‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Christmas Part II

Arch ended up helping Ronnie bring all the presents in after they were sorted in the driveway. Then he went to work in the living room sorting them into separate piles for each person. Nico joined him and the two of them went in circles trying to decide where each person would sit when opening them.

The rest of us stayed in the kitchen while my parents finished cooking. Ronnie and I sat at the island with Holland poised on the counter in front of us. Every second I spent with her, I became more enthralled. Her hair was darker than all of ours and her features were the most like her mother’s, but she was soft and tiny and sometimes interested in everything and completely apathetic at other times. She was developing her own personality more everyday.

“It’s time to eat,” my dad said, picking up one of the bowls from the counter and leading the way across the kitchen. “Lets go. Pick your spots. Hurry up.”

I passed Holland to Ronnie. “I’ll go get Nico and Arch. They’ve been playing with that tree; They need to wash their hands.” Ronnie moved to take the baby to the table and Gina and Brett carted dishes to the table where Kasey, Max, and Frida moved to the other end.

In the living room, Arch was sitting on top of a fairly large box, facing away from me towards the fireplace and towards Nico. Nic sat on the ground in front of him, bobbing her head as he rambled away.

I stopped in the entryway. “Time to eat, you two,” I said, clapping my hands together. “Nic can you show Arch to the bathroom so you can wash your hands?”

I waited for them to both come out before I walked them back across the entryway to the kitchen. Everyone was seated but my dad. Holland’s highchair had been unfastened from the counter top and repositioned on the table between Gina and my dad's spot. Nico climbed into the other seat at her mom’s side and I led Arch around to the other side of the table.

Arch sat next to Ronnie and I sat down next to him, pulling the chair back enough that my stomach wouldn’t brush the table every time I leaned forward. Frida, on my right, looked away when I caught her staring. She tried to wipe the smile from her face, but failed horribly.

“When’s your due date?” she asked when our dad sat down at the head of the table. “You haven’t told us yet.”

I frowned at her, grabbing the bowl that Gina passed to me. “I haven’t thought about it much lately,” I replied, wondering myself why I hadn’t passed on the information. “They’re still staying March fifteenth.”

“I knew with Holland practically from the beginning,” Gina said, matching my frown with one of her own. “We had time to adjust to the idea of having a summer baby. March feels so soon.”

“Yeah,” I answered distractedly. I’d know there were three months left but March seemed impossibly close. I refocused my attention and scooped potatoes and gravy onto Arch’s plate and then my own before passing it down to Ronnie.

“When was your last appointment?” Gina questioned lightly.

“I go back in a couple of days,” I responded. I filled our plates until they were overflowing with food. I wasn’t worried about filling up before getting to Ronnie’s family’s party. We had a four hour drive to LV that would give us plenty of time to digest and make room for more. Not to mention that we weren’t leaving from my father’s for another couple of hours.

“Have you thought of any names?” Brett asked between bites, dark eyes moving from me to Ronnie and back again.

I was surprised by the question. My father was happy to have another grandchild, but he hadn’t openly engaged us in a conversation about the details of it all. Despite the fact that this baby would be his first and only biological grandchild, it was hard to imagine my father and my son together.

Ronnie spoke first, shaking his head. “We haven’t really talked about it,” he said truthfully, “We’ve been so focused on finding Atti and the boys a place to live that we haven’t had time to consider anything.”

The entire family blanched at his words and Ronnie's eyes slid to mine, silently questioning their reaction. While my dad knew that I was considering finding a place with more space, he didn’t know that Ronnie was helping me look, and he definitely didn’t know that we were looking exclusively in LA.

I shrugged it off as nonchalantly as I could. “Ronnie’s been vetting houses for me,” I explained. “It makes it a lot easier when I don’t have to veto all the places my realtor shows me. Ronnie’s picked out some good ones, but none of them really felt like I could live there.”

Gina nodded. “You should look at something in the neighborhood down from ours,” she said between bites. “It’s a really new development. I heard that there are a bunch of new families and Arch could go to San Marino or St. Andrews.”

“I don’t want to change schools,” Arch denied quickly, looking up from his plate to refuse the whole idea. He grabbed my arm and repeated himself. “I want to stay at my school.”

“You’re not changing schools,” I told him, pulling my arm out of his clutches to address Gina directly. “He’s not changing schools. Nicholas has been great for him and I’m not pulling him out in the middle of the school year. All his friends are there and his teachers are great.”

“It’s going to be a hassle to drive him everyday,” Dad responded. “Especially if you’re moving. It doesn’t make sense to drive him a half-hour to Nicholas when you can enroll him here. They have great private schools here too.”

“We’re thinking about putting Nico in St. Andrews for next year,” Gina said, talking about the Catholic private school in town. “She and Arch could go to school together.”

I tried not to blurt out my feelings about that suggestion. Instead I replied and tried to keep my tone more neutral than I felt. “I want Arch to have a less biased education,” I spoke carefully, easing the words out so neither of my parents would pick up on the slight.

“I was raised in the church,” Gina rebutted, “and I think I’d be nice for my daughters to have some knowledge of it.”

“She’s four,” I pointed out. “She won’t understand any of it, Gina. You should look into a more progressive school like Nicholas. They’re really great. Arch is doing so well there.”

“It’s crazy that you’re considering driving him downtown everyday, Atticus,” my dad spoke, bringing us back to the same discussion. “Especially since he’s still so young. You could put him in school here and he’ll make friends quickly. I understand not wanting St. Andrews, but San Marino is a good school too. They’re a Montessori school; they know what they’re doing.”

“That’s not happening,” I denied. “I work downtown, Dad. If it came down to it, I can drop him off in the mornings before going to Epitaph. Plus, it’s a moot point anyway, because I’m moving closer in that direction, not farther from it.”

Both my parents quieted and my siblings hadn’t said a word to us since the conversation started. Max, Kasey, and Frida were busy talking between themselves and pretending not to hear anything.

It only took a moment before the floodgates burst open. “What do you mean? You’re moving out of Pasadena?” Dad questioned, the tone of his voice rising way past a rational amount of concern. “When you bought your house you said you wanted to live here, close to me and your family.”

“That was six years ago,” I retorted. “Things change, Dad. My biggest concern about moving further into the city was putting Arch in a bad school, but we’ve got that covered. And the places we’ve found have been in really nice neighborhoods.”

The conversation from our past rose back to the forefront of my mind. The concern about moving to LA with Ronnie hadn’t been for Arch. It had been generalized - for the future children we wanted to have together. Neither of us knew that everything would become so complicated three years later.

“You’ve never even mentioned wanting to move out of your house before the baby,” my dad countered. “Even when you were living with Ronnie, you refused to sell your place. And it’s a good thing you didn’t because look where you’re at now.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “Why are you getting so upset about this?” I asked. “I lived in downtown LA for two years with Ronnie. It’s not like you never saw me. I’m not moving halfway across the country. I’ll be thirty-five, forty minutes away. At most, that’s twenty minutes further out than I am right now.”

“You’re having a baby,” he exaggerated. “You’re going to want people close enough that everyone can visit and stop in to help you. If you move further into the city, you’re going to be there alone. What if something happen?”

I practically gawked at his words. “When were you planning to help me with my kid?” I questioned. “You never help me with Arch. I can take care of my children by myself, Dad. I don’t need to buy a house in Pasadena so you can stop over anytime you want. If you really want to see your grandson, you can add twenty minutes to your commute.”

Gina nodded quickly. “Brett, it's Christmas,” she ended, grabbing his arm. “We’re just worried about you, Atticus. We know that you’re capable and if you want to center your life in LA, then we support you.”

“My life is already there,” I told them both, relenting. “My job, Arch’s school, Ronnie. It’s more inconvenient to keep living in Pasadena. It just doesn’t make any sense to stay here.”

“We’re here,” Brett answered. “None of us are going to be gone months at a time, Atticus.” His dark eyes darted to Ronnie before settling on me.

I scoffed at him. “If I was going to use that logic, I might as well move to Las Vegas and live by Russell,” I muttered. “He’s home more than any of you.”

“Don’t make this into a joke,” Brett said, seriously. “You’re going to want family around when you have two boys to raise on your own.”

“The decision’s already been made,” I said, not leaving room for anyone to argue with me. “Arch, the baby, and I are moving into the city. I don't want to argue with you about this today.” I looked to Arch and he looked away immediately, turning his attention back to his plate.

"I'll be able to couch crash when my roommates piss me off," Max said, grinning at me from the end of the table.

"You'll also be able to babysit on short notice," I retorted, watching his smile turn into a simper.

I was relieved when my dad let the subject drop and didn’t mention it again. After lunch, we migrated to the living room, following Nico and Arch as they raced out of the room yelling about presents. Ronnie and I had decided to split Arch's presents between my parents' and his father's so that he had something from us to open at each place. His pile included the large present he was sitting on top of earlier and he ran right back to it.

"I want to go first!" he called when the rest of us came into the room and separated into our own areas. Ronnie and I moved to the floor near Arch where our presents were sitting.

"You can't go first," I answered, wrapping me arms around him. Ronnie helped me to the floor and then dropped down beside me, his knee pressing into mine. "We go youngest first," I told Arch. "Which means that Holland is first, Nico's second, and you're third."

"What number is the baby?" he asked, whipping around to look at me.

I chuckled, surprised by the question. "You don't get presents until after you're born, so he won't get Christmas presents until next year."

Frida shook her head. She was seated almost exactly across from us. "I wouldn't be so sure about that, Atti," she said, grinning. "I might've got a little carried away."

Surprised, I reached for the pile in front of me. They were all different colors and beautifully wrapped and I titled them towards me to check the name tags. I laughed obnoxiously when two of them were labelled 'Aaron/Atticus' and ‘Quentin/Atticus'. "Aaron and Quentin?” I asked incredulously. “Is that you attempting to name our baby?"

"I'm merely giving out suggestions," she responded, “and it's great timing too, since you two said that you haven't thought about it. You really better get on that because that baby will be here sooner than you know."

"Those are two we can cross off the list," Ronnie retorted, "Who in their right mind would name their kid ‘Quentin’? I'd never be able to look him in the eye."

"Okay, okay," Gina interrupted, “lets get to the presents! We only have so much time with you two and Arch before you have to leave and I want to get lots of pictures." Holland was seated in her lap with both their presents in piles in front of them. She reached for one of the baby's and handed it back. Holland knew what to do almost instinctively. With Gina's help, they tore through the paper.

Seeing the present, Gina checked the names on the tag immediately. "Atticus!" she barked, “you shouldn't have!" My dad leaned over and Gina flashed the LeapFrog box at him.

"I figure that Nico and Holland can both use it," I said. “Holland might still be too little, but it should help Nico a lot. Especially when she starts school."

Gina passed the little tablet over to her other daughter and Nico took the box gratefully, looking it over before handing it back and reaching for one of her own gifts. She went for the biggest one first and it turned out to be a helmet and pads for the bike that Gina and Brett had waiting for her in the garage. Dad rushed to show it to her and Frida opened her gift card while they were gone. Max mostly asked for cash and that's pretty much what he got.

I went after my brother and was excited to see a pile of baby clothes in the first box. There was a set of onesies and little baby boy pant-leggings. "They are adorable," I cooed, pulling them out of the box to show to Ronnie and Arch. "Thanks, Frida. I love them."

"I promise all your presents won't be for the baby," she answered, smiling.

"I wouldn't mind," I retorted honestly. "We're really behind on this kind of stuff. Heather and I went shopping once, but I've been holding off until we have a room to put everything. We had to put the gifts from the shower in Arch's room."

Ronnie got some kind of plaque from my dad that came from Epitaph. It commemorated one of his landmarks with the band and I was surprised by how thoughtful it was, coming from my father. We went around the circle at least four times and once the rest of us ran out, Nico and Arch finished off before helping Holland tear through hers.

I was gathering up the paper closest to us when Ronnie spoke up, wrapping his slim fingers around my wrist to stop me. "I've got something else for you," he said softly. He shuffled something out of his jeans and handed me a slender, rectangular box.

"What is it?"

Ronnie grinned, cocking his head slightly as he nodded towards it. "Open it."

I unravelled the ribbon around the box and and lifted the lid off . Inside was a key with a built-in fob. Four buttons shone up at me and I immediately knew what this was. "You did not," I deadpanned, shifting my gaze back to Ronnie’s. "What is this? What did you do?"

"There might be something waiting for you at the apartment," he answered easily. "You can see it when we get back from my dad's tomorrow."

"You can't buy me a car!" I argued, handing the key and the box back to him. "Are you insane?"

He grinned at me. "I can do whatever I want, Atticus, so stop being ungrateful and accept my Christmas present." He thrust the box back to me and Arch grabbed it before I could. He pulled the key out and held it up.

"I'll take it if you really don't want it," Frida said to me, eying Arch.

Seeing the look on my face, Ronnie brushed my hair back and held his palm against the side of my face. "You'll love it, Atti," he said easily, "and I'll love knowing that you and the boys are safe." He reached over me and slipped the key from Arch's hand, pressing it back into my own palm.

I closed my fingers around it wordlessly. Taking my silence as acceptance, Ronnie grinned and handed over the box that the key came in. We headed back to the kitchen with my parents when Max slipped in there with Kasey. Frida followed us into the oversized room. We propped the kitchen door open so we could see across into the living room where Arch, Holland, and Nico were playing.

We spent a good hour and a half with my parents and siblings, catching up with their most recent lives. We were seated around the island when Ronnie checked the time on his watch and flashed the face at me.

Catching the movement, Gina frowned at me. “You’re leaving soon?”

I nodded, sliding down from the chair so I could go tell Arch. Ronnie got up too and slipped his fingers between mine. “We have to be at my dad’s by six,” he answered for us both. “We have to get gas,” he said to me. “Do you want to run back to the house and drop off some of Arch’s new toys?”

I squeezed his fingers, nodding at the idea, and then slipped my hand out of his grasp. “I’m going to get Arch ready to go,” I said. “Could you start getting our stuff together?”

He agreed and we separated. The baby was sitting on the floor in the leaving room, propped up against the back of the couch. Her head was on a swivel as she watched her sister and Arch race around the room.

I reached for Arch, pulling him to me as he zoomed past. He shouted out against me and tried to wriggle free of my grasp. “It’s time to get all your toys together,” I told him, brushing his curls back from his eyes. “We’re leaving for Grandpa Russ’s soon.”

Arch cried out obnoxiously. “I don’t want to leave yet,” he denied, twisting in my grip to get away.

I turned him around to face me and he stopped trying to run away. “We never get to see Russ and Anthony,” I explained to him, knowing he was excited but overwhelmed by it all. “We only get twenty-four hours there so we need to make the most of it. If we’re late, then everybody will be waiting for us.”

Arch sighed loudly, but nodded and went to gather up his presents. When I straightened up, about to head back to the kitchen to get my things, I catch a glimpse of the Wilkins’ house through the trees. I faltered, unmoving, watching the building for any sign of movement. For Chance.

I hadn’t spoken a word to him for almost two weeks. Our last encounter had been at the baby shower and all I could remember was the look in his eye and the words he’d spoken and the question and desperateness behind them.

No matter how hard I tried to forget, how busy I was and overwhelmed by all these changes, Chance was still important to me. Still part of me and this new life. While Ronnie was gone, Chance was always there for me, more than that even. He was the kind of best friend I kissed every night on the doorstep when he finally stepped out into the darkness to go home.

He was the kind of best friend whose eye-color I memorized and could still picture when I closed my own. He was stormy-weather and downpours. For me, Chance was the quietness that came when the world was drowned out by unrelenting rain.

Despite everything, despite the dark-eyed man in the room next door who told me he loved me in every quiet moment, I still missed Chance. The way it’s easy to miss calmer days when the world is tightening in around you. Instinctively.

Arch, Ronnie, and I got packed everything back into the car. My parents walked us out and I tried to keep my gaze from lingering too long on Chance’s parents’ house. Ronnie lifted Arch into the backseat and then helped me, and as he started the car to take us away from here, I made a point to remember to call Chance, to apologize for treating him as though he was less important than everybody else.