"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."
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--"
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.
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.
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!"