‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Better Things

I texted the address of the Ancari Strauss Clinic to Ronnie an hour before the appointment. It was closer to him than to me, so he had more than enough time to map the place and get there. I hadn’t asked him if he was busy tonight, but if he had his priorities straight, he’d be there on time.

After Epitaph, I picked Arch up from Nicolas and drove him to Heather’s. He complained the entire way about wanting to come with to see the baby for the first time, but I knew that it was more Ronnie that he wanted to see than anything else. Neither of us had seen the singer since the big confrontation at the Hofstaters’ house, and Arch found sneaky ways to ask me about him without annoying me and subsequently shutting me up.

“It’s a doctor’s office,” I reminded him as we walked up the sidewalk to Heather’s front door. “You don’t need to come. I’ll bring you home pictures of the baby.”

“But I want to be there when you find out,” he told me, giving me a look with those blue eyes of his. “I don’t want to find out later.”

“Arch,” I sighed as I brushed my fingers through the hair at the back of his head, “I need to do this with Ronnie, okay? I promise that you’ll be able to see him soon, but I need to see him first.”

The little boy sighed and turned his head away from me. He pushed the doorbell button and looked back at me, conceding gracefully. “Bring me pictures,” he said as the front door opened and Heather stood there with my godson in her arms.

She pulled the glass door open and stepped back to let us in. Arch sat down on the low storage shelves along the wall and started taking his shoes off. “How’s my boy?” I asked, reaching to grab for Kyat’s hand. “He’s bigger every time I see him.”

Heather grinned and nodded, greeting Arch. “Yeah, Aiden and I were just talking about how we can’t believe how much older he looks from when he was born. It’s just incredible.”

“Yeah, a year does a lot,” I replied. “Especially the first year.”

Arch stood up and slipped his jacket off his shoulders, regaining my attention. I stepped over the shoes and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours. I’ll bring pictures.”

“Call when you find out,” Arch said, following me back to the door. “Right when you know.”

“You’re finding out the sex?” Heather asked, quickly. “You didn’t tell me that. Arch’s right, you have to call the minute you know, okay? You haven’t even told me what you want, Atticus.”

“I don’t have a preference,” I answered. “I haven’t given it much thought, to be honest. It doesn’t seem real enough to have a gender.”

“It’ll seem incredibly real when you know,” Heather replied, “but let me know how the whole thing goes.” She met me at the door as I stepped out. “Ronnie will be on his best behavior,” she said quietly, leaning out of the doorway with Kyat, “so don’t worry too much.”

“I’m not worried.” I shook my head and turned halfway to go back to my car, sans Arch. “I’m just ready to figure everything out and start preparing for my life.”

Heather nodded. “Like I said, it’ll all be real when you know what you’re having. Then you can start planning the nursery and picking out clothes. We should go baby shopping this weekend!”

I grinned back at her as I pulled the driver’s door open. “You’re more excited about this than I am,” I retorted, “but I guess we could do that. If you need more stuff for Kyat or something.”

I got in the car and backed out of the narrow driveway. Heather went back in the house with the boys and shut the door firmly behind her. Their house was a slim two story with three bedrooms and abundant charm. It was the kind of place I needed to find before the baby. I couldn’t decorate a nursery if I didn’t have one, and there were only a few more months before the baby would inevitably be here.

The drive from Heather and Aiden’s house to the clinic took less than a half hour. I parked at the front, in one of the gimmicky ‘expectant mother’ parking spaces, and headed inside to check in. The appointment was for four o’clock, and I was only fifteen minutes early.

The front room was much smaller than the clinic that Ronnie and I had gone to when we wanted to make sure of the pregnancy. That was the day that the two of us decided to keep the baby. I could recall images of Ronnie from that day so clearly. The way he sat next to me in the waiting room, when the nurse told me he’d only made it as far as the hallway outside my room while I had my exam, the look on his face when I relented and allowed for us to continue with the pregnancy.

The memories were often overshadowed by the ones of him leaving, and the look on his face when I tried to ask him not to. The hurt he felt when he saw Chance and I together and saw his whole imagined life come crashing back to earth.

“My name is Atticus Gurewitz,” I told the woman at the front desk, spelling out my last name for her as she looked up my information.

“Yes, Atticus,” she answered immediately, smiling enthusiastically. “Your baby’s father has already arrived,” she told me, nodding towards the arched opening that led into their smaller waiting room. “He grabbed your paperwork for you already. When you have that filled out, please bring it back here. Dr. Ancari will come get you very soon.”

“Thanks,” I answered, surprised that Ronnie was here already. That he’d beat me here.

I walked, empty-handed, into the waiting room and paused in the open doorway. It wasn’t packed with people like a regular clinic might be, but there were a couple other pregnant women there, waiting for their appointments with the two other women who helped run this place.

Off to the right of them, sitting along the wall, was Ronnie. He ankle was braced on his left knee and he had the clipboard of papers in his lap as he flipped through them. Sitting on the chair to the left of him was a second clipboard.

He wore a maroon jacket over a plain black shirt and his usual black jeans. He hadn’t seen me yet, but his eyes were hidden beneath the bill of his hat, so I couldn’t be sure. I watched him for a moment, ducking slightly to see his expression as he scanned the paperwork.

I’d gone four months without so much as the sound of his voice. Before then, he was a part of my everyday. And when he wasn’t, his music was. I hadn’t prepared myself to see him before now, and I hadn’t realized that he was really back. Now, seeing him alone in this clinic, it was clear that he was really here for his child, and it made everything just a little less terrifying.

“Ronnie,” I spoke as I walked over to him.

He looked up at the sound of my voice and smiled at my approach. “Atti.” He dropped his ankle and sat up straighter as I sat down on his right. “I’m just trying to fill out some of this stuff they want from me. But how am I supposed to know if any of this shit runs in my family?” He motioned to the list of diseases and conditions.

“I had a lot of uncertainties on mine too,” I assured him. “Just fill out what you know.”

“This feels like de ja vu,” he answered, eyes back on the papers. “Oh, I grabbed yours too. It’s mostly stuff about how you’re doing and all that.”

“Yeah, I filled out my family history the first time I was here,” I told him, taking the other board from him as he handed it over, “and this is all just routine check in stuff. They’re going to ask me the exact same questions when we go in, but they need to have it on file or something, too.”

I caught Ronnie nodding out of the corner of my eye. “Do you think my dad would know any of the answers to these?” he asked, looking up to me. “I don’t know if they asked the same questions when he was having kids, but he got me and Anth out without any problems.”

“You can call him if you want,” I said, watching as the door opened and an unfamiliar doctor called an unfamiliar name, “but I don’t know how much information Russ has or remembers about you guys.”

“If they tell us they need more information, I’ll call him,” Ronnie answered, gathering everything back into his clipboard and leaning back far enough that I couldn’t see his face out of my peripherals any longer, even though I could feel his gaze on me.

We were quiet for a few moments as I filled out the single paper in front of me and signed it at the bottom. When Ronnie returned from handing back the boards, I spoke. “We’ll get to see the baby today,” I said, watching his reaction, “and find out the gender, if we decide we want to.”

Ronnie froze for a split second on his way back into his seat. Then he caught himself. “You haven’t seen the baby yet?”

“No,” I answered. “The doctors have looked to make sure that everything is going well, but I haven’t wanted to see yet.”

“Why didn’t you find out the sex?” he asked, turning slightly so that he was facing me more. “I mean, I figured you would’ve already.”

“I was waiting for you to get home,” I told him honestly. “I don’t know why, I just didn’t want to know if you didn’t. It just seemed like something that you should learn firsthand, and I didn’t want to have to keep it a secret from you.”

“We weren’t even speaking,” he answered, his voice quieting slightly. “I would’ve understood if you went ahead without me, Atticus.”

I sighed and pushed my hair out of my face. “I knew that if I found out, I would’ve wanted to tell someone, and I didn’t want anyone to know before you did, Ronnie. You’re the father, so you should be the first to know whether you’re having a son or daughter.”

I didn’t look at him as he digested what I said. Finally, he spoke, “It’s weird to hear it that way,” he said. “’Son or daughter’. Makes it seem so real.”

“It is real,” I said. “You just haven’t lived with it long enough for it to sink in.”

“I thought about it everyday that I was gone, Atti,” he answered, searching for my eyes. “It’s not like I just left and never thought about any of you, because I did. I just needed time to figure things out, and I know I was shitty about it, but I thought about you everyday, even when I didn’t want to, even when it really fucking hurt.”

“I was hurt too, Ronnie,” I reminded him, “and scared. I had to be the strong one while you were off dealing with your own problems. I had to deal with everyone knowing that you disappeared. I had to explain to my father that yes, I’m pregnant, and yes, you left me. And I had to call your father to find you, because I had no idea where you went or if you were hurt somewhere. Nobody knew where you were for three days after you left.”

“I had to think,” he said. “I’m sorry, Atti, I’ve never been more sorry for anything in my life. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I hurt you too,” I said, eyes flashing to his dark ones, “and I didn’t mean to do that either.”

“I know,” he spoke, leaning in to wrap his arm around my shoulders and pull me into him. “I know. I’m sorry.” He kissed the side of my head and his left hand found its way to my stomach. I covered his hand with mine and guided him to the right spot, letting him feel his child for the first time.

When the baby moved under his palm, he grinned authentically and breathed out, eyes meeting mine. "That's our baby," he spoke, pressing his palm to my stomach again softly. "I can't believe it really moves around in there. It's incredible."

"I think it knows who you are," I answered as the baby moved again, pressing uncomfortably up under my ribcage. "It definitely makes more trouble when you're around."

Ronnie flashed me a cocky grin. "Like father, like baby."

"I hope not," I retorted. "You get into enough trouble for everyone. Like talking my father into putting me on early leave. That got you in big trouble."

Ronnie looked at me then, surprised that I already knew. "Atticus, I didn't mean to go behind your back. I just want you to be safe, you know that."

"I don't want to talk about it right now," I answered, leaning back to find a comfortable position. "Go back to what you were doing. I really need the baby to get its head or whatever out of my ribs."

Intrigued by the location information, Ronnie put his hand on the upper right side of my stomach without a word and waited to feel the baby move into a more comfortable position.

We pulled apart when the door opened again and Dr. Ancari stepped out, calling my name.

Ronnie stood up and grabbed my hand, helping me up and out of the low chair. The doctor’s eyes landed on us and I figured she was surprised to see a man with me. I’d had two appointments with her and both times I’d denied wanting to see the baby because the father was still out of the country. But now he was with me, and she and I both knew it was time to move forward.

“Dr. Ancari, this is Ronnie, the father,” I introduced. “Ronnie, this is Dr. Melissa Ancari, she’s going to deliver our baby.”