‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Day 146

Arch and I were right in the middle of getting his homework finished for the rest of the five day break when the phone rang. The six year old took it as an opportunity to take an impromptu break and raced into the living room to get my cell from the coffee table. I waited at the table and he walked back into the kitchen slowly, phone pressed to his ear, listening away.

“Is college fun?” he asked, and I immediately knew who he was talking to. “Are you going back?”

“Arch, hand it over,” I said, holding my fingers out to him as he stopped in the center of the kitchen, hanging on every world my little brother had to say.

Arch’s blue eyes settled on me, but he wasn’t quite ready to give up the phone. Instead, he ignored my words and spoke to Max again. “Can I come? I want to see college.”

I sighed and turned in my chair to face him. “What’s he calling about?” I asked, knowing it would be easier to have the information relayed than to try and wrestle the phone from the little boy.

Arch waited for Max to stop talking and then repeated the question over the line. Max must’ve told him to give me the phone rather than replying, because Arch handed it over without another word and climbed back into his chair to listen. I took the phone from him gratefully and put it to my ear.

“Hey, Max, what’s up?”

”Atticus,” he answered, ”is there anyway I can stay with you until I go back to school?” he asked automatically, surprising me.

“What? Why? Dad’s been talking about you coming home. He’s going to be upset if you don’t stay there for a few days,” I replied, wondering what this was all about, “and plus, why sleep on my couch when you can sleep in your own bed?”

”Dad won’t let Kasey stay with us,” he said, finally getting to the point of his problem and confusing the hell out of me, ”and she decided not to fly home for the break since she’s going to be flying home over Christmas and I don’t want to leave her in the dorms the whole break, Att.”

"Wait, why won't he let her stay there? She practically lived there all summer."

"It's a long story," he answered. "Basically he's pissed that I'm going to Wisconsin with Kasey for Christmas and is forcing me to spend this holiday with 'family'."

I rolled my eyes at my dad's antics. Max was his only boy and now that Max was out of the house, Dad was having a hard time letting go completely. Max's situation was similar to how it was when I moved out. Except I still saw Brett everyday. Max was already more independent than I was at his age.

“Max, you’re only fifty minutes away from campus when you’re at Dad’s, barely. We make the trek from Pasadena to LA all the time. I don’t see why Kasey can’t just sleep there and drive in for Thanksgiving or something.”

My brother sighed like I was missing the point entirely. ”Atticus, come on, just let us crash in your living room. It’ll only be for a few nights and then we’ll both go back to school until Christmas.”

“I’m not going to be the one to piss him off, he’s already not happy with me over some Ronnie stuff, so you’re staying with him. If Kasey doesn’t have anywhere else then she can crash on my couch, but I’m not having both of you here. There’s no room.”

”Fine, a compromise,” Max muttered, giving in. ”Can you pick us up from school today? I talked to Dad this morning and he said he can't make it out until tomorrow morning because of some Epitaph thing. And he's going to have Nico and Holland because Gina's not going to be back from her conference until midday, so you know he's going to be flustered. It's going to be a hassle getting him to stop at your place to drop off Kase's stuff.”

“He can run an entire record label and band, but he can't manage four out of five kids," I muttered, knowing what my father was like when there was holiday dinner to coordinate and children to look out for on his own. "You know I have my own life, Max,” I rebutted. “I have a very busy seven year old to look after, and lunch to make, and first grade homework to finish.”

“Come on, we can eat lunch up here,” he argued. ”Kase and I will be packed by the time you get here. Just call us when you’re out front. You can park in the lot since it’s a holiday break, so just come get us.” He hung up the phone and I sat there for a moment, dumb-founded by my brother’s assumption that I actually would.

But Arch was grinning at me, and I knew he’d heard just about everything. “We’re going to college!” he cheered, sliding from his chair. “I have to get dressed!” He slid on the kitchen flooring as he peeled out of there and I just watched him go, deciding that it’d be easier to go with the flow, even though my back hurt and I really just wanted to eat lunch and take a nap.

Arch picked out his clothes while I jumped in the shower. He decided on a partial school uniform. He wore the blazer, black jeans, one of his school shirts, and his little converse. He looked very collegian and was pleased when I told him so. I donned a pair of maternity jeans and a tank top under a zip-up hoodie. Arch brushed his teeth and hair while I dried mine, and no matter how fast I got ready, he always beat me downstairs, ready to go and waiting. I slipped into a pair of flats and grabbed my bag before heading down the stairs. He was up from the couch instantly and running to the door.

“College trips make me a good mom, don’t they?” I asked as I unlocked the car and he climbed in. “I mean, what other six year old has toured UCLA? Most kids your age don’t have college aged siblings.”

“I’m excited,” he said, grinning as I buckled him into his booster seat. “I want to see his house.”

“They’re called dorms,” I answered before shutting the door. I continued when I got in the front seat, “And I think he has a couple roommates, so I don’t know if he’s going to take us all up there to check it out, Arch.”

“But I really want to see it,” he answered. “I mean, I really do.”

“You can ask, but don’t be upset if he doesn’t want to. We can always come back another time.”

“How far is it?”

“About twenty minutes from Ronnie’s apartment,” I said, using a reference that he would know. “So about forty-five minutes from here, but it should go fast.”

The ride wasn’t as quick as I was hoping it would be, and Arch talked mostly the whole way, but when we got on campus, the little boy was taken with everything that he saw. Every sign and bike path was something new to him. It was a “college sign” and a “college path” and his eyes stuck to all the students as we slowly drove around to Hedrick Hall.

“That’s it,” I said, pointing out the nine story building to the child. “Max’s on the seventh floor.” I parked the car in the crowded lot across the street and Arch and I got out, the boy scrambling to his feet as quickly as he could.

I took his hand and let him lead me across the empty street. “How do we find him?” he asked, blue eyes big and staring at the building as people trickled in and out.

I dialed my brother’s number and he answered at his own leisure.

”Are you here?” he asked, sounding not the least bit concerned. ”I just talked to Kasey, she’s almost finished getting her stuff together. Do you want to come up for a minute?”

“Yes, Arch does,” I answered, watching my son’s grin get even wider, “He loves all this. We’re outside, so come get us.” I waited for my baby brother’s confirmation and then hung up. Arch was holding my hand, but he was barely staying on his feet. He leaped into the air and then leaned down into his excitement, eyes trained on the door to wait for his adoptive uncle to come outside.

“Arch, Atti.”

Arch was running to the boy automatically. “Max!” he cheered, stopping just in front of him. “I can’t believe I’m at your dorm!” He crossed his arms over his little stomach and grinned at the dark haired, nineteen year old.

“Me neither,” the older boy answered. “Do you want to see my room?”

Arch nodded quickly and Max reached to open the door for him. Arch stepped through quickly and Max waited for me, wrapping his arm over my shoulders as he led me into the lobby of the building. “Thanks for coming,” he said, both our eyes on Arch, who was peering at the hotel-esque lobby. “Kase felt really bad about this and was getting ready to just stay here for the break.”

“It’s not a big deal,” I relented. “Just give me more of a heads up next time.”

Max nodded and withdrew from me. “Can do.” He stepped ahead of me and caught up with Arch. He led us around to the doors of his tower and to the elevator that would take us up to his floor. He had to swipe his ID card in the elevator and click his floor number and then we were moving.

“Where does Kasey live?” Arch asked.

“Same floor,” Max answered, fingers absently brushing through the child’s shoulder length curls as Arch leaned into him. “She’s right down the hall from me.”

“You don’t live together?”

“Boys and girls can’t stay in the same rooms or use the same bathrooms,” Max answered.

Arch just nodded, waiting for the elevator to stop on the right floor. When it opened, he was quiet as he looked at the little lounge area. There was a group of people sitting around and they all looked over when we stepped off. Arch grabbed Max’s hand and a couple of the guys grinned, leaning closer to us.

“Yours, Max?” one boy joked, nodding at Arch, their eyes lingering on me.

Max rolled his eyes but was smiling. “Nephew,” he answered, lifting Arch’s hand. “Sister,” he added, pointing to me with his freehand and then at my stomach, "niece or nephew." He shook his head at his friends and tugged Arch away around the corner to the hall. I followed, offering the college students nothing more than a polite glance.

“Kasey’s room,” Max said suddenly, knocking on a wooden door as he stopped abruptly. There were handmade decorations on the door in sets of three. Hand turkeys spelled out the girls’ names and pumpkins and ghosts did the same, remnants of a holiday floor theme.

A girl I didn’t recognize opened the door and I knew she was either Cassandra or Maritsa from the names that were handwritten on the paper decorations. She looked over us for a moment, seeing me before recognizing Max. When she saw him, she let go of the door and it swung open. “Max,” she greeted easily, “Kasey ran to the bathroom, I think. I’ll send her your way when she gets back.”

“Alright, thanks,” he said easily, and headed down the hall again. Arch stopped for a moment and tried to see into the girl's dorm, but Max didn't give him enough time to get decent look. The dark haired college students tugged the six year old farther down the hall, paying no mind to the little boy's curiosities.

“Where’s your room?” Arch complained as we rounded the corner.

“Right here,” Max said, offering him a smile. He unlocked the automatic lock and pushed the door open. The room was a typical rectangle with one single bed and a bunk bed pushed to opposite sides. On the far wall were large windows and the stand alone dressers looked bulky and took up too much space. But Arch was grinning wildly.

“Which is yours?” he asked, motioning to the beds.

“The one by itself,” Max answered, dropping down onto the semi-made bed. “My roommates share the bunk. Ethan and Dev.”

“They went home?”

He shook his head at the boy’s question. “Just, Dev, I think. Ethan is from out of state, so he’s not leaving until winter break either.”

They chatted for a few minutes, Max showing Arch the little things about the room and explaining that there was no bathroom or kitchen connected. Sitting back on the bed, he reached to grab his cell phone from the standard wooden desk at the end of his lone bed as it dinged. He stood up after he read the message and responded, picking his backpack up from the floor along with a mesh laundry bag.

“You know Dad and Gina aren’t going to do that for you,” I said, pulling Arch back into me so that Max could slide by us in the narrow space.

Max moved to the armoire and opened it up, reaching for something inside. “I know, but it’s cheaper to do it at home rather than pay two dollars a load here.” He shrugged and slipped his backpack over his shoulder. “I figured I could stick my stuff in your car before we head to the dining hall.”

I shrugged. “How far is it?”

“Around the block,” he answered. “Kase is ready to go. I said we’d meet her by the elevator.” He picked up his keys and nodded towards the door and Arch and I shuffled out into the hall, stepping back from another student who was passing through.

I grabbed my baby brother’s laundry bag from the floor and told Arch to stay at my side. Max locked his dorm door, pushed his lanyard into the same pocket as his phone, and then took the bag from me, despite my objections.

We met Kasey at the elevator lobby and descended down to the main floor. I gave my brother my car keys, and he and Kasey headed out to the parking lot while Arch and I waited for them outside the dorm building. They were quick, using the key fob to locate the car, and then they hurried back to us, taking us to a dining hall that was still open during the break.

“Do you want to go to college someday?” Kasey asked Arch, the two of them walking on either side of my brother.

Arch nodded quickly, eyes trained on the large classroom buildings not too far off. “Yes! I’m really smart so I want to go to a big school,” he answered, blue eyes wide and excited.

“You should consider UCLA,” Max said, hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You could live in a dorm and go to classes and make tons of friends. I bet you’d love it.”

Arch frowned. “Will you be here with me?”

We laughed at the little boy’s question and Max answered. “No, I’ll be done before you get here, but I will definitely come visit you when it’s your turn.”

I grabbed for Arch’s hand as we turned to cross the road, but he pulled free and took Max’s instead, turning into the older boy to continue their conversation. “Where are you going when you’re done?”

“I don’t know yet,” Max said, “but you’ll be having so much fun that you won’t even be worried about where I am. You’ll be able to get your own dorm or apartment and figure out what you’re going to do when you’re done in college and move away from home completely.”

“Okay, okay,” I cut in playfully. “He’s only six, don’t be putting those ideas in his head, Maxamilian.”

The conversation quieted as Arch frowned and Max smiled and let us into the dining hall. He led us to a woman sitting at a computer and pulled his student ID from his wallet. “Two guest swipes and myself,” he said to her, letting her take the card from him. She handed it back to him and then took Kasey’s.

“So you can get whatever you want,” he explained, “and it’s all-you-can-eat, so you can come back for something else.”

Arch’s eyes were wide as he scanned the room. It was a huge buffet and a lot to take in. I could see the boy already weighing his options and I pushed him past the desert case and towards the actual meal options as Max pointed out a couple of things and then deviated to get his own.

“Anything look good, sweetheart?” I asked, grinning at him.

“Yeah! Can I have pizza?” He turned slightly towards the round station surrounding the brick pizza oven and looked back at me shyly, nervous to go over there and ask himself.

I nodded and led him over. There were multiple pizzas sitting out under heating lights, and I grabbed a plate for each of us. I already knew that he would want sausage and pepperoni so I grabbed him a piece and one for myself and then backtracked us to the pasta station.

There weren’t a ton of students in the dining hall, but there were definitely enough to make Arch curious. His gaze lingered on almost every group of them that we passed. We rounded the salad bar and Arch’s eyes landed on something else that fascinated him. “Atti, an ice cream machine!” he said, stopping in his tracks as he looked from it to me. “Can I please have an ice cream cone?” He grinned and turned back to face me, leaning against the salad counter.

“When you’re done with all of this,” I said, lifting our tray slightly. “That thing would melt before you could even eat it.” I started walking and he followed.

“Can I have a really big one when we leave?”

“As much as will fit on the cone.”

We found Max and Kasey at one of the tables in the center of the dining area and headed over. We set our plates down and doubled back for drinks. Arch was surprised by the fact that Gatorade came out of the same machine as soda.

“Atticus, thank you for letting me stay with you,” Kasey said when were were almost halfway into our meal. “It honestly means a lot that you’re willing to let me crash on your couch. I know that Max probably didn’t give you a chance to refuse, but still, I’m really glad to be spending Thanksgiving with you and your family.”

I smiled at the lighter haired girl. “It’s really no problem,” I replied. “And honestly, he didn’t force you on me or anything. We don’t mind having you. Are you upset about not being able to be home with your family?”

She nodded slightly. “A little bit. My mom is more upset than anything. This is the first year that we’re spending apart, so she’s not really handling it very well. She’s also just glad that I’m coming home for the entire Christmas break.”

“The whole month?” I asked, surprised. I caught the look that my surprise made her have and I spoke to clarify, “It’s just that I didn’t think Max was going the whole time. I thought you both were splitting the break in half and staying here for some of it?”

“I can’t do that to my parents,” she answered. “I haven’t seen my parents since the end of January, so they’re really ready for me to stop home. My siblings are going to be there for Christmas, so I can’t be the only one that doesn’t show up.”

“How many siblings do you have?” I asked. I didn’t know much about Kasey’s home life except she was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from high school one year before my brother.

“Two,” she said quickly, “but I also grew up with three step-siblings.”

“That sounds like a big family,” I said, honestly intrigued by the news. “How old were you when your mom remarried?”

She thought for a moment, trying to remember the exact age. I was sure that a lot of it was rushing back to her. I knew what it was like to be away from your family for an extended period of time, and I could only imagine how she felt knowing she was going to be in California for the next four years.

“I was seven,” she said finally. “Katy was ten and Kelly was around five. My step-dad is a really nice guy and his kids are about the same age as us, so we all fit really well together as a family. I’m actually pretty excited to get to go home and spend time with everybody.”

“Big families are an amazing hassle,” I answered, meeting my brother’s knowing smile across the table. Having four siblings felt like a lot, and even though we were split into two rounds, we still managed to consume a lot of each other’s time.

“I’m excited to see Nico and Holland,” Max added, nodding knowingly. “I can’t even imagine how big Holland must’ve gotten since I saw her in person last. I remember how quickly Nico grew and I was there to see her everyday.”

“Did you get the ‘five month old’ photos from Dad too?” I asked, referring to the pictures he’d sent me three days a go to commemorate Holland’s five month milestone. “He sent me probably around fifteen photos and she’s not even technically five months old until Friday.”

“I think he probably just realized it was coming up and got excited,” Max answered, confirming that he’d received them too, “but she looks so big.”

“When was the last time you saw your sisters?” Kasey asked between bites.

“Mid September, I think. We went back the weekend of Arch’s birthday party, and then I stopped home a couple weeks later to get something and they happened to be home with Paulie.”

Kasey smiled and nodded at her boyfriend’s words. I got up and made Arch an ice cream cone. I let him eat it on his way back to the car, figuring that it would be easier if he dripped on the ground rather than a table or his clothes.

It was a little over forty minutes to our dad’s house and I routed us there first, knowing that Max was bound to surprise Brett with our presence. Dad wasn’t expecting him home until tomorrow, when he drove out to get him. But my brother wasn’t one to stick to the plan, and I knew that my father would be happy just to have him home, even if Max planned on spending a lot of his time at my house with Kasey.

“Dad doesn’t know you’re coming, right?” I asked as we turned onto the street of our childhood home.

Max shook his head from the backseat, and I caught the action in the rear view mirror. “Nope, thought I’d just show up and surprise him for the holiday.” He sounded sardonically pleased and I could see the slightness in his eyes. “Do you know what time he’ll be home today?”

“Not sure,” I answered honestly. “Paulie’s had the girls these last couple of days so I’m not up on his schedule. I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t be getting in some time. I’m pretty sure that Paulie has Thanksgiving off, so she should be dropping Nic and Holland off pretty soon, and they're completely Dad's until tomorrow afternoon.”

He nodded as I parked in the driveway. Gina’s car was there, but she wasn't, nor was Frida. Brett had dropped them at the airport the day before so Gina could attending a meeting pertained to something with Epitaph and she wasn't set to be back until tomorrow afternoon. Since Frida was off of school, Gina took her to New York with her for a two day trip, squeezing in any touristy things between business. Our Thanksgiving meal had been pushed back to a late lunch to accommodate their return flight.

Max leaned into the front seat and pressed a sloppy kiss on his girlfriend’s cheek, and then mine before ducking back and opening the driver’s side back door. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said to all of us, lifting his backpack up and moving to the trunk to grab his things. “See you, Arch,” he said finally, before closing the back door and cutting across the front yard to the door.

I turned around in my seat the best I could and looked at my son. “Ready to go home?” I asked, watching him nod lazily. I smiled at Kasey and backed out of the drive, leaving my baby brother alone in the large, empty house.
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Hey guys! Finally found some motivation to write the next chapter! I hope you checked out the playlist that I talked about last chapter and that you enjoyed this. I know it was a whole lot of nothing, but it's moving the story somewhere. I hope to hear from you in the comments! I would love to know what you're thinking about what's to come!