Chapter 29


Howie

The last time I’d stayed overnight at a hospital was when Holden was born.  He wasn’t due to arrive for another three days, but the morning after Valentine’s Day, Leigh came out of the bathroom and announced, “I think I’m in labor.”

I looked up at her, my heart leaping into my throat.  “Really?”

Smiling, she nodded.

“Well, should we go to the hospital?”  I jumped up to grab my keys.

Leigh laughed and shook her head.  “We’ve got a few hours, honey.  If we go too early, they’ll just send us home.”

“They didn’t send us home last time.”

“That’s because I was in pre-term labor last time.  It’s different when you’re full-term.”

Our older son James had been born a month early, and things had definitely been different then.  We were first-time parents, and our excitement was overshadowed by our worry over having a preemie.  Thankfully, everything had turned out fine, and James was healthy, but still, it was nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the experience this time around, knowing that our baby was fully-developed and apparently ready to be born.

We waited until early evening to head to the hospital.  Leigh’s contractions were coming five minute apart, and she was in a fair amount of discomfort by then, but she barely complained.  My wife was a rock star.

Once we were settled into her hospital room on the labor and delivery floor, I did my best to fulfill my husbandly duties, holding her hand through the contractions and encouraging her to breathe.  At first, it wasn’t bad, but the further her labor progressed, the less zen-like she became.  Soon, she was screaming, “Oh my god, get this thing out of me!”

“Shh, honey, you’ll scare the other expectant mothers,” I said, though really she was just scaring me.  “The doctor said it isn’t time to push yet.”

“Urgh… I don’t think I can do this much longer,” Leigh groaned, bearing down on my hand until the contraction had subsided.

“Me neither,” I muttered to myself, shaking out my swollen hand to try and stop the throbbing.  I didn’t remember it being this bad when James was born, but maybe I was meant to forget.  I’d always heard that if women didn’t forget the pain of childbirth, nobody would have more than one kid.  The same must have been true for husbands, too.

When Leigh was fully dilated and it was finally time for her to push, I positioned myself at the head of her bed.  I didn’t want to watch what was happening below.  But when I heard the doctor say, “We’re almost there; one more big push should do it,” and I knew my baby was about to enter the world, I couldn’t help sneaking a peek.  I hadn’t looked when James was born, but with the second one, I was curious.

The next contraction hit, and Leigh cried out as she pushed.  As soon as I saw my son’s head between her legs, I started to feel woozy.  When the doctor wiped the bloody, whitish goop off his face, I stumbled backwards.

“Whoa there, Dad,” I heard one of the nurses say and felt a pair of hands on my shoulders, pushing me down into a chair.  “Might wanna put your head between your knees for a minute.

I wanted to keep watching, but blackness was closing in from the corners of my vision.  From somewhere far away, I heard a voice call out, “It’s a boy!” followed by the first cry of a newborn.  My newborn, I realized, and slowly, the room started to come back into focus.

“Is he okay?” I heard Leigh ask.

“Your husband will be fine in a few minutes; he’s not the first dad to pass out in here,” laughed the nurse.  “Your son looks great.”

By the time I was finally able to join Leigh at her bedside again, embarrassed about having almost fainted, they had cleaned the baby up, wrapped him in a blanket, and laid him on her chest.  “Isn’t he beautiful?” she whispered as she cradled our little bundle of joy, looking down on him with an expression of pure love in her eyes.  He was beautiful, and so was she.  In that moment, I was as happy as I’ve ever been.

“He sure is.  Holden John.”  The name we’d picked out for him rolled right off my tongue, and Leigh nodded in agreement.  I knew my brother would be honored we had given our son his name.

When the nurse took Holden to the nursery to be washed and weighed, I went to call my mom, who had kept James overnight.  It was just after seven in the morning, but knowing my son, he’d already have her up.  As I spoke to her, I stood in the hallway outside the nursery, watching them bathe my baby boy.

“Six pounds, fifteen ounces, and twenty inches long,” said our nurse, smiling, when she brought Holden back to me.

I walked him down the hall to Leigh’s room so she could try to nurse him for the first time.  James had a hard time with breastfeeding, but Holden latched on like a champ.  As we watched him eat, I slid off the stocking cap the nurse had put on his head.  “He doesn’t have much hair,” I observed, running my hand over the fine, wispy strands that clung, sleek and still wet, to his soft scalp.

“No…. but it looks light, doesn’t it?” asked Leigh, looking more closely at his hair too.  “I mean, compared to James.  His has always been dark.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “Holden’s is almost… blond.”  I raised an eyebrow at her.  “Leigh… is there something you need to tell me?”

“I… it was Nick!” she blurted.  “He came onto me one night on the tour bus… nine months ago…”  She stared at me with wide eyes, waiting for my reaction.  I watched her face, knowing she wouldn’t be able to keep it straight for long.  Then we both burst out laughing at the same time.

Obviously, I never believed my wife would cheat on me, especially not with one of my bandmates, and definitely not with Nick.  But then… she’d probably thought the same of me, and we all know how that turned out.

***

He was the first friend I called, after spending most of the morning on the phone with my family members.  “Hey, man, I’ve got some beef with you,” I said as soon as he answered his phone.

“Huh?  What beef?” he asked, sounding clueless, as usual.  I snickered to myself.

“Well… my son was born with blond hair.  Blond, Nick.  Would you happen to know anything about how that might have happened?”

“Wait, did Leigh have the baby?”

“What do you think, dumbass?”

Nick laughed.  “Congratulations, dawg!  Tell me everything!  Well, maybe not everything.”

Talking a mile a minute, I filled him in on all the pertinent details – the name, weight, length, and amount of hair.  “There’s not much, but what’s there looks suspiciously light,” I said, trying again to get a reaction out of him.

Finally, it dawned on Nick what I was trying to imply.  “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute!  Howie, you know I would never sleep with your wife, right?  I mean, she’s hot and all, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve got Lauren, and-”

I couldn’t help it; I busted out laughing.  This is why I’m terrible at practical jokes.  “I know, man, I just had to mess with you.  It really looks like he’s gonna be a little towhead though.”

“Toe-head, I always hated that term,” said Nick.  “People called me that when I was a little kid, and it just made me think of toe-jam.”

I laughed.  “It just means blond, Nick.  Anyway, it must be my dad’s Irish genes coming through.”

“Wouldn’t he be a redhead then?”  Nick snickered.  “God, I would love it if you had a little ginger kid, Howie.”

“Who knows, Nick – you and Lauren might have some hidden ginger genes to pass on to your spawn someday.”

Nick laughed and then cleared his throat.  “Um, speaking of that,” he said seriously, “I have some big news too.”

My jaw dropped.  “Is Lauren pregnant??”

No,” Nick said emphatically.  “But I know she’s ready to settle down and maybe have some rugrats somewhere down the road, so… I think I’m gonna propose to her.”

For a swift second, I felt like the rug had been swept right out from underneath my feet.  But I quickly recovered from the shock and collected myself enough to say, “Really??”

“Yeah, really.”  I could tell he was grinning on the other end of the line.  “I already got the ring.”

“What?!  No way.  Nick Carter, the man who swore he never wanted to get married, went out and bought an engagement ring?”

He laughed.  “I know, right?  I’ve had it for like a week already, and I’ve just been trying to work up the courage to do it.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

“I dunno… I mean, what if she says no?  Or what if she says yes and then I start to regret it?  Then I’d have to break off an engagement, and that would be really awkward, and-”

I laughed.  “You worry too much, Nick.  Trust me, though; this is totally normal.  Why do you think it took me six years to pop the question to Leigh?”

“So what do you suggest?”

“Well… do you love her?”

“Hell yeah,” he replied emphatically.  “I love her… and I don’t wanna lose her.”

“Then just do it!”

Now it was Nick’s turn to laugh.  “Okay.  So here’s what I’m thinking.  Tell me how this sounds:  We’re going to the Keys next week, and I thought it’d be romantic to take her out on my boat – if I can get the damn thing up and running – and propose to her on the water or on a private island or something.”

“Wow… you’ve turned into quite the romantic.  Sounds perfect, Nick,” I said seriously.  “Oh, but make sure you talk to her dad first and get his blessing.  Be a gentleman.  I know it’s old-fashioned, but it’s the right thing to-”

“Already did!” Nick announced proudly.  “Me and Larry are tight.  I brought it up the other day, before I bought the ring, and he was like, ‘I thought you’d never ask!’  Looks like I’m gonna be part of the Kitt Clan!”

“Wow,” I said again.  I felt like a little part of me was dying inside, but at the same time, he sounded so happy that I couldn’t help but be happy for him, too.  “Well, I have to say, I’m impressed.  I have taught you well, Young Grasshopper.”

“Indeed, you have.  Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be having babies too.  Crazy thought, but stranger things have happened, I guess.  Anyway, congratulations again, man.  Can’t wait to meet the little guy.”

“Thanks.  And, hey, you too!  Good luck!” I told him.

“Hehe, thanks!”  He sounded practically giddy.  I, myself, was grinning from ear to ear when we hung up, but soon after, I felt my smile fading, as reality sunk in.  Nick, the eternal bachelor, was getting married.  My wife and I were now up to two kids.  Any hope I’d had that Nick and I could ever be more than friends – no matter how improbable it seemed – had just been crushed.

I couldn’t have known that in a matter of months, my wildest fantasy – and my worst nightmare – would come true.

***


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