"Daddy! Watch me!"
Brian looked up immediately when his son shouted, catching sight of the small boy just in time as he sprinted around the edge of the pool. He sat up, prepared to tell the boy to be careful, but Baylee had already lept into mid air and done a perfect cannon ball into the water. He chuckled as Baylee came back to the top, giggling madly as his floaties kept him safely above the surface. Carefully Brian rose from the pool chair and walked to the edge of the pool where he bent down as Baylee paddled over.
"Did you see me jump Daddy? Did you?" Baylee asked with the excitement obvious on his cherubic face. He stared upward, looking for approval.
Brian reached out to ruffle his son's tangled wet curls. "I sure did buddy," he grinned in return. "You jumped so high that even I would have been scared!"
"No silly Daddy," Baylee giggled and gave a playful splash towards his father. His eyes lit with hope. "You come in pool now?"
The smile nearly left Brian's face as Baylee's lips curled into a pout. He could already see the disappointment reflecting on Baylee's face. As much as he would have loved to jump in the cool water and spend the time with his son, he knew his body wouldn't be able to handle it. As it was, normal day to day activities were becoming more of a difficult task to handle and he could only imagine how much harder it would become to perform those daily tasks as the time passed. "I'm sorry, Bay. Not today," he answered reluctantly and sat on the edge, allowing his legs to dangle in the water. "Daddy just doesn't feel well. Maybe tomorrow."
Baylee's bottom lip quivered slightly as he looked ready to protest, but he turned away without a word and swam out to the middle of the pool where he retrieved a brightly colored beach ball. Brian sat in silence, watching his son entertain himself and couldn't help but think how much he was letting the four year old down. Baylee was having a hard time understanding the subtle changes in his father's demeanor and the fact that Brian hardly ever had the energy to interact with the boy like he used to. Baylee was constantly approaching him for the games they used to play, but Brian found himself unable to keep up with his son's energy.
Within moments Baylee seemed to have forgotten his disappointment and found substantial entertainment in tossing the ball around in the water. Brian watched him carefully, memorizing each and every characteristic Baylee expressed as he splashed in the water. His son had already become the mirror image of himself, developing the same sense of humor and stubborn attitude that irritated Leighanne to no end. Then the resemblence in physical features was all too uncanny; Brian could see himself in his son's facial features more then he ever realized and it tore his heart apart. Brian bit back the emotions as he ran a hand through his locks of hair.
"I can't believe how big he is getting," a voice spoke softly, catching Brian off guard.
"You and me both," Brian murmured, refusing to look in Kevin's direction as the man took a seat beside him. "What are you doing here?"
"I came by to see how much longer you are going to keep on ignoring all of us," Kevin answered, offering a short wave to Baylee when the child called out to him upon noticing his presence.
"Who said anything about ignoring anybody?" Brian replied shortly.
"Lets be real, Brian. I know the fellas have been trying to call you and you haven't been accepting their calls or returning them. You haven't been returning any of my calls either-"
"I haven't felt much like talking lately."
Kevin sighed, looking away briefly. "I know you are mad about what we said earlier this week, but-"
"I have every damn right to be mad, Kevin," Brian interrupted sharply as he turned a stealthy glare in his cousin's direction. He inhaled deeply as the tension seemed to form instantly and he tried to focus his attention back upon his son.
Kevin sat back with a wince. It took him aback to see how much his cousin had changed in appearance. The man's skin had turned a dull pale shade and dark bags had already begun to accumulate under his eyes from a lack of sleep. His clothes hung on his body like loose rags, hinting towards the weight loss that had occured; Leighanne had informed Kevin of Brian's lack of an appetite and the way he seemed more unwilling to eat as the time passed on. And then there was no way to hide the depression. "Brian..." Kevin started slowly.
"You guys betrayed me," Brian stated calmly.
"Betrayed you?" Kevin repeated. "We never meant-"
"You are trying to take away one of the things I love doing most and I don't even know how much time I might have left to enjoy doing it. Don't you understand what that is doing to me?"
"We were only trying to look out for your well being-"
Brian withdrew his feet from the water and stood, clearly annoyed. "I'm dying Kev, whether you want to accept it or not. Whether they want to accept it or not. So let me do what I enjoy doing while I still can. Because I will go back into the studio and record my parts for the album whether you support me or not. It will be easier to get the job done if you all are there to record with me though."
"But Brian-" Kevin found himself stuttering.
"I'm going to do it regardless whether I have anyone's support or not," Brian answered firmly.
Kevin sighed as he broke away from the steady glare that Brian was giving him. Even with his back turned, he could still feel Brian's eyes burning into his skin with the desperation for approval his cousin so badly needed. As much as he hated the idea, he had no place to be making the rules and setting the boundaries. It had just been his own selfish reasoning to try to protect his cousin from a fate none of them had any control over because he just wasn't ready to let go. "I can't stop you from doing what you want to do," he finally answered quietly, his shoulders sagging slightly in his own personal defeat. "I...I'll speak to the fellas..."
The anger dropped from Brian's face at that moment and he frowned. "Can't you understand why it is so important for me to do this Kev?" he asked in a near whisper.
Kevin felt himself shiver from a none existant breeze as he stared down at the ripples on the pool's surface. "I can..." he trailed softly. "It's just hard to accept the reason behind it..."
Brian sat again and grinned at Baylee as his son took another jump into the pool. "I'm scared Kev, but I don't know any other way to deal with it," he said. "I keep thinking about Leighanne, Baylee, and my unborn child and how I won't be able to be there for them like I had always imagined I would be and that kills me inside just as much."
"Leigh told me about what happened the other day," Kevin stated carefully.
Brian winced and looked down to his right hand which was tightly wrapped with white gauze. Flashes of images sped sporadically throughout his mind as he thought back to earlier that week and it was almost as if he could still hear the crashes ringing in his ears. The faint pain was a distant reminder of his snapping point. "I was mad," he shrugged, rubbing his bandaged hand absentmindedly. "Everything kind of hit me all at once and I couldn't stop myself."
"Leigh's worried about you though. Why wouldn't you let her take you to the emergency room for your cut?"
"Because it's not that bad. Just a scratch. Nothing that won't heal on it's own."
"I'm fine, Kev. Really."
"Uncle Kevin!" Baylee interrupted breathlessly as he came sprinting around the side of the pool.
"What's up little man?" Kevin greeted, forcing as much of a smile as he could manage for the child's sake.
Baylee's brows furled as he placed his hands on his hips. "Daddy won't swim with me today. You come swim with me pwease?" he asked hopefully.
Kevin chuckled. "Sorry little man. Auntie Kristin wouldn't let me bring my swim shorts."
Baylee's nose scrunched to show his dissatisfaction with Kevin's answer and he ran off to jump into the pool once more. Brian watched his son sadly. "God Kev, he's only four years old. I won't even get to see him grow up."
Kevin glanced sideways at his cousin and immediately saw the apparent pain in his eyes. "Don't think about that right now," he answered. He placed a comforting hand on the shorter man's shoulder. "You're still here and that's what should matter most."
The blazing spray of the water impacted his bare skin like a waterfall of blissful relief. His mind was still whirling from his encounter with Kevin earlier that afternoon and the prospect that he had actually achieved some level of understanding with his cousin. Though he wondered just how much understanding that really was. Reaching out with one hand to brace himself against the shower wall, Brian exhaled a breath, sighing as he allowed the water to hit his face. His body ached miserably and he found himself wondering how his whole life had managed to become so mixed up in such a short amount of time. He could hardly think straight, let alone process the information that would lead him down the blurry road ahead. It made him physically sick to his stomach every time he even tried to think about it. He was constantly restless and he couldn't remember the last time he had gotten a decent night's sleep. It was like an uncurable daily plague. As it was, Leighanne would move around him tentatively as if he would break at the slightest touch within a moment's notice.
Slowly the water began to turn cold and brought every nerve in his body alive. Frowning, Brian pushed away from the wall, quickly lathering his body with the Axe bodywash he had always been partial to. By the time he finished rinsing away the strongly scented suds, the water had become an icy down fall and he hastily turned the faucet off, reaching for the plush navy blue towel that hung neatly on the wall. The steam filling the room parted slightly as he stepped from the shower and wrapped the towel loosely around his waist. Brian's eyes narrowed as he stepped in front of the fog covered mirror and grabbed the hand towel beside to get the excess water from his hair. However as he was lifting the towel towards his head he paused abruptly and squinted at the obscured image of his body reflecting in the mirror. He reached out, the towel bunched in his hand, and in one swiping motion, he cleared a small section of the glass.
The scar ran only a couple of inches in length but was ugly nonetheless and a constant reminder of what had tainted his life so recently. Tenderly Brian ran his finger over the slightly raised discolored line of skin and frowned. It was a flaw he knew he would never be able to accept, nor did he ever believe he would understand why he had been inflicted with it in the first place. The general area still remained faintly sore, but it was nothing compared to the disgust he felt every time he caught sight of the imperfection. He let his hand fall limply to his side, but he continued to stare. As much as it disgusted him, it still captivated him all the same. How could such a small flaw hide such a terrible and devestating truth within?
He didn't hear the bathroom door open as Leighanne quietly slipped inside. "Baylee is finally sleeping," she mentioned, stepping up behind her husband's stiff form and pressing her hand lightly against his bare back. "Brian?" she called softly when he failed to answer.
"Hmmm?" Brian murmured, still unable to tear his gaze away from the image in the condensation glazed mirror.
Leighanne frowned. "What's wrong?"
Brian blinked, withholding a sigh, and turned to his wife. He forced a small smile to hide the torment brewing within. "Nothing is wrong," he lied. "I was just thinking."
"What were you thinking about?"
"You, Baylee, and the baby."
"Good thoughts I would hope?"
"Of course. I could never think ill thoughts about the three of you."
Leighanne seemed unconvinced as her frown deepened towards the sight of Brian's slightly trembling body. "Sweetheart, you are shaking. You shouldn't be standing here without any clothes on."
Brian felt the unexpected irritation towards Leighanne's concern hit him from nowhere. "I'm fine," he protested, pulling away from her outstretched hand with a small glare, but it melted away immediately. "I'm sorry, Leigh. I didn't mean to snap."
Leighanne almost turned away, but grabbed his hand instead and lead him into the bedroom where she eased Brian down onto the edge of the bed. She took a seat behind him and began to gently massage the tense muscles in his shoulders and back. A small moan emitted from his lips, but she couldn't begin to tell the meaning behind the sound. It left her no ease to see the way he seemed to let his head hang in shame. "Why don't you talk to me anymore?" she finally questioned after a few long moments of silence had drawn out.
Brian straightened a little in his seat as his forehead creased in confusion. "What do you mean?" he breathed. "I do talk to you, all the time."
Leighanne paused briefly, contemplating her words. "No, that's not what I meant. You never truly speak to me anymore. We used to be able to sit and talk for hours, or lie awake in bed and talk through all hours of the night, even if it was about the most nonsense of things. Now..." Leighanne stopped for second, staring at the collection of dark golden damp locks resting messily upon his head. "You hardly say a word. And when you do, it leaves me wondering. I don't know what's going through your head anymore. I worry about you."
Brian felt that same terrible heart wrenching guilt squeeze his gut. "I just have a lot on my mind," he mumbled, knowing it was nothing but a pathetic excuse and he felt worse for even saying it in the first. He knew the pain he caused his wife because of his silence; it reflected all too well within her beautiful eyes. There was no hiding from it every time she turned to stare at him. "I don't mean to not talk."
"I just want to know what's going through your mind," Leighanne repeated, feeling her husband's shoulders tense up immensely beneath her finger tips. It wasn't long before she could tell he had started to cry softly and she wrapped him carefully in an embrace from behind. "Just talk to me," she whispered into his ear.
"You wouldn't want to know what goes through my mind," Brian answered stubbornly, almost childishly in nature as he leaned back into his wife's embrace.
"You'd be amazed at how much I do. Brian, I love you more then you could ever imagine and I worry about you. But I worry about you even more when you close yourself off from me."
"I just don't want to think about it."
"It hurts too much."
"But you shouldn't keep it bottled up."
"Maybe it's easier for me to keep it bottled up."
"Maybe it's time you learn not to," Leighanne suggested softly.
"It's not that easy," Brian sighed quietly, pulling away from the gentle caresses. He eased his back against the soft down comforter, staring lazily up at the light cream colored ceiling. "Am I a bad father?" he asked suddenly.
"Why would you ask that?" Leighanne asked in a surprised awe.
Brian glanced away. "Am I?" he repeated.
"No, not in a million years. Brian-"
"But I'm letting them down. Can't you see that?"
"Baylee looks up to me more then I deserve and I won't be able to be there for him, like I should be. To watch him grow up and teach him all the things I am supposed to teach him. And the baby...the baby won't even get the chance to know me. Where is the fairness in all of that?"
"Don't talk like that."
"But it's true."
"Oh Brian...you can't blame yourself."
"Who can I blame then, if not myself? God? You know, sometimes I wonder if God is really some mean little kid who sits on a hill with an evil magnifying glass and I just happen to be the ant he's trying to fry beneath the glass."
Leighanne couldn't stop the small laugh from escaping her mouth as Brian's lips curled into a small pout and his brows furled. She carefully leaned over his body, an arm on each side, and stared deep into his eyes where the emotions were tumbling like an angry ocean battered by a destructive storm. "You really are something, you know that?" she returned and leaned down to press a soft kiss upon his lips.
"It's in my nature," he shrugged, allowing himself to return the kiss. "I'm sorry Leigh."
"Let's keep it that way and don't say you are sorry."
"I'm sorry?" Brian returned meekly. He reached up and allowed his hand to rest against Leighanne's cheek, the smoothness of her skin sending shocks of sensation through his fingertips. His heart fluttered at the sight of the golden ringlets framing her face angelically and the coy smile she was giving him, as if she knew something he had yet to learn. "I love you," he exhaled with adoration, lightly caressing her cheek with his thumb.
Leighanne placed a trail of feathery kisses along her husband's collar bone, intertwining her fingers with his above his head. "Let me love you," she whispered longingly into his ear and offered the most delicate of kisses to his parted lips.
Brian couldn't help but let the moan escape from his throat. The sensation of pleasure was immediate, but he found himself holding back from Leighanne's advancement in an attempt to move away, his heart pounding eratically. "Leigh...we...we shouldn't," he protested breathlessly as his wife pressed closer against his body. He couldn't prevent the towel from unwrapping away on it's own from the lower portion of his body. The cool draft of the room brushed against hist bare skin.
"It's alright," Leighanne smiled seductively, pressing a finger lightly to his lips.
"But the baby..."
"The baby will be fine."
"But..." Brian trailed almost inaudibly and inadvertently moved his hips upward. He couldn't ignore the pressure that was growing continuously down below or the fact that as much as he could try to deny it, he was enjoying the arousal Leighanne was causing. And his wife knew it too as she pressed her lips hungrily against his own, enticing him even more. "Leigh..." he moaned.
"Just let me love you," she whispered.
Brian awoke with a start, a cold sweat drenching his body. The sheets lay in a tangled mess around his ankles, his wife beater clinging to his torso. He glanced around wearily, blinking the sleep from his eyes, and reached out in the bed next to him. His hand landed on empty mattress and he found that he was alone in bed. He lifted his head from the soft pillow slightly and looked around the room. "Leigh?" he called out hoarsely and cleared his throat. Only silence answered him back. Sitting up carefully, Brian rubbed at his temples, willing the small headache to dissipate. His mind drifted off to memories from the night before; the tender passionate love making he had engaged in with his wife. His lips curled into a small grin. As much as he tried to fight against it because of his own selfish reasons, he couldn't deny how refreshing it had felt.
Somewhere downstairs a loud crash shook the walls and was immediately followed by an echo of excited laughter -- the reason for Brian's startled awakening. He recognized his son yelling out in surprise with more laughter and he couldn't help but chuckle himself. Slowly he stood from the bed and stretched, walking across the threshhold and left the room.
"You need to quiet down sweetheart or you are going to wake your daddy up," Leighanne was reprimanding lightly, but even she couldn't hide the humor in her voice.
"Too late," Brian chuckled as he neared the end of the staircase. He stopped abruptly just short of the bottom, staring across the room at the man who was lying sprawled on his back in the middle of the livingroom floor.
"Daddy!" Baylee cried out in delight as he jumped up from the floor and sprinted over to his father where he threw his arms around Brian's legs. "Look! Uncle Nicky come to play!"
"Morning sunshine!" Nick teased with a lazy grin as he sat up.
Brian didn't try to mask the confusion from his face as he tassled his son's hair. He eyed Nick hesitantly. "What are you doing here?"
Nick laughed as he straightened his shirt. "Dude, have you even looked at yourself in the mirror yet?" he cackled.
"You didn't answer my question."
"You look as if you got laid last night or something!"
Brian glared as the redness crept into his cheeks. "Nick!" he hissed, noticing the Baylee's ears perk up with curiosity.
Nick held up both hands in defense towards the icy daggers. "Wrong thing to say?" he questioned impishly.
"What are you doing here?" Brian repeated through gritted teeth.
Baylee tugged impatiently at the hem of Brian's boxers. "Uncle Nicky come to play," he whimpered, sensing the hostility in his father's tone. "Can he stay, Daddy? Pwease?"
"Why did you come here Nick?" Brian sighed, swallowing his anger and hurt for the sake of his son.
"Well..." Nick drawled slowly, rising to his feet.
"Well what?" Brian pressed.
"I have two tickets to a football game this afternoon...thought maybe you would like to go?" Nick offered, raising his eyebrows. He winced as Brian's glare remained set in stone, only causing the tension to thicken in the room as Leighanne shuffled Baylee off to the kitchen knowingly.
"The others too busy to go with you?" Brian sneered.
"Actually, I thought of asking you first."
"That's touching Nick, really, but I don't need your pathetic charity."
"It's not pathetic charity Brian. If you would stop being so stubborn, you would see that I'm trying to say I'm sorry for what happened the other day."
"And you think something like this is going to make it ok?"
"It's a start isn't?"
"C'mon B...they're good seats."
Brian glanced away as Baylee's protests rang out from the kitchen. He could see the despairity reflecting in Nick's eyes, yet he couldn't help but feel hesitant towards accepting such a quick apology. Especially when he wondered why Nick was apologizing in the first place. Afterall, Nick had had some sense in saying what he had said in the first place. Brian was selfish and wasn't it his fault that the chaos had suddenly broken loose in their lives?
"You know I suck at being put on the spot, but I'm trying here Brian. I really am."
"Nick, you can stop babbling like a fool. I'll go."
Nick paused, eying the shorter man. "What's the catch?"
"The catch is that while I go put some clothes on you get to go explain to my son why Daddy isn't staying home with him today. He's going to throw a fit," Brian answered with a light hearted smirk, then turned without another word and climbed the stair case once more, all the while wondering where the silver lining was in his nightmare.