‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


Epitaph was busy on Thursday when I stopped by in the morning to meet with Bruce and apologize for what happened at The Dirt the other day. I flashed my ID badge to the receptionist and headed through the main lobby to the elevators. Bruce’s office was on the same floor as my father’s, and I hoped to get in and out of here quickly so I could pick Arch up and make it to my appointment.

The thought of the appointment sent uncomfortable shivers up my spine. I shook it off as I stepped out of the elevator onto Bruce’s floor. If I wanted to, I could find out the gender of the baby today. It had been possible for awhile, but I’d kept putting it off, hoping that Ronnie wouldn’t want to miss these kinds of things.

Typically, Bruce’s office door was closed when I rounded the corner and came up to it. There weren’t any windows off the hallway, so I could see if he was inside or busy, so I knocked lightly on the red hardwood and waited for the man to appear in the doorway.

He did a moment later, smiling brightly when his gaze landed on me. He wasn’t much older than me, with short brown hair and fine features. He’d started at Epitaph early in his career and worked his way up quickly.

“I assume you’ve come to talk about why you took off the other night?” he asked, pushing the door open and taking a big step back so I could come inside.

I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to my boss that personal issues got in the way of me doing my job, but I didn’t have another option, so I walked past him and stood in front of his wood and glass desk as he shut the door and came around.

“Sit down,” he said, motioning to the chairs behind me. “How pregnant are you at the point? You look like you could give birth tomorrow.”

I gave him a look as I lowered myself into the square chair. “I’m only past six months,” I countered, pulling my back in my lap.

“Have any names picked out yet?” he asked nonchalantly while he clicked around on something on his tablet. His eyes glanced up to meet mine before he refocused on the screen. “I got an email from Ricky Constanza explaining that you left abruptly the other night, but specifically requesting that you be the one to come back, despite what happened. Why is that?”

“Why is what?” I asked, trying to decipher his question. “Why does he want me back there or why did I leave early?”

“I know why he wants to back,” Bruce said, setting the table down on the glass desktop. “He wants you back because you’re great at what you do and you really enjoy it. What I don’t know is why you took off without even hearing the last band play. I thought they were the reason you were there.”

“They were,” I answered immediately, “and I didn’t mean for things to go the way they did, but something came up and I had to deal with it.”

Bruce, despite being close in age, gave me a look that said he wasn’t pleased by the vague explanation and that I better figure out something else to say quickly.

I sighed and nodded, understanding what he wanted from me. “Ronnie Radke showed up,” I explained, knowing that almost everyone in my life knew the history between us. “I wasn’t expecting him back and it was a shock to the system to see him there like that. I’m sorry that I left, but when it comes to Ronnie, things get really complicated. I’m sorry, Bruce. I shouldn’t have let my personal life interfere with work.”

“Is everything okay?” he asked, tone lighter than I expected it to be. “With you and the baby, I mean.”

“Yeah, of course,” I said. “We’re doing fine. I have another doctor’s appointment tonight and I’m positive that everything will come back great.”

“Good.” He nodded, turning the tablet back on. “I understand what happened, Atticus, and it’s fine. You can’t always control everything that happens to you, but try not to let it happen again, okay? I really don’t want to explain to people why their shot at getting signed walked right out the door without even hearing their band.”

“I won’t,” I denied. “Honestly, Bruce, it won’t happen again. I feel horrible and I really want to give Onley and Ricky Constanza another shot. If you want, I can set up another go at this as soon as possible. I really do think those guys are great musicians.”

I caught the muted frown on his face and immediately matched it with my own. “What’s wrong?” I questioned, setting my back on the carpet as I moved forward in my chair the best I could. “I thought you said that Constanza asked for me back by name? I’m happy to do it.”

“It’s not that,” Bruce answered, meeting my eyes. “It’s that your father and I have decided that it would probably be best for you, and the baby, if you took some time off until after it’s born.”

I gaped. “What?”

Bruce looked ready to subdue me. He held his hands out, motioning for me to stay calm. “Atticus, you have to understand where we’re coming from. It’s not right to send a six month pregnant woman to spend her night in a dirty, smoky bar. We have maternity leave for a reason and we think that you should use yours.”

“You’re banning me from working?” I rephrased, not entirely surprised by this, but almost impressed that my father had managed to get Bruce to break the news to me.

“We’re not banning you, Atti. We’re encouraging you to take your time off before the baby is born and enjoy being able to relax. You know it’s what’s best for you right now and you’re going to be glad you did once the baby gets here and you have absolutely zero time to yourself.”

“I almost have no time to myself, Bruce,” I complained. “I have a six year old at home. I love doing this. What am I supposed to do while I’m not working? This baby isn’t coming for over three months.”

He shook his head, offering me an apologetic expression and nothing more. “If you want to keep working, you’ll have to to talk to your father, Atticus. I’d advise you against working longer, but he’s the one who has the final say.”

“He’s my father, not my keeper,” I argued out of frustration. I got up as quickly as I could, bag in hand, and turned toward the door.

Bruce came around the desk and followed me. “I’m sorry, Atticus, I just want to make sure you’re both healthy.” He nodded towards the baby and smiled, brushing my hair back over my shoulder.

“I know,” I said bitterly. But the answer was fading slightly and no longer directed at him.

“When you find out if you’re having a boy or a girl, shoot me an email, okay? I’d love to be able to send you a gift.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I answered, smiling as I stepped into the hall and turned back to face him.

He grinned and leaned against the doorframe. “You helped me pick out gifts for my girls’ birthday, Att, so it’s the least I can do.”

“I’ll email you,” I said as I turned and headed further down the wide hall to the large office in the back. I heard Bruce’s door close and I hurried to the double french doors, knocking harshly to let him know that this was urgent.

Brett had one of the doors open almost immediately. His expression changed when he saw me, and then blanched to cover his tracks. “Atticus, what’s wrong?”

“Just the fact that you got Bruce to fire me,” I countered, crossing my arms over my chest and glaring at my father. “I can’t work anymore, Dad, and I know exactly who put that stupid idea in his head three months early.”


“How could you?” I demanded. “I told you the other day that I didn’t want to take maternity leave this early. I need to make money, Dad. I need to have a life outside this pregnancy. You know that!”

Brett glanced back into his office and then sighed and opened the door for me to come through. I stepped through angrily, pressing into the ground like I might bring the entire building to the ground around us.

“Atticus, you’re too stressed out,” he said, and I noticed that my step-mother was sitting in the love seat kiddy-corner to my father’s desk. She sent me an apologetic look as I turned to deal with my father. “You shouldn’t be in situation like the other night. It’s not safe for a pregnant woman to be in the midst of a crowd at a show like the Dirt. I don’t know what you were thinking going down there like that. You could’ve been knocked down or elbowed and shoved into someone or something. I wouldn’t be able to deal with the thought of something happening to you at one of the shows Bruce sends you to.”

“Nothing is going to happen,” I argued. “I know how to take care of myself and this baby, whether it’s inside of me or not. I don’t even know how you found out about that.” I glared at him, arms crossed over my chest. When his expression waned, I knew.

“You talked to Ronnie,” I accused, suddenly more angry than before. “The two of you went behind my back and made my decisions for me. I can’t believe either of you think you have the right to do that. And you, especially you, you don’t even like Ronnie!”

Dad was affronted. “I like him when he’s looking out for you and not running off like a child to the other side of the world, Atticus. He came home to be a man, and I respect that he’s looking out for you.”

“He was’t looking out for me during the four months he disappeared off the face of the planet, Brett,” I bit out angrily, “and I definitely don’t need the two of you going behind my back. I’m an adult and I get to decide what I do and when I do it.”

“Atticus, please,” he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose under his glasses. “It’s safer for everyone if you just do what you’re told this one time. Ronnie and I are simply trying to make sure that you stay safe.”

“You don’t like Ronnie,” I repeated, enunciating each word like it might actually remind him of how true of words they were. “You can’t tell me to move on without him and then let him waltz right back in and take over my life, Dad. It doesn’t work like that.”

“I don’t want you with him,” Brett answered, almost appalled that I would suggest that he changed his loyalties that drastically. “I just would rather have someone here taking care of you, and since he’s the one that got you in this position, he should be the one to do it. He has no right to be out there living his life while you’re here cleaning up after both of your mistakes.”

“I don’t need him to take care of me,” I said, feeling like I’d already repeated that statement multiple times, “and I’m pissed at you right now, so don’t try to change the subject.”

“You’ve been pissed at everyone the whole pregnancy, Att,” Dad answered, smiling. “So really that doesn’t make much difference in my life.” He stepped around me and went back to his desk, and to his wife, who’d been sitting quietly the whole time, laptop on her knees.

She looked up when I walked over. “We heard that you invited Ronnie to the appointment tonight,” she said, dark eyes shinning as she considered the outcome. “Does that mean we’re going to find out the sex of the baby?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” I answered honestly, sitting down in the seat opposite her. “I want to know, but I don’t know if I want everyone else to know right away.”

Gina nodded. “You could always wait until the baby shower to tell everyone. Then everyone would all be together and you would only have to make one announcement.”

I smiled, remembering the announcement that she and my father made a few months ago concerning my then, unborn, sister Holland. I’d helped plan the baby shower and it had been quite the success. It was also the night that I announced I was officially adopting Arch, and my father welcomed him into the family.

“Who’s planning your shower?” Gina questioned, grinning conspiratorially.

“I haven’t decided if I’m going to have one yet,” I told her, leaning back against the cushioned chair. My father was back at his desk, rifling through a group of papers.

“Of course you’re going to have one,” Gina countered. “I’ll throw you one myself if it comes down to it. I just figured that one of your friends might already have one in the works.”

“I’m not sure,” I answered honestly. But it wasn’t unlikely that Heather or Jadeen had one thought out the minute they found out I was really pregnant. “I’ll ask around and get back to you,” I told Gina.

She grinned. “I’ll do a little asking of my own as well.”

The clock on the wall caught my attention and I climbed up from the chair. My father glanced at me and I shot him a look with the same brown eyes. “I don’t forgive you,” I told him, sliding my bag over my shoulder, “and I’m not going to sit around for three months and do nothing while you and Ronnie control everything. So talk to Bruce and get me back into the rotation, Dad.”

He stood up. “I’ll see what I can do.”

I knew it was an empty promise because Brett had the authority to do almost anything he wanted at Epitaph and his words came with no absolutes. I grabbed for my keys out of my bag and yanked the door open.