‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


“Atti, just let me stay in the guest room,” Ronnie complained, traipsing down the stairs behind me. “You’re supposed to be on bedrest. Let me stay and help you with Arch.” Lightly, he held onto the back of my sweatshirt, peering nervously over my shoulder as I avoided his gaze.

“You’re three blocks away,” I replied, shrugging him off of me as I stepped down onto the first floor and rounded into the living room. The TV played idly and my blankets were laying in a pile on the floor where I dropped them. I tossed my phone down onto the couch cushions.

“Three blocks is a far when you can barely make it up and down the stairs,” Ronnie replied, crossing his arms over his chest. “It took you fifteen minutes just to go upstairs and get your phone. What happens if your water breaks and you can’t make it to the phone?”

I glared at him, easing myself back into my spot. “I’ll send Arch up to get it,” I said with a shrug as I turned my attention to the TV. “He knows what to do, Ronnie. We’re not helpless.”

“He’s six, Atticus,” Ronnie replied, bracing himself on the coffee table. “I know you don’t want help, but you need it anyway. I’m tired of worrying about you and the boys, Att. Just let me be here. I’ll camp out in the guest room and help with Arch and our baby when he gets here.”

My attention shot to him. “You want to live here when the baby comes?” I questioned incredulously, shaking my head at the thought.

“Just for a few weeks,” he answered, leaning forward toward me with his elbows on his knees. “I want to be here for my son. I don’t want to miss the first days of his life, Atticus. Even if I’m three blocks away, I’ll still miss putting him to bed, feeding him through the night, and getting him up in the morning. It’s going to be exhausting, and I’ll feel like shit if I’m not here for it.”

I frowned, muting the TV behind him. “Are you being serious?” I questioned. “Or are you just saying that because you think I can’t do this on my own?”

Ronnie sighed and moved from the table to the couch next to me. He slid his fingers between mine, holding my hand in his lap. “I’ve told you a hundred times that you’re the best mom I know, Atticus, and if anyone needs help, it’s me. Honestly, I just want to be there with you and our son.”

I reached up with my freehand and tucked his hair behind his ear, caving at the earnestly of his request. With a nod, I pulled the blanket up and tucked it around him too. “Alright, Ron,” I said. “You can stay here for a while once the baby is here.”

Ronnie frowned at my condition. “That’s any day now, Att. Just let me bring some stuff over and stay here tonight. I can make dinner and occupy Arch while you nap or shower or something.”

“All I do is nap and shower,” I replied, leaning over so my head was against his shoulder while I unmuted the TV. “I actually like taking care of Arch. It gives me something to do with my time.”

“Dr. Ancari told you that you’re not supposed to be taking care of him yourself right now,” he said, wrapping his arm behind me. “When the baby gets here, you it’s on you to feed him, so let me make dinner for the boy tonight.”

I chuckled at Ronnie’s words, knowing he wasn’t sure how to feel about that fact that I’d decided to breast feed our son for as long as it was possible. While it provided a free and healthy alternative to bottle feeding, it also meant that Ronnie wouldn’t be able to have that experience with him until he was old enough for solid foods.”

“You can change his diapers after his feedings,” I joked, patting his chest. “You better start practicing. I’m sure Holland or Nico would let you borrow one of their baby dolls. Nova even has one of those fancy ones that simulates a real one.”

“You’re hilarious,” he muttered, shifting back to look me in the eye. “I’ve changed diapers before. You forget that there are kids in my family.”

“I haven’t forgotten about the Radke boys,” I retorted. “I just can’t imagine that you every changed a single diaper for your brother or Amanda.”

Ronnie looked to me, eyebrows raised, and then grinned. “It’s not that hard though.”

I lightly elbowed him in the side and then shifted toward him the best I could. “We’ll see. With you being here, you’ll be able to take Arch to Heather’s when my water breaks. I don’t want him sitting in the clinic the whole time so Aiden is going to watch him until Heather gets off work.”

Ronnie frowned at me. “I’m taking you to the clinic. I can’t take Arch.”

“You can take me and then run him over there,” I replied with a shrug. “Heather’s isn’t that far away. You can come right back after you drop him off with Aiden and Heather.” I pulled the blanket up around my shoulders, watching Ronnie’s rebuttal filter through his expression.

“I’m not leaving you, Atticus,” he said, shaking his head at the whole idea of it. “Once we get to the clinic, I’m staying by your side the whole time. Arch can wait there until Brett shows up, and then your dad can run him over.”

“You really think Brett is going to leave once he gets there?” I asked. “Or Max or Gina for that matter? I can’t even convince them to wait until the baby is born before they come to the clinic. My dad practically has Holland and Nico’s nanny on call.”

“Well then she can take Arch,” Ronnie answered. “I’m not leaving you alone at the clinic, Atti. If your family doesn’t have to leave, then I certainly don’t. See if Heather can pick him up when she gets off work.”

“No,” I refuted. “He’s going to Aiden when my water breaks. Out of our entire family, somebody needs to take him and you’re the one most likely to listen to me, Ron.”

Ronnie grinned at me, challengingly. “Your boyfriend will listen to you,” he said, eyes shining. “Have him take Arch to Aiden and Heather. He doesn’t need to be at the clinic.”

I shot him a look at his tone. “I will ask him,” I replied in the same way, “but he is going to come when the baby’s born, Ron.”

Ronnie rolled his eyes. “Of course he is.”

I sighed and pushed Ronnie away from me, groaning as I heaved myself up from the couch. “I need to pee,” I said, nodding toward the half-bath off of the kitchen. “Then it’s time to get Arch from Nicholas.”

“I’ll drive,” Ron answered immediately, jumping up from the carpet. He moved around to me to get to his shoes, letting me make my own way to the small bathroom.

When I came back into the living room, he was at the sliding doors with my keys in his hands and shoes on his feet. He held my jacket out to me. “Rain’s not letting up.”

After over two months, I was used to how fast we could get to Arch’s school from the house, but still amazed by it. The LA traffic didn’t impact much when you didn’t need to utilize the highways, so riding back and forth from school, home, and Ronnie’s was a breeze. When we got there, Nicholas was packed with cars and parents, so Ronnie found the nearest place and slid in parallel to the sidewalk. He’d taken to coming everywhere with me, playing the role of silent watch-dog every minute – afraid to miss the moment that would kick-start the next stage of our life.

Just last week, I’d added his information to the list of people who could pick Arch up from school, bringing it to a total of three: me, him, and Brett.

“I should add Chance to Arch’s list if he’s the one taking him to Heather’s,” I said idly as we walked into the building, maneuvering around kids of all ages. When Ronnie didn’t respond, I looked his way, finding his eyes on some of the kids along the edges of the halls.

Bringing Ronnie to the school was an interesting experience. It was obvious that most people were surprised to see a six foot one, dark-haired, black-clad, tattoo-covered man walking through the halls of an elementary school. But his image was easily soothed by my presence at his side.

We spotted Arch in the doorway of his classroom, wearing his coat over his uniform and peeking down the hall. When he saw Ronnie, then me, he barreled out to us despite the classroom rules, throwing himself into Ronnie’s arms. “My brother isn’t here yet?” he asked, looking to me immediately. He wrapped his arms around my neck, hugging me tight to him as Ronnie supported his weight. “I’m tired of waiting for him.”

“He’ll be here when he gets here,” Ron replied, pulling Arch back into his own arms and straightening up. “Don’t rush it, man.”

The three of us headed back to Arch’s class to sign him out, and I made greeted his teacher, Mr. Santana, after he lightly scolded Arch for running out of the room on his own. “You know better, Arch,” he said, lifting the little boy’s backpack from the floor and handing it over.

“Mr. Santana, this is Ronnie,” I introduced. “Ronnie, Javi Santana.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Ron said, shifting the boy to his left arm so he could shake the teacher’s hand. “Arch mentions you a lot. It’s cool to put a name to a face.”

“Same here,” Mr. Santana replied, looking between the blonde child and dark-haired adult. “Although, I did think that ‘Ronnie’ was one of his friends from the neighborhood. I didn’t realize that you were an adult. Arch talks about you like you’re his best friend.”

Ron grinned at the boy. “We’re pretty close,” he said, smoothing the child’s curls with the palm of his hand. “We’re going to hangout tonight and go see Ms. Lyla.”

Arch groaned loudly, attempting to fall back in Ron’s arms. He let his backpack fall to the floor with a thud. The singer held Arch up, encouraging him to sit up straight and deal with the night like a big boy.

I swiped the bag from the floor. “If we head out now, we’ve got time to stop for dinner on the way,” I said, unabashedly bribing the child to cooperate. Ron and I said goodbyes to the young teacher and carted Arch out of the school, managing to get him in his booster seat before he could fight us on it.

“Why didn’t you tell me that we have to see Ms. Lyla,” Arch demanded from the backseat, arms crossed over his chest as he pouted.

“Because I wanted you to go to school without whining,” I replied, grinning at him in the mirror as Ron drove toward the family services building downtown. “It’s just Ms. Lyla again today, Arch. She and Mrs. Roseto just want to check in with you.”

The actual visits with Abigail were suspended following the Thanksgiving meeting while the agency tried to figure out what to do with her case for Arch. They’d confirmed her pregnancy in the last couple of months and decided to keep Arch separate from her so that she couldn’t try to sway him to her with thoughts of a biological sibling.

Weekly meetings with Lyla and a therapist were the compromise.

“Why do I have to see Ms. Lyla all the time?” Arch questioned, kicking his feet against the back of Ronnie’s chair. “I don’t want to talk to her and that lady anymore.”

“It’s part of the adoption, baby,” I replied, knowing that was one way to get to him cooperate. Because of Abigail and the complications she brought, the process was moving extraordinarily slow, but it was moving as they tried to verify Mrs. Drewry’s capacity to parent not only Arch, but her unborn baby as well.

Arch didn’t complain after that. He just sat stoically in the backseat and watched idly out of the window as the city passed by. He hated every aspect of the adoption process, but wanted to be adopted more than anything in the world. As his foster parent, he was safe with me, but still legally under the guardianship of the state of California, and they could give back to Abigail whenever they wanted. It was impossible to be his mother when I can no say in his future.

We were in and out of the clinic in an hour, partially because Arch barely said a word to Lyla or the child psychologist. When the psychologist was done speaking to him alone, she and Lyla walked him out to the lobby where Ronnie and I sat, and then asked to speak to me in private. I hugged Arch to me, brushing his thick curls out of his eyes, and then told him to wait with Ronnie as I followed the two women back into Lyla’s office.

“How is he?” I asked as the woman shut her office door behind me. I sat down on one of the chairs in front of her desk and offered both women a polite, yet nervous, smile.

The psychologist spoke as Lyla made her way to her seat. “Arch doesn’t say much,” she told me, folding her hands in her lap. “But what he does say is all about you and school. He seems to really like the school he attends, and he told us all about his new bedroom.”

“Yeah, he loves the new house,” I replied, nodding nervously, “and he has a lot of fun at Nicholas. I’m really proud of how well he’s doing there. His teacher, Mr. Santana, loves having him in class and the administration is really taken with him as well.”

Mrs. Roseto nodded. “I’ve seen the progress report from Nicholas and the character witness statement from the school’s headmaster. She speaks really highly about you and your relationship with Arch. When it comes to discussing you, he has no problem. But he blatantly ignores any mention of his mother, Abigail. It’s worrying that he suppresses his feelings about her.”

I frowned. “He doesn’t suppress them. He just doesn’t like her. She’s put him through a lot, and continues to do so. Of course he doesn’t want to talk about her.”

“I understand that.” Mrs. Roseto nodded. “But he needs to learn that not talking about her doesn’t guarantee that she stays out of his life. We need to make an effort to help him accept that Abigail is his biological mother, and whether you adopt him or not, that won’t change. He’s going to have these memories of her for the rest of his life.”

“I’m not comfortable talking about Abigail with him,” I replied. “Not like that. I’m not going to tell him that he has to accept and forgive her. I’m twenty years older than him, and I haven’t forgiven her for everything.”

“Atticus, you don’t know if Arch is going to be adopted or reunified. Mrs. Drewry is pulling pretty hard to reinstate her parental rights and chances are, she could be successful.”

Mrs. Drewry abandoned Arch at daycare three years ago and is pregnant with a second child that she can’t take care of. You tell me if that sounds like a woman who is about to regain the parental rights to a child that I’ve been raising for the last two years.”

Mrs. Roseto sighed, and I caught the look on Lyla’s face. “Mrs. Roseto,” Lyla said, “I need to speak with Atticus in private about Arch’s case. If you’ll excuse us, we’ll resume this conversation next time.”

The older woman pinned me with a hard look, her expression schooled into nothing, then nodded once and got to her feet, tucking her paperwork into the briefcase at her side. “I’ll see Arch again next month,” she spoke.

She left with a few pleasant words to Lyla Ains and excused herself from the room. Through the open door, I glimpsed Arch curled up on Ronnie’s lap, his arms wrapped around the singer’s neck. Ronnie held him idly, curled into one arm and held his phone with the other. Both of their eyes were trained on the little screen. I turned back to Lyla when the door anchored closed.

“Atticus, there’s been some change in Abigail’s petition to halt your adoption of Arch,” she spoke. “Another social worker has been assigned to the case of her unborn child, and they’ve began a case study into her mental capacity to nurture and provide for an infant.”

“You just said a whole lot without really telling me anything,” I replied, folding my arms over my chest. “We already figured she was pregnant, what’s that mean for Arch?”

“It means,” Lyla started, “that since she doesn’t currently have parental rights toward Arch, the unborn child becomes our first priority when determining her ability to care for a child. What that means is that until she’s deemed fit to maintain rights of the new baby, she cannot be reunified with Arch, which gives the State of California the right to have Arch adopted out.”

I coughed into her words, surprised and relieved by the sudden admission.

“Atticus,” Lyla said, a hint of smile on her face. “You’ve jumped through all the hoops in dealing with Abigail and you’ve kept Arch’s best interest at the forefront of every conversation. And because you’ve demonstrated your ability to provide for and love Arch, we’re officially going forward with your adoption paperwork. You and Arch have to appear in front of Judge Conway in a couple of months to officially begin the process.”

“Oh my god,” I muttered. “Oh my god, Lyla. You let that psychologist bring me in here and talk about how nothing was for certain, and then you decide to tell me that we’re one court date away from official adoption? How could you do that to me?” I trailed off, tilting my head toward the ceiling as tears burned my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Lyla said, smiling across the desk at me. “It’s mandatory that the child psychologist speak to you following a session with Arch. And yes, if everything remains smooth sailing, you’re on track to adopt him.”

“What about Abigail?” I asked, gripping the sides of the chair to keep myself in place. “She didn’t just decide to let it go. She has no right to contest the adoption anymore? This new baby just makes it all a moot point?”

Lyla frowns at the questions and then folds her hands together and places them on the desk. Her expression is always the same when she explains the legality behind the decision-making. “If Abigail was deemed fit to care for the new child, then she would be eligible to refile for rights of Arch, but as of right now, she cannot regain custody because the second case takes priority and makes her ineligible. So, since it’s been three years she relinquished her parental rights, the state allow the child to be adopted.”

I stumbled over my words, feeling a crack in my chest wheeze as I breathed in and out in quick gulps. After months of stress and waiting, of Abigail’s delusional actions and outbursts, her decisions are what ruined her chances of taking Arch from my house. Her decision to get pregnant a second time, to mimic my life, solidified Arch’s adoption.

“What about her child?” I asked, feeling the weight of Arch’s biological sibling. “What happens if Abigail is deemed incapable of parenting?”

“The child will be seized by the state and put into foster care until Abigail is able to prove her fitness as a parent, the father is located, or until the child can be adopted into a new family,” Lyla said somberly, imaging another round of hardship for Arch’s biological parent. “She has a few months to prove that she can care for an infant.”

“I don’t want Arch to know,” I said. “At least not right now. I want this to be good news. I don’t want it to be overshadowed by the thought of another sibling and foster care. Arch is just going to be able to stop thinking about those things. I don’t want to make it harder on him.”

Lyla nodded. “That’s your decision as his parent.”
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