‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Last Chance

I slammed on the brakes in Heather’s driveway, stopping my car just feet behind Aiden’s newly parked crossover. I threw open the door and climbed out, glancing back towards the road as headlights flashed behind me. I stood silently until the car continued past the house and then I threw my hands out into the air, trying to release my pent up frustration without screaming my head off in their front yard. After a moment and specific (but useless) breathing techniques, I yanked my keys out of the ignition and slammed the door.

Heather had the front door open before I even made it there. “Atticus, what’s wrong?” she asked, looking me over as she pushed the door open and I darted past her into the house.

“Ronnie,” I answered, seething. “He’s always the problem, Heather. Haven’t you figured that out? Whether he’s here or not here, it’s always him. I should’ve fucking known.”

Heather stepped around me in the hall, giving me a wide radius as she got in front of me and turned to face me with her hands held up like she was surrendering. “You need to calm down,” she said, speaking slowly. “Seriously, Atticus, this much anger and stress isn’t good for you.”

“What happened?” Aiden stepped slowly out of the living room down the hall. His footsteps were silent on the hardwood as he walked up to his wife. He crossed his arms over his chest, the gray sleeves of his shirt pressing into the same color fabric that covered his chest.

“Ronnie’s back,” I said, eyes darting towards the stairs.

Heather’s eyes widened and she reached out to grab my arm. “What? What do you mean he’s back? Where is he? Where has he been?”

“He was at the show tonight,” I said, swallowing harshly. “I don’t know. He just showed up out of nowhere and kept telling me what to do. It’s like he thinks he has the right to make demands now, after four months of total silence and fleeing to the other side of the world. I can’t believe him!”

“Wait, he just showed up?” Heather repeated, confused. “What happened?”

I looked up to the couple’s expectant expressions. “I need to get Arch,” I told them, turning around and heading towards the stairs. “I need to take him home. I can’t deal with any of this right now.”

“Atticus, wait,” Heather said after me as Aiden slipped past me and headed up the stairs first. He was going to carry the sleeping boy down for me like he did every other time I picked him up this late. “You should’ve drive home like this tonight. Tell me what happened.”

“Heath, I just can’t talk about it,” I told the blonde woman as I climbed the stairs, gripping the railing and cursing the baby weight for slowing me down. “I promise that I will call you tomorrow or make us lunch plans, but I need to go home.”

“Fine,” she said as she stepped to my side, “I just want you to think about all of this before you make any decisions. I know you’re probably confused and angry and ready to really hurt him, but he’s the father of your baby, and you’re going to want him in your lives once you calm down.”

“He’s been gone for all of this,” I answered, rounding the top of the stairs towards the guest bedroom that Aiden had gone into. “I have a right to be pissed and to hate him for turning up out of nowhere. I’ve been looking for him for months. You know that.”

“I know,” she agreed, looking at me with blue eyes that were more sympathetic towards me than towards my anger. “I know that this has been really hard on you, and Ronnie deserves to see that too but give it time. Give him a chance.”

Aiden headed around to the side of bed where Arch was curled up and stripped back the blankets. I grabbed his loaded backpack from the floor near the empty dresser. “Ronnie doesn’t deserve anything,” I said, shaking my head. “He doesn’t even deserve to be in our lives, Heather. He left.”

“You know what happened,” Heather answered. “I shouldn’t have to remind you, but you should consider giving him a break. Just this one time. You’ve been saying this whole time that you were going to bring him home when the time was right. The only difference is that he came home on his own.”

“So I’m just supposed to forgive him for everything?” I asked, turning around to face her. “He left us, left me. I never wanted any of this and he’s the one that got to opt out.”

“You wanted him,” she spoke, blue eyes bearing into mine. “I remember a time where all you wanted was Ronnie. Now that he’s back, you have to hold onto how you felt when you made that baby. It’s the only way you’re going to make this family work.”

“We’re not a family-“

Arch moaned as Aiden picked him up, and I watched as the boy’s eyes blinked open. He frowned as he shifted, waking up to the feel of someone’s arms lifting him from the solid surface. Aiden paused and looked to me as Arch woke up in his arms.

“Hey, baby,” I cooed softly, walking over as Aiden set him back down on the edge of the bed.

Arch rubbed his palm against his eyes and then settled them on me. “Atti? Are we going home?”

“Yeah,” I said, pulling his jacket out of his backpack. “Come on.” I held the sweatshirt up as he slipped his arms into the sleeves. He was tired and moving slowly.

Aiden slipped Arch’s backpack on the boy and I got up as easily as I could. I took Arch’s hand and pulled him up so that I could zip his hoodie. He blinked and his eyes stayed closed a split second too long. I pushed his hair back from his forehead and the motion woke him slightly.

“Come on, lets get you to the car before you fall asleep standing up,” I said, reaching for his hand.

He nodded and turned silently. He was too tired to see the look Heather gave us as we passed her and Aiden. I hardened my expression and led my son out of the room. I held his hand tightly as we went down the stairs. I didn’t look back, but I could feel Heather behind us, making sure that neither of us tripped or stumbled on our way to the first floor.

I bent down and grabbed his shoes, getting ready to slip his feet into them. He put his hand on my shoulder to balance himself and I leaned forward. Heather sighed from behind me. “Let me do it, okay?” she said, stepping up to us. “I’m not mad enough to let you try to get down on the floor like that.” She motioned for me to move out of the way and kneeled down in front of the little boy to get his shoes on him.

I heard Aiden open the front door behind us as I watched Arch as he balanced on Heather, watching with with tired blue eyes as she slipped his shoes on his feet and tied the laces. His hair was matted to his head from sleeping on it and his pajama pants looked funny paired with his thick black hoodie.

I frowned as Aiden pushed their glass door open and stepped out. His eyes darted back to me as he disappeared into the dark outside. Heather noticed the motion too and she frowned, standing up and setting her hands on Arch’s shoulders to hold him in place. I caught the look she had and heard the words from Aiden.

“What are you doing here?” I heard Aiden ask as I pulled open the front door and stepped out, shutting it behind me to keep Arch on the inside and Ronnie away from him.

The dark haired man stood on the edge of the driveway, between me and my car. His Escalade was parked on the street and he looked past Aiden to me and then back to the blonde. “I just came to talk.”

“What’re you doing here, Ronnie?” I asked, stepping around Aiden. I offered him an unhappy smile to let him know that I could handle this. “You shouldn’t be here. In fact, you shouldn’t be in Los Angeles, or California, or even the US. So you definitely shouldn’t be standing in front of me right now when Arch is just inside the door. You have no idea what you’ve put him through.”

I could see his chest rising and falling as he digested my words, unable to even look at me as I reminded him of all the shit he left behind when he disappeared. “Atticus, I-“

“You, what?” I asked, biting back a bitter laugh. “You didn’t mean to leave? You didn’t think about him when you did? You didn’t mean to hurt him? That’s all bullshit and you know it, Ronnie. You didn’t think about anything but your own feelings when you left. So get out of here before you hurt him more than you already have.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt either of you!” he shouted, taking a step closer. "And I don’t want to hurt him now, or you, but I just need to be back in your life. You don’t understand how much I need to be here right now. With you, and Arch, and my baby. I can’t leave it like this.”

“I’m not going to do this with you right now,” I stated, looking at him in the dimness of the porch light. “I’m not going to fight with you in Heather and Aiden’s front yard in the middle of the night.”


My head whipped around quickly. Arch was in the doorway, squeezed between the door and the frame. Heather had a hold on him, stopping him from running out to the singer. Arch cried out, trying to yank free from her. She had no choice but to let him go, and when she did, Arch darted out of the house and through the grass. I watched as he threw himself into Ronnie’s arms. Ronnie kneeled down and caught the boy, wrapping himself around the six year old as he picked him up from the ground and held him tightly.

Arch didn’t speak as he held onto the dark haired man. Ronnie had his eyes shut and he buried his face in the little boy’s hair as he held him close. I clenched my jaw as I bit back angry tears.

“Put him down, Ronnie,” I said, watching his dark eyes snap open and settle on me. “Put him down. Arch, get in the car, sweetheart.” I stepped past the two of them and pulled the back door open.

Arch looked up at me, blue eyes confused. His arms were still wrapped around Ronnie’s neck and the two of them faced me. Neither one doing as they were told. Arch frowned. “What’s wrong?”

I licked my lips and nodded toward the car. “I need you to listen to me, Arch. Please get in the car.” I looked at the dark haired singer. “Put him down.”

“Atticus, please-“

“Now,” I said.

Ronnie sighed and leaned down to set the boy on his feet. Arch shook his head quickly, pushing up onto the tips of toes to keep hold on Ronnie as the man tried to separate from him. Arch’s frantic gaze moved to me and then back to Ronnie. “No, Ronnie, please, don’t leave,” he cried, understanding perfectly what was happening. He jumped up and wrapped his arms around Ronnie’s neck again, before Ronnie even had the chance to let him go. Ronnie grabbed onto the boy to keep from being strangled and he ducked out of his hold.

Arch was in tears immediately. He scrambled to get some hold on Ronnie, but the black-clad man stepped away, apologizing quietly.

“Arch, get in the car,” I said again. “Please, just get in the car, baby.”

“No!” Arch shouted, throwing himself backward and away from both of us. “No, Atticus, no. I don’t want to. I want to stay here with Ronnie. I don’t want him to leave again, please. Atti, don’t make him leave.”

“Arch-“ I took a step toward him, flinching when my six year old stepped away from me. “Arch, please. I’ll explain later, but I need you to listen to me and please get in the car so we can go home.”

“Is Ronnie coming?” He wiped the tears from his warm cheeks, looking up to me with bold blue eyes. “I don’t want to go without Ronnie.”

“Arch, I can’t-“ Ronnie spoke.

“I don’t need you to parent for me,” I snapped, cutting him off. “I don't need you at all, Ronnie.”

“No!” Arch cried, transitioning into full on sobs, "please don’t leave me, Ronnie. I don’t want you to leave. Atticus, please don’t make him go.” He looked at me, tears running down his face, and he stepped back from us. His head turned to Ronnie and he stared at the man, lips quivering as he waited for the singer’s reaction.

Ronnie looked to me and I could see how much this hurt him. “Atticus, please.”

“You did this,” I spoke, shaking my head. “Not me. You could’ve been in our lives. You could’ve been a father, but you had other things to do.” I walked over to Arch and grabbed his wrist before he could back away, pulling him to me as he cried and struggled. “Arch, listen to me,” I demanded, pushing his hair back from his eyes. “Ronnie is not your dad, okay? He can’t be that for you right now. We need to go home.”

Arch sucked in a shaky breath and stared at me through wet eyelashes. “It’s not fair,” he said, hiccuping as he spoke. “I don’t want him to leave me.”

“Oh, sweetheart.” I kneeled down and pulled him into me. He dissolved into a series of sobs as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pressed his face into my neck. He was shaking and his chest was moving frantically as he struggled to catch his breath. He spoke quick indistinguishable words and coughed as he ran out of air.

I pulled back from him and took his face in my hands. “Arch, calm down,” I spoke solemnly. “Stop crying. It’ll be okay.” I spoke to him until he calmed down enough to breathe. Then I stood up slowly and took his hand, pulling him to the car before he could think about the situation again and get into another round of sobs. I loaded him into the backseat, buckled him in quickly, and then shut the door, turning around to face the singer.

“You need to go,” I said. “You really need to leave us alone.”

He was just inches in front of me and inches taller. “Atticus, I can’t-“

“Yes, you can,” I cut him off, shaking my head and my body started to shake from anger. “You owe it to us. You owe it to Arch. Can’t you see what you’ve done to him, Ronnie? He’s been through enough. Never once did he cry over his mother, but he’s sure as hell cried over you. And I won’t let this keep happening. Not to him, and not to this baby. I’m not going to let you walk in and out of their lives. They deserve so much more than that.”

He looked at me with dark eyes, his body slumped in on itself, his shoulders bending down towards me. “All I need is one shot,” he said, breathing loudly as he spoke. “That's my kid, and I just need you to give me one shot. I'm really here this time. I can’t live without you and these kids. Please just let me back in your lives. I’m done fucking up.”

“We’re over,” I said, pressing the words into him like he might understand this time. “You and I are over. If you ever do something like this again. If you ever walk out on a fight or leave your kid sitting around wondering where the hell you are for even an hour, you’ll be done with them too, you understand me? You’re out of chances, Ronnie. This is it. You're not going to do to them what your mother did to you.”

His eyes stayed on mine, and I saw the hurt that flickered there. The pain that his mother has caused him was evident in his music and his success, and the comparison of him to her wounded him. "I won't do that to them," he answered, gaze not wavering from mine.

I nodded, and glanced back towards the boy who'd already been through it once in his life. I reached back and opened the backdoor, letting Ronnie go to him as Arch looked to him. Ronnie kneeled down outside the car and soothed the boy, promising to see him soon, apologizing for not being around. When he finally stopped, he stood up and closed the car door, on much better terms with Arch than he was before.

Ronnie's arms went around me before I could walk away. He pressed his palm to the back of my head, his arms snaked around me as he pulled me into his slender body. His mouth was in my hair, repeating grateful words and promises into my ear like they might mean something if he said them enough.

“Just prove that you’re here,” I said as I pulled away, fingers sliding across his back as I pushed him away. “I can’t do this again, Ronnie.”

“I’m here,” he repeated. “I swear to god that I’m going to be here everyday.”

I nodded, eyes dropping to the cement under our feet. It was a promise that we both knew he couldn't keep and my heart dropped into my stomach at that reality. His 'everyday' didn't include half the year that he'd be traveling the world with his band. But I knew that he couldn't give us anymore, and I would never make him.

“I have a doctor's appointment on Tuesday," I said.