‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Boys & Girls

Heather and Aiden were the next to arrive and I managed to pull Kyat away and cart him around for while before the rest of the guests started arriving. My step-mother discharged Ronnie and I to the front door to greet people like the happy little family we were pretending to be. Many of them had never met Ronnie before, so introductions were necessary, and I had to be the one to do it.

Gina’s best friend, Cemi, arrived with her husband when the arrivals were simmering down and she through herself into my arms, squeezing the life out of me as Ronnie looked on nervously. Behind her, Luca stepped up and introduced himself to Ronnie.

“You must be the boyfriend,” he said, his British accent reminding me of Jacky and the fact that the band still hadn’t come through the doors. “I’m Luca DeCarto. Cemi’s husband.”

“Just the dad,” Ronnie corrected, catching my look as I pulled away from the woman. “Ronnie Radke. You’re a photographer, right? I’ve heard good things.”

I straightened myself out and Cemi looked at Ronnie appreciatively. “I’ve heard a lot about you on the internet,” she said, picking up his topic of conversation. Ronnie cringed at his online reputation. “Don’t worry,” she said offhandedly. “You’re cute enough in person to make me forget all about that.”

“Luca is standing right next to you, Cemi,” I reminded her, smoothing out my hair as I shot her an ice cold look. I knew that her words were a carefully designed and fired in our direction.

“I know,” she answered, leaning back into her slightly shorter husband. She offered me a playful smile and then stepped between us. “I’m going to find your mother,” she said, not looking back. “She’ll catch me up on everything.”

Luca chuckled and smiled at us both politely before following his eccentric wife through the house to the backyard. Luca was far more down to earth than Cemi, but even so, he came from the same world, so he was used to people much more flamboyant than her.

Ronnie watched them go. “She’s a model, isn’t she?” he asked, dark eyes sliding back to mine. “I remember you mentioning her once.”

“Yeah, mostly overseas,” I confirmed, leaning against the door frame as another car pulled into the packed driveway. “Do you think you can get this one? I really should go check on Arch and see if he’s eaten.”

“I’m sure someone fed him,” Ronnie answered, glancing through the door to see who was coming up now, “but I can handle this, if you want.”

I shook my head, turning my attention to the couple coming up the steps. Jadeen grinned at me through the glass door and put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder I pulled it open to greet them. “You guys made it!”

“Of course we did,” J said, grinning. “We might be late, but we would never miss it.” She stepped into the house and wrapped her free arm around me. With the other one she held Iker, her youngest son. Next to her was Anderson, her husband, with Camilo, their four year old.

“You have no idea how happy I am that you’re here,” I said, pulling back from the woman to greet her husband and children. “Did you guys find the place? Not many people are familiar with the area.”

“We just put the address in the GPS,” Anderson said, moving his son to his other arm so he could reach out to shake Ronnie’s hand. “It’s really good to see you both again. Atticus, you look lovely.”

“Thanks, Ander,” I replied, grinning at his compliment. “Let me show you guys around back and introduce you. Heather and Aidan are here, so you won’t feel too lost among the hordes of my family friends.” I glanced back to Ronnie as I walked away, watching him for confirmation that he could handle letting people into the house on his own. He nodded easily and looked away.

It was a little after five and the sun was just starting to set, leaving pink and purple streaks in the sky past the pool. There were throw blankets folded over the backs of some chairs, but luckily it was still warm enough for everyone to be outside. The lights had been turned on in the time I was inside with Ronnie, so I caught my first look at the place as I stepped out with the Arroyos.

The deck was lit by the lights that outlined it on the railings, and they continued down the stairs. In the yard, each table was lit by the last of the sun and the bulbs hanging from the umbrellas and the candles were lit as well. The pool was blinking, each light floating on stilled waves.

I hadn’t noticed before, but someone set up another table next to the catering and it was piled with presents. I’d seen them brought in, but stacked together, it looked like an impossible amount.

“Help yourself to something to eat,” I said as I stood on the porch with them. “There’s plenty of food downstairs. Arch is around here somewhere, if you can find him.”

Jadeen looked back to me. “This place is incredible,” she said, sounding astonished. “Honestly, Atticus, it’s beautiful.”

“Thanks.” I grinned. “It’s my design, but my family set it all up, so really they deserve all the credit.” I glanced back towards the house as something clattered and then I glanced around for Gina, hoping to find her among the nearest crowd. When I didn’t, I assumed she was back in the house. “I have to go check on something,” I said as I excused myself from the family, “but I’ll be back in a few minutes. Make yourselves at home, okay?”

“We’ll be fine,” Jadeen said, grinning. “Go welcome your guests.”

I smiled gratefully and doubled back into the house. My smile slipped as another round of noise met my ears, and I hurried through the back and out to the foyer. When I came through the door, I stopped short. Ronnie stood where he was supposed to be, but the table next to the door was knocked to the ground and the decorative metal piece was in the center of the floor.

And no one was moving to pick anything up.

Ronnie stood back from the doorway, hands pressed into fists pressed into his ribs as he crossed his arms over his chest. His dark eyes were sharp and glaring at the man who’d just come inside. His blue eyes pinned me in place

“Chance,” I said, surprised, despite myself.

The man stood there with three other people. Two older than him. All three I’d seen before. The man was Todd Wilkins, Chance’s uncle. The woman his wife, Natalie. And Chance’s brother, Spencer. Chance didn’t move, waiting for me to come between them. I'd known he was coming, but it never crossed my mind to warn Ronnie and to keep them apart.

“What’s going on?” I asked into the quiet room, unable to even look at Chance’s family. My eyes flickered between the two men. “Ronnie?” I asked when no one answered.

The man turned around immediately, eyes staring into mine for answers that I couldn’t give to him here. “Seriously?” he asked quietly, disbelieving, hurt. He looked at me for another minute, waiting for some sort of response, and then barreled past me.

My heart leapt into my throat. I couldn’t handle a repeat of the last time the two of them had been in the same place. I recovered myself and plastered a smile to my face, turning to the Wilkins, my father’s neighbors, and Chance, the man who’d been living in the edges of my life for months.

“Thanks for coming,” I said, not daring to look at Chance this time. “Everyone is in the back. Let me take you to my father.” I looked at Todd instead, knowing the quick friendship that he’d started up with Brett.

“Sure,” the man said, smiling. “That’d be great, Atticus. You dad didn’t mention how big an affair this would all be. We would’ve brought something.”

I shook my head. “We’ve got it catered,” I answered easily, leading the uneasy family through the house and into the backyard. I quickly scanned for Ronnie as I stepped out, but he was no where to be found.

“Dad,” I called as I walked across the large porch and up the couple of steps to him. “Dad, Todd’s here.” I glanced back to the man and his two makeshift sons.

Brett pulled himself away from Jay and Greg and stepped over, walking around me to his neighbor. “Todd, Natalie, it’s good to see you again. Thanks for coming.” He turned to the two boys standing next to them and smiled. “You must be Spencer and Chance,” he said, looking at them both. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Todd nodded quickly, distinguishing between the boys, and they fell into easy conversation talking about sons and children. Chance’s eyes never left mine, and I could see the accusation.

“You never told them about me?” he asked, slipping to my side as his almost-parents and my dad turned away to talk about something else. Spencer followed him to me, and I glanced nervously away.

“How was I supposed to explain you, exactly?” I questioned, dark eyes sliding back to his blue eyes. “They never would’ve understood.”

“I don’t even understand,” he said, frowning. “I see you all the time, Atticus. Multiple times a week. I eat dinner at your house. Spend time with your son. And you can’t even mention me to your family?”

“I’m a private person, Chance,” I rebutted, crossing my arms over my chest. “I don’t know what you want me to say.” I glanced at his brother, holding my own against his scrutiny. “I’m Atticus,” I reintroduced, unsure if he’d remember me from the first and only time we met.

“Yeah.” He nodded. “Chance told me about you.”

I didn’t react to the blow. “Yeah,” I repeated blankly. “I’ve got to go find the father of my baby, if you’ll excuse me.” I turned and walked away.

“Atticus, wait,” Chance called, mumbling something in annoyance at his brother. He caught up with me just as I stepped back into the house, and he stepped around me so that he was in front and I either had to change direction or stop completely. “Atticus, I’m sorry,” he said. “Spencer shouldn’t have said it that way, but it’s true. I talk about you all the time. I’m just surprised that no one knows about me. I thought we had something.”

“People know about you,” I answered, arms crossed. “Heather, Aiden, Jadeen. My friends know, Chance. It’s not like I’m hiding you, I just don’t need my father’s opinions and disapproval. It’s been hard enough getting him to let Ronnie back into this house.”

“I’m not Ronnie,” Chance deadpanned, fingers threading through mine to pull my arms from across my chest. “Not even close.”

“You’ve got that right.”

I pulled my hand from Chance’s immediately and turned to look at the man as he stepped further into the room, expression cold and arms crossed. “Ronnie,” I said softly. “Please don’t do this tonight.”

He trained his gaze on me. “Do what?” he asked, sickly sweet. “I swear to god, Atticus, if I have to walk into another room in this house and see this boy touching you one more time, I’m going to lose it. And I won’t just walk away this time.”

“What is your problem?” Chance asked, frustration building as he pivoted and moved to my side. “She broke up with you, which means that you’re not together. You can’t control her the rest of your life. Don’t you think you’ve already done enough to her?”

“You know nothing about us,” Ronnie retorted, staring him down. “You’re just some kid who’s playing house with my girl. So don’t talk to me like you know anything about Atticus.” His fists were still pressed into his ribs, arms crossed against his chest so he could hold himself back.

“Stop it,” I said to both of them, stepping out between them. “I don’t need this.” I turned to Ronnie. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you he was going to be here, but Chance is a part of my life now and you need to get used to that.” I turned to Chance, turning my back on Ronnie like I might press back into him to detour his action. “We’ve talked about this,” I said to Chance, shaking my head as I stared at him. “I told you that if you want me, you get Ronnie and everything that comes with. If you can’t handle that, then we shouldn’t be together.”

“I never said I couldn’t handle it,” Chance spoke quickly, glancing from me to the man behind me. “I’m just so sick of seeing you have to deal with him. He just causes more problems, Atticus. You don’t deserve that.”

“He’s the father of my baby,” I said. “We created these problems together. I don’t want to hurt you either, Chance, but Ronnie is someone who is always going to be in my life. Who’s always going to be at the top of my list. I can’t cut him out any easier than I can this baby.”

“And she doesn’t want to,” Ronnie spoke from behind me. His words were calm and pointed and shot directly at Chance. I felt them fly over my head and land in the boy. “You’re just something to distract her from everything between us. You know she’ll never love you, not like she loves me. Loves our family.”

Anger flashed across Chance’s features, unbridled and bubbling to the top. I turned around immediately and pushed Ronnie back, taking him out of the equation so there was no one for Chance to fight. Ronnie laughed as I pushed him into the other room, keeping his eyes on the other man until the moment he couldn’t. And then he looked at me, smiling in amusement.

“You think that’s funny?” I asked. “Really Ronnie, you think it’s funny to hurt someone so bad that they want to knock the living shit out of you? You’re hurting me when you do that, don’t you realize that. I don’t want to deal with all your shit tonight.”

The smile quickly slipped off his features, and he wrapped his arms around me, cradling my head to his chest as he whispered apologies. “I’m sorry,” he said again, resting his chin on my head. “I just can’t stand the sight of you with him, Atti, you know that. I love you and it fucking kills me that he thinks he has some claim to you.”

“He’s in my life,” I answered, ambling out of his arms to put some space between us. “I care about him a lot.”

Ronnie’s expression was neutral, and he slipped his hands into the pockets of his pants, watching me like I might say something else to hurt him.

I sighed at the look on his face. “He’s been around,” I qualified. “He’s been here for me, Ronnie. I can’t help it if I have feelings for someone else.”

He leaned back, into the sound board. I’d pulled him into my father’s office, hoping to put enough rooms between him and Chance to stall their anger. Ronnie was subdued now, searching my expression for something he give him hope. “I don’t care if you ‘have feelings for him’,” Ron spoke, glancing at the carpeted floor between us,.“I know that you love me, Atticus, because I know it can’t just disappear like that. I can’t be the only one still in this.”

I blinked and turned away, trying to my hardest to take the words at face value. “We have to get back out there,” I said, sliding my hand down and across my stomach. “Everyone is probably wondering where we are.”

“Have you eaten yet?” he asked, standing closer to me than before. His fingers brushed against my shoulder as he pulled my hair back out of my face, turning me back around to look at him.

I shook my head.

“You need to,” he answered, shaking his own head at my admission. “Seriously, Atticus, you can’t walk around like this all stressed out all the time and not eat.” He opened the door we came through and held it, stepping back, waiting for me to walk out. "Lets go."

“I need you to stay out of trouble,” I told him as I passed. I looked at him, straight in the eye for good measure. “No fighting, no storming off, nothing.”

“I’ll behave if he stays away from you,” he muttered under his breath, dark eyes darting back up to mine. “You can’t expect me to be okay with him,” he added, honestly surprised that I might be asking that of him.

“I expect you to act like it doesn’t bother you,” I retorted, walking back into the back foyer. I stopped before we were close enough to the open sliding doors. I glanced out at the people on the porch and then looked back to the singer, serious.

“My parents don’t know anything about Chance and I,” I spoke, “and I’d like to keep it that way. Clear?”

Ronnie grinned immediately. “Yeah, crystal.” He turned and laced his fingers through mine, leading me outside before I even had an opportunity to pull away. “Lets get you something to eat.”