Brian could hardly think straight as he directed his SUV down the private residential street he lived on, but he was pleased nonetheless. Much to his surprise the day spent in the studio recording had been more productful then he could have imagined. They had finally caught up on the small amount of material that still need to be finished and now all that was left were a few touch ups on only a couple of songs. It was a relief to have the album almost complete, and despite the fact that AJ had cornered him when they were leaving and demanded he seriously consider recording that song so it could be included on the final cut, Brian didn't see how the day could have gone any better. And he would consider AJ's reasoning; he had realized the honor and meaning it would hold to have his personal track included on the finished product. But even more pressing on his mind was the idea of the small promotional tour they had discussed. Even the thought of embarking on such a trip made him dizzy with excitement. He hadn't expected it, but he certainly wasn't by no means disappointed.
Carefully Brian pulled into his driveway and came to a slow halt, glancing at his household with wonder. The windows were all alit with a soft glow from the light inside and he smiled. He was anxious to tell Leighanne about the tour, although he didn't honestly know how she would react to the idea, but the excitement brought about a whole new reserve of energy he hadn't felt in a long time. For once he hoped to be able to spend the quality time with his son, the interaction he missed and longed for. Brian removed the key from the ignition and stepped out of the vehicle. The warm evening air was soothing against his skin as he retrieved his guitar case from the back seat and made the small walk to the front door. When he stepped in his house hold his nostrils were immediately invaded with the delicious scents of a wonderful home cooked meal. Brian had suspected that Leighanne would have a dinner prepared upon his return and the delectable smells made his stomach grumble. He'd hardly eaten a thing the entire day and he realized at that moment how ravenous he was. So he quietly discarded the guitar case just inside the door and moved towards the livingroom.
The animated sounds of a child's cartoon echoed through the television speakers and Brian spotted his son's scrawny form sprawled out on the floor in front of the entertainment center. He snuck up on the small boy and before Baylee had the chance to realize there was someone else in the room, Brian lowered himself to his knees and pulled his son up into a playful headlock. The reaction was immediate as Baylee let loose of an ear splitting shriek of terror until he craned his neck around and realized it was his father who had him in a gentle hold. Baylee giggled, swatting at his father's arm. "Bad Daddy!" he scolded teasingly, unable to stifle his laughter. Then he threw his arms around Brian's neck and squeezed tightly. "Yous scared me!"
"Me? Scare my Bayster?" Brian mocked with an expression of shock. "Never! I could do no such thing!"
"Uh huh! You just did!"
"I did?" Brian made a show of effort to exaggerate a disappointed pout which only resulted in the further continuation of Baylee's laughter. Brian grinned as he ruffled Baylee's soft curls. "Where's Mommy?"
"Hers in da kitchen," Baylee answered simply. "Hers doing her cho'es."
Brian chuckled at his son's knowing nod and placed him back on the floor. "Go back to watching your cartoon kiddo," he said as he rose to his feet.
"No Daddy! It's SpongeBob Square Pants!" Baylee quickly corrected.
Brian paused as if comtemplating the correction. "Like I said, go back to watching SpongeBob," he chuckled, but Baylee's attention had already turned elsewhere and Brian was sure his son hadn't heard his last words. He lingered for a moment longer, allowing a small smile to toy with his lips before turning on his heels and walking quickly in the direction of the kitchen. Even before he reached the open doorway he could hear the soft melody of Leighanne's voice as she hummed a tune only she seemed to know. The sound was quiet but heavenly and was a wonderful sound to Brian's ears that he always welcomed. Leighanne's back was to the door as she stood at the sink, nearly elbow deep in soapy water where she vigorously scrubbed at a pile of dishes. Brian's smile thickened and he crept across the elegantly tiled flooring, preparing to pull his wife into a loving embrace. "Miss me?" he whispered into her ear, slipping his arms coyly around her waist. He pressed his lips lightly to her neck for a sensual kiss before pulling her close to his body, unaware of the way she seemed to tense just towards his affecionate touch. "I've got great news."
Leighanne became rigid as she allowed the ceramic dish to slip from her hands and impact the water with a noticeable splash that sent a cascade of water washing up and over the counter. Without a word she pushed herself away from her husband's embrace and reached for a towel to dry her hands. Brian stared at her quizzically, unsure of the hostile vibes. Just by her stiff stature he could tell Leighanne was clearly unhappy about something, but he didn't understand. He certainly hadn't expected it, especially when she had been abuzz with a hidden excitement that morning. Now with the blatant refusal of his touch it was as if she detested his presence and it more then surprised him. "...Leigh?" he called out to her cautiously, reaching to brush her shoulder with his finger tips. Again she dodged the touch and turned to him with a glare that was even more deadly then her unexpected silence. "Baby, what's wrong?"
Leighanne's lips pursed into a thin line, appearing to contemplate the question. However her eyes still harbored a dangerous storm as she wrung the dish towel within her grasp. "I would hope that you would know what is wrong," she snipped, not once waivering with her glare.
Brian stared at his wife with wonder. "Maybe you could enlighten me?"
"I shouldn't have to enlighten you," Leighanne answered in a curt tone.
Brian sighed as he approached Leighanne once more. "Leigh, I've been at the studio all day. I'm tired and you're not making any sense. Why are you so upset?"
The storm brewing flashed within Leighanne's piercing eyes. It was obvious Brian had struck an even worse sour chord as the statement rolled from his mouth, but he couldn't help it. Leighanne's demeanor seemed to be off balance and somehow, despite the confusion, he knew he was to blame. However, that didn't make up for the riff that had formed and Leighanne's patience only grew more thin as the seconds passed. If there was one thing Brian had learned over the years when it came to her personality, he knew Leighanne had a firecracker for a temper and there were certain boundaries he knew not to cross. He had already crossed one of those boundaries and his wife's movements were proving it. "If you didn't care enough to remember earlier, then why would you stop to care now?" Leighanne whispered sharply and slapped the towel against the counter top.
Brian winced as he watched Leighanne side step around him, but he quickly reached to grip her arm loosely. "Leigh-"
"Let go Brian," Leighanne warned.
The glare was so disturbing, mixed with emotion, that Brian allowed his arm to drop listlessly to his side. He winced further as Leighanne brushed past him and he watched the back side of her retreating form blankly for a second before he felt his own feet moving and he began to follow. Baylee's attention had perked instantly at the sound of the bickering and despite the fact that he knew his son was all too intuitive of when things were sour, Brian forced his attention to remain forward. "Why are you acting like this?" he called after her, unable to keep the tinge of impatience from creeping into his tone.
Leighanne paused just in front of the coffee table and quivered. "You promised you wouldn't forget."
Brian's forehead creased with a growing frustration. "If you would just tell me what it is I forgot-"
Leighanne bent to grasp an object from the table's glossy surface and slowly turned. Within the short period of time not a hint of the previous anger remained in her eyes, replaced now with a spark of betrayel Brian hadn't expected as she moved back towards him. "Here," she whispered, forcing a thin sheet of paper into his left hand. "Maybe this will spark your memory. By the way, we're having a girl."
Brian found himself stumbling backwards a step as his wife spun without another word and disappeared up the staircase. Moments later he heard their bedroom door slam shut and he finally forced his eyes downward to the paper he held. His heart immediately began to sink into the pit of his stomach as he squinted at the fuzzy image and realization dawned in the back of his mind. His head swayed and all remnants of the adrenaline he had been running on were gone in an instant. There were no more mental images of the album or thoughts of the promotional tour. All he could focus on were the blurry outlines of two tiny hands, two tiny feet, and an undistinguishable face that had been captured when the image had been taken. He couldn't help but let a strained breath escape past his lips as his knees grew weak. It wasn't until he felt someone tugging on his jeans that he looked away from the paper and realized that Baylee was standing at his side, his bottom lip trembling as he stared up at his father with a hesitant gaze.
"Are you in twouble Daddy?" Baylee asked softly, his voice subdued as he stared upward in curiosity.
Brian bit down on his bottom lip. "Big trouble," he sighed, taking one last glance in the direction of the stairs. All had become silent from the second floor but he was almost certain Leighanne was still fuming and he knew better to give her the time to actually cool off before he approached her again. "Mommy is really mad at me buddy."
"Why is her mad at you?" Baylee questioned in awe.
Brian frowned, wishing the inquisitive sparkle in Baylee's eyes wasn't there. But Baylee was often too smart for his own good and he knew the small boy would only continue to pester him over the recent spat between the parents if he tried to brush the subject off. Slowly Brian walked over to the couch and sank down into the plush cushions, gripping the paper within his fingers. Baylee wasted no time in following him over and scrambled up beside him, prodding him in the arm. "Why is Mommy mad at you? Huh?" he asked again.
Brian glanced at his son. "Because I didn't do what I said I was going to do and it hurt Mommy's feelings."
"Maybe if you tell her you're sowwy..." Baylee drawled, scooting closer. "Then her won't be mad no mo'."
"Later," Brian nodded with a small smile and reached to smooth Baylee's tassled curls.
"What's dat?" Baylee questioned a moment later, jabbing a finger at the paper.
Brian felt that same pride swell in the pit of his stomach, yet at the same time he couldn't ignore the regret that invaded the feeling. He was staring at the first picture of his baby girl, drinking in every detail he possibly could. As fuzzy as the image was, the unborn infant seemed to have one hand curled in a fist next to a cheek and the other hand was slightly raised and open as if to wave in greeting. Brian was certain he counted five fingers on the open hand, but he wasn't worried. She was already beautiful and would only continue to grow more more beautiful. His daughter. His precious little girl. "That's your baby sister," Brian murmured, tracing the outline of the baby with an unsteady finger.
"Baby sister?" Baylee repeated, raising both eyebrows in an amazed disbelief. His nose scrunched as he leaned over to get a closer look. "Her in Mommy's tummy?"
"She sure is," Brian nodded.
Baylee sat back. "Her looks like an alien."
Brian choked on his laughter, seeing the serious yet confused expression masking Baylee's face. He could almost guarantee that Baylee couldn't make out the image, let alone understand it. "An alien?"
"Uh huh. Like the ones in Uncle Nicky's comic books."
"Uncle Nicky lets you read his comic books?"
"When he's not looking."
Brian chuckled. "You looked like this once too you know?" he mentioned.
Baylee gave a displeased shake of his head. "Uh uh!"
"You did and I can show you a picture later," Brian explained, humored towards his son's growing displeasure. He rose from the couch and carefully placed the image back upon the coffee table before turning to Baylee. "But right now it is time for your bath. It's getting late and you need to get to bed." Brian held his hand out for Baylee to grasp and for a slight moment it seemed the child was going to argue, but he withheld a sigh of relief as Baylee climbed down from the couch with only a small grumble. Carefully Brian bent to bring Baylee into his arms, despite the stress and pain the added weight put on his body. He lingered where he stood, holding Baylee close. Baylee smiled innocently, offering a goofy expression that mirrored Brian's own personality. The simple expression caused the emotions to stir deep within, but he pushed it aside and smiled nonetheless in return, finally turning to carry them upstairs.
He used to enjoy sitting out on his veranda on nights when the sky was so clear and the air so calm that there were endless stars as far as the eye could see. For hours he would sit in one of the fold out lounge chairs and just stare, welcoming the silence that allowed him to forget about life if only for a short while. Tonight came as a complete opposite as he sat huddled loosely beneath a blanket. The air wasn't cold by no means, but he couldn't deny the slight chill that bothered him to his very core. He was troubled and his mind was running on overload. Despite the expansive stretch of dark emptiness looming overhead, Brian found himself preferring it over being closed within the lonely space of his household. Going to bed had been an unnerving task and only resulted in him lying on his back staring numbly at the ceiling amidst a daunting silence. Finding no other solace, he finally slipped from the bed and took his normal perch on the veranda. Still it brought him no peace.
Leighanne hadn't spoken a single word to him the remainder of the evening and after putting Baylee to bed, Brian tried to find relief by passing the time in his office with little results. Try as he might, he was unable to eliminate all that plagued his mind. His head ached with an irritating pounding that ceased to relent. He couldn't stop thinking. Then finally after numbing hours of laying atop the bed without rest he retreated to the outside world. Though he felt no better out there then he did inside. He was torn in more ways then he could count and at times he found himself wanting to just throw his hands up in the air and turn his back on the world. But Brian knew that would make him no better off then he already was. There was no forgetting, as much as he tried, and the attention he received was disgusting. It was rediculous to be so enraged with the overwhelming support from those closest, but he just couldn't seem to put it past him. He didn't want it. He didn't believe in the need to be treated any different, even if things were far from the way they used to be and the fact that it would never be the same again. It really was different now. So much had changed in the past few months and it wasn't change a single one of them had welcomed. Forced into realizing what was really happening and had yet to happen made it all that much more difficult to accept. Understanding it wasn't the worst. Accepting it was down right impossible and Brian found himself stuck in the epicenter of it all and without a means of escape to turn to.
Pressing against the back of the chair, Brian pulled the knitted blanket closer against his body and couldn't ignore the tremors that were a constant bother. The weaker he felt, the worse the chill. It was like a permant flu where he couldn't retain his own body heat, but somehow it felt different. He knew what that implication meant and it was just one more nasty reminder; something his doctor never failed to remind him would only get worse as the time passed. He could no longer ignore the physical limitations that grew on a daily basis. What he used to be able to do so carelessly and without thought, minor tasks, had now become a physical chore that often left him breathless and worn. 'It will only get worse' he kept reminding himself and the pains he felt always proved it.
Before he could slip further into his morose thoughts though, a slight creaking of the door behind him caught his attention and a soft whimper sliced through the still of the night air. Brian twisted carefully in his seat and found Baylee standing tentatively in the open doorway, his cherubic cheeks tinted with color and stained with silent tears. Slowly sitting up he held out his arms and waited no time as the child scrambled fretfully into his embrace and cowared against his chest. Brian held him tightly as his son blubbered into the light material of his shirt. "Buddy...what's wrong?" he cooed soothingly, smoothing the mess of tangled curls away from the child's forehead.
Baylee clung to his father with a small hiccup, refusing tearfully to loosen his grip. "Bad dweam!" he moaned and released a despairing sob. "Bad dweam an' you left! Couldn' find you!"
Brian looked down at him, frowning as Baylee curled pleadingly against him. There was a truthful ring in his son's voice that chilled him to no end. He couldn't even begin to imagine the terror of his son's imagination, but still Baylee's words rang too close to reality. If only the child really knew... it just wasn't possible and Brian pulled him closer, placing the softest of kisses to the top of his head. "I haven't gone anywhere. I'm right here."
"Scared...you left..." Baylee continued to whimper.
"I'm not going anywhere son."
"Oh Baylee...no, I didn't go anywhere. I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here. You can calm down. It's alright." Baylee trembled, shaking his head in disbelief and it took only a moment for Brian to realize that his son was still stuck somewhere between reality and a nightmare filled slumber. There would be no reasoning with the boy, only the calming whispers that could bring him back to security and Brian was ok with that because the longer he held Baylee trying to calm him, the more his own insecurities began to rest at peace. He reached for the crumpled blanket that had fallen from his lap and brought it around their bodies for added warmth. Slowly Baylee began to rest against him, his sniffles falling near nonexistent. Brian smiled down at him and their eyes caught in a locked gaze. "There now. No more tears. I'm right here."
Baylee reached up to graze Brian's cheek lightly with a tiny hand as if for confirmation and then gathered a portion of the blanket within a clenched fist. His bottom lip puckered out as his eyes still glistened over with unshed tears of distress. "Missed you Daddy..." he murmured with a tiny sigh.
"I missed you too son," Brian answered, frowning. He felt the pang of guilt settle into his gut as Baylee clung to him with an utter determination to never let go and he could recognize the fear of abandonment reflecting in the child's eyes. Baylee was unable to understand the changes taking place within his father and it often caused his frustration to peak to unbearable limits. Brian didn't blame him for being as clingy as he was at that moment; they had hardly spent the time together that they were used to. Brian just didn't have the energy for it and it wasn't something so easily explained to a four year old. But he couldn't help it and it was wearing Baylee down, crushing the happiness within the child's spirit.
"Stay with you out here?"
"Of course you can."
Baylee pulled away only slightly and looked up at his father with a weary expression. "Daddy sad?"
"Why would you think I am sad?"
"'Cause you cryin' lots and don' wanna play no mo'..."
Brian sat taken aback with bated breath. Baylee was too inquisitive for his own good and Brian wished nothing more then to erase the pain he saw etched upon his young son's face. There was no telling what the child thought and he would have never guessed that he would get cornered with such a question. He had never wanted his son to witness his weakest moments and there they sat, Brian feeling like an overwhelming failure that he couldn't live up to the strong role model he had always believed himself to be for Baylee's sake. "You've heard Daddy cry?" he asked with a shameful hesitance.
"When I's play with toys in my room...and you cryin'. Mommy gets sad too when you cry. Why you cry huh? Mad at Mommy?"
"No, I'm not mad at Mommy-"
"Mad at me?"
Brian's lips parted in awe at the innocent question but it stung more then he would have ever imagined. He pulled Baylee close once more and rocked him gently. The familiar rush of tears pricked at the corners of his eyes but he forced them to remain at bay as he kissed the soft curls atop his child's head. "Oh gosh son, no. Daddy could never be mad you," he whispered frantically. He felt nauseated as Baylee reached up to wrap his slender arms around his neck.
"Don' like when you cry."
"I'm so sorry buddy-"
"Don' wan' you sad no mo'..." Baylee pouted and nuzzled his face into the crook of his father's neck.
"I don't want to be sad anymore either Baylee," Brian choked with a faltered breath. His insides ache with a guilt like no other at the desperation ringing in Baylee's voice. His life was falling to shambles right before his eyes and it was breaking his family apart from the inside out. There was none other then himself to blame and when Baylee's breathing softened moments later to signify the return of slumber, Brian finally succombed to the storm of emotions building dangerously within. He began to sob silently, welcoming the tears.