‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


“Atticus, do you have enough room in the car for another box?” Ronnie asked, coming down the stairs to the first floor with one in his arms.

I nodded slowly, glancing to where Arch was asleep on the couch. Trying to sell the house was more of a nuisance than we thought it would be. People were constantly coming and going, which didn't work well when we were still living here.

Living in the house made it nearly impossible to keep it perfectly clean for when people came through. Since Rob arranged four showings for this weekend, we decided to spend a few days at Ronnie’s apartment to get out of the way. Luckily, Rob gave the keys to the LA house today so we could drop boxes off on our way over.

“I can probably fit one more. Do you have room in the Escalade for the last couple? We don’t have time for a second trip,” I said as he stopped in front of me and set the box near the other two. “My dad wants us at his house for dinner tonight, remember? And the girls are coming back with us tonight since my parents are going to the Epitaph New Years party.”

“Is it cool if I sit dinner out?” Ron asked. “We're trying to figure out what's going to happen next and Brett is still pretty pissed that we're off schedule. I'll take your stuff to the apartment and pick up the place before you and the kids get back.”

I grinned at his hopeful rambling. Dinners with my father notoriously went wrong for tiny reasons. “That’s fine. Thanks for letting me bring Nico and Holland. When my dad asked, I either had to tell him I wouldn’t be home tonight and why or just roll with it.”

Ronnie told me not to bother thanking him and commented that he was excited to spend some time with Holland. While he and Nico were impossibly close, he hadn’t spent much time with Holland since she was born. He’d been on the road for most of the last six months and he’d only been with her around my parents since his return.

The plan was to make one more trip to make to the house before Arch and I went to my dad’s. There boxes were jumbled mixes of toys, baby stuff, and clothes. The baby items that’d been piled up in Arch’s room since the baby shower were the first things to go to the house and were now sitting in the baby’s designated room. I’d also pulled a lot of the expensive stuff out of the house since people were going to be in and out of the house all weekend.

We made our payment on the house two days ago, so we were good to go to pick up the keys from Rob today. We hadn't met the original owners of the house, but they’d wished us well when we finally closed on the house. Today was the last day of the year and although we were a little behind schedule, we were close to being in our new house by New Years, like we'd planned.

“Can you wake him up?” Ronnie asked me, nodding to Arch. “Or I can carry him if you want him to sleep on the ride to the house.”

I shook my head and sat down on the couch next to the boy. I’d been busy cleaning his room earlier today, so he’d come down here to watch TV and clunked out. It only took a few minutes to wake him up and get his shoes and jacket on. He was as excited about seeing the house again as I was.

“Can I sleep there tonight?” Arch asked as he climbed into the backseat of my car.

I buckled him in and shook my head. “No, there’re no beds and we haven’t switched the electricity over, so there’re no lights. We’re going to stay at Ronnie’s tonight with Holland and Nic.”

“Can we stay when you turn the lights on?” he asked.

I shut his door and got into the front seat. On the side of the road, Ronnie climbed into the Escalade and started it up. He stayed parked, waiting for me to pull out of the driveway.

“You go back to school on Monday, Arch,” I told him. “You have to have a bed to sleep in and none of your uniforms are there. Plus, we’re not turning the electricity and water on there until we sell the Pasadena house.”

“You have my clothes at Ronnie’s,” he said. “Why can’t we take them to the there instead? And all of those people are seeing the house. One of them will take it from us.”

I knew I would never win against six-year-old logic. Brushing off his words with another, firmer ‘no,’ I pulled out of the driveway and into the street in front of Ronnie’s car. His Cadillac wasn’t jam-packed with boxes, but there were quite a few. Most of it was going to the house, but a suitcase each was continuing on to Ronnie’s apartment for the weekend.

Rob was already waiting in the driveway when we pulled through the narrow alley to the back of the house. We pulled into the space beside his vehicle and I took another look at our new home. Even from the back, it stood out among the others. The muted blue paint, thick wood turrets, stone, and white detailing worked better than I could piece together. I turned away from the house when I heard Ronnie pull in behind me and shut the car off.

Arch slipped his seatbelt off and jumped to his feet to get out. When I opened the backdoor for him, he ran straight up the steps to the sliding glass door, which opened into the living room. When he pulled on it, he realized it was locked.

“Open it!” he said, darting back down the steps to us. The back porch wasn’t very big, but it was wide. It ran about half the length of the back of the house. A narrow alley separated our street of houses from the ones behind them. The alley served as the only access to the fenced-in driveways.

Rob pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and held them out to me. “Welcome home,” he said and let me take them from him. “The sellers said to wish you good luck with your family and your future.”

“If you talk to them again, tell them thank you,” I said. “This house really is beautiful.”

Ronnie, who stood next to me, nodding towards the sliding glass doors. “Open it up,” he said. “We should get everything inside before you have to leave for dinner.”

I unlocked the door to my new house for the first time and let my son inside. Ronnie and I followed him in, following the sound of his voice as he yelled from the kitchen. I looked to Ronnie when I saw the gift basket on the counter. The dark-eyed man smiled and headed forward to grab the card as Arch climbed up onto a chair and began rifling through it.

“Dear, Atticus, Ronnie, and family,” Ronnie read, peering up at me over the card. “Welcome to your new home. We hope that you’ll grow and love it and think of it as a place where your family will always be together. We hope you enjoy the years you’ll spend here as much as we did. Congratulations, the Halbert family.”

I breathed out in a quiet, content sigh. This wasn’t just a house; it had been a home for another family and now it was ours. Ronnie set the card up on the counter and yelled as he pulled Arch off the counter. The child screamed in laughter and clung to Ronnie as the older man carted him away.

Ronnie paused only long enough to kiss my hair. “Lets go bring our stuff in.”

Arch grinned the entire time we spent pulling boxes from the cars and distributing them to different rooms throughout the house. When we let him take one of his boxes to the second bedroom upstairs, he said it was officially his. Officially our house.

At quarter to six, Ronnie popped into my new master bedroom and relayed the time. “You two should probably get going if you want to make it to your dad's by six-thirty,” he said, leaning against the door-frame.

Arch, who was helping me decide where we were going to put the bed, frowned. “Are you staying here?” he questioned.

“I’m going back to the apartment,” Ronnie answered, shaking his head. “I’ll see you guys later when you get back from Brett’s.”

“Can I go with you?” Arch asked, walking to the man’s side and peering up at him with clear blue eyes. “I want to play with Charlie.”

“No, Arch,” I spoke up, rebutting his question before he could melt Ronnie to his will. “You need to come spend some time with Frida and Max before you all go back to school. You can tell them all about your new room.”

Torn between his two options, Arch grudgingly nodded. I sent him downstairs to find his shoes and jacket, and grabbed my bag from the floor beneath the light switch. Ronnie didn’t step back out of the way as I tried to leave the room, but instead he centered himself in the doorway and looked down to me.

I recognized the hazy look in his eyes, the way reached for me but didn’t touch. He put his hands up on either side of the doorway and leaned down just a little bit. “I love you,” he said, quiet and sure, bridging the gap between where we were months ago and where we stood now. He spoke again, “I’m so fucking in love with you, Atticus, that I don’t care if you won't say it back. Just being here, watching you everyday, watching you literally grow my baby inside of you is okay for now.”

“Ronnie…” I trailed off, knowing that starting this conversation could never end well. There weren’t words that I could give him that he wanted to hear and as much as I tried to stop fighting him, this was one argument I couldn’t concede.

“It’s fine, Atti,” he said, shrugging just a bit. “I know where your head is at. You’re focusing on the boys - on taking care of our kid and making sure that they both have what they need. I love you and I’m grateful that I'm here for all this.”

He dropped his hands from the wall on either side of him and stepped forward until he was just an inch from me. His hands landed on either side of my stomach and he closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, his dark eyes met mine and he spoke, unapologetically.

“I’m going to kiss you,” he said. “Standing right here in this house that we bought together for our sons, I’m going to kiss you. Maybe someday, if I fuck up too much or we never happen, someone else will be in this room with you, but I’m going to be the first one to kiss you in this house.”

His one of his hands moved from my stomach to the small of my back and he pressed his tattooed fingers into my spine. The other moved to cup my cheek as he brought his face down to mine. Our mouths barely touched before I leaned away, pressing my palm into his shoulder to put space between us.

“If Arch sees, he won’t understand,” I said, unable to look at him as I stepped around him. “He’ll think it means more than it does.”

I didn’t look back as he spoke. “You’re the only person it means nothing to, Atticus,” he said.

“Don’t do it again,” I answered, stepping into the hall and turning to face him. “You can’t make those kinds of decisions for both of us, Ronnie.”

He nodded easily. "Okay."

“I’ll see you at the apartment in a few hours,” I told him, grabbing onto the railing that lined the stairs. “I’ll text when we’re on our way back.”

“Yeah, let me know when you’re downstairs and I’ll come down and get the baby,” he spoke, referring to Holland. “You shouldn’t carry her upstairs.”

I nodded and tossed the house keys to him. “Lock up when you leave.” I went downstairs and found Arch in the living room, working up the courage to peer into the fireplace chimney. “Lets go, baby,” I said, nodding toward the sliding glass doors that led to our car. “We don’t want to be late.”

Arch jumped to his feet and glanced back towards the foyer - the stairs. “Where’s Ronnie?”

“He’s going to lock up when we leave,” I answered. “You’ll see him later.” I ushered the little boy out of the house and into the car. The driveway was wide enough for me to back out around the Escalade and exit into the alley again. We had a forty minute drive back to my father’s house. Arch ranted about the house practically the whole way there.

“Can I paint my room?” he asked, having made his way onto the topic when he realized that the walls of his Pasadena bedroom were a different shade of creme than the LA house bedroom walls.

“We can talk about it,” I told him, knowing that the walls were recently repainted and fine the way they were. “But don’t mention the new house to anybody until I tell Grandpa, okay? Then you can tell everyone all about it.”

“Are you going to tell him when we go inside?”

“How about I tell you when you can tell him about it?” I offered, hoping that he wouldn’t blurt it out before I had a chance to warm my father up. In the grand scheme of things, I knew that my dad would be happy for me. The last time I’d bought a house, he’d been right there with me to make sure that everything went smoothly.

When we pulled into my father’s driveway, I counted the cars to see who was here. My brother and step-mom’s cars were both in the driveway. Max was still staying with my father until the dorms opened back up after break. I knew that being back home full time, even after just a couple months away, was yet again another adjustment for Max. Especially since there was another baby in the house.

We were fifteen minutes late walking in the door and, like usual, most of my family was in the kitchen, standing around the island. Used to the routine, Arch ran straight through the swinging door into the room, leaving me to follow behind him. I heard my family greet him before I even stepped into the kitchen.

“We were wondering when you were going to show up,” Frida said, grinning at me from the island. “Some of us actually want to eat sometime soon.”

“I do have a life outside of this kitchen, you know,” I answered in the same tone. I shot a smile at my brother next to her. “Hey, Max.”

The girls were sitting next to each other, Nico on a chair and Holland in her highchair. Their seats were pulled up to the island next to Max and Frida. Nico and Holland were the most gorgeous babies I’d seen. As Holland got bigger and bigger, it was obvious that she and Nico were full-blooded sisters. They had my father’s hair and eyes, like the rest of us, but their features looked so much like Gina.

“How are my beautiful sisters doing,” I cooed as I said hello to each of them before making my way around to Gina, who stood on the backside of the island. I hoped that I would bounce back from having a baby as quickly as she had. “You look great,” I commented as I let her pull me into a hug.

“So do you,” she answered, running her gaze down over my stomach. “By looking at you, I’d think you were ready to get that little boy out of you.”

“I am ready to get him out,” I replied. “He’s the one that’s not ready.”

Dad stood with Arch on the other side of my step-mom. He said a quick hello when he saw me looking at him and then asked, “No Ronnie tonight?”

I caught the tone of his voice and narrowed my gaze. “No, he’s busy,” I said, considering whether or not to segue to a conversation about the house.

“What’s he doing?” Dad asked, his tone even more confrontational than before. “I would think that as a man who’s about to have a baby with my daughter, he’d at least show up when he’s invited.”

“You two were fine at Christmas,” I complained. “Why do you only get along on holidays?” I frowned and pressed my palms into the counter top. “And he’s not even here, so can you just leave him alone?”

Reluctantly and probably a little surprised by my tone, Brett and changed the subject as he picked his phone up from the island. He spoke as he typed out a text to somebody. “It’s Todd,” he said mostly to Gina before looking up to me. “Do you remember Todd and Natalie from next door? I invited them to go to the party with us tonight.”

I nodded slowly, trying not to show my own surprise. At the mention of Chance’s aunt and uncle, my heart leapt into my throat. “What about their sons?” I asked, since my father didn’t know Chance’s history with his adopted parents.

“Their boys keep to themselves,” Dad said, frowning slightly at the thought. “I don’t think Todd’s that close with either of them, but I told him that he’s more than welcome to invite them. I’m sure Max can show them around Epitaph.” He glanced at my brother, who was obviously going with them tonight.

My dad’s definition of ‘close’ was ’suffocatingly overbearing,’ but he was right about Todd and Chance’s relationship. His uncle had adopted Chance’s half-brother when they were children and their father walked out, but Chance grew up with his mother. He didn’t reconnect with his half-brother and uncle until his mom got sick and couldn’t take care of him anymore. Spencer, Chance’s brother, moved in with Todd and Natalie when he was much younger and they raised him like their own son.

“Arch and I can’t stay too late,” I said, feeling like a coward for trying to slip out before any of the Wilkins’ arrived. “Plus, I’m sure you guys need time to get ready without having to check on the girls so often.”

“If you’re so eager to get out of here, then lets eat,” Dad said, moving towards the counter to bring the food to the dining table. I nodded and motioned Arch to his regular seat before helping Nico down from her chair.

“Don’t do that,” Max commented, coming around to grab Holland before I could pick her up and take her to the table myself. She had a tall highchair for the island and another one that clasped onto the dining room table. Max shot me a look as he moved her to her other chair.

“You’re as bad as Ronnie,” I told him, taking my seat at the table. “He won’t let me carry anything and now he’s researching when pregnant women should stop driving.”

“I drove throughout my entire pregnancy,” Gina said, coming to the table with the last of the plates. “I don’t know how we’re expected to get around if we can’t drive ourselves.”

“Ronnie would be happy being my chauffeur,” I said, annoyed at the thought. “All this week he’s been offering to drive me absolutely everywhere. Pretty soon he’s going to start carrying me all over the house.”

I could tell that my father wanted to make some comment about Ronnie, but he couldn’t think of anything rude to say. As much as Ronnie’s mothering annoyed me, I knew my father supported it. Even if he didn’t support Ronnie.

“Are you two back together?” Frida asked casually, grinning at me from two seats down. “Every time you talk it’s Ronnie-this and Ronnie-that.”

“He’s the baby’s father,” I retorted. “He’s been around a lot to make sure that everything’s going okay. Obviously I’m going to mention him here or there.”

“I’m just saying,” my sister said easily.

Luckily, the conversation shifted to another topic as Max asked about the party tonight. My brother’d never been to one of my dad’s label New Years parties since he was always underage.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go, Atticus?” Dad asked, rounding the conversation back to me. “There will be plenty of people there that you recognize from the label. I’m sure there’s quite a few bands that’ll be happy to see you again.”

“Do you know which bands are going?” I asked, wondering if I’d signed any of the attendees.

Dad nodded, listing off longtime label mates. None of them were people I signed, but I did know a lot of them from time spent there and it would’ve been nice to see everyone again.

“I can’t go,” I said. “There’s no one to watch the kids.” Both my parents were going, as well as Max. Frida wasn’t capable of watching three kids on her own and Paulie, my parents’ nanny, had holidays off. That left me.

“I’m sure we can figure something out if you want to go, Atticus,” Dad said, already reaching for his phone to make some calls. “We could even bring them with. I’m just no one would object to the boss bringing his kids along.”

Frida frowned. “If Holland, Arch, and Nico get to go, then I’m the only Gurewitz who won’t be there. How’s that fair?”

“You want to come and play babysitter?” Dad asked across the table. “We can set you and the kids up in one of the studios with a movie and you can hangout there.”

Frida glared at him, causing him to smile. “I’m not going to hide out in the kids room at one of the biggest New Years parties in Los Angeles,” she said bluntly.

“Dad, it’s fine,” I said. “It’s really short notice and it really won’t bother me if I don’t go. Just say hi to everyone for me.”

When we finished dinner, Gina went upstairs to pack the girls’ overnight bags and I helped my dad clear the table as Max went to pull the carseats out of our dad’s car and put them in mine. Per my request, Frida took Arch and Nico to the family room opposite my father’s studio and put a movie on for them. The goal was to wind them down as much as possible before we all got back into the car.

Halfway through putting dishes in the washer, Dad dried his hands and pulled his ringing cellphone from the pocket of his jeans. He flashed me an apologetic smile and answered as he slipped through the swinging door towards the living room.

I loaded the rest of the dishes when he was gone and then headed in the same direction so I could get to the family room. Dad intersected me in the foyer and headed towards the door.

I could barely ask him what he was doing before he pulled one of the doors open and stuck his head out. I moved to his side and looked down the driveway, eyes landing on three of the Wilkins’ as they headed toward us.

“I thought you weren’t leaving for awhile?” I questioned quickly, trying to keep my voice level. “Aren’t they driving themselves? Why are they coming over here?”

“Atticus, calm down,” Dad said with a laugh. “Todd just wants to get directions. We’re all leaving in about a half an hour. I figured I’d give him a run through of the party before we get there.”

I looked outside again and my gaze landed on the one person I was hoping to avoid. He saw me too and stopped short. His blue eyes darted back to the driveway for a moment before looking back at me. I broke eye-contact and took a step back as my dad welcomed them into the house.

“Todd, Natalie, it’s great to see you. I’m so excited that you’re coming to the party tonight. And Chance, I’m glad you decided to accept the invitation. I know Max will enjoy having someone to pal around with. Your brother didn’t want to come?”

Chance hadn’t pulled his eyes off me. I wasn’t even sure if he’d heard what my dad said to him. I shook my head almost unnoticeably, urging him to reply - to say anything at all. Finally, he shook his head as well and looked to my father.

“Spence isn’t big into parties,” he answered. “Neither am I really, but I’m meeting up with a few of my friends there. You guys actually signed them this year.”

Surprised that he hadn’t already known this, dad asked, “What’s the name of the band?”

“Pariah Conviction,” Chance said, eyes shooting back to meet mine. This was something else that I hadn’t told my dad. Chance cleared his throat. “I helped organize their shows before they got signed.”

“Atticus, didn’t you sign them? From what I remember, you highly recommended them.” He looked to me, eyebrows raised as he waited for my answer.

I nodded. “They’re good,” I said calmly. “They deserved to be signed.” I glanced to Chance’s pseudo-parents. The last time I’d seen them was at my baby shower. They’d seen a terse interaction between Ronnie and Chance and I didn’t know how much they’d pieced together. I couldn’t gauge anything from their expressions or their reactions to me, but I knew that they would’ve asked Chance about what happened that day and he probably would’ve told them something.

“You two never ran into each other?” Dad asked, oblivious to the tension between us. “Atticus, you went out there at least a couple times.”

I hadn’t told my dad about Chance, but I’d never straight out lied to him about it either. I’d never told him ‘no’ when the answer was really ‘yes,’ and now it was either explain or lie.

“I’m sorry,” I said, shaking it off like I hadn’t heard the question. “I’m going to go make sure that Arch and the girls are ready to go.”

As I turned around, Chance said my name. The familiarity of his tone caught the attention of everyone. I turned around as the cogs clicked into place for his parents. My father looked more confused than ever.

“I’ll walk with you,” Chance said, glancing at our parents. “I want to know how PC are doing at Epitaph.” His excuse seemed to mollify my father, but I caught the look on Todd and Natalie’s faces as Chance came to my side.

“I didn’t see your car outside,” he said, the two of us moving towards the hall and away from our parents. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”

“I got a new one,” I answered, barely looking at him. I stopped outside the family room and leaned against the way. Taking Chance inside the room with me, where Arch was, would cause even more problems.

Chance nodded slowly, almost absent-mindedly as he reacted to my words. “I didn’t know that.”

I struggled to find something to say. “Chance, I-“

“You guys do know each other?” my dad asked, standing in the mouth of the hall. “How else would you know what kind of car you drive?”

I’d expected him to take the Wilkins’ into the kitchen or living room, but instead they stood behind him, crowded into the mouth of the hallway that led to the family room, my father’s studio off, and out to the backyard.

“Dad,” I started, “It’s really not-“

“Really, Atticus?” Chance cut in, anticipating the direction of my words. “I’m tired of making excuses for you. Tired of pretending that I have no idea who you are or what you’re going through.”

“What is going on?” Brett asked seriously, catching up only a little bit. “How well do you two know each other?”

Chance’s expression peaked, waiting to hear my answer to the million dollar question. He stepped back along the wall so that he was angled to face me directly. My father watched him move, trying to understand the sudden change between us.

“Chance, do we have to do this here?” I asked, grimacing as my father spoke over me, demanding an answer. “Yes, Dad, okay?” I said quickly. “I know Chance. We met when I went to sign Pariah Conviction and we got close, but I can’t explain our relationship status to you before I even figure it out for myself, okay? So please, cut me a break.”

I looked from my father’s stunned expression to Chance, only to have my dad interrupt again.

“You two were together?” he asked, expression blank as he processed the information. “You’ve been lying to me?”

“I didn’t lie to you,” I argued, shaking my head at his misplaced concern. “I met Chance before they even moved in next door. The fact that they did is honestly just the cosmos screwing with me, Dad. Maybe I should’ve told you that I knew Chance when I realized they moved there, but my relationships are my business.”

“A ‘relationship’ sounds pretty serious to me, Atticus,” Dad retorted. “You could’ve at least mentioned that you were seeing someone other than Ronnie -“ he stopped short as the gears started spinning in his head. I frowned at him, waiting for the rest of his argument to come. Finally, he spoke again, his tone drastically different.

“Atticus, is there’s a chanc-“ he stopped himself when he realized he was about to use Chance’s name in the sentence, “- a possibility that Chance is the baby’s father?”

Chance’s parents, who’d been watching quietly since my father first called me out, jumped to attention. Their gazes moved from the boy they considered their son to my stomach, my son.

Chance and I both knew it wasn’t possible. His expression didn’t change.

“No, Dad, goddamn,” I replied, flabbergasted that he would spit that out in front of all of these people. I didn’t know Chance’s parents, his adopted ones, at all and for my father to question whether or not I knew the father of my baby in front of them suggested so much about me. “He’s Ronnie’s,” I stated.

Dad spoke as he counted up the months in his head. “Atticus, are you sure? Ronnie wasn’t here for months. How do-“

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Dad,” I said darkly, irritated and fed up with his questions, “but I’m having Ronnie’s baby. There’s nothing you can say or do to change that. There’s no way that Chance is the father because I was already pregnant with another man’s baby by the time Chance and I ever had sex.”

Dad frowned, realizing how angry I was. He recoiled at my tone and the bluntness of my language. “Atticus, I’m sorry, but I needed to ask, because if there was a possibility that-“

“That I’m not going to be tied to Ronnie for the rest of my life?” I interjected again. “You’d love that, right? Because you’d rather have some guy you barely know as the father of my baby than Ronnie. You used to love him too, you know. You used to talk about him like he was the best thing that ever happened Epitaph. Now whenever he shows his face, you make him feel worthless for going against your rules and dating your daughter, like that’s the most important thing in the world.”

“It’s not that simple, Atticus. I know how hard all of this has been on you. I have a right to be upset about how he’s treated you.” Dad stepped forward as he spoke, looking at me like I was insane for not understanding he was holding grudges when I wouldn’t.

I shook my head, shook those thoughts out of my head. Both of us made mistakes. Neither of us knew how this was all supposed to go. I’d hurt him multiple times and he’d reacted. I had no right to hold how he felt against him.

“He’s not a bad guy,” I told my dad. “He’s done everything he possibly can for me and this baby, and for Arch, who’s not even his son. He probably wouldn’t want me to tell you that he helped, but he’s the reason I’m moving to LA with the boys, Dad. We found a house and we bought it this week. Ronnie paid for most of it actually, because he saw how much I love it and how much I want to raise his son there. He’d do anything for me and we’re not even together.”

Chance made this sound in the back of this throat, somewhere between a cough and a whimper. I looked up to him immediately, expression softening as I saw his. He immediately closed himself to me.

He nodded, bouncing on his heels like he couldn’t stand still, couldn’t bottle everything up. “That’s great, Atticus,” he said when he saw me looking at him. “New car, new house, new baby. You’re practically a whole new person. No wonder you didn’t remember to call me.”