Ben woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of crying. It had been a month since Cole cut his front two teeth and a month since Emma and Nick walked out of his life. He got up to check on his little guy, hoping they weren’t going to go through another week of teething and sleepless nights.
He picked up his son and he was burning up with a fever. He found a baby thermometer in one of the drawers and tried to figure how to use it while still holding the screaming baby. He finally managed to take his temperature. 102. Crap.
Ben laid the screaming baby back in the crib and sat down to search online what to do about it. A cool bath it was.
“Okay little guy, let’s see if this helps,” said Ben as he put him in the sink. The baby only cried louder if that was even possible.
He heard banging on the wall coming from what used to be Austin’s apartment. “Shut the fuck up!” he yelled knowing they couldn’t hear him. Then water hit his face. No, pee. Cole was spraying pee everywhere, all the while still screaming. This night couldn’t get any worse.
After he wiped up the mess, he dried and dressed the still screaming baby. He tried to get him to take a bottle. The bottle soothed him for a few minutes before he flatly refused it. Ben found a pacifier and tried that. He spit that out immediately, screaming louder if possible.
Ben was exhausted. He couldn’t do anything except walk around the tiny apartment patting him and talking softly. Finally the exhausted baby fell asleep in his arms, his little body jerking with ragged breaths every few minutes from crying so much.
As soon as Ben tried to put Cole in his bed, he started to cry again. Ben was on the verge of tears as he picked him up and continued to walk him, the only thing that seemed to keep him quiet.
After more than an hour, Ben finally laid down in bed with his little boy next to him, patting his little back like he had when he was teething. The two of them finally slept.
As soon as the pediatrician opened the next morning, he called. Since Cole was only five months old they wanted to see him that day. They would work him in but he had to be there at 9:00 am.
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While Ben was waiting in the doctor’s office, he received a text from an unknown number.
Fuck! It was drop day and he had totally forgotten. Cole had been the only thing he could focus on. He tried to text back to explain, but the text was undeliverable. He figured he would just do a double delivery the following week or maybe they would text back with a new time.
While he was still staring at the phone the nurse called for Coleman Murdock. He put the phone away, dismissing the text from his mind. Then he picked up the carrier holding his son and walked into the doctor’s office.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ben stopped on the way home to pick up the antibiotics. Cole had an ear infection. The doctor assured Ben it was common and he should feel better in a couple of days. Ben put the carrier down to unlock the door. It wasn’t locked and it appeared the lock had been broken.
Ben felt the hairs on the back of neck stand on end. He automatically turned towards Emma’s door and stopped dead in his tracks. She hated him. They hadn’t spoken since she left his apartment a month ago, but he knew she wouldn’t take it out on Cole. He finally knocked on her door in desperation.
Emma answered. Thank god she was home. He pushed his way into her apartment and sat the carrier with the screaming baby on the table along with the medicine and groceries he had picked up.
“Well, come on in Ben, nice to see you,” said Emma, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She automatically went straight to the carrier and picked up the clearly upset baby. “What’s going on?” she asked while she tried to comfort Cole. “Shhh, sweetie, bless your little heart, it’s okay.”
“He’s got an ear infection. The meds are on the table along with the instructions. Emma, listen to me. I need you to watch him for a few minutes while I check on something. Lock the door when I leave and don’t answer for anyone but me, or someone you know.”
“Ben, what’s going on? Shhh, there, there, that’s all better…”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes. Just. Stay. Here.”
“Okay!” she said and continued to try to soothe the unhappy infant.
Ben waited outside her door until he heard the lock. Then he went back to his apartment. When he pushed the door open, he almost went to his knees. The apartment had been tossed.
His heart was beating a mile a minute. He grabbed a knife from the kitchen with shaky hands. Then he called out, but no one answered. He let out the breath he’d been holding and began to take stock of the damage. That was when he saw a handwritten note on the table underneath the now empty curing containers.
Ben up-righted the chair and sat down. His hands were still shaking as he moved everything out of the way so he could read the note. When he picked it up, underneath it was a package of money.
‘We took our fee out for picking up. Thanks for the bonus samples. Next time the order is for 20% more since it seems you have extra. Price per ounce is the same. Don’t be late again or your boss will be extremely disappointed.’
An uncannily familiar sensation of dread rolled through his body and the horrible memories of the hospital unexpectedly slammed into his consciousness. He could hear the words of the doctor telling him Grace was gone. Ben sat there for a minute trying to get his breathing under control. Cole’s okay, he thought, he’s with Emma. He needed to breathe. To think. Nick was right – again. It was time to get out.
Once Ben could breath more normally, he came up with a plan. He would just simply tell them next time he had a drop that he couldn’t do it anymore, that the baby took up too much of his time. He would give them the plants. Simple. He had a little savings that was supposed to go for a new apartment so he would be okay until he figured out something else.
With that decided, he stoically began to pick up the trash and see what could be salvaged. When Ben walked into the nursery, Cole’s teddy bear, the one Grace had bought for him before he was born, was laying on the bed. The back of it was slashed open.
He sat down and picked it up. He hugged it to him, tears stinging his eyes. That’s when he knew, not only did he have to get out, he couldn’t stay in San Myshuno any longer. They weren’t safe in the apartment. He would leave in two weeks, after he made his last delivery.
A knock sounded at his door. “It’s Nick! I’m coming in!”
Ben had no energy to argue with Nick. “Door’s open,” he called from Cole’s room.
“Emma said…holy shit Ben! Were you robbed? We should call the police.”
At the mention of police, Ben threw down the stuffed toy and ran to where Nick was.
“No! No cops,” said Ben.
“We can move the plants next door first,” offered Nick.
“No,” said Ben falling into the chair, “It’s not that. I can’t.” Ben inhaled deeply preparing for Nicks wrath, “I missed my drop because Cole had a fever and I had to take him to the doctor. I was up all night with him and forgot I had a delivery this morning.”
“A warning?” asked Nick.
Ben felt guilty and just barely managed to nod his head. “I am going to quit after the next drop.”
“Just call them now.”
“I can’t. They only contact me. I don’t have a way to contact them.”
“Go to the cops Ben. They will help you.”
“No. It would put everyone at risk. I’ve got a little money saved. I’m getting out of San Myshuno. I’m going to tell them I have to move because the baby is sick. I will give them the plants. Let them grow it,” explained Ben.
“Where will you go?”
Ben hadn’t really thought that far ahead. “I – I don’t know. Fuck. I don’t want to go back to Twinbrook.”
“What about your Mom – they are in Willow Creek. And you would still be close enough to visit Lillie May.”
At the mention of Lillie May, Ben finally broke down and tears started to fall. “How did my life get so screwed up?”
Nick reached out and placed his hand on Ben’s arm. “Ben,” he said, his voice quiet and calm, “You found love you when you weren’t looking for it. Then you lost it in the worst possible way. You are a single parent of a tiny baby with no time to grieve your loss. You have to stop pushing people away. It’s okay to ask for help. You are not superhuman. Call your mom. Tell her you and Cole are coming home in two weeks.”
Ben knew Nick was right. Nick is always right. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and stared at it.
“Call,” instructed Nick, “Then I will help you clean this place up. Does Cole have everything he needs for a few hours?”
Ben looked at Nick trying to process what he just said. Cole? He began to panic. Where is he? Emma. Emma has him. “I need to check on Cole.”
“No, you don’t. He’s fine Ben. Make the call. I’ll stay here with you.”
Ben looked at the phone again. This time, he found his mother in the contacts and touched her number.
“Ben. Hi Sweetheart,” said his mother’s pleasant voice.
“Mom,” he said, his tears streaming down his face, “I need…” was all he could get out before he lost what little composure he had left.
Nick took the phone out of Ben’s hand. “Mrs. Chapman…”