‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


Arch’s post-Christmas visitation with Abigail went about as smooth as I expected it to, which was not at all. In the morning, hours before we were supposed to leave, Lyla Ains returned my call to inform me that we did indeed still have to go despite the new information.

No one passed along more information about Abigail’s pregnancy or what it meant for Arch, so I wasn’t sure how to act around the woman or what she would say to the boy. When I pressed Lyla for details, she promised that Abigail had been told that she wasn’t allowed to talk about it with Arch, and that’s all Lyla could tell me.

After everything, it was obvious that Abigail was losing her grip. Another baby wouldn’t solve any of her problems. In fact, it would only create more issues for everyone involved. Lyla had been in and out of meetings with the lawyers for a couple weeks now, trying to come up with a plan for this baby and Abigail. All I wanted to know was how this would affect my son, but that was the only information they didn’t know for certain.

Missing a visitation wouldn’t look good for our case, so I woke Arch up around nine and popped him into the bath before he was conscious enough to argue. As much as I didn’t want to go, Arch wanted it even less.

Part of me wanted to call Ronnie to come and help me deal with this, but he was busy bouncing between house viewings and Epitaph, still dealing with the fallout from missing the last leg of his tour. This was something I needed to handle on my own. Running back to Ronnie wasn't option, especially now, in the wake of how complicated things were between us.

Arch pouted the entire morning. After his bath, he refused to dress himself or go downstairs on his own. I had to pull the baby card to get him to the first floor of the house. Carrying him wasn’t an option, so he complied begrudgingly.

I adopted the same attitude when it came to driving the new car parked in my driveway. It was so much nicer than my car before so driving my own felt like a childish rebellion. Ronnie already moved Arch’s booster seat from mine to the new one as his way of encouraging me to accept his present.

Arch was all for it. This morning it was hard for him to pretend that he didn’t want to get in. He’d been consistently thrilled about it since we brought it home from Ronnie’s apartment. The white Kia Sportage featured a digital screen in the center of the dash, charcoal black leather seating, and a double-length sunroof that Arch adored. It was big enough to seat five with additional, optional third-row seating that folded down into the back.

I knew that Ronnie put a lot of thought into the vehicle. The crash-test ratings were off the charts and the seating made it possible to hold Arch, Nico, Holland, and the baby when it came. Overall, it was gorgeous and functional and I knew, even before I saw it, that I would be crazy to reject it.

Arch climbed into his newly designated seat in the back. He sat directly behind me. Behind him, the third row of seats was hidden beneath the floor.

Like always, we had to meet Abigail at the Child Protective Services building. She hadn’t shown up for the last two visitations, in hindsight: since she’d gotten pregnant, so Arch hadn’t seen her in awhile. It was the lull in visits that made this one even harder for him.

The building was deceiving in its welcomeness. I’d been here too many times with far too many outcomes to appreciate the sight of it. Behind me, Arch continued his silent protest. He sighed loudly in discontent when his eyes landed on the meeting place.

Arch didn’t know about Abigail’s pregnancy because Lyla, Ronnie, and I decided that it was best not to tell him in the midst of all this. I was grateful that Lyla also believed that not telling him was the best option. I hadn’t admitted it to anyone, but I worried about how Arch would react. If he’d want to know his mother, if only to know his biological sibling.

It was horrible to wish that Abigail wasn’t having a baby. It was selfish and cruel of me to hope that she never had more children. But Arch was so ingrained in my life now that that the idea of sharing him with anyone else hurt.

As Arch and I walked inside, me practically dragging him in by the hand, I contemplated the improbable idea that Abigail would ever exist separately from us. As much as I wanted a life with Arch that was also free of her, she was the woman who’d brought him into existence. His identity now, after this series of events, was starkly different from the child Abigail raised for three years, but she would literally always be part of him.

Their relationship was so distant that I knew Arch would never openly go back to her, at least not at this age, when it really counted. But I knew that his relationship with a sibling would change everything. And I worried that I didn’t know him enough to know if he’d go back to her just for that connection.

Arch practically rooted himself to the ground when we got inside. He glared at the receptionist like she was the gate keeper to hell. I left him transfixed and signed us in, asking to speak with Ms. Ains before the visitation began.

The woman at the desk promised to alert the social worker that we’d arrived. I turned around and moved to the rows of chairs along the wall. Arch followed me wordlessly, slipping into a seat that was deliberately one away from mine.

Lyla greeted me when she appeared from the back. I didn’t know if she’d been in her office or with Abigail, but she looked disheveled enough to alert me to the fact that things still weren’t alright. She called Arch and I back, holding off the conversation I wanted to have by asking the little boy about his holiday.

“Did you have a good Christmas?” she questioned, smiling at him as they walked practically side by side.

Arch nodded, blue eyes serious and unrelenting. He didn’t say a word. I didn’t offer up any apologies for his attitude. I hoped that Lyla noticed how now, more than ever, his anger was more potent than any six year old should be able to muster together.

He radiated contempt like an angry little furnace as we walked down the halls. He threw harsh glances at everyone we passed, like he anticipated that any of them could be Abigail and he didn’t want to give her even a second to believe that he was okay with this.

I wanted to take all his anger and absorb it, so that maybe he might have some semblance of a normal childhood. But any chance of that had been wrought from him the moment she didn’t show up to take him from daycare two and a half years ago. I’d seen his entire array of emotions as he worked through them with thoughts too complicated to belong to such a little boy.

Out of all of the things he’d felt in the last couple dozen months, anger was the most productive and the most dangerous. It allowed him to build walls that would separate him from any future hurt, but also separate himself from me as well. Just as he turned his anger on me this morning, he didn’t understand that neither of us were very good at directing our pain toward the appropriate people.

Arch seemed to realize that as he turned his glacial blue stare from Lyla to his biological mother.

In all the times I’d seen them together, brought them together even, Arch had been distant and aloof, but this wasn’t that. Arch was more connected to all of this than I’d ever seen him. He let his anger tune him in to everything he’d been through and he pointed it all at Abigail.

I watched as the woman recognized the emotion in the child that used to be her son and she paled, watching him with cautious eyes. She looked worse than I’d seen her since the beginning of this mess. Her brown hair was greasy and her cheeks hallowed out under pallid, freckled skin.

In the snapshot of their life together, Abigail never quite recognized Arch the way she did now. Never saw him as his own person, but instead, an extension of herself and her husband. In the three years of his life with Abigail, Arch had been Arch Drewry, their son, and in the almost-three years since, he’d floundered for that same unfailing sense of identity.

Today, he rejected her completely.

The visitation got cut short by the fact that Abigail spiraled into an uncontrolled version of herself. As unstable as she was, it was a miracle that she managed to keep all the details of her recent life from Arch during her conscious conversation with him, during the parts that weren't as easy to explain away. Lyla told her not to tell him, but I spent the entire meeting worried about what words might slip from her lips.

Arch didn’t speak to her at all and it was his deliberate ignorance that pushed her to her breaking point.

“What’s the point of living for a child that won’t speak to me?” she asked, climbing up from the small table where she sat with him, trying to coax him out of his intentional silence. “Why am I trying so hard for my son when he’ll barely look at me?” Her exasperation heightened to the level of an emotional outburst as she continued. Arch’s eyes widened as her voice got louder; it was the only reaction she earned from him all day.

I reached around the woman as she cascaded into hysterics. Lyla was already on her feet, trying to quiet and console the woman. I grabbed for Arch, willing him back to me before Abigail’s distracted, disconnected rant could turn on him.

He ran straight into my arms, wrapping himself around my stomach like a tiny little shield, looking over his shoulder at the stranger who used to be his mother.

Abigail noticed his eyes on her for the first time and she heaved a sigh, slipping away from Lyla as the woman tried to corral her. “And you, Atticus,” Abigail spoke, saying my name with an easy familiarity that hadn’t bubbled out of her all this time. “You are so lucky - so lucky. You’re so easy to love, I guess. You walk around with my son and he loves you in a way that I doubt he ever loved me. Did you love me, Arch, ever? Even before your daddy died? I’m sorry, Arch.”

“Abigail, that’s enough-“

The woman talked right through Lyla, looking at me with an expression of alertness that wasn’t clear at all. “It’s a boy,” she said, switching topics as quickly as they came to her, “You’re having a boy. With your ex-boyfri- fiancé. My lawyer told me that you’re having a son, a brother for Arch. I can’t imagine another boy, really. I’m hoping for a girl, but I don’t want to know until it’s time. I don’t always trust people around my babies, and I’m sure you can understand why that is.”

I stood up from my spot, keeping my hands on Arch as I tried to push him from the room. I wanted nothing more than to pick him up and run away, but the baby made that impossible. Arch dug in his heels, trying to keep himself between me and Abigail.

Lyla tried again to cage the woman, to stop her tirade before it became more than rambled words and heightened emotions. I held onto Arch, fisting my fingers in his t’shirt. She was too close to him, the room too small for any separation.

“Arch won’t have a father with you either, Atticus,” Abigail said, drawing me back into her conversation. “I used to believe that it was your boyfriend that made him want you more than me. He would have a father with you, but not anymore, right? You don’t love him anymore and so you took him from Arch the same way his father was taken from me. We had no control, did we, Arch? We both just want you to have a daddy.”

She looked at him as she spoke, but I doubted that she could see him. He held strong and I watched him process the words without making sense of them. I pulled him around Abigail, close to the door where Lyla called into the hall for someone. She blocked our way out, so we paused close to her and Abigail took it as a chance to continue.

“The baby will have a father,” she spoke, callous eyes landing on my stomach, “and your son has a father, but Arch will never have one again.”

Lyla turned back into the room, sliding out of the doorway so someone else could enter. I didn’t take the time to see who it was, I just moved Arch out of the room, hoping to the gods that he hadn’t had time to contemplate any of her last words. Abigail’s voice rose again, this time in anger, and I slammed the door shut to keep it from Arch.

He looked stunned, face pale and expression blank as his eyes scanned the hallway. I tugged him down and away, into a spot that put space between us and them. I got to my knees, brushing his curls out of his face as I turned his eyes to mine.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” I said, running my hands over his cheeks, down his neck, arms, and shoulders to take his hands. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

Arch nodded, slowly coming back to me. After a moment, he said, “I hate her,” and his eyes landed on mine with the same stark anger he’d carried with him the entire day.

I nodded, validating his emotions, and pulled him into me, needing just to hold him like it could erase those words from his mind. How much more damage could she do to him? How much more would they let her get away with?

I left a note with reception, telling Lyla to call me, and then I took Arch out of there. Took him home to the people who loved him more than Abigail would ever be capable.
♠ ♠ ♠
Trying to get back to where we were asap. But there are some changes in this chapter.

Also, check out the rewrite: Trouble-Maker. If you're interested, make sure you subscribe and recommend. :)