, I started to flip through the book.

It was an album chronicling Parker's first year. I knew because I had done one eerily similar for Rielynn. Lauren was a pretty dark haired woman, extremely fit with a nice smile. The first months were mostly her and the baby, Nick presumably behind the lens.

Then around six months there was a noticeable shift. Nick infiltrated the majority of the shots and they began to look like self portraits of him and Parker taken with an IPad intermingled with professional shots.

I felt a wave of pity. I didn't know the circumstances, but I knew if I looked objectively at my own album that somewhere around the same time Charlie had disappeared from most pictures. Work had eagerly consumed him.

"Lauren's coming home tonight."

I almost dropped the album. I looked up guiltily only to see him looking amused.

"You've seen mine," he teased.

"Now you'll have to show me yours."
Chapter 7 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Seven


March 11

An entire week elapsed before I saw him again. Rielynn and I were back at The Little Gym. She was playing happily on the ramp while I tried to remain polite, yet extremely busy on my cellphone. I had just managed to download Euchre when the mom next to me gave me a nudge with her elbow.

“Eight inches.”

I glanced over at her. She was watching her little girl, a prissy little thing that kept touching this gigantic headband that was literally bigger than her head. “Excuse me?”

“Nick,” she said smugly.

My blank stare must have irked her because she folded her arms and smirked. “He’s invited me to his house a couple times.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah,” she flipped her hair, heavy with blonde and red highlights. The amount of eyeliner she wore bordered on obscene. “His bedroom,” she rolled her eyes backwards in ecstasy. “It’s all black. Black walls, black satin sheets...you get the picture. It’s totally hot.”

It took every ounce of my reserve not to start laughing. I had seen every bedroom in his house and not one of them was painted black. The master bedroom, if my memory serves correctly, had a lot of beige with hints of brown and blue. She was waiting for a reaction. I tried to sound like I bought even the tiniest bit of the story. “Wow, I bet it is,” I replied, trying to give the right inflection where needed. She did another hair flip.

“He’s a total animal. I had so many bite marks to cover,” she giggled.

I giggled along with her, but it was as fake as the two brain cells she had floating in her head. I felt sorry for her; obviously this woman had spent way too much time reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

“What about his wife?” I asked a minute later.

“Oh, she’s not a problem,” she said dismissively. “She’s all into body building and she’s like never home. I should know because I’m like her best friend when she does bring Peter to class."

“Parker?”

I shouldn’t have said anything because I had to endure the laugh again. “Yeah, Parker. I’m such a ditz with names.”

“Yeah, that happens. Listen--”

I was about ready to say a quick goodbye, take Rielynn and run far, far away when Nick walked through the door carrying Parker. He saw me and smiled.

Eight inches.”

Highlights mom whispered it in my ear. She snapped my last strand of patience.

“Can a father not bring his son somewhere without being objectified by sexless mommies?” I hissed back.

That did it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman’s eyes get as big as hers did at that very moment. Her mouth opened but nary a squeak came out.

“Rie, time to go, baby.”

Rielynn stood up from the ramp. The giant headband baby who’d been ignoring her anyhow, just kept on doing her thing. I scooped her up the moment she was within reach.

Nick hadn’t yet taken Parker’s coat off. I walked over, feeling overly confident, or overly stupid. One of those two.

“If you’d rather, I’ll show you mine.”

“What?”

He looked confused for a second. Slowly, he smiled.

“I didn’t think you’d offer.”

I glanced behind my shoulder. The Queen of highlights was gawking at me. I gave her a smirk that I actually hoped would send her scuttling back to the others. I turned back to look at Nick.

“I’ve spent enough time with the hens today,” I said. “I’d like some normal company.”

Nick must have seen where I was looking because he seemed all too aware of what I was hinting at. “This rooster wouldn’t touch any of those hens with a ten foot pole,” he said conspiratorially, leaning towards me. “Any cock-a-doodle-dooing is just sad imagination.”

I laughed. “So my offer’s on the table.”

“What do you think Park?” Nick turned to look at the little boy. Parker smiled at me and then at Rielynn.

“Yeah!”



Twenty minutes later, Nick Carter was pulling up behind my car at the house. I got out wondering if I had lost my mind. I fleetingly wondered if Charlie would mind my visitor and then dismissed the idea. After all, it was refreshing to have someone to talk to again.

“My tour will probably be more like thirty seconds than sixty seconds,” I explained as I dug the key out of my purse. Rielynn stomped her feet right beside me, her hands pressed against the heavy wooden door. It swung open slowly and she charged headfirst inside.

“You’ve got my complete attention,” he assured me.

I looked back at him and smiled. He moved Parker to his other side. He had gotten a haircut. Either that or he had combed it. Gone were the jogging pants, odd colored shorts, or random t-shirts. He looked like he had stepped out of a magazine. He looked really good.

“So,” I said an octave louder than I would have liked. “we walk right into the living room. The dining room is in the corner, partitioned off by the half wall...”

The tour was standard fare; kitchen, bedrooms, bath and a half, and backyard. Parker spotted the slide/swing set right away.

“Dada, sing! sing!”

“Old MacDonald had a farm...”

“No, sing! Sing sing!”

Parker’s arms went like jet propellers. Rielynn tugged at my shirt. She obviously fed off of his enthusiasm.

“Side, side, side!”

“Good thing we didn’t take off our coats,” I said, opening the door. “Let’s go.”

The day was cool, but the sun warded off any chill. Everything about the playset was created for a toddler. I held Rielynn’s hand as she clumsily made her way up the stair/ramp towards the top of the slide. Nick pulled Parker off his hip without complaint and deposited him in one of the swings.

“Weeeee!” Rielynn said happily as she reached the top and then, legs swung out, bottom perfectly planted, sailed down towards the ground. A squishy ground cover had been installed all around, lessening my fears of bodily harm. A half hour went by with the sounds of two happy toddlers filling the air.

“Is your wife still in town?” I asked in between the laughter.

“No, she headed up to Toronto. She had a speaking engagement.”

“It’s too bad she didn’t make it to the gym,” I said. “I would have liked to have met her.”

Nick nodded. “I’m sure the feeling would be mutual. Those other ones were beginning to grate on her nerves. I’ve only continued going because Parker likes it.”

“That’s why I decided to try afternoons instead of just quitting,” I said. I placed Rielynn in the swing next to Parker. She turned to him and smiled.

“Hi-hi.”

Parker smiled back. “Hi-hi!”

I laughed. “Do you think babies can flirt?”

“I think these two are doing a good job,” Nick chuckled. “What a tease.”

I grinned. “You best be talking about your son.”

“He’s innocent I tell you!”

We both watched Parker blow a giant kiss.

“Innocent, my ass,” I said, pushing Rielynn. She copied the motion.

“Well, flirting or not, the two of them getting along makes what I want to ask you easier.”

The sound of his voice put me on alert. I kept pushing Rielynn, but my attention was on him. The wind shifted directions and I caught a pleasant aroma of aftershave. “Ask me what?”

He smiled, but his eyes took on the look of a shelter dog desperate to be adopted.

“Well, it’s just a tiny little favor...”
Chapter 8 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Eight


March 11

"Where?"

"Kuala Lumpur," Nick repeated as if he had just said something equally mundane like 'Target' or 'JCPenney.'

"I don't even know where that is!"

My voice was higher than normal. I cleared my throat and stared at Nick as if he had lost his mind.

"It's in Malaysia."

"Malaysia," I repeated dumbly. Nick grinned.

"I thought you were a teacher. Y'know, Malaysia? It's in Asia. I always remember that because of the end of the name - 'Ayyyysiaaaaa.'" He held the word until he practically morphed into the Fonz. All that was missing was the thumbs up.

"So let me get this straight," I said slowly. Poor Rielynn could have caught fire and I probably wouldn't have noticed. I was that stunned. "You want me and Rielynn to come to Malaysia to watch Parker while you do a concert. In Asia."

"Ayyyysiaaaa," he repeated. "Exactly."

"What about Lauren?"

He shook his head. "She has a competition."

"A family member?"

His eyes darkened. I knew a sore subject when I spotted one. "Won't go there," he said in a voice that told me there was a world of hurt beneath the surface..

I didn't know what else to say. Nick obviously felt like he was losing me, but he threw every ounce of persistence into his sales pitch.

"It's for like, five days tops. You'd have a really nice hotel room and you could sightsee. I'd pay you really well for your time and--"

"I wouldn't take money," I shook my head. "That's what friends do."

Nick's eyes brightened. "So you'll do it?"

I held up my hands. "Now, I didn't say---"

"Do you have an international passport?"

I frowned. "No."

He stood up from the lawn chair I had procured for him. He scratched his chin as he planted his feet wide.

"We can expedit those for you and Rielynn."

"I really don't think--"

"Mama!"

"Dada!"

Rielynn ran towards me, a bright smile on her face. She was holding something in her hands. Parker was on her heels.

"What do you got?" I asked, dreading the answer, but taking comfort that whatever it was she hadn't yet eaten it. She had probably eaten more bugs in her short life than all the contestants on Survivor combined.

Parker looked up at Nick, pointing at Rielynn's hand. Nick knelt down in the grass.

"Whatcha got?" He asked. He looked almost as excited as the kids.

Ever so slowly, she opened her hands. I leaned close. I don't know what I was expecting. Knowing my own daughter, I should have been prepared. Instead I was thinking thoughts of dandelions and ladybugs. Instead, I saw a giant, I mean giant earwig crawling up her wrist.

"Fuck!"

My award for even 'Acceptable Mother of the Year' flew out the window. I grabbed her arm and began to wave madly. The earwig went airborne and I was sure it had landed on me.

"Get it off!" I cried, going apeshit. My hands batted at my hair and my skin crawled. I lifted my shirt, raking my fingernails over my stomach, twisting to get my back. All I could envision were those pinchers...

"Hey."

Two strong hands grabbed mine. I tried to fight them off until I realized he was also repeating the same phrase over and over.

"Parker caught it, you're fine. Parker caught it. You're fine."

In that one instance I went limp. I felt like I had run a marathon. Rielynn was staring at me, stunned. Parker was engrossed in looking at the monster currently scuttling along the ground.

"I don't like bugs," I whispered.

"I see that. Sit down."

Somehow I ended up in a lawn chair, a Juice Box in my hand and a smiling blonde guy kneeling by me. He even poked the straw through my container.

I felt better once I took the first sip. I looked down right into his eyes. His lips parted, his head tipped back.

"So about Kuala Lumpur...."



If it wasn't for Nick saving me from the earwig, I could have successfully blown him off. Unfortunately, it now felt like I owed him a life debt. After Nick and Parker left and Rielynn was fed, bathed, and put down, I waited up for Charlie. While I waited, I took a little trip with Google Maps.

The only time I had been out of the country was when Charlie had taken me to Toronto for their annual beer festival. As someone who didn't really care for beer, I went more for the scenery than anything else. Yet, while in beer country, you kinda have to do like beerheads do. Somewhere between getting tipsy on some warm lager and pledging my never ending love to Salt n Pepa on the main stage, Charlie proposed. It was a crazy, whirlwind vacation.

It had also been our last trip. By the time we got married, Charlie didn't have any spare time for something like a honeymoon.

The pictures I brought up of Malaysia showed a beautiful country that had a really intriguing blend of old and new. I thought about how excited Rielynn would be and all the new things we could see together. It would be refreshing to stray away from our boring routine. How could I say no?

But then again, how could I say yes? It would be different if I was friends with Lauren and she asked me along. That would be okay.

I exhaled loudly in frustration. As someone who had take a few women's studies courses, I was going against everything taught. So what if Nick was male? Just because he had invited me to help watch his son didn't mean he was thinking anything other than platonic thoughts. He seemed like he was in search of a true, normal friendship with another parent as much as I was. How was that wrong?

"You're up late."

I was so lost in thought I hadn't heard Charlie come in. It was almost midnight. I rubbed my eyes and smiled.

"I wanted to talk to you and ask you something," I said. "You'll never believe--"

"How about in the morning?" he said gently. As he stepped closer to the light I saw just how bad the bags under his eyes had gotten. "I'm beat."

There was no way I could say no. I stood up and wrapped my arms around his waist.

"You work too hard," I murmured. He kissed the top of my head.

"It's my calling," he replied. His hand slid along my back.

"Tomorrow morning, I'm all yours."
Chapter 9 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Nine


March 12

I woke up early the next morning, feeling especially proud to be awake before Charlie. It was such a rare occurrence to see him sleeping that I spent a few minutes just watching him. Stress was playing a toll; gray hair was just beginning to sprout at his still youthful temples. He frowned even while asleep, the muscles near his mouth moving as if he was reciting some medical ailment even in dreamland.

After a few more minutes of observation I slid out of bed. I got out all the ingredients for cheese and pepper omelets, Charlie's favorite, and turned the kitchen radio on low.

Soon the delicious aroma filled the room, accentuated by the addition of some bacon. I was beginning to think I might just have to serve him breakfast in bed when he stepped into the room.

I was surprised to see him already dressed, flipping his tie through to finish the knot. His hair was wet, a sure product of a quick wet comb job.

"I made breakfast," I said with a smile. "Your favorite om--"

"One of my patients took a turn for the worse overnight. I have to move my rounds up this morning. I can't stay."

I blinked. At least I thought I blinked. I watched him grab a power bar from the glass container, setting the stainless steel lid back on crooked.

"But, I need to talk to you about something," I protested. "and breakfast--"

"Honey, honey, honey, I know, thank you," he breezed over to give me a kiss. "Thank you. We'll talk as soon as I get home."

"But--"

"You can't stop when the balance between life and death is juxtaposed!" he called out. I wasn't sure he used the word juxtaposed right, but it didn't matter anyhow. He was already getting in his car.

"Thank you for the omelet, Mace," I murmured to myself as I plated one for myself. "I can't wait to hear what you have to say. This bacon's so crisp."

To anyone looking in, they would have thought I'd lost my mind. I slammed my glass of orange juice down, barely biting my tongue as juice sloshed down onto the table.

I knew there was no way I was going to take Rielynn and head off to a some foreign country without talking to Charlie. I stuffed a bite of fluffy, cheesy, egg in my mouth hoping the chewing would help me think.

Instead, two bites in, the doorbell rang.

The sound of a doorbell means different things to different people. For teenagers, it means the sound of friends or the arrival of a hot date. For college students it's the sound of a much needed pizza arriving. For newlyweds it's the interruption of in-laws.

For a mother of a sleeping child, the doorbell is a masked intruder that must be silenced and potentially killed.

“SHHHH!!!”

That was my greeting as I yanked open the door. Nick’s fingers curled into his palm and his face immediately registered understanding. “Sorry,” he mouthed.

“HI!” Parker practically shouted. Nick placed his finger to his lips.

To say I was surprised would be an understatement. First of all, I didn’t think that he was the type to roll out of bed this early in the morning. Secondly, I didn’t know how he was able to get himself and Parker out of the house this early. And thirdly, I was just surprised to see him. It took a couple seconds before the surprise wore off.

“Come in,” I said, stepping back.

He walked in, Parker on his hip. I almost laughed to see Parker’s chubby finger pressed against his own lips. I noticed Nick inhaling and exhaling heavily. I waved them on into the kitchen.

“You hungry?”

“Well,” Nick hesitated. I slid the spatula under Charlie’s omelet.

“I have extra,” I said. I grabbed the tongs and placed a couple strips of bacon on the plate.

“If you’re sure...”

“I’m positive,” I said, feeling ridiculously vindicated for some reason. “Sit on down.”

Five minutes later, Parker was in Rielynn’s high chair, a small pile of scrambled eggs set before him and Nick was shoveling in the food like he had transformed into a Hoover vacuum.

“Thesoofdaoocious,” he said, coming up for air just long enough to take a swig of juice. He grinned. “Delicious,” he repeated in English.

“Thank you,” I smiled. “So can I ask you how come you were at my doorstep so early this morning?”

He took his time answering, opting instead to shovel in another three bites of omelet, capping it off with a very carnivorous tear of a bacon strip. “Malaysia.”

I stifled a groan. I should have known. He was a celebrity. Celebrities weren’t used to waiting for things, right? I looked over at Parker. Think, Macie, think...

“Well, I had an idea,” I said. “Instead of taking me and Rielynn to Malaysia, just leave Parker here. I’ll be happy to watch him and it’ll be less expensive.” And less difficult, I thought to myself. But, before I had even uttered the last word, Nick was shaking his head.

“I can’t,” he said in a funny voice. It was kinda strangled, sad and tense at the same time. He pushed his plate aside.

“Why not?” I asked. “I mean, I’d take just as good of care of him here as I would there.”

“I have OPDS,” Nick said seriously.

My brain went into overdrive. I was married to a doctor. Surely, I should know was OPDS meant. OPDS, OPDS...OPDS...

“Over-protective dad syndrome,” Nick supplied.

I couldn’t help it; I laughed. He gave me a sheepish look. He reached into his pocket and I wondered if he had even gone so far as to make a cheesy ‘medical’ card with the faux-syndrome.

Instead he pulled out a small object, rolling it around with his fingers.

“Parker has a severe allergic reaction to bee stings,” Nick explained. “His throat will swell up so quickly that he can die in less than sixty seconds.”

I looked into Nick’s eyes and then back down.

“That’s an epipen,” I said, realizing finally what it was.

“Parker was ten months old when a bee stung him in the neck,” Nick said, his voice filled with emotion. Even Parker looked up from his eggs, his eyes glued on his dad. “I was in South Africa at the time.” I saw the moisture begin to build. He was reliving it in his mind and I knew he was going to cry. I was a second away from doing the same thing. “I have never felt that helpless in my entire life.” He didn’t add anything more and I didn’t dare ask him. I wasn’t quite sure that I could speak. It felt like an impending parental cry fest was impending fast until Rielynn began to cry. I bounced up like my souls were made of rubber.

“I’ll be righback,” I said, merging the last two words together. I felt an overwhelming urge to hold my baby.

“Hi mama!” she said happily as I opened the door. “Oomph!”

The oomph came as I hugged her tightly to me.

“Good morning, baby,” I said, kissing the top of her head. I set her down and she went over to pick out her outfit for the door. As she moved, I couldn’t help but think what I would do if I wasn’t around and Rielynn was put in a life or death situation.

I shuddered.

I understood.

Fifteen minutes later when Rielynn and I came back into the kitchen, I received another shock. Nick had done the dishes. The kitchen was clean except for a potholder Parker had commandeered. Nick smiled at Rielynn.

“Hey, beautiful!”

Her eyes lit up happily. “Hi-hi!”

“I’ll do it.”

The words rushed out of my mouth like they were just air, not meaning. He looked at me. I looked at him.

“Do what?” he asked.

“We’ll go to Malaysia,” I said, not believing I was really saying it. “If you trust me.”

Relief, happiness, and excitement flooded his face. “Trust me,” he said, grinning. “I trust you.”
Chapter 10 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Ten


March 12

"I'd like to see Dr. Ziegler."

"Da!"

The nurse at the main hub was new. At least she was new to me. She was a pretty brunette that obviously was not a mother because she still had time to straighten and curl her hair, put on eyeliner and gloss, and didn't smell like any sort of juice. She smiled at me.

"Dr. Ziegler is the best," she said. I smiled.

"I know," I agreed. "He's my husband."

Her eyes widened. "Oh, you're Marcie?"

"Macie," I corrected. The warm fuzzy feeling that he talked about me at work was extinguished by the name screw-up. The bottom glossed lip got sucked in.

"Sorry," she apologized. To my credit, I kept smiling.

"Happens all the time," I said. "Where can I find him?"

"He'll actually be dropping off charts in five minutes. If you want to wait in the waiting room, I'll send him in. Your little girl is adorable by the way."

"Tanks!"

I laughed. Rielynn knew a compliment when she heard one. To increase her cute factor, she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck.

For the next fifteen minutes I entertained Rielynn the best I could in a room where there were only ten-year old copies of National Geographic, AARP magazine, and one completely mangled copy of Highlights for kids. My amazing improv skills were on full display, my hand keeping warm inside a random sock I had found in her diaper bag, when Charlie walked in.

"What's wrong?"

My sock puppet's mouth clamped shut. Rielynn turned.

"Hi da!"

Charlie looked at her with what I call the 'physician's face.' He started at her head and worked his way down, crossing things off his mental anatomical checklist. "Rie okay?"

There was a time in my life when Charlie had been more than happy with a visit from me. Sure I had often come missing various articles of clothing to spice things up but I had at least put on deodorant and brushed my teeth today. Hell, I had even gone hog wild and brought out the Chapstick.

"She's fine," I said before he could kneel down and start testing joints and reflexes. "I need to talk to you."

A big worm of a forehead crease appeared from out of nowhere. I stared at it, fearful it would come alive and start wiggling under the skin. It was a sure sign I spent too much time watching scary movies. "Can't it--"

"No, it can't," I said, happy to be interrupting him once instead of the other way around. "Rielynn and I have been asked to go on a trip and I've said yes, but I want you to know."

I had thought a lot about the phrasing. Asking for approval sounded very 'Mrs. Brady-ish' of me. I had aimed for the middle ground, but it still sounded very feminist. Charlie smiled.

"Where ya going?" he asked.

He said it in a way that made me think his vision of a trip was going to another city for a museum day or something. Rielynn grabbed my sock puppet hand. "Tawk!"

So that's how I broke the news. With my sock puppet, I gave him the news. "We're going to Kuala Lumpur."

"Kuala Lumpur?"

"It's in Malaysia." my puppet pal continued, swooping in to kiss Rielynn's cheek. She burst into giggles.

"I know where it's at," he said over the sound of pure child delight. He wore a look of sheer disbelief. "Who invited you there?"

"One of the parents in the afternoon Little Gym class invited us," I said. "I'd be going along to help watch Parker. He's the same age as Rielynn. They've had a couple playdates."

"What is she doing there?"

Shit. My inner feminist tucked tail. My sock puppet made a big show of stealing Rie's nose. She clamped her hand over her face and giggled.

"Mace?"

"It's actually a he. A dad. Nick is going on a business trip and needs someone to watch Parker while he's working."

"And his wife's going to be there?"

"She's away on business right now."

Charlie didn't answer right away. In fact, I finally looked up to make sure he was still there. Our eyes met.

"He's just a friend?"

I felt ridiculous, but I seriously was thinking the question would have been laced with some jealousy. Instead he asked me in the same tone he asked a patient about whether or not their ass boil hurt.

"Absolutely," I said truthfully.

"Malaysia," Charlie scratched his chin. "That's an incredibly opportunity for Rie. We'd never be able to afford to introduce such culture to her. And at such a young age..."

I held my breath. Was he seriously going to say---

"How long would you be gone?"

I couldn't believe my ears. "Five days, tops."

Charlie was still looking at Rie. "What an awesome thing to include on a college app," he murmured.

The farthest thing from my mind was my baby going to college. Rie grabbed my sock puppet hand. I started covering her in sock kisses. A buzzing sound filled the room.

"I'm being paged," Charlie said. Our eyes met.

"We'd be leaving in about a week," I said softly.

"Okay," he said. He gave me a quick smile.

"Thanks for visiting."

It took everything in me to smile.

"Anytime, Doc."

The door was already closing.

"Anytime," I whispered.
Chapter 11 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Eleven


March 13

“Now look straight at the camera.”

“You can smile but don’t smile.”

“No, that’s too much of a smile.”

“Still too much.”

“I need to see your ears more. Tuck your hair farther back.”

I felt like I was getting my mugshot taken. I might as well have been holding a black sign with my prison number on it. The Walgreens guy looked like his happy meter only lasted thirty seconds and I had already well-used that allotment of pleasantry.

To make matters worse, Rielynn was clinging to my leg, the biggest smile possible.

“Chee! Chee! Chee!” she kept repeating, her little voice growing louder and louder.

By the time the camera snapped, I was pretty sure my eyes were fully closed. The guy looked at the camera and sighed.

“We’ll take another,” he said glumly.

And if taking my picture wasn’t bad enough, the guy looked ready to murder by the time we got to Rielynn. After all, how do you tell a two year old not to smile, to keep her hair out of her eyes, and even worse, how to stand still? I even stood behind the guy and gave her my most serious face, but she thought my face was hilarious and I just made matters worse.

I couldn’t even use the threat of insect to produce a terrified face. If I said spider she’d just grin even more.

“Rielynn, frowny face,” I said.

The end result wasn’t really a frowny face, but at least she didn’t have her mouth open to show every single one of the teeth that she had already grown. The guy nodded.

“That’ll do.”

Ten minutes later, Rielynn and I were the owners of some horrible 2x2 photos. As Rielynn and I saw on a bench outside the store enjoying a Magnum Ice Cream Bar, I fished my phone out of the bottom of my purse.

“Hello?”

“We have pictures.”

“Great!” Nick sounded genuinely happy. “How awful are they?” he teased. I laughed.

“Rielynn looks like she’s part chimp and I look like I’m headed to prison for murder.”

“I can’t wait to see them. When are you headed to the office?”

“Right after we finish our ice cream,” I said. Judging by the looks of Rielynn’s face, we’d be ready to leave in about five minutes. She had devoured the treat.

“Park and I will meet you there. 2nd Avenue South,” he reminded me.

“Got it,” I assured him. “See you soon.”

I hung up and tossed the phone back in my purse. Today more than ever my purse was a war zone. Besides the passport photos, I had birth certificates, a marriage certificate, social security cards, and my driver’s license.

As I pulled out of the parking lot into traffic I still couldn’t believe that I was actually doing this. I was getting a passport. I was going to pack myself and my daughter up and going to a foreign country for almost a week. Was I crazy?

Most likely.

Nick and Parker were waiting outside. It took a few minutes to find parking and another minute or so to pull Rielynn out of the car. With my purse weighing me down on one side and a two year old weighing me down on the other, we headed towards them.

“Hi!” Rie shouted as we walked towards them. Parker madly waved. “Hi!”

Nick smiled. “Your purse looks pregnant.”

I grinned. “Then it probably shouldn’t travel.”

The look on Nick’s face was priceless. I laughed.

“We’re going. I don’t go back on a promise.”

The smile returned. “Thank goodness.”

He held the door open for me, a welcomed surprise. The four of us made our way into the building, walked through the metal detectors, surrendered our phones, and followed the security guard’s directions to the County Clerk’s office.

I’m guessing that the County Clerk’s office isn’t overrun at any time, but especially with passport applications. A woman in her 60’s sat behind the desk, looking like she was just waiting for five o’clock.

“How can I help ya’all?” she asked as we entered.

“My daughter and I need passports,” I said.

She looked surprised. “Passports?” she repeated. “Coming right up.”

It was my turn to be surprised. She pulled open a drawer and pulled out the paperwork. She smiled at Rielynn and Parker.

“They are so cute,” she gushed. “How old?”

“Two,” Nick and I said at the same time.

“Oh, I just love twins. Nick and I looked at each other. He spoke first.

“Thank you. We do too.”

That wasn’t the answer I was expecting. He gave me a conspiratorial wink and then leaned closer to the clerk. “I have a passport courier on standby. The passports need to be expedited.”

The clerk started to talk logistics with Nick. I put down Rielynn at the same time Parker wiggled down Nick’s body, his sneakered feet hitting the floor with a soft smack.

“Ab-da-ka-chuh,” Parker said to Rielynn. She nodded as if it was the most logical thing she had ever heard in the world. She waved her hand in his face.

“Ga-ba-doog-ka!”

Parker giggled, stomping his foot and gesturing back.

“Macie?”

I looked up. Nick was watching me watching them. He glanced down at the kids and laugh lines appeared by his eyes. It made him looking extremely handsome, or I guess more handsome. Even though he was wearing a tattered Mario Bros. shirt, he looked good. Hot even.

It was the worst time in the world to realize that the dad you’ve been hanging around lately was hot. It was even worse timing knowing I was applying for a passport to go on a trip with him.

“Macie?”

He was still smiling, but he was looking kinda doubtful. Pull yourself together, I chided myself. I stepped towards the counter. “Sorry, what?”

“You have to fill this out,” Nick said, pointing at several lines. “I’ll watch the kids.”

The clerk handed me a pen. Nick brushed against me as he stepped out of my way. It caught me off guard.

“Good catch,” the clerk whispered to me, causing my pen to almost slide and ruin the paper before I had even begun. My head snapped back up. I had two choices. I could explain to her the situation or I could take the easier route. I glanced behind my shoulder. Nick was on all fours on the ground, crawling after Rielynn. She held her hands up and shrieked, stopping just so he could catch her. Parker quickly scrambled onto Nick’s back. I turned back around and smiled.

“Definitely.”
Chapter 12 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twelve


March 20

As our departure date grew closer, I grew increasingly nervous. I had seen Charlie maybe a total of nine hours in the past seven days. He hadn’t mentioned the trip to me and I felt like I would be beating a dead horse if I mentioned it. I feared I’d sound desperate for him to produce even a drop of jealousy and I didn’t want to be that kind of wife. Just knowing that he had complete trust in me should have made me feel great.

It was just the unsettling feeling that it was disinterest, not trust, that was causing my inner turmoil.

The owl’s wings on my watch were turned towards two o’clock. I was standing outside Nick’s door with Rielynn and I could hear the music from the other side of the door. It sounded like a party. I began to second guess that I had come over on the right day and time. Maybe he had said--

“Come on in!”

The sight that greeted me was unexpected. Nick was dripping in sweat, the tank top he wore clinging to his chest like a second skin. His basketball shorts had a sheen to them as well and little beads of the wet stuff were pooling into his socks. I hated to think of the smell that would emanate from his large, expensive sneakers. He pushed soppy hair from his forehead.

“Is it a bad time?”

He smiled. “Nope, just finishing up.”

The music was still on full blast as he stepped aside. I walked in with Rielynn who immediately started moving. It didn’t matter where she was or what she was doing; anytime she heard music she started to jam. Sure she didn’t have rhythm or timing, but she got a gold star for enthusiasm.

A laptop was open in the middle of his living room, elevated on his coffee table by a large pile of coffee table books with ugly fish on the covers. Nick leaned over.

“We got it? I think we got it,” he said breathlessly. His finger brushed over the mousepad sensor. “He’s here,” he said to a question I didn’t hear. “Have fun with yours.”

A second later, he closed the laptop. “Parker’s down for a nap,” he said loudly. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could sleep through this. Nick lowered the music. Instantly, Rielynn stopped be-bopping. I put her down and she held up her hands, shrugging. “Gone,” she said seriously.

“All gone for now,” I agreed.

“Nick, are you ready?”

I hadn’t seen the other occupant of the room until he was standing beside Nick. He was a bald-headed guy probably in his late 40’s, early 50’s. Nick nodded. “Go for it.”

I followed Rielynn’s busy feet, but I couldn’t help observing. As Rielynn pulled another giant fish coffee table book out from the lower shelf of the coffee table, the guy, a doctor I was sure, wrapped a blood pressure cuff around Nick’s arm.

“Feesh,” Rielynn said. I knelt down beside her.

“Big fish,” I said, not quite sure on the species name. Nick closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling under the stethoscope.

She struggled to get the cover open. I helped her, only to be greeted to a spread of what looked like people-eating piranhas. Rielynn leaned close.

“Ooohhh.”

For the record, I don’t do well with bugs or people-eating animals in general. I started to tell her about a species of fish called the tickle-fish who didn’t really eat people but tickled them so much that strawberry jelly came out. Came out of where I didn’t elaborate, because Nick started to laugh.

“Your turn,” he announced, still chuckling.

I turned to look at him. The doctor smiled.

“I’m Randy, the tour physician,” he said. “The U.S. requires some vaccinations are given before international travel.”

I stopped listening after the word ‘vaccinations.’ I could literally feel the blood drain from my face.

“No,” I whispered.

“It’ll be quick,” Randy said.

“No,” I repeated. “No, no, no.”

“Just a second,” Nick said. He pulled Randy out of the room.

“Mo’ jelly!” Rielynn said happily. She had flipped to another page, not much better than the last one. My tongue was too tied to make up a story this time.

“Okay, we had a little talk,” Nick announced, re-appearing in the room. “We just need to make sure Rielynn’s vaccinated. You want her safe, right?”

I hedged. Being married to a doctor had given me at least some education into the wonderful world of medical science and international differences in maladies. I sighed.

“They’re safe for her?”

“Absolutely safe,” Randy assured me.

“Parker got his a few months ago,” Nick assured me.

Rielynn was still looking at the fish. I knelt beside her. “Can you do it while she looks?”

“Just roll up her sleeve.”

I did as instructed. Rielynn looked at me, frowning.

“It’s hot in here,” I said. She didn't seem to be buying it.

"Roll yours up," Nick suggested. "Parker always feels better when I play along."

It made sense so I rolled up my right sleeve too. “Now we’re good.” I turned the page feeling like I was throwing her to the lions. “Now these are pretty,” I babbled, pointing. Rielynn looked back down. I was prepared to wrap her in my arms at a moments notice. “Blue and green and--”

“OWWWWW!!!!!”

It was in my arm before I knew what hit me. The pain seared like a hot, burning coal. Hot tears sprang to my eyes and I slid backwards, my legs kicking air.

"I'm sorry, but I couldn't have you dying on me," Nick said gently. His arm wrapped around my shoulders and the next thing I knew he had a Kleenex pressed to the tear coming out of my left eye.

It suddenly didn't hurt that bad.

"That was dirty pool," I said. He dabbed at my right.

"I know, but it worked. Now we really do have to do Rielynn's."

He pulled away and I struggled with emotion. I wanted to hit him for tricking me. I wanted to thank him for doing it in a way that took away that pre-stab anxiety.

I wanted someone to tell me where my daughter went. I looked around. No Rie. The book was open but she was gone. My shot reaction had scared her off.

"Houston, we have a problem," I said, scrambling up off the ground. Nick was on it at the same time.

"She couldn't have gone far," he said. "You take down here and I'll look upstairs. Randy, check out in the backyard."

Before anyone could agree, he was taking the steps two at a time. I tried to stay calm.

I failed. The psychotic 'my child is lost in the mall!!' voice my mother had used when I had wandered away when I was four came erupting out of me.

"RIELYNN MARIE!"
Chapter 13 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Thirteen


March 20

It was the longest seventeen minutes of my entire life. Blood pounded in my ears as I ran around Nick's house, shouting her name at the top of my lungs. Randy checked the yard and came back empty handed. I checked every nook and cranny of the lower level that I could find. A million horrible thoughts ran through my mind, including some that were nothing short of illogical like her accidentally getting mutilated by a wayward garbage disposal.

Yeah, my brain went there.

"She's up here!"

Magic words. I flew up the staircase. "Where?"

"Parker's room!"

I had only gotten the sixty second tour, but I remembered where Parker's room was on vague memory and instinct alone. The door was open and I spun into the room, sure that I looked as crazed as I felt.

"Hi mama!"

Rielynn smiled at me. She held a giant piece of chalk in her hand and she looked nonchalant, like she toddled away in a strange house every day of her life. "Cock!"

Nick bit his lip and looked away from me. I saw his shoulders shake. I laughed through tears I didn't even realize I had produced.

"Chalk," I clarified.

It was evident that Parker hadnt slept through the cacophony going on downstairs. He had been busy decorating on one of the shorter walls of his room. It had been covered in chalkboard paint. Blue, yellow, and green squiggles stretched across the expanse of black. Parker's cheeks were covered in dust.

Rielynn's tongue flicked out, snake like. I sprang towards her.

"Not in the mouth! Yucky!"

I wondered how much she had already eaten as I crouched beside her and talk her hand that held the chalk. I moved her hand along the board, loop after loop, until a flower formed.

"Petty cock!" Rielynn giggled.

Nick's laughter filled the room. I turned around. He was grinning.

"Parker what's this?"

From a low bookshelf, Nick pulled out a book with a big calico cat on the cover. Parker dropped the chalk and headed towards Nick.

"Fat titty!"

I started to laugh. Nick put the book in his son's eager hands.

"From the mouths of babes," he said happily. He sat down and pulled Parker into his lap.

"Mama, cock!" Rielynn said, nudging my wrist with the chalk.

My heart rate was just beginning to slow. I pulled her into my lap and she watched as I drew another picture. Nick's narration was perfect background noise.

Even though I had been stabbed by a needle, temporarily lost my child, and stubbed my toe running, it was turning out to be a good afternoon.

"Rielynn still needs her s-h-o-t."

The story was over. I looked at Nick and then down at Rielynn's curly mopped head.

"There goes the neighborhood," I muttered.



"My ears are still ringing."

"We have to go in for her vaccinations before the pediatrician's office officially opens. Otherwise, they have a room full of nervous, crying children."

"And parents," Nick said. He rubbed his ear.

I laughed. "And parents," I agreed.

It was almost seven o'clock. After Rielynn had used her operatic pipes to bring down the house and Randy left, Nick had ordered a pizza, convincing me that we had to stay for dinner. We ate in his large dining room, his adorable French Bulldog Nacho running under the table, snorting. I'm pretty sure half of Rielynn's cheese pizza went into his mouth. Afterwards Parker and Rie had run around until they collapsed, falling asleep in the gigantic dog bed under the big screen TV. Parker hung over one end while Rie commandeered the middle. Nacho was lying several feet away, watching them with what I could only describe as a 'bored' face.

"I'm glad Parker has a friend."

Nick was watching them sleep just like I was. I smiled. " It's great for Rielynn too," I said. "Kids make friends fairly easily, but if you don't get along with the parent--"

"Or the parent is a crazy person," Nick added.

I grinned. "Then what am I doing here?" His eyes widened.

"Me?"

"You stabbed me in the arm!"

His mouth dropped open and he pressed his palm to his chest. "I didn't! A trained physician did!"

"On your orders!"

His eyes softened. "Forgive me."

I turned back to look at the kids. The pizza rolled weirdly in my stomach. "I already did."

We were quiet then. It wasn't an awkward silence, it was just...

"There's something I have to tell you before you're on the plane tomorrow and think I've been dishonest with you."

I didn't like the sound of that. I looked back over at him. He had showered and shaved before dinner. He smelled like Axe, the gray hoodie he wore was missing the neck string. My green hoodie looked new in comparison. "Okay," I said hesitantly.

"It's not out yet, and I don't think it's anyone's business, but my life's under a microscope. It's the sucky part of the job." He glanced back over at Parker. "Lauren's a work-a-holic. Parker changed me, but she's struggled to find a balance. I've only seen her twice in three months."

The story hit home. Rielynn's cheek was pressed into the fluffy white fur lining of the bed. Every breath she took moved the fibers.

"My parents stayed married too long for all the wrong reasons. I think that's partly why they both became such shitty parents. There was too much anger and they took part of it out on us," he leaned back, quiet.

"You're not a shitty parent. If Charlie--"

I stopped myself. Charlie did everything he could for me and Rie. Sure, we didn't see much of him, but--

"I filed for divorce about a month ago. I served the papers when she came home."

His voice shook slightly. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.

"She didn't care," his voice cracked and my throat tightened. The sight of the tear falling down his cheek did me in.

"She just didn't care."
Chapter 14 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Fourteen


March 21

Rielynn and I were on the plane, staring out the window. We were getting ready for take-off and Rielynn was staring wide-eyed out the window. The flight attendant was just getting ready to shut the doors when Charlie burst through, a dozen roses in hand, his doctor’s coat practically falling off, begging me not to go after all or else he’d die of jealousy. He carried me off the plane as everyone stood up and clapped. Rielynn skipped along behind us as the song Up Where We Belong started playing...

If you believe any of that, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to my marriage dynamic. The reality was that I was sitting in an aisle seat with Nick Carter directly across the aisle from me. We were already 37,000 feet above the ground, flying from Nashville to Los Angeles. That flight would take us to Hong Kong and from there we’d land in Malaysia.

And we were going to do this with two toddlers. I needed my head examined.

So far though, the kids were doing great. Both were interested in the view out the window and the only noise from them came from some comment on what it looked like outside. I guess-timated that we were somewhere over Oklahoma.

“So, we’re meeting up with the other guys in L.A.,” Nick said. He had been busy rooting through a little baggie of peanuts. We were sitting in first class and I didn’t think my ass had ever been cushioned so nicely in its entire life. “Watch out for Brian.”

“Brian?” I asked. Nick glanced over at me and smiled.

“Yeah, he’s a flirt, especially with blondes. He comes off like the sweet country boy and then--” Nick made an alligator motion with his hands. My eyes widened and he laughed.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”

I tucked my legs up under me. “Anything else I should know?”

Nick shook his head. “It’s just business. It’s a quick trip. I’m the only one bringing my kiddo. Spouses are staying at home.”

“Is that why I have to watch out for Brian?” I asked. My 98 Degrees knowledge prevented me from conjuring up a good picture of Brian.

“No, he’s single. That’s why you have to watch out for him. He got divorced a couple years ago. He was under a tight leash with Leighanne. I think he didn’t mind that, but then he found out she was giving him tea and it was tampering with his voice. Things got nasty.”

“Why would she want to tamper with his voice?”

Nick sneered. I could tell there was no love lost between the two. “She wanted him to focus on her clothing business and for him to go solo. She figured we’d get so fed up with Bri that we’d kick him out of the group.”

“But that didn’t happen?”

“Mama, bird poop!”

I turned just to see a giant white splatter hit the windshield. It was one of the grossest things I think I had ever seen. Shit landing on a car window was one thing, but the sheer air force in the sky made the pattern spread like an atomic bomb.

“That deserves a picture,” Nick said. Before I could shield myself, the damage was done. Nick glanced down and nodded. “Awesome. Now, what were we talking about?”

“Kicking Brian out of the group?”

“Oh, yeah. We finally convinced him to go to a throat specialist. They narrowed down what was going on and eventually the truth came out.” A wry smile played on his lips. “Totally the opposite of my situation you could say.” I nodded.

“Dada, look!”

Nick leaned over Parker to see what had captured his attention. I dug through my carry-on bag and found some juice and crackers, but Rielynn had other ideas.

“Mama, pee!”

Rielynn had already been to the bathroom twice. The plane’s bathroom held some sort of mysterious fascination to her. She stared down into the toilet as if her fairy godmother was going to pop up. Stifling a sigh, I scooped her up.

“Pee pants! Pee pants!”

I had just begun to potty train her. Hoping that this could be her warning before the actual occurrence, I hustled. I don’t think I even properly locked the door before I was pulling down her pants.

Shockingly, we made it. Yes, I had to hold her airborne over the seat, my germ-o-phobe mind going crazy, but pee actually made it inside the toilet. Rielynn started clapping.

“Go me! Go me!”

“Good job!” I said happily. Setting her back on the ground, I yanked her pants back up and gave her a big hug. I hadn’t felt more accomplished in my life. She was on her way! She was growing up!

She was growing up.

The thought depressed me and excited me at the same time. I picked her back up to wash her hands and then we headed back to our seats.

“You okay?” Nick asked as I put Rielynn back by the window.

“She went,” I said. Nick smiled.

“Lucky you!”

“She’s growing up,” I sighed.

“Well, you don’t want her to be sixteen and still peeing her pants,” Nick reasoned. I laughed.

“That would actually help me with the whole teenage dating thing,” I shot back. Nick laughed along with me. I leaned my head back against the padded rest. “Have you started with Parker?”

“Not really. I know I should, but I just...” Nick shrugged. “I’m figuring it out as I go along.”

“How long were you two married before you got pregnant?”

For a second, I wasn’t sure that he was going to answer. When I looked over, I saw that he had pressed his head back against his own rest. His eyes half-closed and he smiled. “Probably four hours.”

“Four hours?”

“We left the reception early,” Nick grinned and it was the type of grin that would make any woman’s toes curl. “You?”

I looked away. Rielynn was tracing the pattern of the bird poop with her finger. Aye carumba. “Almost three years. Doctor’s don’t do surprises.”

I knew he was looking at me, but I didn’t look back. “I thought he’d be there.”

My lips felt suddenly dry. “Yeah, me too.”

“I’ve learned not to believe I’m the only person in the world with problems,” he continued. “If you want to talk...”

“I’m good,” I said quickly. “We’re good,” I amended. “We’re good.”

“Well, if you’re ever not good, the offer stands, okay?”

I couldn’t do it anymore. I looked over. Our eyes met. He would listen. I knew he would. His offer was genuine. He was actually willing to listen. I nodded.

“Okay,” I said.

But the words didn’t come. Instead I tugged at my hoodie strings and wrapped my arm around Rielynn. Her eyes were half closed, her body curled up in the seat. We still had about nineteen hours of flight to go including the two layovers.

I had a suspicion that I should get a nap while I could.
Chapter 15 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Fifteen


March 21

“Haa-haaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!”

The sound, most commonly attributed to hysterical laughter, was coming from a hysterical Parker. He was almost hyperventilating, his little hands flying out towards Nick, his cheeks a deep pink.

I was not fearing much better. Rielynn had slid completely down my hip, my leg, and was barely clinging on. With a dramatic squeal, she flung herself backwards onto the ground.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

This was my first memory of L.A. We had the attention of every single person in the near vicinity. Nick sank down onto one knee, struggling to keep ahold of Parker.

“Parker Michael Carter,” he said in his ‘I’m not a happy daddy right now’ voice. “I can’t help you unless you calm down.”

“Baaabbaaaa-chaaaaa-deeerrrrr---my--gaaaaaabbb!”

The tears were streaming down Parker’s face. Rielynn’s screams rose to a fevered pitch. I knelt down and she body slammed herself back on the ground again. The first hundred times she did it, she scared the living daylights out of me. It was only after I realized that her screaming stopped and she noticeably paused after doing it that I realized it was a test of wills.

“FOLLOW ME!”

Nick had scooped Parker back up. Little fists were slamming against his broad back. I struggled to pry Rielynn’s dead weight up and followed him, feeling everybody’s eyes on us.

It was obvious that it wasn’t Nick Carter’s first rodeo at L.A.X. He wove around like he had the layout of the entire airport committed to memory. Rielynn had pushed herself all the way back down below my hip when he held open a door and I hustled through.

The change was incredible. Gone was the cacophony of bodies shuffling from place to place. The room had lovely window views and there were dozens of grouped, padded armchairs. Big screen TVs changed to a half dozen different channels including, blessedly, amazingly, Disney Junior.

“Park, if you calm down, you can watch Mickey.”

“Haahhh-heeehh-hheeeehh---Mecccchhkeyyy?”

“Rielynn, wanna watch Mickey?”

But Rielynn wasn’t so easily deterred. She fell to the floor again, her face practically turning purple. For more than a minute her mouth was open, but nothing came out. It was the calm before the storm.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

“Nick’s here!”

“No shit!”

Nick swung Parker into the nearest recliner with the best Mickey view. Rielynn just continued to scream. I took a deep breath. This always broke my patience. I had read the books; I knew I just had to walk away. I had to--

Hello there.”

It was a smooth voice with a hint of a twang. I turned and met a pair of crinkly, sparkling, blue eyes. He knelt down next to Rielynn and began to sing.

Stop, breathe and calm down, don't let your anger grow
Stop, breathe and calm down, find a quiet place to go
Everyone, once in awhile gets a little bit angry,
So, stop, breathe and calm down
Then come back and play with me.


It was magic. By the second time he sang it, Rielynn was looking up at him, the tear trails already drying. She swung her legs up and wrapped her hands around her shoes. Her breathing regulated.

Then she smiled.

“How’d you do that?”

He rose slowly. “I sang that to my little guy a long time ago. Worked like a charm.” He held out his hand. “Brian. Brian Littrell.”

I took his hand. “Macie.”

“I already warned her about you.”

Nick wrapped an arm around my shoulder. He smiled at Brian. “Sorry.”

Brian’s eyes widened. “Warned her? I’m as innocent as a butterfly.”

Nick snorted. “Bull--”

“Children.”

A tall dark haired guy with a wicked set of eyebrows strode towards us. I watched Rielynn get up and go towards the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse TV. She pressed her sweaty face against the puffy arm of Parker’s chair.

“Kevin Richardson.”

“Macie Ziegler.”

“Nice to meet you.” Kevin smiled warmly at me before addressing Nick. “Howie and AJ are already there. They caught an earlier flight so they could make sure that everything’s in order. We’re going to be cutting it close with our arrival. Our flight leaves in about a half hour but we have a longer layover in Hong Kong.”

“No problem. Parker!”

Parker was hanging over the chair. A long string of drool was just about ready to land of Rielynn’s head.

We both dove in. I got Rielynn just as Parker sucked his loogie back up. I looked at Nick, he looked at me and we started to laugh.

Delirium was sinking in.


In my fantasies, I always pictured myself traveling the world someday. I pictured every flight being smooth and relaxing and each new place exotic and romantic. I couldn’t speak about the exoticness of Kuala Lumpur, but I did know that once we arrived at Hong Kong, it would be a long, long time before I’d think about going on a flight again. Just knowing we had one more leg and the return trip gave me the creepy crawlies. Rielynn had been perfectly happy running across Nick’s lap, but she hadn’t really understood why he practically collapsed in pain when her shoe collided with his crotch. Parker had produced the largest blob of snot I had ever seen and I was pretty sure that I would never get the yellow-greenish stain out of my t-shirt. Add in two more meltdowns, several juice comas, and the fact that I smelled like a barnyard animal, and the allure of being a world traveler had disappeared.

“It’s not usually so bad,” Brian assured me as we waited in the VIP lounge in Hong Kong. Both kids were asleep, sprawled on the long black couch that ran the entire length of the room. “We should have broke you in with Canada or something. Nick always goes big or goes home.”

Nick grinned. “Don’t believe anything, this guy says.”

Brian laughed. “Likewise.” He looked at me. “So are you going to be the official tour nanny?”

“Tour nanny?” I repeated. “No, I’m just helping out this trip.”

He smiled. “Too bad.”

“Her husband would miss her if I whisked her away on a whole tour,” Nick said. I heard the stress on the word ‘husband.’ A silent look was exchanged. I sensed some type of male ritual taking place, the tension ebbing and flowing until finally Brian leaned back in his chair, swinging one leg up on the other. He gave me another smile.

“Well then we’ll have to make sure this is seventy-two hours you don’t forget.”
Chapter 16 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Sixteen


March 22

Traveling around the globe feels a lot like traveling by time machine. In reality I had only jumped 12 hours into the future, but it seemed like a totally different millennium. Even though I'm not exactly a travel virgin, I felt my jaw drop as we walked into the Hotel Maya. Its location near the Petronas Towers made it convenient for the guys since that was where they were performing. The lobby was modern with black, gray, and glass the predominant scheme. The building hinted of the past only by the wood touches on the ceiling and the dark wood of a gorgeous twisting staircase.

"Nice, right?" Nick said, smiling. Parker was fast asleep across his shoulder, his small face pressed into the crook of Nick's neck.

"Ya!" Rielynn was a totally different story. She squirmed to get down, her eyes showing no sign of sleepiness. I laughed, struggling to hold on to her. "Beautiful."

"You got her a suite, right?" Brian asked, coming up behind Nick.

"Of course I did. We should all be on the same floor," Nick jostled Parker. He smiled at me. "As the youngest member of the group, they all think I'm incapable of planning ahead 'cause y'know, 33 is so old." He jerked his thumb towards Brian. "Brian is an old fogey though."

"Hey!"

"Don't listen to the two apes," Kevin stepped away from the desk. He handed me a fob, his eyes twinkling.

I laughed. "Thank you."

"Uh-ooga-uh!" Brian grunted, scratching under his arms. He ape-walked towards the elevator. Nick's mouth met my ear again. "I hate to break it to you, but you haven't seen weird yet."

I laughed again. Call it travel delirium, but I was finding the random hecticness amusing.

"Good."

Nick chuckled. Kevin brought up the rear of our group. We piled into the elevator and ascended up, up, up. Rie stuck her fingers into my hair and began to play. Her chatter became soft and playful. I turned my body side to side, hoping I'd lull her asleep.

and I'm so glad I stayed
Right here with you
Through the years


Brian crooned along with the elevator. Kevin joined in.

through the years
Through all the good and bad
I know how much we had
I've always been so glad to be with you


"You'll find foreign countries have a fierce loyalty," Nick explained, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter as Brian swung an arm around Kevin's waist. "They'll love Backstreet and Kenny Rogers forever."

through the yeaaarrrrrssssss the duo warbled.

And just like that, we were at our floor.



Forty five minutes later I was sitting in the middle of my bed in the biggest suite I had ever laid eyes on. Rielynn was asleep in a beautiful dark wood port-a-crib. There was a large living room and a high-ceiling bathroom adjacent to the bedroom, but perhaps the most eye catching piece was the stand alone tub right between the bedroom and bath. It reeked of romance.

It was late afternoon in Kuala Lumpur but it felt like it was still the middle of the night. My eyes felt like sandbags. The bed cushioned my like it had been custom made for my body. I sank back, letting my head hit the pillow and exhaled. I was really here. I was on boyband overload.

I was tired as fuck.


The sound of knocking woke me up from a good dream. I couldn't recall the details, but I knew it was good. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked over at the crib. Rie was snoring softly, her mouth open and her booty up in the air.

I got up and made the trek to the door. The soft knocking grew louder as I approached. I peered through the hole in the door.

Brian.

I unlocked the door and undid the chain. He grinned when he saw me. "Hello."

He looked as fresh as a person that had just slept fifteen hours. I could smell the shower fresh radiating from his pores. He wore a dark blue polo shirt, the collar flaps slightly askew. "I was wonderin' if you'd join me for dinner."

"Dinner?" I repeated. My stomach was telling me it should be breakfast.

"Yeah, it's this meal that most people eat," he teased. "I'd love for the two of you to be my guests."

I glanced back into the room. I heard a soft moan. "I haven't taken a shower or anything," I said, turning back around. He wasn't deterred.

"I can watch peanut if you want to shower," he said sweetly.

"Well...." a thought popped into my mind. "I might have to watch Parker."

"Nope, Nick and Parker are fast asleep," Brian assured me. "I tried his room before I came to you. I hate to dine alone. Please?"

My excuses ran out. I opened the door a little farther and smiled. "Okay."

He walked in and I closed the door behind him. His hair was thinning, but he was trying to wear what he had a little longer. The blonde strands curled at the nape of his neck and made him look extremely boyish.

"Mama, mama, mama."

He followed me across the suite. I scooped Rielynn up. She was smiling, a good sign that her mood would be cheery until she hit the need for her night's full sleep. She spotted Brian and smiled.

"Hi-hi."

Every since she learned how to say the word, she said 'hi' to everyone. Brian laughed.

"Hi."

I set her down and saw her curiosity level go through the roof. We both watched as she headed towards my large bed.

"I say this from much experience," Brian said seriously. "Go take a shower while she's distracted."

It was then that I knew exactly what Nick was saying about OPDS. The only difference was that I was suffering from OPMS. I smiled. “Actually, she could use a shower too. Why don’t you come back in twenty minutes? Is that okay?”

“Absolutely,” he said breezily. “Take your time. I’ll swing back in twenty.”

I walked him back out and closed the door. Suddenly, a little hand was right on my leg. I scooped Rielynn up and smiled. “Let’s get cleaned up stinky girl.” Her face crinkling in excitement, she clapped her hands.

“Tinky!”



True to his word, twenty minutes later Brian was knocking on the door. Rie was clean and dressed and so was I for the most part. My hair was still damp, but it was nothing my trusty ponytail wouldn’t fix. I swung open the door without looking.

“H---Hi?”

It came out a question just because I was surprised. Brian wasn’t alone and he didn’t look extremely happy about it. Hovering right behind him in a tattered Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt and uncombed hair, looking just like he rolled out of bed, was Nick. Parker didn’t look much more put together. Nick gave me a grin.

“Let’s eat. I’m starving.”
Chapter 17 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Seventeen


March 22

“Parker, this was a very good choice.”

“Za! Za!”

“Ketti! Ketti!”

“Terrific choice. Oh my God, this is amazing. Why doesn’t our Pizza Hut have all this?”

I was like a kid in a candy store. As soon as Parker had spotted Pizza Hut, plans to eat at the swanky restaurant Brian had suggested flew out the window. Rielynn had spotted the familiar logo and chimed in. We were currently sitting in the familiar joint, but the menus were anything but normal. Instead of the simplistic menu of pizza, wings, and pasta, my mouth was watering with images of tuna focaccia sandwiches, crinkle fries, calamari, and a dessert called the Chocolate Volcano.

“I’m going to gain twenty pounds,” I breathed, flipping through the menu a fourth time.

“You’re an itty bitty thing,” Brian teased. “No worries there.”

“Mama, sketti!”

Rielynn was feeling like a very big girl. She had studied the three options on the kids menu as hard as I was the rather large adult menu. She pointed to a plain sauced spaghetti. It even came with ice cream for dessert.

“Dada, za! za!”

“Yup, you can have pizza,” Nick said. Parker clapped.

“Za! Za!”

Hearing the kids, the waitress came by and took our orders. I ordered first for myself and Rie since Nick and Brian both insisted. Brian was next and I almost groaned when he ordered a cup of soup and salad. I was beginning to rethink by tuna focaccia sandwich with fries until Nick started talking.

“I’ll have the lime pepper chicken chop, the favourites platter, a garden salad, and a mango tango smoothie. We’ll also need a cheese pizza kids’ meal.”

“Why don’t you just order the left half of the menu?” Brian quipped as Nick relinquished his menu. Nick leaned back and stretched.

“Well I don’t think I’ll be fainting at dress rehearsal tomorrow morning Mr. Broth Soup and Rabbit Greens, light vinaigrette.”

“I’m saving my appetite for dessert,” Brian countered. He looked at me. “If I can talk anyone into splitting some.”

I opened my mouth, but Nick beat me too it. “I’d love too. What a doll. Isn’t he a doll?”

Brian gave him a look that could kill. Nick was unfazed, opting to stand up instead and pull up the sloppy shorts he seemed to have tossed on without much thought. “Macie, may I take your daughter for a moment?” He bowed ridiculously towards Rielynn. “There’s a couple coin rides by the entrance that are calling these kids names.”

Rie’s eyes lit up. “Car! Car!”

“Vroom!” Parker echoed.

“Sure,” I said. I started to get up, but he stopped me. “We’ll be right back.”

For some reason, my OPMS didn’t flare up. Nick scooped Rielynn up on his left and Parker on his right. Rielynn wrapped her arms around his neck. She looked happy. Comfortable.

“So what does your husband do?"

I didn’t have time to process how I felt about Rie's reaction. Brian was unrolling his silverware and I had to replay his words before I realized it was a question. “He’s a doctor.”

“Does he have a speciality?”

“He’s doing a lot with surgery, but I know he loves the research side of it too.” I took a sip of my tea. “He told me he was actually working on something major about six months ago, but I don’t know what it is.”

“I guess you two don’t see a lot of each other?”

“It’s been crazy,” I admitted. “Do you know where the restrooms are?”

“Over there,” Brian said. I stood up and smiled.

“Thanks. I’ll be right back.”

I headed in the direction he pointed. I didn’t have to pee, but I also didn’t want to talk about Charlie. I had to pass the small game area in order to get to the bathrooms and I paused for a second to watch. Nick was straddling the back of a little car that Rielynn and Parker were sharing. Their hands were on the wheel and they were giggling as Nick made the machine move side to side, the computer screen in front of them showing a crazy animated car chase.

“C’mon Rie! Turn it! Parker hit that pedal. You’re doing it! You’re doing it!”

It was the cutest thing I had ever seen in my entire life. It took a lot for me to duck into the bathroom. I sat on the toilet for what I considered an appropriate length of time and washed my hands for an equally appropriate second count. I walked back out and almost shrieked as I bumped into solid body.

“He asking your life history?”

Nick smiled down at me. Parker and Rie were still playing in the car. I folded my arms and smiled back, trying to gloss over my near panic attack.

“Just about as much as you’ve asked me,” I said sweetly, not willing to admit that Nick’s questioning hadn’t felt so in-your-face.

“Is that the thanks I get for rolling out of bed and saving you from a pseudo-date?”

The over-dramatic look on his face made me laugh. “It wouldn’t have been anywhere near a date.”

He shook his head and smiled again. “Midge, you have no idea.”

Midge? What’s a midge?”

He was growing more amused by the second. “Popularized in Lady and the Tramp, the proper definition would be something like,” he turned and checked on the kids before looking back at me. He scratched his chin. “a short pretty individual that makes the lives of lots of people better with their midginess.”

I laughed. “Midginess? What’s midginess?”

The smile that followed my question was drop dead gorgeous. It was playful, sincere, and scary in how targeted it was right to me. “Midginess is dangerous.”

Before I could continue the conversation, he turned back and butt-thumped the car, sending the kids rocking and squealing once again.

“You okay?” Brian asked as I returned to the table feeling slightly lightheaded (and knowing exactly why).

“Fine,” I smiled. I spotted the waitress. “Here comes dinner,” I announced.


Dinner was just as delicious as the menu had made it appear. Rielynn made a royal mess with the spaghetti, but she ate every last bite. Brian, Nick, and I split the volcano dessert and by the time the bill was paid, I wasn’t sure if I could stand up.

“Howie asked if we could all meet in about a half hour to go over the game plan tomorrow,” Nick told Brian as we left the table.

“Where?”

“His hotel room.”

Brian looked at his watch. “Okay.”

“Why don’t you go on ahead? I think I’ll give the kids one more car ride for the road.”

“Don’t be late,” Brian warned. Nick didn’t bat an eye. “I won’t.”

“Thanks for dinner, Macie,” Brian said, turning to me. I smiled.

“Thank you for paying.”

He flashed me a grin. “No problem. You were great company.”

He waved as he left. Nick and I hoisted our increasingly sleepy-eyed children up out of their high chairs. As soon as the door closed, Nick snorted.

“Surprised he didn’t kiss your hand m’lady.”

“Chivalry doesn’t have to be dead,” I shot back.

Before I knew what was happening, Nick grabbed my free hand. He pressed his lips to it and held it tightly. My eyes widened.

“I lied to him,” he said, grazing his lips over the skin.

“What do you mean you lied?”

He pulled away then, dropping my hand. “I have something else in mind besides just letting the kids have another ride.”

I felt my eyebrow arch. “Like?”

He gave me a look of pure seriousness.

“Trust me?”

My immediate answer should have been something like ‘no way.’ Instead, I didn’t even get to answer. Rie cuddled up against me and it was her tiny voice that answered for the both of us.

Ya.”
Chapter 18 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Eighteen


March 22

"This is beautiful, but is it safe to be in a park at night?"

"This park is safe, trust me."

For a girl who was used to seeing her local parks close by dark, the sight of people leisurely milling around as if they never had to leave was a new experience. There were a few families, but for the most part it looked like young couples were keeping close by the fountain, either sitting on the grassy knoll or stopping along the beautiful curving walkway. The centerpiece was a giant fountain. Even though there were people around, they were being quiet enough I could still hear the water ripple.

"Swim?" Rielynn asked. "Swim?"

"Wawa," Parker added. "Wawa!"

"No swimming tonight party animals," Nick said. He turned suddenly. "Up here."

He headed up a fairly unoccupied grassy hill. My leg muscles initially protested, confused at the awkward elevation combined with holding a baby, but I kept up and he stopped about halfway where there was a surprising spot of level land.

"Parker, man, you stink." He announced. Parker started to giggle.

"Tink!"

"I guess we'll have to go," I said. "I didn't bring--"

"We're not leaving yet," Nick said. He pulled a diaper and a plastic Baggie of wipes from his shorts pocket and gave me a boyish grin. "I came prepared."

I laughed loudly and sank down in the grass. In my pre-mommy life, a guy would have pulled out a condom while saying that. Instead, it was a diaper-carrying daddy.

"Poop tinks! Poop tinks!"

Parker grabbed his legs and kicked them up, flashing the world the least of his worries. Nick worked quickly. Rielynn watched the scene unfold. She looked up at me frowning.

"What?" I asked.

"Dat."

Rielynn pointed at Parker. "Dat."

I still didn't understand. "That's Parker. He's getting his diapey changed."

Rie frowned at me. "Dat."

"I think," Nick slid the new diaper under and over, securing the tabs with expertise. "she noticed the difference."

"The difference?" I stared at him blankly.

"All done!" Nick smiled down at Parker. The little guy scrambled up to his feet as Nick yanked up his pants. Nick turned to me. He was smiling. Amused.

"Anatomy?"

The lightbulb didn't come on. Nick laughed.

"Aww Midge, you are married to a doc, right? Surely you know what I'm saying," he teased.

Suddenly, I realized what he meant. My face burned. Rielynn was still staring at Parker warily. "Oh, that."

Nick laughed. "Yeah that."

"Parker's a boy. You're a girl," I said. "Boy. Girl."

"Bo." Rielynn repeated. "Bo."

I wasn't sure exactly how or how much to explain to a two-year old. Fortunately, I didn't have to. It had grown even darker in the short time we had been on the hill. All of a sudden, music started to play. I looked around for its source. "What-"

"Look."

Nick pointed out in front of him. I followed his finger and saw what he meant. My eyes widened.

"That's beautiful," I breathed.

The large fountain, minutes ago quiet and serene, was alive. A beautiful water and light show timed to music delighted the senses. Large streams of water shot up in the sky in blues, reds, and greens.

"Petty!" Rielynn shrieked.

"Ya!"

The little ones got up. Rielynn started to dance, or at least her attempt at dancing, anatomy woes all but forgotten. She swung her arms out in front of her and stomped her feet from side to side. Parker, I noticed, had much better rhythm. He brought his hands together, clapping to the beat.

"Shall we?"

Nick's hand was in front of my face. I felt like I was giving new meaning to the term 'dumb blonde.' "What?"

"When in Rome...." He looked at the kids. "Do as the munchkins do."

I laughed. My heart fluttered. "We're not in Rome. We're in Kuala Lumpur."

"Tomato, tomahto," he countered breezily. "Please?"

Rielynn and Parker were having the time of their lives. The lights danced in front of my eyes and I knew I'd never forget the sight as long as I lived. I took his hand.

"When in Rome..." I repeated.

He pulled me up. The music was exotic and lively. He began moving his hips and I pathetically tried to follow. It was ridiculous and crazy and exhilarating. He took my hand and I spun around and for the first time in a very long time I felt carefree, my ponytail whipping my face and smiling so bad my face hurt.

"I don't have the moves like Howie does," Nick said loudly. "You'll see what I mean tomorrow."

He pulled me closer and our eyes met. His moves seemed plenty fine to me. His hand felt warm on my side as our bodies brushed before pushing back again. He spun me a second time and I felt breathless. His hand skimmed my ponytail and ever so gently he tugged it. My mouth opened and his eyes darkened. My mind went cloudy. Time, place, rationalization dissolved. I was dancing on a hilltop in a foreign country with a guy still wear one half of his pajamas and he was gorgeous and touching me. His face inched towards mine and there was a thought, a warning, but it was trapped in the back of my mind. His fingertips grazed the nape of my neck and his lips parted---

"Rielynn!"

The name coming so loudly from him broke the spell. He pulled away, his eyes wide with some emotion that I understood but couldn't put into verbal meaning. He scooped her up and smiled.

"Your turn!"

He spun her around and she shrieked in happy delight. I scooped up Parker slowly, trying to refit the pieces of my brain back into their proper places. Parker laughed, wrapping his arms around my neck. He smelled like baby powder.

Even as I danced, a smile on my face, anger was bubbling in me. It was anger at myself. Nick had been the one to pull away. What the hell would have happened if he didn't?

Jetlag, I told myself as a new song began to play. I glanced over at Nick. He caught my eye and gave me a sheepish smile. 'I'm sorry,' he mouthed.

I nodded and swallowed hard. As I continued to dance with Parker I couldn't help but think that it wasn't Brian I had to watch out for. I mean, he was so in your face it was obvious.

But Nick...

Nick was dangerous.
End Notes:
A link to the light show -http://youtu.be/fMWhewBc828
Chapter 19 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Nineteen


March 23

I woke up the next morning in a daze. It took me awhile to remember exactly where I was. Rielynn was curled up next to me and I lowered my face to her head, inhaling the sweet baby scent.

Nick and I hadn't had a chance to talk about what had happened, or more accurately, what hadn't happened but almost did. His face had haunted my dreams in ways I didn't want to replay.

The knot in my stomach was what caused me to retrieve my arm from under Rie and pick up my cellphone. I called the house first, but as I expected there was no answer. I hung up and dialed the hospital. After going through no less than five receptionists, I sat on hold for eternity

"Hello?"

I almost didn't recognize Charlie's voice. It was higher than I remembered.

"Hi, honey. It's Macie. I just wanted to say we got here fine and I miss you."

"How long was the flight?"

"An eternity. We had two layovers and---"

"I'm being paged. Can I call you later?"

I frowned. "Do you want to say hi to Rielynn? I can wake her and--"

"Don't wake her. Have fun and I'll see you soon."

I hung up feeling even more upset than before I had called. I sank down onto a large chaise and watched my little bed bundle sleep. It seemed like I would have to become a patient on the brink of death before he'd acknowledge me. Was it just the demands of the job? Or was it me?

I felt alone. I longed to pick up the phone and call my mom, but there wasn't a phone on earth that could reach heaven. My mom had died of cancer five years ago, a year before a massive heart attack took my dad. They never got to see Rielynn.

I couldn't call a friend either. I had lost contact with most of my friends, either from the move or because of the lifestyle change from being single to being a married mom.

Truth be told, no one would understand.

I was alone.

A large tear trickled off my chin onto my chest. I closed my eyes to stem the flow, but they just kept coming. I curled up and hugged myself. I willed myself to calm down. The last thing I wanted was for Rie to wake up and see me crying.

The sound of someone knocking propelled me off the chaise. I grabbed a robe and wrapped it around myself. I felt underdressed in a tank top and sleep shorts. I made up my mind that if it was Brian I would ignore the knocking. I wasn't up to a lame attempt at flirting. And if it was Nick...

I wasn't sure what I'd do if it was Nick.

A look through the peephole gave me a view of a gorgeous blue eyeball. I suddenly caught the scent of eggs and my stomach growled.

"Room service," the bellhop said, his voice incredibly deep. I undid the chain.

"Foo!"

"Parker, shhh."

"Foo!"

I unlocked the door and pushed it open. Parker was trying in vain to reach the McDonald's bag in Nick's hand. He grinned sheepishly.

"He hasn't learned the art of surprise yet. Breakfast?"

I couldn't help but smile.

"Come on in."


"You've been rying-cay."

"Ig-pay atin-lay?"

Rielynn and Parker were each eating a hashbrown on small paper plates on the floor. Rielynn kept rubbing her fingers together, obviously enjoying the texture of the grease on her hand. Parker was like an assembly line, double-fisting the pieces. Nick nodded in their direction.

"For the ids-kay."

I just shook my head. I hadn't put my hair up and it fell in front of my face like a curtain. I cut a piece of pancake with my spork and dipped it in the small container of syrup.

"It's nothing."

"Macie, it's okay to talk. Please don't be like me and wait to pay someone money to do what a friend could do."

I looked up slowly. He was staring at me, his Egg McMuffin held tightly, the wrapper pulled back. He gave me a knowing smile. "I want to be your friend. And I'm sorry about last night. I'm seriously not a creep. I'll let Brian have that title. He's so rusty in the game he squeaks."

I laughed. "He comes on strong."

"Consider him harmless," Nick assured me. "I know I warned you, but he'd seriously not do anything with a married woman. I think he's just looking for practice."

I looked back down and nodded. The piece of pancake I had eaten dropped down into my stomach like a lead weight.

"Macie?"

I was torn. I wanted to talk to someone, but...

"I called him," I whispered.

"Charlie?"

I nodded. "I told him I missed him."

Nick didn't prompt and I almost didn't continue. His sandwich and my pancakes grew colder. I could feel the tears forming.

"He didn't seem to care."

Nick's hand pressed against my robed knee. "Oh, Midge," he said gently. "He doesn't deserve you."

"He doesn't deserve you at all."

"He's just busy," I babbled. I looked up, knowing I looked like a desperate begger. "He's so busy with work."

"But your little girl needs her daddy. You need a husband. It's not fair just to live that life with titles but no action."

I shook my head even though any psychologist would have probably told me the same thing. In fact, it sounded like something that came direction from a textbook. "What school did you go to?" I asked curiously.

He looked amused, but the look was accompanied by a sad smile.

"The school of life, baby."
Chapter 20 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty


March 23

"Howie Dorough, meet Macie Ziegler. Macie, Howie. AJ--"

"Nice to meet you. Do you have any nail polish remover? These losers don't have any."

"Gee, sorry. Usually I keep my nail polish right next to my Summer's Eve but wouldn't you know I forgot to pack it?" Nick teased, a big grin spreading across his face. AJ punched him in his shoulder and looked at me. I held up my pathetically plain nails and smiled.

"Sorry."

"Are you coming with us over to the venue?" Howie asked. He had warm eyes that reminded me of hot chocolate. I shook my head.

"I'm taking the kids to the playground," I said. "This is my daughter Rielynn."

Rielynn looked up from her Popsicle for just a second, long enough to waive. She looked a little like Heath Ledger's Joker. The entire area around her lips was stained red. She turned towards Parker and started to giggle. His blueberry Popsicle had created a similar effect.

"Surely you're going to see the show tonight though," Howie said.

"She's not going to miss it," Nick promised. "You know Park has to be right at the wings."

"He's an attention whore like you," AJ snickered. Nick returned the gesture.

"Who's the attention w-h-o-r-e," he spelled out the word. He pointed at AJ's hand. "Mr. Nail Polish Remover?"

AJ just laughed. He looked at me. "I thought I turned soft after my daughter was born, but this guy gives new meaning to the word."

I smiled. "I think it's sweet."

Nick puffed up. "Ha! See?"

We talked for a few more minutes. When they walked away, Nick grew serious. His hand slid into his pocket.

"I'm giving this to you," he said, pulling out the epipen. "If he gets stung don't waste any time. Just inject it and call me."

My heart tripped. My palms began to sweat as I took it, holding it like it was glass. "I promise I'll watch him like a hawk."

Nick smiled and I relaxed. "I know. That's why I asked you here." He licked his lips and ran a hand through his hair. "Okay, well, I better go." He knelt down. "Gimme a hug buddy."

Parker ran right towards him. Nick didn't flinch and wet, sticky hands pressed down on his neck and blue lips pecked his own. I was so lost in the moment that I didn't realize that Rie had inched towards them. She was holding out her arms. I stepped forward.

"Rie---"

But Nick was quicker. He scooped Rielynn up into a similar, warm hug. "Bye for now beautiful," he said.

"Bye-bye! Bye-bye!" Rie repeated, kissing his cheek. Nick stood up slowly and looked at me. Secretly, even though I felt guilty, I kinda wished I could say the same type of goodbye. But I knew only toddlers could get away with so much free affection.

"Thanks, Midge," he said gently. I smiled.

"You're welcome."



"Parker, careful!"

"Rie, no!"

Forty-five minutes into the park trip and I really wasn't sure how women with more than one child did it, especially women with twins. A grotesque amount of sweat was running down my back and between my breasts and I knew my arms would ache in the morning from hoisti myself up on the play equipment. The kids picked the narrowest nooks and crannies to squeeze their bodies into.

"They're adorable," a fellow mom said as I pulled Parker's pants up for the third time. She had a British accent and she was dressed more for a trip to the fashion shows of Milan than a playground. There wasn't a piece of her red hair out of place.

"Thank you," I said, hating the way I gasped for breath between the two simple words. "Which one's yours?"

She pointed a manicured nail at a little girl standing in the sand box. "Catherine."

The little girl looked over at her mom and immediately came running over. I did a quick child check for my two. "Rielynn! Parker!"

Did they listen? Of course not. Rielynn was looking practically up Parker's nose and they were giggling.

"Twins?"

I almost ignored the question, sure it wasn't directed at me, but the accent pulled me back. I smiled. "Just the little girl," I said. "The little boy belongs to a friend of mine."

"Charming children," she said, even though it came out in a grossed out way. I couldn't blame her though; my own stomach turned as I watched Rie pull a booger out of Park's nose. She was bringing it closer and closer to her open mouth. My body acted on instinct as I lunged.

"Nooooooo!!"



"How were they? You look exhausted."

Parker stopped hanging off my elbow the minute Nick walked into my hotel room. He ran to him, full of smiles. I wasn't sure that I could move even my small toe. My ass was planted in a chair and it was all I could do just to blink.

"Parkey, booooogeeeeeyyy!" Rie tried to explain. She ran around my chair, slapping the arm loudly.

"What?" Nick laughed. He looked like he had just gotten out of a shower. "I missed something, didn't I?"

I cracked a weak smile. "What has been seen can never be unseen."

He didnt buy the smile. His eyes surveyed me. I knew he scanned every inch because I got those goosebumps you can only get when being mentally undressed by another person. He stopped when he got to my knee.

"Holy shit."

"It's just the bandages. It's not really--"

"It's huge."

"I just hit it hard. It's swelled."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"It's not a big deal. It didn't even begin to swell until we got back."

I didn't mention that it was now throbbing like a bitch. He put Parker down.

"You're getting it checked out."

"I don't---"

He whipped out his phone. All he needed was a pair of superhero undies and a cape.

"No one gets hurt on my watch."
Chapter 21 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty One


March 23

"Holy shit."

I was glad that little ears weren't too close. The video that was playing on the IPad I held in my hands had warranted the expletive. I was flushed and I didn't think that I could blame it on the pain killers.

Nick Carter was practically nude. Yes, a guitar was hiding him for the most part, but there were segments when even the wide berth of the instrument couldn't hide what was bouncing right behind it.

It was the strangest thing I had ever seen.

And I loved it.

"Waddya think?"

Even though he was the one that had given me the device in the first place, I closed it like I had been looking at porn. The smile that lit up his face was one of sheer amusement. I forced the words from my dry tongue.

"You shoulda worn the bunny suit."

He laughed. "It the Harlem Shake, Midge. Ya know you liked it. That's just the drugs talking."

The tour physician had declared my injury a pulled knee ligament. I had ice, elevation, and meds. I was officially useless.

"Where's Rie?" I asked.

"She's fine," Nick assured me. "She's with a qualified nanny for the duration of the concert. After that, I'll watch her. We'll have a sleepover tonight."

My face must have registered something besides relief because he laughed.

"Don't be scared," he assured me.

"I'm highly harmless in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jammies."



"When I said these were gonna be seventy-two hours you wouldn't forget, I didn't mean bodily injury."

"Who's muy bonita?"

"Me!!"

"Parker, if you fart on my arm one more time..."

"Now I know times really have changed. Brian and Nick both sharing a girl, but only to help her walk, AJ getting kinky arm action with a toddler instead of a goth girl and Howie sweet talking a two year old instead of a twenty-year old Puerto Rican babe. We're old."

Kevin finished his observation with finesse. To his credit, he helped in the pursuit of helping me not fall flat on my face as Nick and Brian juggled me out of the elevator. Having men of two very different heights assisting me wasn't a great plan.

"That was a great show," I said, gritting my teeth as I slid towards Brian once again. Kevin had me around my waist.

"Bri, just let go."

My room was close, but in handicapped time, it was eons away. I felt Brian's breath on my face. "What--"

"Just do it," Nick said. "Both of you let go. This is slowing us down."

Brian slowly let go, and I felt myself tip as Kevin also removed his hands. I was sure I was going to be kissing tile when my whole body left the ground.

Nick held me like I didn't weigh an ounce. Nose to nose, we stared into each other's eyes.

"Parker, dude, stop shittin!"

That smile was still gorgeous even when the face showed signs of exhaustion.

"Let the caravan continue."



"You don't have to stay here. We're fine."

"I feel responsible and we're staying." Nick's voice was just an octave above a whisper. "Park's already asleep. That giant poop did him in."

My hotel room smelled like a mix of major diaper nastiness and Bath & Body Works room spray. The mini-Nick was asleep on a pile of floor and blanket pillows, his mouth open and his breathing rhythmic.

Nick hadnt been kidding about the TMNT pajamas either. While he had gone to change I had put myself in an oversized shirt, but I still felt slightly exposed. He sprawled out next to Parker on the floor, turning towards me, his head landing on a pillow.

"You can't sleep on the floor," I complained.

"It's comfortable," he assured me.

My knee was beginning to throb. The room light was beginning to give me the start of a headache and I hoped my pain pill would kick in quickly. I flipped off the bed lamp and the room filled with shadows from the small little nightlights scattered through the expansive sweet. I could still see Nick's eyes.

"Thank you for coming here," he whispered. "It meant a lot to me."

I swallowed hard. "You're welcome."

We stared at each other, but the dark made it seem less invasive.

"Will he be around to help you when you get home?"

I exhaled. I knew I could play dumb and act like I didn't know who the 'he' was, but it seemed lame and dishonest. I didn't want to play that game with Nick.

"Probably not."

He didn't answer right away and there was a time when I thought he might have gone to sleep. Instead, his body slid slightly closer to the bed. I saw his fingers curl upwards.

"Hold my hand?"

It was a hopeful plea more than a question. My hand hesitated and then snaked towards his. His fingers slid through mine.

"Goodnight Midge."

His hand was strong, but I couldn't imagine him sleeping with his arm elevated in such a position the whole night. Yet, he didn't seem to be in a great hurry to move it.

"Goodnight, Nick," I whispered.

I was determined to stay awake until he fell asleep, but no sooner did the words leave my mouth that the pill kicked in. My head sank into the pillow and my thoughts ceased.

But my hand stayed warm.
Chapter 22 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Two


March 24

"That has to be the best innovation ever. She's happy, I'm happy."

"No, you're codeine happy. There's a difference."

I stared out the plane window. I guess I was smiling because my cheeks felt like they were being pushed upward by my lips, but I couldn't really tell. "My knee doesn't hurt."

Nick fixed the blanket across my lap. "That husband of yours is going to need to check it out. Just in case you need surgery."

"He won't care."

"He's a doctor."

"Just to everyone else."

I looked over at Rie and smiled wider (or at least I thought I did). The greatest invention ever was working perfectly. The giant noise canceling headphones she had worn for the concert were keeping her asleep. No distractions could tickle her eardrums. Parker was wearing a matching set. He was so exhausted I could hear him snoring.

"Brian tired them out," I said. "I miss Brian. If I could, I'd keep him at my house like a built in toddler tire-outer."

Nick laughed. "He's already spent a lot of years as a pet, Midge. Besides, if you keep a Backstreet Boy at your house it better be--"

He didn't finish. I lolled my head back against the seat rest. My butt was asleep. My butt had practically gone around the world asleep, I was sure that had to be a record.

"I'm sure one of the girls at LAX would keep you," I teased.

Somehow in the short time we were gone, word about Nick's divorce had broke. We had arrived at LAX to a screaming gaggle of women and a barrage of airborne panties and bras. Brain had loved it, but most of them only had Nick's name rolling off their tongues.

"We still have quite awhile before the plane lands. Why don't you get some more sleep?"

"You don't want to talk to me anymore?"

His lips twitched. "You're something else when you're medicated."

I laughed. Or snorted. Or both. "You should see me when I'm drunk...or so I've been told."

Nick leaned towards me. "When's the last time you were drunk?"

"It's been a long time," I nodded. "Before Rie was born for sure. I don't ever go out. I don't have friends."

"I'm your friend."

Nick looked so sincere I wanted to wrap my arms around his neck and hug him. Or kiss him. Or both. Or--

"But, you're a boy."

His eyes crinkled and he laughed so loudly that others on the plane turned to look at him. I was sure if the kids weren't wearing the headphones that they would have woken up for sure. "Last time I checked, I was."

My tongue was threatening to break completely loose. "I probably shouldn't see you after this."

The happiness on his face melted. "What? Why?"

“‘Cause you make me think.”

“When has thinking ever been bad? I just started thinking myself recently and I kinda like it.”

He was teasing again. “You’re dangerous for me.”

Nick actually looked surprised. I couldn’t imagine how that news could actually surprise him but he didn’t have a quick comeback.

“I find you extremely attractive but I wouldn’t ever try anything while you’re married. I’m not that kind of guy.”

“Well, I’m going to be married forever.”

Nick didn’t answer. My eyes grew heavy and I fought against it, determined to keep talking and explaining why we couldn’t hang out anymore, but my head fell onto his shoulder and my brain shut off.

Maybe I was codeine happy.




“Mama, home! Mama, home!”

Rielynn’s stared eagerly out the window as we pulled to a stop outside the house. It had only been a few days and yet it felt like I had been away forever. My knee was beginning to ache, the result of the drugs beginning to wear off.

“Parker, let’s help the ladies in,” Nick said. He undid his seatbelt. I tried to hurry and cut him off at the pass, but I failed. Miserably.

“You don’t have to help,” I said as he opened the door. “I got this.”

Nick smiled. I had woken up from the nap just as the plane had landed on the runway. He was unusually quiet, but as always charming, as he navigated us all through the airport. The trip to the house had been filled with the kids babbling. My thoughts of our conversation on the plane were fuzzy, but I had a feeling I had said something that had caused the retreat. It was a relief to see the smile.

“You’re going to get yourself in, Rielynn in and all your luggage? I didn’t know you were Ironman, Midge.”

“In, pay! In, pay!” Parker said excitedly. I almost collapsed on the ground as I stood up. My fingers wrapped tightly around the top of the door. I smiled sheepishly.

“I guess I might need a little help.”

“Then just follow my lead,” he said. He threw my arm around his neck and I began to hobble along beside him. I fished my keys out of my purse.

“Are you glad to be home?”

“It looks different,” I said. I tried to put the key in the lock and for a moment thought that the locks might have changed. Then, realizing I had tried to shove the key in upside down, I flipped it around and all was well.

“I’m going to put you on the couch,” Nick said. Before I could stop him, he scooped me up. With a little shriek, I landed on the soft cushions.

“I’ll go back and get both kids and get your bags last. Don’t move.”

Before I could answer, he was outside. I shifted my knee, wincing gingerly and leaned forward, hoping pressure from my hands would stop the throbbing. I looked down and my eye caught a glimpse of something red peeking out from under the couch. Extending my body, my palm met the floor and I slid my hand awkwardly behind my legs. As soon as my hand brushed up against the object, I knew what it was. My heart raced as I used just one finger to lift and examine the object. My eyes burned.

The redness of the object was so bright because it was pure silk. The panties were expensive, definitely not the kind one would pick up at Walmart or even Kohl’s. Delicate lace ran along the bottom of the leg holes. I held it with my pointer finger feeling like I just might have to burn the whole digit off. I had never felt more gross in my life. I was halfway between fainting and screaming when I felt Nick’s breath on the back of my hair.

“They’re not yours,” he guessed. “They’re too big.”

Parker and Rielynn went toddler running by and I barely noticed. I didn’t ask him how he knew they were too big. I had a feeling he was probably a panty expert from way back. He could probably tell what size a woman’s butt and boobs were the second he met you. I nodded.

“They’re not mine,” I said tightly.

Charlie was cheating on me. The thought seemed to fly all around me, making me want to smack it away, before finally flying into my brain.

“He’s cheating on me with a girl that has hurricane hips,” I said numbly.

It was a good thing I was sitting down. I let the panties drop. Nick came around the couch and I could see the concern for me written all over his face.

“My fists pack a pretty damn good punch,” he said seriously.

“And to be honest, I’ve kinda been waiting to punch this guy out since I met you.” He squatted down in front of me.

“So can I?”
Chapter 23 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Three


March 24

You know the old saying 'a watched pot never boils'? Well, the same can be said about a clock. The red numbers on the digital alarm clock seemed to be reluctant to turn. The house was quiet. Rielynn had fought sleep, her body already adjusted to Malaysia time. It was only due to playing hard with Parker and my purposeful neglect of giving her naps that she had given in.

My own body was rebelling against the time change. Actually, I felt like I was rebelling against a lot of things. My brain was rebelling, chastising me for not letting Nick go after Charlie. My finger was rebelling against the hard scrubbing I had done to get the foreign panty cooties off of it. My heart was rebelling against the threat of breakage.

I was at war with myself.

The numbers on the clock lazily rolled from 11:59 to midnight. It was a new day. Charlie had to come home eventually.

By 12:30 I was about ready to give up. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to put up a reasonable fight even if he did come home. My tongue would tie and ---

Captain Kangaroo lifted his head. He didn't bark, instead snuggling his poodle-y body tighter against my leg. He had spent the last half hour licking my knee with his rough tongue. I strained my ears and sure enough, I heard the front door opening.

A million things to say ran through my head, some wittier than others, some just in-your-face while others were more beat around the bush. I had never in my entire life expected to have a conversation like the one that was coming straight for me.

I was sitting up in bed, arms crossed when Charlie walked in. He had his doctor's coat draped over his arm and looked, as usual, tired. but he also looked different to me. Just like the house, I knew I hadn't been gone long enough for him to change, but it was a feeling I couldn't shake.

He didn't notice me at first. He took his time hanging his coat. It wasn't until he walked towards the mirror and must have seen an odd shadow and the bedside lamp on the lowest setting that he realized he wasn't alone.

"You're back."

His voice sounded different, just like it had over the phone. I wondered for a moment if he was sick and then I realized he didn't deserve a damn pity party. The throbbing in my knee reminded me that my give a damn was busted.

"What did you do while I was gone?"

I couldn't believe how calm I sounded. It was almost like I was June Cleaver waiting for hubby to get home to present him pot roast, pleasantly asking how his day was because mine was so inconsequential.

"I was at the hospital. You know that."

"You didn't have any visitors here?"

He still hadn't removed his shirt. He held on to the top button awkwardly. "What happened to your knee?"

Leave it to him to spot an injury and change the subject. He stepped forward and let go of his shirt. I pulled the sheet over my lap, effectively covering up Captain Kangaroo in the process.

"Did you have anyone over? Anyone?

My voice was losing the calmness. Charlie stopped, his knees pressing into the end of the bed.

"Of course not. What the hell's wrong with your. You're acting crazy."

The word 'crazy' ended in the most God awful voice. It sounded like a fourteen year old boy was talking. I reached over and yanked open the nightstand. From it I removed a baby wipes container and held it out. "Then explain this."

He gave me a strange look, but he moved over to my side of the bed and took the box. I had a ridiculous vision of Nick leaping from the shadows and punching him out after all. It had taken everything I had to convince him to leave and he did it begrudgingly.

The sound of the lid snapping upwards pulled me back to the present. I saw Charlie's eyes focus. His fingers pulled up the pair of panties. They hung in the air between us.

Silence.

"So?" I finally said.

He didn't answer. Instead his wrist flicked. I don't know how I knew but I sensed he was just going to leave rather than endure a confrontation. My own hand shot out and grabbed his shirt. His body turned and the sound of ripping fabric rent the air.

The room was dark but it wasn't dark enough for me to second guess what I saw. My sharp intake of breath was just as loud as the ripping shirt was. I stared in disbelief. Charlie froze only a second before running out of the room, but it was too late.

The bare chest I had expected to see had been covered.

By a red silk bra. A bra that most likely had lace details.

A bra that was missing a set of matching red panties.
Chapter 24 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Four

The Aftermath of the Reveal - As Witnessed by Nick


March 25

It wasn't that long ago that I used to consider four a.m. a good time to go to bed after a night of hard partying. Now that I'm a dad, four in the morning is about an hour and a half before I have to wake up and start the day. The minute Parker was born he stole my schedule as his own.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

The thing is that I do cherish my sleep. I mean, I don't take it as seriously as Howie, but I function better when I have at least four hours. As it was, it had taken me until almost one to fall asleep. My mind was on Macie. Hell, it had been on Macie since I had met her at the zoo. At first I blamed it on almost a whole year without sex, but now I fully accept the fact that it's because she's everything Lauren ceased to be the minute Parker was born.

Anyhow, when my cell started going off at four a.m. I didn't jump for it. It was only after the caller tried for the third time that I picked the thing up and slid it along my pillow to my ear.

"Lo?" I mumbled.

"Heeee-eeeyyyy. Whatcha doinnnnnnnngg?"

My mind searched my mental drunk chick Rolodex. It had been dormant for years but I had never thrown it away. Yet, I couldn't place the drunk voice.

"Who this?" I said, my four a.m. groggy speech being more caveman than human.

"Mudge...Madge...what do you call me?"

That did it. I sat up in bed and groped around for the light. "Macie?"

"No...that's not my name. That's not my name," she sang.

"Midge."

"Ah-ha! Thassssss it."

"Are you drunk?"

It was probably the dumbest question I had ever asked. It sounded like she drew in a bunch of air through her teeth. "Shhhhh."

I glanced at the clock. It was four fifteen. I made a quick decision.

"We're coming over."




"Dada duck. Dada duck. Duck duck duck."

Parker had a finger latched firmly around his bottom tooth, jabbering loudly as I broke speed limits to get from my house to Macie's house in record time. My teeth felt gritty and I ran my tongue over them. That was sufficient brushing, right?

"Duck duck duck!"

"It is dark," I agreed. I wasn't sure when the sun rose, but judging by the hue of darkness it was going to be awhile.

Macie had practically cheered when I said I was heading over. I assumed her prick of a husband wouldn't be there and I was dying to know what happened. I was relieved when I pulled into her driveway, coming to a stop right behind her car.

The porch light flipped on as I pulled Parker out. The door opened and a tumble of blonde hair poked outside.

"Heeeeeeeyyyyyy boyssssss."

"Hihi!"

Parker began to wave. I tried to keep a straight face as I headed towards her. She was lopsided and I was shocked she was even standing considering her bum knee and lack of sobriety. She grinned at me.

"Hey good lookin'!"

She reached for me, but missed. I steadied her with my right, holding tight to Parker with my left. She dug her nails into my arm and for a second grew serious. I almost thought she was sobering until the next words tumbled outta her mouth.

"I...I gotta check your pants before I kiss you though."




"I don't like coffee."

"You'll love this coffee. It's special coffee," I assured her. I dodged her hand again as it reached for my pants. Parker was eating in Rie's high chair, not minding a pre-dawn breakfast. "And tell me what this pants thing is all about."

Normally, I'd have loved her wanting in my pants, but the whole thing struck me as weird. I was beginning to fear I was turning into Brian, or even Kevin. Way too much logical thinking was happening with me lately.

"I," Macie took a sip of coffee. "Wanna make sure you're not a woman," she said, nodding like she was agreeing with herself. I laughed, sure I heard her wrong.

"What?"

She didn't answer right away. Instead she took another sip of coffee. Then her bottom lip began to quiver. Her pretty eyes feared with tears. I knelt down in front of her.

"Midge, what's wrong?"

The lip continued to quiver. Even her hands shook. She looked at me and sniffled.

"The panties...." she whimpered. "They were...they were..." she choked on air.

"His!"

"You mean another woman's that he kept?" I concluded.

She shook her head so hard that it whipped her face roughly. She was wearing her green hoodie again and I could smell the warm scent of laundry sheet radiating off of it even through the heavy fog of bourbon. "No," she whispered. She leaned close. "his." She threw herself backwards.

"My husband wears women's panties! And bras! Oh---my---God!!"

Macie broke into batshit crazy tears but I didn't jump to action. I was pretty sure my jaw was on the ground. It takes a lot to make Nick Carter speechless, but hell, this took the cake. Her husband was a cross dresser? Or gay? Or both? Or something?

"Mamaaaaa! Maamaaaa!"

Rielynn's scream tore through the house. Macie was a hot mess. A stream of wet tears snot was leaving a streak. The bowl Parker had been eating from crashed to the floor.

I had a drunk, hysterical woman and two wide awake toddlers on my hands...

And it wasn't even six o'clock.
Chapter 25 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Five


March 25

I woke up as a vampire. Okay, probably not since I didn't dissolve into ash or anything, but my eyeballs protested so loudly that I felt like I was going to vomit. I hadn't felt this bad since college.

Or at least since my bout of morning sickness with Rielynn.

But as I lay there, ready to die, I knew one thing for sure. My ailment was not caused by pregnancy.

My husband wore panties.

And bras.

And God knows what else. Maybe even panty hose. Or bustiers. Or makeup. Shit, maybe he'd been using my makeup. I hadn't checked it in forever.

Busy moms don't have time for makeup.

I chanced opening my eyes again, but the damn sun sent my lids shut again. I moaned.

"Open your mouth."

The voice wasn't Charlie's, I couldn't even imagine what a command like that would mean from him now. I opened my mouth slowly and felt a tiny round circle hit my tongue. A cool glass pressed against my palm. I wrapped my fingers around it and the good samaritan brought it to my lips. I drank greedily, my body uncoiling with some relief. The saint took the glass from me and I heard movement around the room. There was a little clatter and then what sounded like a little chuckle.

"Try opening your eyes again."

Slowly, untrustingly, I pried them open a fraction. Dark. I brought them open the rest of the way.

I was in my bed. I didn't know how I got there.

Hell, I didn't know how Nick had gotten in the house but there he was standing by the bed, looking tired, amused, and in need of a shave.

"You were right," he said. "Drunk Macie is amusing."

I was about ready to ask him what he meant when my memory finally started to return. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks even as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

"I'm so sorry," I said.

"About what?" His lips twitched.

"Anything," I replied quickly.

He laughed, but quickly grew serious. "Midge, if I found out what you did, I would have drank myself under too."

I didn't answer right away. My heart rate quickened as I thought about Charlie's freaked out face and him running from the room, the sight of the red lace bra burning into my retinas.

"Where's Rie?"

"Both the little shits finally went down for a nap. I may or may not have let them cry it out. I may or may not have already been awake twelve hours."

I glanced at the clock. Two. From the amount of sunlight, I gathered that meant afternoon. Which meant--

"I drunk called you in the middle of the night, didn't I?" I groaned.

He slowly sank down, his back flat on the mattress. Our bodies formed a T, his chest right next to my feet. "You had a good reason. And, if I had let you get in my pants like you wanted, I probably wouldn't be so grumpy right now."

"I what?!" I sat straight up and looked down at him. He yawned.

"Don't worry about it," he said. "Blame it on the alcohol."

I let out a weird gurgle noise in response. My subconscious had gone wild! How was I going to face him again? I mean, yes, I was currently facing him, but--"

"So do you think he just likes women's clothes or there's something more? Cause you might not have picked up on it, but AJ likes to wear his fair share of chick stuff but he's still straight. At least that's what Rochelle says. And Ava looks just like him so I guess I believe her."

It was the ramble of a tired man. I drew my knees up and peeked below the sheet. I was fully clothed and I vaguely remembered putting the clothes on last night so I didn't have to worry about any unknown peep shows. I traced the edge of the sheet where a light strip of silk accent ran. I decided I hated silk.

"I don't know," I said. I sounded dazed, even to my own ears.

"If he's straight, maybe now that this is out in the open he won't be so reclusive," Nick hypothesized. I noted a bit of disappointment attached to his theory, but then again that could have just been a figment of my hung over imagination. I dropped the blanket and reached for the strings to my hoodie instead.

"I can't do anything with....that," I mumbled, knowing how bad that sounded. Visions of a bra smacking into my face and heavy breathing and the little panty strip trying to hold in...

I cut my brain off and clamped my lips shut.

"Not a fetish girl?" Nick asked softly. Deeply. The flush came back over my face. I couldn't have this talk with him. I would just agree that I wasn't and let him think me a prude. Then I'd sober up and deal with--

"I mean, there's a lot of fetishes. Spanking, feathers, candle wax, handcuffs, dil---"

"We are not having this talk right now, are we?"

He turned on his side and smiled at me. "I wanted to distract you."

A couldn't help but smile. He looked loopily mischevious. "It worked."

"Good," he stretched his arm out above his head. I watched as his eyes fluttered closed. I got lost in his face, voyeuristically watching as he fell asleep. His shirt rode up as his chest rose and fell and I noticed his pants had dipped low.

He was wearing boxers.




"I need to speak with Dr. Ziegler, please."

"Your name?"

I was almost positive it was the same chicky baby I had dealt with recently. I blanked for a full second.

"I'm one of his patients and I have a question for him."

"If you give me your name I'll be happy to pull your chart and have the doctor look at it."

"But..." I fidgeted. "This is an emergency."

I had already tried his cell and pager to no avail. This was my last resort aside from getting in the car and just going to the hospital. And, truth be told, I didn't want to do that.

"Ma'am if this is an emergency, you should come in to the ER and--"

I hung up before she finished. I stared at the table, the pattern of the wood rings blurring into one big giant blob.

"Help is on the way."

Nick stood in the doorway, I was pretty sure that he had just taken the quickest nap in history. He held up his phone.

"You need help getting to the bottom of this. We need reinforcements. Normally it would be my sister Angel since I trust her with Parker with my life, but I had to settle for second best. He'll be able to watch the kiddos for us."

I stared at him like he was talking Portugese. "What?"

Nick smiled.

"Brian's picking up his son Baylee and headed here with him."

I shook my head, finally realizing what he was saying. "I can do this myself."

Nick walked in and skirted around the table. He picked up the empty giant-sized bottle of who-knows-what that I had downed. Whiskey? Bourbon? "Oh really?"

I looked away and sighed but deep down I was relieved. If I had to track down my husband. I certainly didn't want to have to put Rielynn in any potential danger to do it. Nick was right. I glanced back at him.

"Point taken."

His smile widened.

"Good. You'll be Cagney and I'll be Lacey."

The moment the words came out of his mouth my eyes widened and he realized his mistake. He ran a hand through his hair.

"Shit, I'm sorry." He pointed at himself and me.

"We'll both be Cagney."
Chapter 26 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Six


March 26

"Never fear! Baby-man is here!"

"We have to get you a new name. I just keep picturing you as one of those creepy guys who wear diapers and sleep in giant man cribs. That's just disturbing. And most of those guys are balding just like you are. Do you have sudden thumb sucking urges?"

Brian's facial expression was priceless. His son Baylee, literally a mini-me of his dad, looked like he was going to explode with laughter any second. To add to the scene, he even sniffed the air around his dad, checking for dirty diaper stench. Nick broke first; his laughter filled my house.

"This is the thanks I get?" Brian complained.

"He's sorry," I jumped in. "Aren't you sorry?"

Nick's eyes literally sparkled with life and orneriness. "Truth?"

I laughed. "Never mind." I grabbed Brian's arm. "I'll give you the thirty-second tour."

"I'd love that," Brian said, smiling. He threw a look at Nick and I got a sense of territorial 'male dog' about to erupt. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to worry about that. Of all my problems, the man I was married to was at the top of my list. Everything else was child's play.



"So that's it," I said five minutes later. We had arrived at the back door. Nick had taken the kids out back. Rielynn was hopping around him, laughing as Nick operated the handheld hippo bubble maker. Parker was locked between Nick's legs, laughing and holding out his pointer finger, ready to pop any that came too close.

"They'll be in terrific hands," Brian assured me. Baylee drifted over to the patio set, pulling out a phone decked out in Lakers colors. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled.

"Who wants to go on a bear hunt?" he asked loudly.

Parker and Rie glanced his way, but neither took the offer. They both had Nick in their sights and it didn't seem like they were going to be ready to let him go anytime soon. Until...

"Oops, hippo's out of bubbles!" Nick said. He shook the poor purple, soapy machine. "Silly hippo! He's all hip-poo'ed out!"

Nick and Brian exchanged a look. I felt like I had missed an entire conversation. Brian nodded and held up his hands. "Grrr!"

Finally, Parker let go of Nick. He took a few clumsy running steps towards us. "Beeee--annn!"

"Beeeee---arrrrr!" Rie shouted, quickly catching on.

Brian sprang to life. Over the grass he ran. "We're going on a bear hunt, we're--" He neared Nick and I saw a subtle exchange take place. Brian was the proud owner of an epi pen. Just in case. "We're gonna catch a big one!"

Nick headed towards me. His palm brushed my elbow. He suddenly looked serious.

"Let's do it."



"My butt's asleep."

"Drink more coffee."

"I already have to pee."

"There's an empty bottle somewhere in here."

"Seriously?"

Nick leaned back in the driver's seat. After leaving the house, Nick had insisted that we go back to his place to change. Little did I know that the end result would have us looking like Dog the Bounter Hunter and his wife.

"I'm thinking this is probably pointless," I said. "We've been sitting here for two hours and--"

"Get down!"

Somewhere between his hand on the back of my head and my knees connecting with the glove box, my butt woke up. I gasped, struggling to understand what was going on. "What--"

From inside his black vest, Nick thrust a pair of binoculars in my hand. He already had his own pressed against his eyes. "Is that him?"

Truthfully, I have never used a pair of binoculars in my life. It took a couple seconds to figure out the magnification and another couple seconds to find the direction he was looking in. But when I did, I knew the answer.

"That's him."

We had been in the hospital parking lot, a respectable distance from the doctor's parking. Charlie was walking quickly towards his car, his long doctor's coat still on and a briefcase in hand.

But he wasn't alone.

"I don't believe it," I whispered.

"Who's that?"

I tried to wrap my brain around the scene, but I couldn't do it. The pieces weren't fitting together.

"That's the bitch nurse...the brunette one that was singing his praises. She called me Marcie."

Nick made a guttural noise. "Bitch."

We watched in silence. The two stood by his car and talked for several minutes, laughing every now and then. Finally, Charlie walked around and opened the driver's side door. She slid in.

"What the hell are they doing?"

Even though it was warm and Nick had convinced me to wear a tank top one size to small and fingerless gloves, I had goosebumps. Instead of an answer, I heard the engine come alive and the vibrations from the car.

"We're following them," Nick declared.

"I don't want him to see me!" I argued.

Nick gave me a tight smile. "Midge, don't worry. I did a car stunt in The Call. I've got this."

"So you learned how to follow someone in a music video?"

He pulled into traffic and I could tell by the crease in his forehead that he was concentrating overtime.

"Not exactly," he paused.

"I just learned the art of ducking quickly."

"How is that--"

Warm fingers pressed against my lips. The feel of his hand, soft and strong, sucked the complaint right out of me. He lowered his hand and I took a deep breath.

He had this.



Twenty minutes later we were parked in front of a low-end apartment in a seedier part of town. Nick had almost rear-ended Charlie twice, but he had been so engrossed in his conversation with the nurse that he hadn't noticed. They had gone in hand in hand.

"This is pointless," I said. My stomach was beginning to flip just thinking about how close I was to the truth. I didn't think I wanted to see anymore. I couldn't...

"The curtain up there was just pulled shut by a brunette. That's gotta be the apartment." Nick lowered his binoculars. He didn't say anything for a second, but then...

"I'm going up."

"Up?" I repeated. "Up?"

My eyes took in the fire escape. It was completely rusted. I was sure no one had stepped foot on it in twenty years. It would probably crumble under a fingertip. "No way."

He was already undoing his seatbelt. "I'll be back in a minute."

I reached out to grab the back of his shirt, but he was too quick. Scrambling, I undid my own belt and flew out the passenger side.

"Stop!" I hissed.

"I'm coming with you!"
Chapter 27 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Seven


March 26

"Sit. There's no way you can go up there with your knee like that."

I stood, holding onto the passenger door and narrowed my eyes. My attempt at flying out to catch up to him had been thwarted by a sharp pain radiating from my knee and spreading through my leg. Between the initial injury and my knee connecting with the glove box earlier, I was sure I would never walk normally again. I watched Nick throw on a black hoodie, tossing the hood up to shield his face. I knew I should let him do the dirty work. It was nice to be taken care of for a change. It was--

"You threw my knee against a glove box earlier," I shot back, my inner feminist reading her ugly head.

"Accident," he said. He turned from me and surveyed the window. I quietly closed the passenger door.

"I'm right behind you," I said. He turned back to me and all I could see were his eyes. He stared at me for a long moment before deciding against actually arguing. He started walking towards the escape, my limping along behind him. A dumpster sat to the right, open and looking more than ripe for the picking for rats, raccoons, and dead bodies.

"Why do I always fall for the headstrong ones?" I heard him mutter.

My heart jumped. As Nick pulled the ladder down, the noise of rust and lack of oil sounding like a blaring alarm announcing our presence, my heart did a somersault. He wrapped his hand around the ladder and looked back at me. The hood prevented me from seeing his face. My love of hoodies waned slightly at that moment.

"Just stay here and spot me. I don't think this thing can hold the both of us."

"Then I'll go up. I'm lighter."

"You're not going up alone."

Silence filled the air. We both knew that precious seconds were ticking away. His shoulders lowered slightly. "Just," he sighed. "Just be careful."

It was a tense few minutes. Nick made it up the ladder and onto the first level of the escape with only a few flakes of rust flying off into my face. My bum knee left me using the rest of my body to hoist me up. The rusty metal was gritty on my hands, digging into my flesh. The mom in me wondered if I had gotten an updated a tetanus shot before going to Malaysia. If I hadn't, I would certainly need one after this.

"Man, this thing is worse than I thought," he whispered, the wind carrying his voice down to me. He started to climb up towards the second landing.

The window we were aiming for was three stories up. I caught up with Nick on the second landing. He held a bar of the ladder in his hands.

"Midge, I'm serious. Stay here. This isn't safe."

I shook my head, my hair whipping around my face. "I'm going up there. This is my problem."

His hand disappeared under his hood and I was pretty sure he was tugging at his hair. "Why can't you let me call the shots?"

"Because..." I paused, a knot forming in my throat. "Because I let him do it and that didn't work out so well for me."

He sighed audibly. I was waiting for another challenge but instead he squeezed my hand quickly before turning back to the ladder. "I know what you're saying," he said.

"Just be careful."

I waited for him to get halfway up before I started up after him. The bars here were even worse than the others and there was more than one rung missing. I was sure we were doomed and I was regretting my stubbornness. I was more than a little surprised when my body met the landing.

"Shhh."

I hadn't been aware I was making noise. Nick was already creeping up to the window. His hands wrapped around the sill and I saw him lean in. I crawled towards him, almost shrieking as I realized there was an insanely large rusted out spot on the landing. I grabbed onto the back of Nick's pants to keep from getting stuck. My heart felt like it was seconds from bursting out of my chest. Nick grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me up beside him. I blinked rapidly, trying to calm myself. When I did, I realized that we could see fairly clearly into the room through a large gap in the curtain.

The room itself was decorated in soft pink and gold. I thought it was a tacky combination, but it didn't seem to both Charlie. He was draped across the light pink couch. Nick, anticipating what was coming, covered my mouth before I could utter anything.

Charlie was wearing a gold bra and panties, sipping something out of a gold wine glass. He was smiling, running his finger along the stem of the glass. He kept glancing towards a room off to the left.

I knew I was breathing hard. Nick seemed just as anxious, his chest rising and falling more than normal. He lowered his hand and suddenly my mouth was free. I was all ready to say something, the silence getting the best of me, when a slender leg appeared in view.

The brunette nurse he had gone in with stepped into the room in a skimpy little silk robe. She was holding a similar glass.

It seemed to be playing out slowly. Nick shifted beside me and I struggled not to say anything. I bit my lip and fought the urge to turn away.

With a glass window between us, we couldn't hear the words being exchanged, but it was obviously enough to set the mood. Before I knew it, the nurse was over Charlie, their lips meeting and her hands roaming his body and his hers. Nick shifted again and I could tell that his patience was wearing out. I was about ready to declare this stakeout over when the nurse sat back, straddling my husband and took off the robe.

What I saw will forever be burned into my mind, just like the vision of my husband in women's bras and panties.

The person who I was 100% sure was a woman was a man with a very big set of fake implants. To make matters worse, it looked like Charlie was all too willing to be the female of the relationship for the evening. Bile rose in my throat like a car hitting full speed the second it left the off-ramp. I stood up and flung myself towards the railing of the fire escape. I heaved violently, so violently that I put too much of my weight on the railing. It gave way and I felt my body being propelled down.

"Midge!"

Like something from a Spider-Man movie, I was suspended in falling position. Nick pulled me back, turning me back closer to the window. His hood had fallen away and the panic on his face was very real.

"You almost--"

With a sickening sound of metal separating from brick and rusted iron finally disintegrating, the whole escape fell away. Flashes of my life swam before me. Macie would have to live with Charlie. Would he even give me a proper burial? Would he keep all my clothes instead of donating them?

If I was screaming, I couldn't tell. I squeezed my eyes shut bracing myself for horrific pain and then nothingness.

Instead, I landed safely on warm body, surrounded by an overwhelming stench.

"Ughhhhhhhh."

I opened my eyes. My knee throbbed, but it was no worse for the wear. Nick's hands were on my ass. We had landed in the dumpster.

Slowly, he opened his eyes. We were practically nose to nose. I thought I might pass out from panic.

"Oh my God, are you okay?!" I shrieked.

"I'm fine," he gasped. His hands tightened on my butt.

"But I think I landed in your vomit."
Chapter 28 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Eight


March 26

"What happened to you?"

"What happened to you?"

"Dada, tink-y!"

Rielynn and Parker rushed towards us the minute the door opened, only to stop dead in their tracks. Parker pinched his nose. Brian wasn't far behind him, but he recoiled as soon as Nick's stench hit his nostrils.

Of course, Brian wasn't exactly the picture of normalcy. He looked like a mime, his face a mixture of outrageous eyeshadow, pale foundation, bright red lipstick, and blush. His hair looked like it had been spray painted and then covered with gel and hairspray. It stuck up in odd directions like he had just stuck his finger in an electrical socket. It was almost enough to make me momentarily forget my troubles.

Almost.

"I did battle with a dumpster and lost," Nick said calmly. He skipped over the part about almost getting caught by Charlie and the...thing he was with or the smelly cat lady that almost got him in the balls as she hustled down the alley after us, swinging a rolling pin still covered in dough. His car smelled like puke and three week old bananas soaked in rotten eggs even though he had left his garbage-soaked black hoodie far behind. "What about you?"

"The kids decided to make me pretty," Brian said with a grin. The grin gave him a creepy, sewer clown appearance.

"Bay-tee hewp," Rie explained. "P-uuuuuuu."

She jumped backwards from us, another wave of stank filling the air. I still felt numb, my tongue dry and heavy, but I motioned for Nick to follow me.

"Here, you better take a shower."

"I remember where it is," Nick said. "The thirty second tour," he added, for what I was sure was to stop Brian from jumping to the wrong conclusion. "But while I'm up there, you should pack."

Brian's face contorted to surprised clown, but before he could say anything, Nick disappeared. Parker and Rie turned their full attention to me.

"Mama tink!" Rie squealed. She smashed her face into Brian's leg. Parker smashed his practically in Brian's crotch, making him jump.

"What stinks?"

Baylee rounded into the kitchen. He saw me and pinched his nose.

"Uncle Nick's never made a girl smell like that before," he announced.

It made me wonder exactly what smells he had given to girls. I probably would have asked if my knee hadnt resumed throbbing. Falling off a fire escape hadnt done wonders to the injury.

Neither had hobbling down the alley.

"I'm going to go use the other shower," I said as Brian pulled Peyton off the front of him. For the first time ever, Rie didn't melt down seeing me leave the room.

I knew I smelled horrible if my toddler couldn't even handle the stench.




As the warm water cascaded down over me, I contemplated what I should do. I knew I couldn't stand seeing Charlie. The thought brought tears to my eyes. Was I so boring and unattactive that he went over the edge on the kinky factor? I wasn't a prude, but...

And why did Nick say I should pack? Where was I going to go?

I sat for a long time on the edge of the tub with the water off, wrapped in a towel. It seemed like the closed door was the only thing separating me from having to be grown up and facing reality. I rubbed some alcohol on my knee before wrapping it in a fresh bandage. I was probably going to walk with a limp the rest of my life. I'd be an ugly, boring, hobbling doofus for the rest of my life.

"Midge? You in there?"

Nick sounded like he had his lips to the crack of the door. I buried my face in my hands.

"Midge, you okay?"

I snorted.

"Okay, so okay is the wrong word. Can I come in?"

My mouth went dry. Even with the towel around me I felt stark naked.

"May I come in?" He asked again. "I don't smell anymore...I don't think."

I looked around the bathroom. I had made the mistake of not bringing a clean set of clothes in with me. Everything was lying on my bed...

I stood up awkwardly and opened the door just a sliver, I wormed my hand out.

"Can you hand me my clothes first?"

"You're naked?"

A sliver of blue eye met the doorway. I clung to my towel.

"On the bed!"

"What?"

"My clothes?"

"Clothes? Aww, shit. Yeah there they are."

I heard footsteps. A moment later my clothes wormed through the door. I had to drop the towel to get them.

And the eye appeared again.

"Nick!" I slammed the door and scrambled to yank on my panties.

He chuckled, a sound that went straight through my body to where it shouldn't have gone, especially after what I had just witnessed outside the apartment. I grabbed my bra, tugging my arms through the straps roughly.

"Thank you," I heard from the other side.

"For what?" I said, sounding grumpier towards him than I actually felt.

"For making landing in a dumpster worth it."

I secured the bra, a lump in my throat. I cracked the door open again...

But he was gone
End Notes:


I apologize for disappearing! As some of you know I have a little toddler, I work full time and I'm working on my Master's degree. Writing is my therapeutic escape...when I have time. Just know unlike other stories, I haven't given up on this one.
Chapter 29 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Twenty Nine

March 27

"These places don't even have cribs. They have pack-n-plays which are more than likely infested with rabid roaches that feast on little baby toes. Especially little baby girl toes."

"Nick, we've been over this. I can't stay with you."

He sighed. He'd done a lot of that on the ride to the hotel as if every mile was personally killing him. "Yes, you can. I have tons of room. I have a fat ass dog that would love a little eye candy in the house. I have eggs and bacon."

I laughed. "You're pathetic."

"Yes, he is," Brian agreed, nudging Nick. "Besides, Nacho has eye candy. I'm your house guest, remember?"

Nick rolled his eyes. We'd been parked outside the Renaissance for ten minutes. Brian turned to look at me and I could still see the shadow of caked makeup across his cheeks. He smiled.

"I'll help you take your bags and Rielynn in."

"No you won't," Nick grumbled. It didn't take a genius to see he wasn't not happy about my temporary plan. I tried the door but the child locks were still in place.

"Nick, you gotta let me out."

"You can't stay at a hotel forever."

"I know, but I need sleep before I can process all this."

He didn't answer. He folded his arms across the wheel and puckered his lips. I counted to ten.

"Okay," he finally relented. "But I'm only saying that because I'm not a controlling asshole."

"Who wears women's panties," Brian finished. "Well, most of the time."

"I hate you," Nick deadpanned, unlocking the doors. "At least I can pull off makeup better than you."

"One word," Brian held up his pointer finger. "Sphynkter."

"Again, I rest my case. I will always be a better Sphynkter than you."

Before Brian had a chance to disagree, Nick hopped out of the car.

My body cried out in pain as I stood up.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine," I lied. "You're the one that I landed on."

Nick placed his hand on the roof of the car above my head and smiled. My breath caught.

"Promise me you'll get some sleep," he said softly.

"I promise."

"And you'll let me help you figure out the next move."

I hesitated. He leaned in closer. "Midge."

"What if he wants to see Rielynn?" My voice cracked and tears filled the brims of my eyes. "I can't let him be alone with her. Does that make me a bigot? I just can't explain any of this. It's like a bad joke. A very, very bad joke."

Nick brushed his thumb down my cheek. "Midge, Rie will only see who you want her to see. I'll make sure of it."

I shook my head. "You don't make the rules."

He smiled. "You forget I'm at the cusp of divorce myself."

"So?"

"So? So let's just say that I've researched enough to know what needs to happen for me to get full custody of Parker."

I exhaled a breath I didn't know I was holding. Nick's face loomed even closer. "If me, a guy, can get full custody, you, a beautiful, wronged woman will have no problem."

The air was steaming. "You really think so?"

His smile killed me. "Absolutely."

"I'm scared."

"That's normal."

"You'll help?"

"Absolutely. I'm hoping it will earn me a date."

I laughed. "You're pathetic."

His smile was practically dimpled. "I take what I can get."

"Hey, do I need to just leave you two here?"

Nick slowly pulled away. "I'd love the answer to be yes, but not tonight. Midge needs sleep."

That was the understatement of a lifetime. As Nick disappeared into the hotel, I practically fell asleep against his car. Only when I heard Brian open the back to start getting bags did I pry my eyelids back open.

"I've got you booked for two nights," Nick announced upon return with a hotel cart in tow. He handed me the keycards. I immediately gave him one. His eyebrow arched.

"So you can come over later to help me figure out my gameplan," I explained.

"Damn," he grinned. "I was thinking it was for steamy hot hotel booty."

"Amongst the rabid roaches?"

"Okay, I lied about the roaches."

We laughed. It felt good.

"Damn, you really did pack your whole house, didn't you?"

Brian wiped his forehead as he threw another bag onto the hotel cart.

"I left the dog. For now."

"Nacho loves other dogs," Nick said innocently. I gave him a look, but I couldn't muster anything too seriously angry. After all, this tall, blonde, doofus of a dad had been my knight in worn out blue jeans for the last month. The hardest month of my life.

"I better get Rie," I said softly.

"I can get her."

"No, someone has to stay with Parker and Baylee."

"Brian can stay."

"He's got the cart."

"I can change that."

"Nick."

He sighed. "Do I need to tone it down a notch?"

I pinch my fingers together. "Just a notch."

Nick turned and leaned against the car, crossing his long legs and folding his hands behind his head.

"You're going to be the death of me."

"You survived the dumpster," I teased.

"That's life one. I may or may not be like a cat. That means I have eight lives left."

The doors to the hotel opened and Brian stepped out. We had been so busy bantering I hadn't realized he had left. "Your cart is waiting outside your room."

"Thank you."

Nick opened the passenger door without a word. Rielynn was fast asleep. I swiftly unbuckled her, scooping her up into my arms. She smelled like sweet baby powder and Johnson's and Johnson's.

"You both are terrific," I said.

Brian smiled. "Frick and Frack always come to the rescue of damsels in distress."

"We're like Batman and Robin," Nick joked. "Brian's Robin."

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

I laughed. "Goodnight, guys."

"See ya soon, Midge," Nick said, opening the door for me to step through.

"See ya soon," I promised.

And I meant it.
Chapter 30 by evergreenwriter83
Chapter Thirty

March 30

“Are you sick of the continental breakfast yet? I wouldn’t trust the age of those cornflakes. They always look highly suspicious sitting there all oddly contortedly flaky.”

“FAKEY!”

“Fo’ shure.”

Rie grinned up at Nick and went back to her Fisher-Price princess horse stable thing. Most of the time she just knocked the horseback princesses to their doom rather than watch them slowly clop at a scientific decline. Every time one of those blonde princesses fell, I was reminded of my own tumble off the fire escape except that the princesses hadn’t spewed first.

“I’m not sick of the breakfast,” I assured him. I was finally caught up on sleep. I wouldn’t call my mind completely clear, but I wasn’t feeling as irrational as I was just a few nights ago. “I have laid down some plans.”

Nick leaned back in the wingback chair that he dwarfed. A guy that was all legs and chest and arms couldn’t look dainty no matter how hard the red floral chair tried. “And?”

To his credit, Nick hadn’t bugged me a lot. He had sent me some text messages that mostly consisted of jokes or pictures of Baylee and him pranking Brian while he was trying to sleep. That hadn’t stopped him from practically flying over to the hotel when I had called him this morning.

“And,” I leaned forward, my hands sliding across the thinning denim material covering my knees. “I saw the attorney you texted me about. I filed yesterday. He’ll get served tomorrow.”

Nick exhaled and leaned forward. Our knees almost touched. “How does that make you feel?”

I cracked a smile. “Should I lay down on the couch to continue this session, Freud?”

His eyes sparkled. “If you lay down on the couch it might turn into a whole different session, Midge.”

I blushed. HARD. “I’m feeling like it’s the right decision,” I stammered, ignoring the picture of me on the couch for obvious reasons. “I’ve been living for him for too long.”

Nick nodded. “And so, where has Midge thus decided to live?”

I grinned. “Pulling Shakespeare?”

“I’m well read.”

“Really now.”

“I read a lot actually,” Nick leaned forward. “I’m into medicine and science and aliens and other stuff.”

“I love how you went from medicine to aliens in the same sentence,” I laughed.

“Hey internal, external, extraterrestrial,” he motioned to his body. “I’m the whole package.”

I laughed harder, but part of me agreed. “Anyhow, I’m going to grab an apartment for a year and then see what happens. I need to get a job, but the school year is almost over so I’m going to have to be a little creative. Maybe a preschool will hire me and I can take Rielynn with me.”

“Or you could choose plan C.”

“Plan C?”

“Well, I figured Plan Carter would be a little pompous,” he leaned back into the chair and sprawled out his legs. “See, we’re going on tour and if you haven’t noticed, Backstreet Boys like to procreate.”

I smirked. “Oh really.”

“Yeah, I mean Howie has his mini me and then illegitimate baby Carter--”

“What?”

Nick’s eyes crinkled. “Dude, it’s the newest rumor on Twitter. Holden is so blonde it isn’t even funny so they think I just decided to hop in the sack with Howie’s wife, Leigh and the result was my doppelganger.”

“Doppelganger?”

“You’re really going to have to freshen up your vocabulary before you step back into the classroom you know.”

“I know what a doppelganger is!”

Nick laughs. “Anyhow, Howie’s got his boys and then Brian’s got Baylee and AJ has Ava. Kevin’s got M squared--”

“M squared?”

“Mason and Maxwell. M squared. There’s been Twitter theories they’re my kids too ‘cause of the blondness, but no one can deny those eyebrows on them. NO one.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And I have Parker. So you see the amount of diapers alone is mind-boggling. Kevin and Howie share a nanny, but AJ, Brian, and I could use one.”

“A nanny?”

Nick nodded as if it was obvious. “Yeah, a nanny.”

I didn’t get it. “And that’s plan C, how?”

Nick smirked. My brain felt empty. He pointed at me and then at himself. He waited.

It clicked.

“You don’t mean--”

“You’re qualified. You have a child. You’re a teacher. You could probably tutor Baylee when he comes out with us. Leighanne and Brian might not be simpatico, but Leighanne loves that Baylee gets to go onstage and warm up the crowd.”

“I can’t do that,” I shook my head. “That would mean--”

“That would mean a nice paycheck, room and board--” Nick held out a hand and stopped me before I said what was on the tip of my tongue. “I mean, go ahead and get your apartment. I’m just saying--”

“I’m just saying I don’t know the first thing about being a nanny. Besides, being on the road with you---”

“Yes?”

I looked at him. He gave me the most angelic look he could muster. I snorted.

“I promise no funny business,” he said. “Brian either. We’re perfect gentleman. We’re just helping a gorgeous friend through her very tough time. I’ll even offer my shoulder if you need it.”

“Just your shoulder?”

Nick’s smile almost blinded me. “Unless you require more.”

I rolled my eyes. I glanced over at Rie. She was still engrossed in her princesses and the stable.

“Just until fall,” Nick said sweetly. “You’ll get a teaching job then. This could just be the temporary summer thing. And the best part is you can take Rie to work with you. It’s like you just said. It’s perfect.”

I sighed. He was right. It did sound perfect. I thought about our trip to Malaysia…

“Brian asked me if I was your official tour nanny when we went to Malaysia,” I said cautiously. “Have you had this scheme planned since then?”

“Of course not! I have totally wanted you as tour nanny since the day at the zoo. Seriously.”

My eyes widened. “You’re incredible.”

He looked pleased. “Why thank you.”

“Not that way.”

“Aww, Midge…”

I exhaled. The thought of getting paid to watch little kids and see the country was incredible tempting. It also meant that I wouldn’t run the risk of running into Charlie. Then again, I also didn’t know what sort of rights he had to Rielynn. I was terrified of leaving her alone with him, not completely because of what I had seen, but because he had already become so emotionally unattached. My lawyer had already encouraged me that my case looked good in my favor because of the total uncertainty of the mental and physical health of the father and the long hours he was required to put in at work. I could be with and care for Rielynn every second of every day if I took this opportunity and it would be because of my need for work not my need to escape…

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

I nodded.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Nick studied my face intently. “Why do I think I missed a whole entire conversation that took place only in your mind?”

I smiled. “You didn’t miss much.”

“MAMA! ICK! POO-NY! Poo-ny! STUGHK!”

We both looked at Rielynn. In the course of my internal back and forth, Rielynn had careened her princess pony to its doom into a little crevice of the ‘safe for ages 18 months and up playset’ and had gotten her hand completely and utterly stuck. Her eyes were wide and frantic, her fingers clenching and unclenching just mere milimeters away from the downtrodden princess. Nick sprang up.

“I’ll go down to the lobby and beg for butter!” he yelled out, yanking my hotel door open. He paused for a second. “This doesn’t reflect badly on your nanny capabilities by the way.”

The door flew shut. I picked up the plastic piece of shit castle that was holding my daughter captive. I’d watched full classrooms of children before, yet talking to Nick made me oblivious…

“I’m doomed,” I said, kissing Rielynn’s forehead.

“Doo,” she repeated pathetically. Her pronunciation was actually better.

Deep doo-doo was much more accurate.
This story archived at http://absolutechaos.net/viewstory.php?sid=11102