Ben finally finished cleaning out his closet. It had been a challenge with Cole ‘helping’ him. He wanted to put his toys in the closet too. So Ben had to pick up all of Cole’s things and put them back after he was done. But he didn’t care. His life was looking up. Sofia didn’t leave them, and in fact, said she would be his wife and, by default, Cole’s mother. Nothing could spoil his good mood. He was on cloud nine.
As he watched his sweet, independent little boy playing in the closet, he figured, maybe, that’s why he had put off calling Nick. He didn’t want to ruin his good mood. Plus, he was still pissed off at him over the whole grow room revelation. But once again, Nick was probably right to have told Sofia, although he would have preferred that he had let him tell her instead. Well, he was going to marry his sister with or without Nick’s blessing. It would be better though, if Nick would be happy for them. He really had missed Nick.
After putting Cole’s toys back in his room, Ben sat down on the couch and Cole instantly climbed up with him. He was ready to call Nick, but he didn’t want Cole to listen just in case it got ugly. It was nap time anyway. “Hey buddy,” lets get a snack and then it’s nap time,” he said to the sleepy little boy.
All Cole heard was nap time. He frowned and shook his head. “No nap Daddy. Not tired.”
“I’ll read to you first. But you are taking a nap,” said Ben sternly.
Cole’s bottom lip came out and Ben couldn’t help but laugh. “How about some animal crackers first?”
Cole immediately grinned, forgetting all about nap time. “Yay! Aminal Cwackers!”
Ben scooped him up and kissed him. He put him in the high chair and gave him the promised cookies.
Ben sat there while he ate. He looked more and more like his mother everyday. Ben thought about Sofia’s fears of being compared to Grace. He hoped she wouldn’t look at Cole and think that she was his substitute mother. Ben had been both mother and father to Cole since he was born. It would be good for him to finally have the love only a mother can give.
When Cole started crumbling the cookies and throwing them, Ben took him to his room and read him a story. Thankfully, he quickly fell asleep.
Ben walked back into the living room and took out his phone to call Nick.
He was surprised at how nervous he was waiting for Nick to answer. His heart was beating overtime. Nick had been his best friend since they were 14 and he loved him like a brother. He cared more about Nick’s reaction than he wanted to admit. But if he had to choose, he would choose the woman he loved over his best friend. He just hoped it didn’t come down to that.
Nick answered on the last ring and instantly laid into him. “Murdock, if you are calling to bitch at me, forget it. She’s my sister and I didn’t have a choice. You should have fucking told her before you slept with her!”
Well shit, thought Ben. “Whoa. Nick…. I’m not calling to chew you out,” said Ben, “You were right – again. I should have told her. But Nick, it’s over. It’s no more.”
“You broke up?” Nick sounded hopeful.
“No. We didn’t….sorry to burst your bubble. Audrey and her kids….THAT’s what’s over. The plants are gone.”
“Yeah, right. Like I believe that.”
“No Nick. Really. They’re gone.”
Nick totally didn’t believe him. “It’s sort of a long story. Your sister, she is a firecracker. She came at me with her claws out and gave me an ultimatum. Cole and her – or the weed. She was going to go to my parents if I didn’t stop. So…I put on my big boy pants and we went together and talked to Mom, Dad and Leroy. Turns out Father of the Year knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone. That kind of thing. Anyway, the someone worked out a deal with the bad guys. My Dad delivered the plants to them. In turn, I am free and clear.”
“Seriously? Your Dad? Who does he know? And in a week?”
Ben’s sighed. “Nick, you really don’t want to know who the someone was. I don’t either. But Mom assures me Dad is not a criminal – he just – knows some. Anyway, your sister didn’t give me any wiggle room. Fix it now or else. And when she said now, she meant now, not next month, next week or even tomorrow. The plants are gone Nick, and I am off the hook. Sofia and I, we are okay. So I told her I would call this time. Look, you know she and I have always been close. And I really do love her. Very, very much. You know I would never do anything to hurt her.”
“Are you sure she’s not just another one night stand?”
“Dammit Nick. No. I would never do that to her. I hoped you thought more of me than that, but I guess I deserved that.” Ben paused and took a deep breath. Here goes nothing, he thought. “There is more. Are you sitting down?”
“You fucking got her pregnant!”
Ben rolled his eyes. “Geez Nick, give me some credit. No. She’s not pregnant…. actually…. I sort of proposed to her.” His comment was met with silence. “Nick?…..Nick, are you still there?” he asked.
Finally Nick responded, his voice flat. “What do you mean ‘sort of’. You did or didn’t.”
“I was afraid she was going to leave me over the whole marijuana thing and when she said we were good, I was so relieved that I got ahead of myself and started planning our future. I told her if we got married right away that Cole would call her Mom.”
“You’re an ass. If she agreed to that after the weed fiasco, she must be rebounding from Jesse. Dude, she was with him for three years! You are taking advantage of a rebound affair…with MY SISTER!”
“No. I am not!” said Ben a little too harshly. Ben took several deep breaths to calm himself before going on. “Nick, the attraction has been there between us, even when she was with him, we just didn’t act on it. And, well, I took my time – afterwards,” he said, struggling for the right word. “We are both ready for our relationship.”
“I don’t believe she is really in love with you. And you. Do you love her? I mean, really love her? …. Like you loved Grace?” Nick sounded doubtful.
How could he make Nick understand? Ben thought for a minute before answering. “Not like Grace. It’s different. Deeper. I can’t explain it. I did love Grace, don’t get me wrong. She was my whole world. I will always carry a piece of her in my heart. Maybe our love would have grown more if she had lived. But it’s already more with Sofia. Maybe because we’ve known each other for so long. I don’t know. But it’s like I’m supposed to be with her, to watch out for her. And she watches out for me. When we are together it’s so easy and comfortable. Our life experiences have bonded us together somehow. Me having Cole and losing Grace, Sofia getting ra…um, dumped by her boyfriend of three years. ” Shit, he hoped Nick didn’t catch his slip.
“Wait a damn minute. Sofia said she dumped him. What really happened? Tell me what you were going to say.”
He was screwed. “What do you mean?”
“Ben… you were going to say something about Sofia and Jesse. What really happened between them? She blew me off when I asked, so I know there has to be more. Tell me the truth dammit, or I will ask her.”
“Nick…no, please, don’t ask her. She made me promise not to tell you or your parents.”
“Fuck, please tell me it’s not what I’m thinking….Ben!”
Ben felt sick. “Nick, if I tell you….God…I can’t.” He couldn’t believe he was about to betray Sofia. Nick had already guessed because of his stupid slip.
“That’s why he left town isn’t it. He fucking raped her. Goddammit Ben. Please, tell me it’s something else. Anything else.” Nick was heartbroken. Ben could hear it in his voice.
Ben tried to be calm. “You can’t let her know that you know. It would devastate her. She thinks you will look at her differently, as damaged.”
“I’m going to kill him. Why in the hell did she tell you and not me? Is she okay? Is he at least locked up?”
Ben took yet another deep breath. This was so hard. He needed Nick to be okay and feel assured that his sister was okay as well. “Please, let it go Nick. Maybe, one day, she will tell you. Just know that I punched him and Leroy knocked him out with one blow. Leroy’s a strong SOB for an old guy. I promise, Sofia is fine. Mom and I helped her through it. He left town and is getting counseling. She has a restraining order so if he comes close, she can have him arrested.”
Ben got nervous because Nick didn’t answer right away. He felt so bad for his friend. “Nick?”
“That’s what she was talking about when she called me – when she said you were there when she needed you,” said Nick, his voice eerily calm.
Ben let out a breath, relieved. “Look, I’ve already said too much. Please don’t tell her you know.”
When he was met with silence again, he began to worry. “Nick, dude, are you okay? Are you there?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice shaking.
Shit, he’s crying, thought Ben. “Nick. I’m so sorry. This is why she didn’t want you to know. I swear she’s okay. She’s strong. Now that we are together, nothing like that’ll ever happen to her again. Jesse’s not going to bother her anymore.”
“On my life.”
“You and my baby sister are getting married,” stated Nick. He sounded like he was trying to come to terms with everything Ben had said.
Ben tried to be respectful of Nick’s feelings and kept his voice calm and even. “Yes Nick, we are. Does this mean we have your support? Can you at least pretend like you are happy? For Sofia. She loves you Nick, and was trying to protect you and your folks by not telling you. Please, don’t screw us up. If you make her choose, she will choose me. But it will hurt her. She has been hurt enough already.” He was begging.
“I could never understand why she liked to hang out with your dumb ass,” replied Nick. He still sounded like he was still trying to make sense of everything. “Do you know I used to spy on you two to make sure you weren’t trying take advantage of her?”
No, he didn’t, and that pissed him off. “You son of a bitch!” Shit, that didn’t help “You know you could trust me with her. Outside of you, she was my best friend.” Ben paused to get full control of his anger. He tempered his tone when he continued. “Nick, am I really so bad that you can’t be okay with me? She loves me. And she loves Cole like her own child. We are good together Nick. I swear it.” He knew he was still begging, but he didn’t care.
Nick inhaled sharply and blew it out. “No Ben, you’re not bad. You just made some stupid ass decisions. You know you are like a brother to me…..You had to grow up too fast. I saw the change in you when you finally allowed yourself to love Grace. Once you admitted your feelings, she was your priority…. Fuck!” Nick took another deep breath and let it out slowly. Ben could tell he was trying not to cry. “Congratulations man…take care of my sister….or else.”
The tension fled Ben’s body and he huffed out a relieved breath of air. “Thanks. That means more than you know. Call Sofia and congratulate her. It will make her happy. But don’t say anything, please.”
“Ben, I can’t lie to her, she will know,” he said his voice flat and cold.
He knew Nick was right. And did he really want to start their relationship with another lie between them? She would know, just like Nick knew he wasn’t being honest. “You are right. Damn, why the hell are you always right? I don’t want to lie to her either. Look, let me tell her before you call her. I will do it tonight. I know you need to talk to her. But I need to be the one to tell her that you know so she can be prepared. She will never trust me again if I don’t. Do you understand. I love her and I need her in my life. God, I hate these fucking big boy pants.”
That earned a laugh from Nick and Ben’s anxiety dropped a couple of notches. “Nick, I don’t think I ever said thank you. I have been on an apology tour this past year. You deserve one too. You have always been there for me. Even through all the dumb-ass shit I pulled. I am honored to have you as a future brother-in-law. When your sister and I do get married, I want you to stand up for me – again.”
Nick was still emotional. Ben could hear him sniffing back tears. “God, who the hell are you and what did you do with Ben?” he said and laughed.
Ben couldn’t stop the relieved smile taking over his face. “When are you going to propose to Rachael? You guys have been together for almost 4 years.”
“Why are you waiting? Casey proposed to Emma after only a year.” Ben was truly confused by that.
“Yeah, well after Grace died, Emma was depressed and sad. We all were. He told me that he imagined what it would be like to lose her and it drove home how much he loved her. He felt the need to propose. It was his way of bringing them closer and for her to start to heal. I think it’s like, when a couple makes love after losing someone close. We just need to feel alive again, you know.”
“Damn. Whew, now we’ve lost Nick too. What’s happened to us?”
Nick laughed quietly. “I think it’s called life. I will be happy to stand up for you.”
“Thanks, but you totally deflected my question about you and Rach.”
“Rachael says congrats.”
“Oh, she is there with you.” Of course she was. And Ben was really glad. Nick would need her after this call.
“Now get off the phone and let my sister down gently,” said Nick, his pain evident in his tone, “Tell her I love her and to call me when she gets home. Let her know I’m happy for her – you too Ben….” Nick got emotional again and had to stop to compose himself before continuing. “And let her know it’s okay. She must love you very much if you were the one she went to. I’m glad you were there for her.”