‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Head Space

Ronnie and I went outside and down the stairs. There were groups of people all over the backyard, and I was momentarily distracted by the band who was standing at the top of the porch, greeting my parents. I grinned and hurried over to them, throwing myself into their arms.

“You guys made it,” I cheered, wrapping myself around them all at once. The four of them pulled me into a group hug, each of them saying something about how pregnant I was and how they could hardly believe it.

“I’m just happy you’re home,” I said, leaning into Jacky’s side. I quickly greeted all of them, exchanging quick words about Europe and tour and their flights back home. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed them and I was beyond excited to have everyone back again.

“I just really can’t believe we’re at your baby shower,” Ryan said. He wasn’t trying to hide the fact that he was outright staring at my stomach. “I’ve known you were pregnant, but showing back up again in the middle makes it seem like you ballooned overnight.”

“How are you feeling?” Jenn asked, grinning at me. “I know that it can be pretty uncomfortable.”

“I’m great,” I said, feeling honestly light for the first time in awhile. It felt different when the people I cared about were scattered across three different continents. When they were home, it was easier to remember what my life was really like and who was always going to be around.

“Have you guys seen Ronnie’s dad?” I asked. “He’s here somewhere with Anthony and the boys if you want to say hello. And there’s plenty of food too, so eat up. We’re going to be doing the big reveal in a little bit.”

“Speaking of food,” Ronnie said, sauntering up to my side once again and wrapping his arm loosely around my shoulder. “Atticus needs to get something to eat real quick. Find us downstairs, alright guys?” He turned me away without waiting for an answer from his friends, and his fingers slipped into mine as we went down the stairs.

As we rounded the bottom of the stairs and turned towards the buffet table, my eyes landed on Chance. He was seated with his family at the table next to mine. Our parents were deep in conversation about something, and his brother nodded offhandedly, paying only the required amount of attention. Chance’s eyes were on me.

I turned my attention to the buffet as Ronnie picked up two plates, balancing them in one hand as he loaded them up with as much as they could hold. I followed him mindlessly down the aisle, getting our drinks at the end.

“Where do you want to sit?” Ronnie questioned, glancing around the yard at the overwhelming amount of people. “Have you seen Arch?”

“He’s with Heather,” I said. She was seated at the table with her husband, son, and the Arroyos. I took the lead and walked us over to them. There was just enough room for the two of us to squeeze in around them, and Ronnie sat at my side, pulling Arch into his lap so he could have the boy’s chair.

“When are you going to tell us?” Heather asked eagerly. “Honestly, I’m dying to know. I don’t even care what it is, but I have no idea. I really can’t believe you’ve known for two weeks and haven’t told us anything.”

“Tonight’s the night,” I laughed. “You can wait a little bit longer. I swear you’re as bad as Arch when it comes to nagging me about it.”

“What do you think, Arch?” Aiden questioned, gently bouncing his son on his knees. “Do you want a little brother or a little sister?” He ran his palm across the back of Kyat’s head, smoothing down the wispy curls.

Arch’s mouth was full with food from Ronnie’s plate, so it took him a minute to swallow and speak. “I don’t know,” he said, dashing their hopes of getting the inside scoop, “but I just want the baby to not cry and be cool.”

We chuckled, and I explained to him that he probably wasn’t going to get a baby that didn’t ever cry. We’d had the conversation before, but he was still holding out. Jadeen started the conversation up again, pulling Ronnie in. “Those dark headed little boys are your nephews, right Ronnie?” she asked, grinning across the darkened backyard towards the table of Radkes. “They’re gorgeous.”

“I think that had more to do with their mom than my brother,” Ronnie answered, smiling lightly in response.

“They’re some of the cutest kids I’ve seen,” I answered, knowing there was more Radke in them than Ronnie was letting on. They all had the same dark hair, more brown like their father’s than blonde like their mother’s, and variations of their grandpa’s eyes.

“I just want to know what your baby looks like,” Jadeen commented, glancing at the three of us, contemplating what it might look like to have Arch among our dark featured family. “You two are going to have the most gorgeous kids.”

I climbed up from my seat, excusing myself from the conversation, and walked away from Ronnie’s frown. I headed over to the table where my father sat and their conversation rolled to a stop as I approached.

“We want to do the announcement soon,” I said, nervously splaying my fingers together. "It’s already starting to get kind of late.”

“Is Ronnie helping you?” Brett asked, glancing past his table over to ours. “Do you want your brother and sister to pass out cupcakes?” He nodded to Frida and Max, and they got up immediately. Kasey followed.

“Frida,” I called as I turned and walked with her. “Where’s Caleb tonight?”

She walked at my side and met my gaze. “I don’t know. Probably at home with his friends.”

“Did you guys have a fight? What’s wrong?” I asked, stopping her before we got to the cupcakes. I hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong with her. With them.

She sighed and pressed back, shaking her head. “I don’t know, Atticus, it’s just not fun anymore. Caleb is always here, always around when I want him, and that’s great and awesome. I thought that’s what I wanted, but I don’t know anymore.”

“You two have been together a long time,” I replied congenially. “Things change after awhile. It’s either something you want or something you don’t.”

“I don’t know what I want,” she answered, looking up to me. “I care about him, but sometimes I think it would be better if we broke up. And then I think, that if I’m thinking about that, maybe that’s the sign right there.”

“Have you talked to him about this?” I asked. “What does he think? Maybe he feels the same way as you?”

She frowned. “I told him, and he didn’t really say anything. He just said that he’d give me space if I wanted space and we haven’t talked since. I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t ask earlier,” I commented. The two of us headed over to help Max at the table. “I shouldn’t forget about you when I’m busy. I’m sorry, Fri.”

“It’s alright.” She shrugged. “You have more to deal with right now than I do, so I figured I wouldn’t bother you with all my problems too.” She plastered a smile on her face and turned to Max, giving him a look as he lifted a cupcake up and checked the bottom for any signs of colored frosting. “No peaking,” she said, laughing.

“I’m surprised someone hasn’t snagged one already,” I replied, grabbing one of the trays. “It’s a miracle that one of Ronnie’s nephews didn’t get into them. Or Arch for that matter.”

“I told them they were poisonous,” Ronnie spoke as he jogged up behind us. “I figured they wouldn’t risk death for a cupcake. Even if they didn’t believe me, it scared them off enough to keep their hands off.”

I chuckled and handed him a set. “Pass these out,” I instructed. “Tell people not to eat them yet. I don’t want the surprise ruined before we can get the boxes and pool stuff set up.”

The singer nodded, walking off leisurely with the tray and dispersing them through the crowd. Everyone was eager to get one, seeing as they were the gateway to the gender. Max and Frida took off with the rest and I moved over to the boxes at the end of the table. I stuck the liquid dye bottle between them so no one would accidentally see the the color. I pulled it out now, and slipped it into the pocket of my jeans.

I moved the boxes down to our spot beside the pool. There were little lights set up that pointed straight up into the sky like strobes. They’d be bright enough to light up the balloons as they floated away.

People were chattering now, their eyes flickering between the people around them and me at the base of the yard. They all held their cupcakes and placed their final bets on the gender of our baby. I looked around, looking for specific people; Ronnie’s father and brother, my parents, Jadeen, Heather, Arch.

I called for the boy to come over and he grinned, darting away from the table with his precious cupcake. He rocketed into my side, happy to join me at the front of all the commotion. Ronnie doubled back and joined us, standing at Arch's other side. He had a box cutter in one hand, and he started on the tape as I started talking.

“Hey everyone. Thanks for coming,” I said warmly, nervously watching Ronnie cut through the tape and hold the top of the box down to keep the balloon inside. Realizing that he still had to cut the other open, he set the cutter down and lifted Arch up, seating the boy on top of the box to keep it closed. He kneeled in front of me to open the other one.

“When we decided to have this party, I wrote all your names down in hopes that you would come out and help us celebrate the fact that we’re going to be parents. Ronnie and I are the only two people who know what we’re having and it’s such a big secret. Tonight we want to let the rest of you in on it.”

Ronnie stood up, still holding the top of the boxes closed, and reached over to hold Arch’s as the boy scrambled off it. I pulled the dye pack out of my pocket, clasping it in my palm to disguise the color, and then I grinned.

“Lets count to three,” I said, holding the pack out over the water behind me. The color would explode, expand, and seep into the water on contact. “One,” they joined me, “Two.” Arch grinned, loosening his grip on the covers of the box. “Three.”

I threw the dye pack into the water, Ronnie released the tops of the boxes, the balloons floated up and into the air, and everyone around us bit into the cupcakes blue frosting assaulting their mouths and their fingers. Arch ravaged his, trying to see everything round him. He dug into his cupcake with his fingers, trying to read the words on the balloons above him and see the color of the pool in the dark.

I grinned as people starting shouting out “blue” and “boy” and cheering and calling congratulations to us. Arch’s eyes were wide, his fingers stained the colors of little boys, and he turned toward us, throwing himself into our arms.

Ronnie caught him, stopping him before he could barrel into my stomach, and lifted him up, bringing him to me. Arch wrapped his arms around both our necks, pressing us closer together than we’d been in such a long time. I wrapped my arms around them both, holding my son to me. Holding the father of my son to me. They were my boys, despite all our problems. Three boys.

Ronnie pressed a kiss into the side of my head, repeating words that Arch had shouted in excitement, only softer and thankful and disbelieving. He kissed my hair, my face, and slowly pressed his lips against my mouth, eyes opening to see me. Arch’s body shielded up from the rest of them. He leaned back, cheering and screaming about a little brother, and then leaned forward again, wrapping his arms around our heads.

Ronnie kissed the top of my head again, and then looked up as the crowd descended on us. He pulled back, with Arch in his arms, just enough that our family and friends could identify us as separate people.

Russ was one of the first ones at us. The others moved closer, but waited for our family to come to us before they did. Russell pulled us back together, holding his son to me and me in his arms with Arch between us yet again.

“I’m so happy,” he said, pressing his palms into the back of both our heads. “You never imagine your kids having babies, but I couldn’t be any happier. You are going to be great parents. I’m so proud of you both.”

I was in tears by the time Russ stepped away, but laughing as AJ threw himself at me, yelling and sweeping me into his arms. His boys were rowdy, smaller versions of him and they wrapped themselves around my legs and around their uncle.

“I can’t wait to be a fucking uncle,” Anthony said, grinning at us both. He reached out and touched Arch's hair, silently noting that the boy was still in this, still part of this family.

My dad, Gina, my sisters, my brother, Cemi, Luca, Jadeen, Anderson, Heather, Kyat, Aiden, Greg, Jacky, Jenn, Derek, Ryan, Ron, Haley, Jay, Hunter, Miles; it was a never ending stream of congratulations and hugs and compliments about our little family. It was loud and raucous and everyone I cared about all in one spot.

Ronnie stood at my side the whole time, holding Arch and thanking everyone as they passed from me to him. He was playing mediator and father, letting everyone know that we would open presents in a little while and to help themselves to more food and cake. And I stood there and wiped tears from my eyes and hugged everyone as long as I could and let myself feel the support around us. Let myself forget that Chance hadn’t said one word to me, but hadn’t stopped looking since Ronnie and I reemerged after their argument.

After everyone that wanted to had a chance to hug and congratulate us, we started pulling the presents from the table and moving them to our own so that we could sit. We opened them together in front of everyone. We hadn’t asked for anyone to bring anything, especially since we hadn’t announced the gender, but there was still a good amount of gifts.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom real quick,” I said to Ronnie, setting down the box I was holding and stepping around Arch, who was still grinning ear to ear.

The singer looked back at me and nodded, and then went back to the table to grab a couple more boxes and cards. I headed back towards the house. I was barely at the stairs when Chance came up behind me, fingers grasping for my fingers, wrists, arms. He climbed up the stairs in front of me, looking down with blue eyes so dark they could rival the sky.

“Chance, what’s wrong?” I asked immediately, reaching to twine my fingers between his. “Are you okay?”

“Do you want this?” he asked, eyes darting the way I came. “Do you want that life? I’ve spent the entire night listening to your friends and family talk about how you two are meant for each other and looking at you, watching him kiss you. It’s not hard to believe that you’ll always go running back.”

My heart leapt into my throat. “He wasn’t- you weren’t supposed to see that,” I said quickly, shaking my head. “He got caught up in it all. He loves me and I can’t-“

“Can’t say no to him?” Chance finished. “Every time he’s here you two are playing house like you’re back together. How am I supposed to feel, Atticus? You want me to sit quietly by and watch you with him. It sucks. I don’t know why I even came tonight. It’s not like anyone knows we’re together.”

“Chance, I know, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to get hurt by this. I wanted you here, but we’re not - we can’t be together in the way you want. We’ve talked about this.”

“What you mean is you’re with him around everyone and with me behind the scenes,” he commented, stepping down towards me. “God, Atticus, do you hear how crazy that sounds? I care about you. I really do, and I know you don’t want to hear anything more than that, but I can’t stay quiet forever.” He stopped on the same stair as me, leaning back on the one behind him to keep his balance. “I can’t stay away from you forever. Not when he gets to kiss you and I don’t.”

He pressed forward then, fingers climbing up my neck to cup my jaw and lead my mouth to his. He kissed me once, softly, and his lips met my cheek, fluttering across my skin. “I love you, Atticus.”

I pressed the back of my arm up against his chest and pressed up into him, creating space between us that wasn’t there before. I stared at him, unable to even consider registering the words he’d just spoken.

“I asked you not to,” I said, shaking my head, blinking back emotions from my eyes. “Why did you have to do this tonight, Chance? Why tonight? When my entire family and all my friends, and Ronnie are all downstairs?”

“Not everything is about Ronnie!” Chance answered, throwing himself away from me. He pivoted back, and stepped around me, returning to the bottom of the stairs. “It’s impossible with you, Atticus, it really is. You’ll never see anything besides Ronnie, will you?”

“Tonight is about the baby,” I answered, looking at him. “About the baby that belongs to Ronnie. I don’t know how you expect me to pretend that he’s not a big deal in my life. That he’s not the father of my kids.”

“One kid,” Chance retorted. “Don’t act like Arch is his. I’ve seen that kid more in the last five months than Ronnie has. He didn’t even show up for his birthday.”

“This is ridiculous,” I spoke. “I’m not going to spend any more time fighting with you about Ronnie. He’s part of my family and nothing’s going to change that. I know you don’t like it, but it’s not about you.”

“So we’re nothing now?” the newly twenty-one year old asked, sliding around to face me. “You and I are nothing, Atticus?” he repeated, watching me for my reaction. “I can’t believe you won’t even own up to it.”

“I’m not doing this here,” I ignored him. “I’m going back outside.”

Chance laughed darkly, grinning at me across the foyer. “I tell you that I’m in love with you, and you can’t even admit to yourself that we’re together. Don’t you see how messed up that is?”

I stopped immediately. “God, Chance,” I shouted. “You are such an asshole. Just because you got your feelings hurt doesn’t mean you can tear other people apart!”

“I just want you to recognize that I’m here,” he answered. “That I’m not just something you call up when you’re bored or sad or need someone to distract you from Ronnie fucking Radke and all the bullshit between you two.”

“I see you,” I breathed, thrusting the words at him like he might breath them and let it all go. “God, Chance, I always see you, but what do you see when you look at me? Because the only thing I can see is this baby and how much it’s going to control my life, and that means that I can’t do whatever I want. I’m not a child anymore.”

Chance, dark short hair and light eyes, frowned at me. “Are you saying I am?” he asked. “A child? Because I wasn’t a child when you slept with me. Or when you call me to come over when you miss me. How convenient that I’m a child when Ronnie’s back and what you want when he’s gone.”

I sighed, “I didn’t say that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he replied, brushing it off, “because I know that you’re going through a lot, and I know that I’m not making things easier, but I had to let you know that you have other choices. That you don’t have to go back to him just because he remembered that you exist.”

He caught my eye, his blue eyes feeding all of his emotions into me, and then he turned and headed back outside with a subtle goodbye. I stayed in my spot, rooted to the floor in the center of the foyer, and breathed in until my lungs couldn’t expand any wider.

“That’s not why I came back.”

I exhaled in surprise, turning around quickly. “Jesus, Ronnie,” I said, letting a couple of nervous expletives slip out as I registered him standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “What are you doing?”

He stepped out, shouldering past the space Chance had just occupied. “I didn’t forget about you, Atticus. That boy knows absolutely nothing about us. I hate that he’s here, putting bullshit into your head like that.”

I turned away as he reached up to my face, slipping his fingers into the strands of my hair as he tucked it back out of my eyes. “I’m not that impressionable,” I defended.

His eyes were dark on mine, always the same shade of night that slipped seamlessly into the color of his pupils. “I’m in love with you,” he said, the words an echo of the earlier admission. “I don’t think I’ve gone one day without thinking about you since I met you, Atti.”

“Come on, Ronnie,” I muttered, turning away. “There’s a whole backyard of people waiting for us out there. You need to think about your son.”

He grinned. “You’re the mother of my son,” he spoke, "and I love that more than anything.” He didn’t say anything more and simply turned around and headed back outside. I went with him, grateful for the openness the outdoors provided. Between Ronnie and Chance, there wasn’t much room to breathe.