‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


Ronnie’s fingers were sweaty between my own, and I could see the indents of his finger tips on the back of my hand as he held on, his forehead pressed lightly and nervously against my shoulder. He spent the night just behind me, watching with dark eyes as I screamed our son into the world. The hours of the night crept by excruciatingly slow as we waited for the go-ahead; my focus alternated between discomfort and fear, anxiety curling through my stomach alongside the pains of labor.

Ronnie’s dark hair was damp and curling against his forehead, sticking to my skin as he pressed another kiss against my head. I relaxed against the bed, my hand going limp in Ronnie’s with exhaustion. He held on for the both of us, watching the doctors as they talked amongst themselves.

Seeing Ronnie’s prying eyes, Dr. Ancari smiled at the both of us and lightly patted my leg. “You’re doing great, Atticus,” she said. “I know you’re tired and it’s been a long night, but give us all you’ve got in this next round and we’ll get your little boy into your arms.”

I nodded, battling to lift my head from the pillow. I groaned against the dulled feel of a contraction coming on, and Dr. Ancari readied herself, spouting more encouragements as she and the other medical staff shared a few looks and took their places.

Ronnie slid my hair back out of my face and turned so I could see him better. “You’re doing this, baby,” he said, tightening his grip on my sweaty hand. “You’re almost done, Atti.”

“Okay, Atticus,” the doctor spoke, focused eyes flickering to me. “You know what to do.”

In total, it took almost two hours to deliver our son, after nine hours of labor and waiting. At 1:37 pm on March 12th, the doctor lifted the baby from my body and set him in my arms. He was damp and heavy – dead weight in my arms. But his bursting cry belied his immovable little weight. I breathed out in a cry of my own, eyes watering in relief as his bare head burrowed against my chest. Wet, dark curls were pasted against his head, the twin to his father’s matted strands.

I looked to Ronnie, shaking from the feel of our son resting naked on my chest, cooing and crying from a culture shock of his own. The man’s dark eyes were startled, staring down at the child whom could’ve been pulled right from the day of Ronnie’s own birth. I couldn’t help but catalog all the ways he was me and the countless ways he was Ronnie.

Ronnie startled when a nurse pulled our child from my arms. With soft, reassuring words, she moved him to the scale to weigh, measure, and clean him up. Ronnie’s gaze followed him across the room. I grabbed his hand and pulled his attention to my bedraggled face.

“Is this real?” I whispered, glancing past my feet to where the baby cried out, reacting to the flux of water that rinsed the blood and gore from his baby skin.

Ronnie smiled and nodded, taking hold of my hand tighter. “You did it, baby,” he said. “He’s here, and he’s absolutely perfect.”

The nurse brought him back and handed him to Ronnie immediately. I watched with tired eyes as he cradled his child for the first time, readjusting the little hat they’d pulled down over his thick hair. Wrapped in a thin blanket, he was otherwise naked still, and I nodded to the row of bags that sat against the wall.

“Get his blanket, Ron, please,” I murmured, turning my attention back to the doctor as she returned to me and smiled, prepping me for the rest of what came with delivering a child. “Everyone will want to see him soon.”

Ronnie frowned at me, but stood from his spot next to the bed to give me a moment of privacy as the doctor and nurses walked me through the rest of the process. Ronnie changed the blanket and hat slowly, and came back to me just as exhaustion settled into my bones. He hadn’t stopped touching our son since the nurse set him in his arms, but he laid him out on my chest and sat down beside us.

Following the instructions of the doctors, I cradled him naked against my bare chest, unable to stop myself from trailing my fingers over his perfect pink skin. I traced a pattern down his bubbly little spine and to the curve of the plastic bracelet that branded him our child. After a while, one of the nurses came up quietly to the side of the bed and coaxed me through the process of getting him to latch and feed.

Ronnie watched, fascinated, and I grinned tiredly at the amazed expression on his face despite the nerves that coiled in the pit of my stomach as our child struggled to latch. Ronnie sat tucked into the corner of the room next to the bed and experienced it quietly in his own space as he watched his child try to feed for the first time. Another nurse stepped politely into the room to drop off and explain the paperwork for the birth certificate, leaving it on the table next to the bed.

When the baby fell asleep on my chest, having only a little success with feeding, we filled out the paperwork as carefully as we could, naming our child and brandishing him a history and a family. The first nurse left with words of encouragement about how difficult breastfeeding could be, offering for us to try again later.

“You have to get everyone,” I spoke as Ronnie gathered the papers back together so he could return them to the nurse’s station. He knew immediately who I spoke of – the mass of family and friends in the waiting room. They’d spent the last twelve hours waiting and wishing and praying for us.

Ronnie sighed, reluctant to break open the small, safe world this room made around us. Even as time passed slowly and amounted to more than we expected, it felt as though the day was suspended in time. Once we broke that, the real world would snap back into place at the speed of light and we would lose all the soft quiet moments of this first unfamiliarity.

When Ronnie left to hunt down the room that contained our family, I wrapped our baby in a new diaper and dressed him in his very first outfit. I tugged a white beanie over his clean curls and dressed him in a pair of asymmetrically patterned joggers and a striped fleece long-sleeve. We packed a hooded cloth and jean jacket for the ride home, but I slipped it on now, irrationally worried about making a good impression on the rest of our family.

Somehow, part of me realized that we were now our own branch of the family, and I wanted nothing more than for our family – mine and Ronnie’s – to love our child. While I was pregnant, I never considered how much I would love him, and I didn’t realize that I could love him more than I did when he grew inside of me. But seeing him move and breath, I wouldn’t let him from my sight ever again and I needed our family to love him too.

Dressed and looking more and more like a real, tiny human being, I counted my breaths as I waited for Ronnie and the others to come into the room. Unlike a hospital where we would’ve been moved to a new room after delivery, the clinic kept us in the same place the whole time. The space was cleaned after the baby was born, and our items were stacked neatly along the far wall. Seeing them there, I noted that I hadn’t cleaned myself up a bit, and then I wondered how I was supposed to do that when I couldn’t let my son out of my arms.

Instead, I lightly laid him in my lap, cradled between my knees, and retied my hair into a thick, messy bun on top of my head. Dressed in a pale pink gown and not much else, I tucked the blankets in around me. With the baby in my arms, it was hard to be tired, and I forgot all about my exhaustion when the door opened and Ronnie walked through with a nurse, my father, and Arch in his arms.

Seeing Arch’s blonde curls and blue eyes for the first time in twelve hours hurt some kind of way. Before the baby, before the experience of loving him instantly, I never felt as though I missed anything with Arch. He became my son in the only way we knew how – I loved him and I made him mine – but it wasn’t instantaneous and it wasn’t effortless, and seeing him here, I longed for the same moment of peace with Arch and hurt knowing that another woman had experienced such immediate love and let it all go.

“Hey baby,” I greeted, hoping I looked put together enough that he wouldn’t be frightened by the sight of me in a hospital bed.

The nurse made a bee-line for me and checked my vitals. She peaked at the baby, seemed to find everything okay, and then spoke. “We’re having two in at a time for now,” she said, meeting my eye. “If you want, I can send the others in for a minute so you can introduce your boy, but they can’t stay long.”

I nodded gratefully and turned my attention to Brett and Arch as she stole out of the room. Ronnie took in the sight of his son in his new outfit, smiling as he set Arch down on the edge of the bed.

My dad stood beside them, another of the important men in my life. I tilted the baby toward him, pushing down the hood of his jacket so that my father could see his face. “Hey, grandpa,” I greeted easily, offering the baby to him.

“Oh my god, Atticus,” Brett whispered, looking up to me with wide, dark eyes. “He is amazing. You did so good.”

“You got another boy,” I murmured, sliding his hat off his little head to show my father the precious curls that ran in Ronnie’s blood and the tousled chocolate and bronze color that ran in ours.

“My brother,” Arch said loudly, startling at the volume of his voice in the otherwise quiet room. He smiled shyly when we chuckled at him and crawled a little bit closer with Ronnie standing behind him. “He’s cute,” Arch said, reaching out slowly to touch the baby’s head with the tips of his fingers.

Ronnie nervously reached out too, but pulled his hand back when he saw how cautious Arch was. I caught Ronnie’s anxious gaze and smiled. He breathed out audibly and brushed his hair out of his face, reaching out to thumb the little jacket and tuck the hood better out of the way.

Arch jumped back, caught by Ronnie, as the baby let out a screech. His perfect little face scrunched up in distress, and Arch looked terrified and guilty. He touched the baby’s hand and shushed him over and over again.

“It’s okay, little baby,” he said, shaking his head and shushing him. “You’re okay little brother.”

“It’s okay, Arch,” Ronnie said, pulling him down from the bed so he could move into his place. He scooted up onto the bed with his knee bent and curled into my side and against our son. He slid the baby from my arms and into his own, cradling him against his chest.

Shakily, I moved over on the bed to make room for Ronnie to sit. Grinning as the baby quieted in his arms, he pushed himself over next to me so that we were flush beside each other in the hospital bed. He moved the baby into his left arm so that he was between the two of us, and my father lifted Arch up so that he was sitting in between our knees.

“How’re you feeling, baby girl?” my dad asked, coming around to my side. He placed his hand on my head and smoothed his palm gently over my tangled hair.

I nodded. “I’m happy he’s all good,” I answered, watching my son’s tiny fingers curl around one of mine. I reached out to Arch with my free hand and smoothed his curls, touching his face before taking his hand in mine and holding tight.

Looking over the four of us, my dad nodded and brushed his hand over mine and Arch’s. “Do you want me to bring everyone in for a few minutes? Ronnie’s dad is eager to get in here, so I’m going to at least switch out with him.”

Ronnie chuckled, unsurprised to hear about his own dad. He’d gone and seen his dad when he first arrived from Vegas, but hadn’t been back out to see everyone since our son was born.

“You can bring everyone back with you, Dad,” I said, glancing to Ron to make sure it was alright by him. He nodded lightly and moved the baby up higher in his arms. He was quiet now, with big round eyes blinking open and closed. When he yawned, Arch darted forward to peek in at the toothless gums and little pink tongue.

Arch was pulled up next my side by the time family started pouring through the door. Instantly, coos and awws filled the room. Russell was the first one through the door. He grinned immediately and made a bee-line for the baby in Ron’s arms, stealing a moment away before the rest of the Gurewitz clan made its way into the room.

“Oh holy shit,” Russ muttered, staring wide-eyed at his grandson. He coughed and glanced away, brushing his chin against his shoulder. “I can’t believe you’ve got a son of your own, Ronnie. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect boy.”

The rest of my family washed in like a flood. My brother and sister fluttered around me, hugging and crying and looking at my son like they couldn’t believe it. My mother carried both Holland and Nico, whom were wide awake and caught up in the commotion. Gina passed Nico to Brett and pressed Holland close to her nephew, laughing over the similarities between the youngest Gurewitz and the new baby.

When Heather stepped into the room with Aiden and Kyat, she practically screamed. She bustled through the room, through the crowd of visitors, and pushed herself close to Ronnie and the baby. Her blonde hair was tied up and wispy around her face, but she looked flawless despite the long night of babysitting and waiting.

“He is everything I thought he would be,” she said, shaking her head at the sight of him. “I’ve been waiting so long for him to get here and now I finally get to hold him in my arms.” She grinned at Ronnie and motioned for him to hand him over.

The baby made his way around the room – passed from person to person as he slept obliviously. They crooned over his round baby nose and long, dark eye lashes that brushed his flushed cheeks. Ronnie stood next to me anxiously as we opened a couple of gifts; his eyes never left his son as he was passed from person to person.

I grinned as I unfolded a fleece quilt from its gift wrap. The backside was all heather gray, but the front was quilted with swatches of red plaid, moose, and white pine trees. Speckled throughout were the words “Little Man.”

“I would’ve embroidered it with his name, but at this rate, he’ll be old enough to name himself before we ever find out,” Frida said, rounding back to my side as the baby made his way back into Ronnie’s arms. Her words reminded the others that we hadn’t yet told them the baby’s name, and all attention turned to us as Ronnie came back to me. Arch’s head perked up too, and his eyes darted between Ron and I.

“We’re getting to it,” Ronnie laughed, shrugging his way back onto the bed next to me and Arch again. He shuffled the baby back into my arms, and I soothed his coos and pulled the white beanie back onto his head.

Ronnie leaned down and dragged one of our duffle bags to us across the floor. From one of the inside pockets, he pulled out a dozen envelopes and got up to pass them out around the room. “Don’t open them,” he warned, eyeing my brother as he began to lift the envelope open. “They were just finished a couple hours ago.”

The envelopes were creamy beige and hand-written with everyone’s names on them. I watched Heather’s face as she collected hers and Aiden’s from Ronnie and flipped it around. My parents and siblings did much of the same, and Russell tapped his on the little table near the bed.

When Ronnie made his way back to me, he handed one to Arch, who beamed and tore the envelope open without waiting for anyone else. Ronnie reached out and grabbed it, stopping him before he could get all the way into it.

“Go ahead, everyone,” I said, laughing as Ronnie handed Arch’s back. The man settled back down beside me, leaning against the bed as we watched the faces of our loved ones while they opened cards containing the hand and footprints of our son, along with an image of his last sonogram and his full name written in cursive below.

I watched my dad’s expression as he read the name of his only grandchild. At first he seemed bewildered, surprised, and then he tilted it toward Gina, who read the name aloud.

“Sascha Linus Radke,” she said, looking up with dark eyes to my own brown gaze.

I grinned, finally hearing the baby’s name from someone else’s mouth. Ronnie and I had gone back and forth forever, trying to choose a name that would mean something to us and fit the child we’d never met.

“Sascha means defender and warrior,” I said to the room of loved ones. “And Linus refers back to the musician and poet who invented melody and rhythm.”

All at once, the room erupted in a series of replies and confirmations. I grinned at the response and nodded, answering back to the few words I could distinguish. Ronnie jumped in to do the same, grinning back at Sascha and our family.

“Are those real names?” Arch asked, practically whispering in my ear. “I’ve never heard them before.”

I reached out with my freehand and ran my fingers through his hair, smiling tiredly at his confusion. “They’re real names,” I replied easily. “’Sascha’ is a nickname for Alexander in Russia, and Linus is just very uncommon.”

Arch frowned at me. “Remember when I said he should be called ‘Alexander’?” he asked, recalling the day in the car from months ago. “Is his real name that?”

“’Alexander’ got us to ‘Sascha’.” I explained the process that got us from such a traditional name to something more unique and individual. Arch loved that his suggestion led to his brother’s name, and the family listened as I recounted the jumps we made until we landed on ‘Sascha Linus’.

It was over an hour before the nurse came in and cleared everyone out. While the clinic was more lenient than the hospital, they still couldn’t leave so many people in the room for such a long time. The baby and I would stay overnight one more time to make sure that he was feeding correctly and I was healing alright, and then we would take Sascha and Arch home to the house together for the first time.

As my family left with hugs and kisses and promises to visit after we had time to adjust to being home, Ronnie plucked Arch from his spot next to me and set him on the ground, motioning for him to get his things together. He’d shucked off his jacket and tossed it to the ground and kicked off his shoes in the same fashion, but he couldn’t stay in the hospital overnight.

Heather lingered with Aiden and Kyat to take Arch back home with them. Seeing the family waiting for him, Arch threw himself into one of the arm chairs and crossed his arms over his chest. “I want to stay with Sascha,” he complained, glaring daggers at the Hofstaters.

Ronnie dragged him to his feet. “The baby is going to sleep and eat,” Ron replied, stuffing the little boy’s feet into his shoes. “You have to go to school in the morning. You already took today off so that you could be here, but you can’t miss anymore, Arch.”

Arch tried to force back his tears but couldn’t. “It’s not fair,” he said, crying. “I’m the only one who doesn’t get to stay with the baby. You and my mommy are staying here again without me. I don’t want to go.”

Ronnie wiped the boy’s tears away. “Arch, you’ve got to be good now for Atti,” he said, lightly squeezing his shoulders, “and for Sascha. I’ve got to stay here and look out for them. You’ve got to go with Heather and Aiden for the night.”

Heather shot me a sympathetic smile from her space by the door. “We’re not so bad, Arch,” she said, shrugging at the little boy. “We’re going to make pizzas tonight after you read to Ky, and then we’ll have a movie night.”

“No,” Arch said, sitting down on the floor.

Ronnie caught him by the arm before he could sit down completely. He pulled Arch back up, but the boy wouldn’t stand on his own. “Arch,” he warned. “You can’t stay here tonight.”

Arch hiccupped another cry, but stayed mostly silent. He looked from Ronnie to me as he tried to pull out of the man’s grasp. I still held the baby in my arms, and I knew that Arch felt as though we were choosing Sascha over him. He’d never been shucked off for another child before, but he knew what it felt like to be given away.

“Ron,” I said gently as the two of them argued in a series of quick and stubborn replies. “Ron, you take him home tonight. He needs to sleep in his own bed anyway.”

Letting go of Arch, letting the child slip to the floor, Ron turned to me in shock. “You want me to go?” he asked. “Leave you and Sascha here alone tonight? That wasn’t the plan, Atticus. I’m not just going to roll up and pick you up in the morning. This isn’t a fucking Bed & Breakfast, and I’m not missing my kid’s first night because Arch is pouting.”

I gave him a look. I understood his point, but I also didn’t want to leave Arch without one of us. Especially without Ronnie. Arch worshipped at his feet, and I could already see how hard it would be for Arch to share him. Ronnie’s total attention shifted to Sascha the minute I went into labor, and while Arch was just as much my child, he wasn’t technically Ronnie’s. There was nothing holding them together beside the bond – not blood or paperwork. While the man loved him, he had never made the decision to be Arch’s father, unlike with Sascha, who was every bit Ronnie’s. I couldn’t make him miss out on these moments like I had missed out on Arch’s.

I sighed and nodded to Ronnie. “Okay,” I conceded.

Ronnie yanked Arch from the floor and into his arms. “Your boyfriend can stay with him,” he said, giving Arch a hard look as he tried to wiggle out of his grasp. “He’s in the waiting room still. I’ll take the kiddo for some lunch and you can ask him.”

I blanked, just now remembering the dark haired, blue eyed man who’d spent the entire night and day waiting to see if I was okay. I nodded dumbly to Ronnie, who, already annoyed by Chance’s presence, sighed dramatically and carried Arch out of the room.

Heather and Aiden said quick goodbyes, hugging me and murmuring quiet baby words to Sascha who was beginning to fuss in my arms again. I set him in the tiny bassinette next to the bed and said my goodbye and thanks to Heather and Aiden, completely alone with Sascha for the first time.
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He's finally here!! Sascha!