‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


We went home on a Wednesday, finally able to introduce our son to the house we bought with him in mind. Getting Sascha home was a stressful event. Putting the baby in the car was simple – we were used to car-seats – but driving with him caused another round of anxiety for me and Ronnie both. The saving grace was the fact that the Cadillac was so large that it diminished the fear of being crashed into, but it was still a thought in our minds. I road in the backseat with my hands on Sascha the entire time. By the time we got Sascha home, I pulled the whole car-seat out and darted into the house.

Russ made the decision to stay with us for a few days after Sascha’s birth, and he was waiting at the house when we arrived home. He grinned at us from the couch and climbed up to say hello to Sascha.

“Arch went to school without issues,” he said happily. “He was a little squirrelly when he remembered that you two were coming home tonight with Sasch, but he’s looking forward to getting through the day quickly.”

Ronnie readjusted his grasp on the bags from the clinic and thanked his father. Russ was staying through the first weekend to help out with the older kiddo and ease the adjustment from one kid to two. With Sascha so young, he required so much attention, which meant that Arch, for the first time, wouldn’t be the center of everyone’s attention. But Russell’s presence helped negate that, and Russell stuck to Arch like glue.

We took our sleeping baby upstairs and introduced him to the white, gold, and brown room we designed for him. One large window in the far wall and introduced so much light into the space that the gold accents shined. The crib was long and slatted with white bars. The tiny mattress was outfitted in sheets of chevron in gold. The brown-striped blanket laid folded over the edge and pom-pom-like pillows in white and brown dotted the crib.

We stuck a small dark-brown dresser running beneath the window, which held the white lamp, humidifier, and an assortment of photos and decorations. Opposite from the crib sat an oversized white armchair and ottoman with a matching gold-stripped blanket. As we walked into the room, I took Sascha straight to the armchair and sat down with him in my arms. The closet was door-less and built into the same light-gray wall as the door. It was packed with baby clothes on tiny hangers, an open, white shelf that lined the bottom, and a brown and white rug thrown beneath.

Ronnie followed me in and tossed the gifts and hospital bags on the floor near the closet. Just by looking at him, I could tell that he was exhausted. His hair was limp and tied up and his dark clothes were wrinkled from sleeping in a chair for the past 36 hours. Despite that, he smiled and sat down on the ottoman at my feet.

“You should get some sleep before Arch gets home,” I said, nodding in the direction of his claimed-bedroom. “I’m just going to sit here with him for a while before I lay him down.”

Ronnie nodded idly. “Let me make you something to eat first,” he replied, climbing to his feet. He grabbed one of the throw pillows from the crib and tucked it beneath my arm and Sascha. Kicking his shoes off and into the hall, he left Sascha and I alone in the baby’s room.

The first few days passed in a wave of anxiety. I spent most of every night curled up in the armchair with the baby while Ronnie wrestled Arch to bed each night and then back to school in the morning. During the day, Ron and I alternated between napping and keeping watch, nervously unable to trust in a little machine to watch over Sascha. Neither one of us wanted to do it alone. On Friday, Ronnie left to take Arch to school and venture out to the store for the first time. I hadn’t left the house since we brought Sascha home, and Ronnie had only travelled back and forth for Arch. When the boys left, I carried Sascha back upstairs from the kitchen and took him into my own bedroom. I laid him between pillows next to me and crawled under my comforter, stretching out beside him.

I let the baby fuss quietly for a few minutes as I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of his mewling mingled with the almost silent sound of his breath. Without looking at him, the last few days seemed surreal. I had spent nine whole months with him inside of me, but I still wasn’t prepared for how completely I needed him now that he was here.

When a knock sounded on the door, I startled awake. The shock quickly disappeared when Chance peeked into the room and his cerulean blue eyes met my own. He looked disheveled and nervous, but gorgeous and adorable in how sheepish he was. He looked into the room silently, glancing around until his eyes met mine, then he smiled and breathed loudly, looking past me to the swaddled bundle.

“Hey,” he said, standing in the doorway.

“Hey, babe,” I answered breathily, motioning him inside. “Come in. What’re you doing here?” I sat up and crossed my legs, straightening out in my tank-top as he came and sat on the edge of the bed.

His tennis shoes squeaked on the tile as he closed the distance between us. I watched his eyes roam over me, cataloging the tangled hair, tired face, and casual clothes. I reached out a hand to him and took his fingers in mine.

He was obviously apprehensive and looked at me as though I was something new. I couldn’t imagine the thoughts that were running through his head. At the clinic, he’d seen me and the baby just long enough for me to ask if he would watch Arch for the night. Here, we were back in our real lives and the whole universe had shifted around Sascha. Chance loved me when I carried somebody else’s child, and I knew that wouldn’t change now, but exhaustion made me nervous as he looked at the child Ronnie and I created together. Sascha only made Ron and I closer, and I worried that Chance would feel as though that pushed us farther apart.

Chance’s eyes darted from Sascha to me. “You really look like a mom,” he replied, then shook his head. “I mean, he’s finally settling in, isn’t he? He’s really gorgeous, Atticus. I really can’t believe you made him.”

I grinned, letting out a puff of air and reached up to run my thumb over his bottom lip. “That I did,” I said, grinning at Chance as he stood motionless. “And now that’s he’s here, all I want to do is cry and sleep, honestly.”

Chance grinned back, taking my hand in his and kissing the center of my palm. “You and him both,” he said.

I slid my hands to the side of his neck and pulled him to me, feeling him smile as I kissed him. He kissed my mouth, and my cheek, and the edge of my jaw. His fingers tangled into my scraggly hair and he breathed into my skin, taking deep breaths and murmuring my name.

“I’m so relieved that you’re doing okay,” he said, smoothing down my hair with his palm. “You’re such a great mom, Atticus.”

I ran my fingers over the scruff along his jaw. “I’m sorry that I’ve been MIA,” I said against his skin. “Sascha is just as much work as we expected,” I joked. “He’s perfect though, Chance. I can’t wait for you to see that.”

Chance pulled back a couple inches to look me in the eye. “Sascha?” he repeated, grinning. “That’s really what you’re calling him?”

My jaw dropped in surprise and I shoved Chance away from me. “I thought I told you his name!” I claimed, shaking my head at him. “He’s Sascha. That’s what he’s called, Chance.”

Chance laughed and nodded animatedly, leaning back away before rounding back to me like a yoyo.

“Don’t make fun of his name!” I demanded, grabbing his wrists as he tried to cup my face and kiss me again.

Chance grinned and nodded. “Okay, okay,” he said, breaking free of my loose hold. “It’s a perfectly fine name, Att, really.” He ducked his head away from me and glanced back to the baby. “He’s definitely going to be the only ‘Sascha’ around.”

I grabbed Chance by his shirt and dragged him toward me, biting his lower lip. He let out a small hiss, but I stifled the sound with my mouth. He laughed into the kiss but didn’t pull back.

“You must really be tired,” he spoke, forehead against mine, blue eyes calculating. “You should try to sleep while you can, Atticus.”

I glared at him, but it didn’t have any malice, and it quickly desisted into a mild smile. “I need to try to feed him again,” I said, lifting him closer. His baby blue eyes were open, and I was startled by how much the color reminded me of Chance. Like the color never turned after the older man was born, and he walked through life with the same baby eyes and innocence.

Chance leaned closer to see his face, scooting up next to me. He wore gray long-sleeved footy pajamas with the hood pulled up over his head. It’s little bear ears stuck up from his head. His fingers were covered by tiny cuffs on the end of his sleeves and his ten perfect toes were hidden beneath gray and black spotted socks. Chance shook his head at the outfit, grinning. “You don’t waste any time,” he said.

“My kids don’t walk around looking like hobos,” I replied with a shrug. “He’s adorable.” I slid the tank-top strap off my shoulder and pulled the shirt down as far as I could, exposing my chest to my baby. Chance, slightly caught off guard, halted but thawed quickly, adjusting to our new normal.

I propped Sascha up on my arm with a pillow beneath him and lifted his little lips to my breast. Following the doctor’s instructions, I cupped my hand beneath my breast and plopped my nipple in his suckling mouth. Chance chuckled as Sascha whined, head thrown back against my arm.

Chance tucked one leg beneath him and gave me a look. “He doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing,” he said, grinning at me and Sascha.

I ran one of my fingers over Sascha’s cheek, encouraging him. “He’s figuring it out,” I said, brushing my fingers through his wispy baby hair before curling my palm around the back of his head.

Chance glanced from Sascha’s face to me. “How do you feel?”

I shrugged. “As good as to be expected,” I replied, “but it’s hard to focus on being sore when Sascha is right here reminding me what all the pain got me. They’re not kidding when they say it’s worth it. Even though he’s only been here a couple days, I can’t imagine life without him.”

“We’ve been waiting so long for him,” Chance answered, reaching out to still his finger into Sascha’s hold. Instinctively, Sascha curled his tiny digits tightly, eyes drooping, little mouth suckling.

In the week to come, our house became a hub of exhaustion and activity. Chance spent more and more time over, helping me and Arch while Ron helped with Sascha. Ronnie delayed going back with the guys as much as he could, but eventually had to pop into the label to check in on things which meant he spent more and more time away from the house. In the middle of week two when Ron was busy orchestrating his prolonged absence, my family started making their way through the house.

I was reveling in the feel of a hot shower while Chance kept Sascha company when the doorbell sounded. Pausing under the stream of the water, I listened for the sound of Chance and Sascha. I quickly rinsed out my hair, a little deflated as my rare alone time came to an end, and stepped out, wrapping a thick towel around myself. I stepped over the baby bath as I got out of the tub and wrapped another towel around my hair.

I stepped from the ensuite bathroom and into my room, jumping into a pair of yoga pants and an oversized sweatshirt. Letting my wet hair fall around my shoulders, I rounded the railing in the hall outside my bedroom and hopped down the stairs, careening around the corner into the living room, looking for Chance and Sascha.

I found Sascha in Chance’s arms in the living room. The older man sat on the couch with the baby in his lap, and my dad and the girls sat across from them, eyes trained on my son.

“Hey, guys,” I greeted, moving to stand behind the couch where Chance sat. “I didn’t know you were coming.” I rested my hand on Chance’s shoulder, reaching down to touch Sascha’s round face before straightening up and facing my family.

My dad nodded, smiling. “I was hoping to sneak in a few moments with my grandson before Ronnie got home. You know that man doesn’t want to share him with anyone.”

I chuckled and nodded, coming around the couch to lift Sascha from Chance’s lap. I handed him across to my father who moved nine month old Holland over to sit between him and Nico. Brett took Sascha cautiously into his arms and tilted him down so the girls could see his round baby face. Holland, too young to understand, glanced blankly at the baby, reaching out toward him with splayed fingers. Nico, almost five, pressed her baby sister’s hand down and reached out one of her own to touch her nephew’s curled fingers.

I stepped back and dropped down beside Chance, watching my dad and sisters get to know little Sascha. Dad talked to him like he was a little adult, introducing Nico and Holland and vice versa. “He’s so little right now,” Brett said to both the girls, “but someday he’s going to be as big as Maxy. He’s your nephew, Nic, and he’s a Gaschler, so we have to make sure he knows it.”

Nico nodded dramatically. “I love him,” she said, staccato words in her toddler voice. “My baby.”

Dad and the girls were the first group of family to come through the house. They broke open the floodgates and the others followed suit. Sascha got to experience everyone in his first few weeks of life. He grew more and more every day, and everyone wanted to witness his progress. By the end of his first three weeks, we were steady in our routine.

“Atticus!” Ronnie shouted up the stairs from the first floor. “Arch’s appointment is in forty-five minutes! Let’s go!”

I groaned loudly in annoyance, hoping he’d hear me, and stomped my way to the closet to get my shoes and jacket. Since Sascha’s birth, I’d only left the house here and there to pick up Arch from school when Ronnie was working and take Sascha to his doctor’s appointments. I knew it was necessary to take Sascha out into the world, but it was too easy to worry about him when we were around strangers and strange germs.

Today, however, we were going out as a big, makeshift family. Ronnie, Arch, Sascha, and I were going to Arch’s appointment with Ms. Lyla and his therapist and heading to the airport to pick up Ronnie’s brother and the boys. The plan was to get everyone out for dinner tonight. Chance, working during the day at the bar, was going to meet us at the restaurant later on.

I zipped my jacket up and darted down the stairs, glaring as Ronnie rolled his eyes in relief. He and the boys were ready to go, standing at the front door in their shoes and jackets. Arch matched Ronnie’s expression, blonde hair curling into his narrowed eyes. I bumped into him as I came to a stop, pulling him into me in a hug to wash the look off his face.

We ushered the boys out of the house and into Ronnie’s car – Ronnie doing most of the heavy lifting as I moved around to buckle Sasch into his car-seat while Ron lifted Arch into his. With both boys secure and ready to go, I climbed into the passenger’s seat and buckled up, eyes flashing back to Sascha as Ronnie headed through the city.

Arch jumped out of the car when we got to the office. I pulled the baby’s car seat from the stand and followed Ron and Arch inside, signing us all in at the front desk before moving to the row of chairs along the window, Sascha’s seat at my feet. Ronnie wrangled Arch onto his lap as we waited.

Ms. Lyla emerged from the back with Arch’s therapist, Mrs. Roseto, just behind her. Arch’s adoption had been approved, but he was still required to meet with a therapist every month when we met with Ms. Lyla to talk about Arch’s case and Abigail’s actions. Ms. Lyla, acting as Arch’s guardian since he wasn’t legally my son yet, was required to be in the room when Mrs. Roseto spoke with him, but they also afforded me the respect of being with Arch as well.

As Lyla walked out to the waiting room, she smiled in surprise at the sight of the baby carrier at our feet. Giving me a look, she closed the space between us. “You had your baby!” she exclaimed, moving closer to peek down at Sascha. “Oh my goodness, you two. He’s precious.”

Arch jumped out of Ronnie’s arms. “His name is Sascha Linus Radke!” he said, dropping to his knees next to his brother. “He’s twenty-three days old.”

“I bet you love being a big brother,” Ms. Lyla said to Arch, nodding between the boys. “It’s such a special role. You get to show him so much when he gets bigger. How awesome.”

Arch nodded right along with her. “When he gets bigger, we’ll be best friends,” he replied, lightly touching his sleeping brother’s cheek. “Right now he’s too little to be fun.”

The rest of us laughed. “He’ll be able to play with you when he gets bigger,” I promised, ruffling Arch’s hair. I nodded toward Mrs. Roseto, who stood near the walkway into the back of the office.

Arch and I followed the two women into one of the back rooms while Ronnie waited with the baby out front. My hands on his shoulders, I steered Arch into the room and sat down beside him.

“Hi Arch,” Mrs. Roseto greeted easily as she sat down across from us. “How have you been?”

Arch shrugged and glanced to Ms. Lyla. “I have a brother now,” he said, curling his fingers around the edge of the seat of the chair as he kicked his feet against the front of Lyla’s desk. I reached down and stopped his moment.

“I saw that,” the older woman replied, smiling kindly, yet awkwardly. “I bet that’s a big change. How has it been having a baby in the house?”

Arch frowned. “He cries a lot all the time,” he replied mutedly, “but he’s so cute and everybody really loves him. Everyone is always coming over to see him.”

“What about you?” Mrs. Roseto questioned. “What have you been doing since the baby was born?”

Arch answered, ticking the items off on his fingers. “Going to school,” he said, “playing with Ronnie, helping Sascha,” he stopped abruptly, running out of things to say. He looked to the dark-haired woman expectantly with his big blue eyes.

“That sounds like a lot,” the woman responded congenially. “Ronnie is Atticus’s boyfriend? Sascha’s dad?” She noted a couple things down on the paper in front of her, glancing back up to Arch through her lashes as he considered the question and his own answer. Internally, I grimaced, wanting to speak up before Arch could attempt to explain our complicated situation.

“Ronnie is Sascha’s dad,” I answered, running my palm along Arch’s back. “He helps out with the boys.”

Arch gave me a side-long look, knowing that I side-stepped the first part of the question in order to keep him from spilling too much of our business to this stranger. But he didn’t say anything else. He listened intently, albeit slightly bored, to the therapist’s questions and responded to each one. When dealing with strange authority figures, Arch was always somewhat reserved. His attitude gave off an air of uneasiness, which made it difficult to show just how well he was really doing. I couldn’t coach him to be more animated, but I hoped that his real feelings showed through the timid behavior.

After about twenty minutes, the sound of Sascha’s bubbling cries sounded from down the hall and Arch jerked to attention, sitting up straight on his knees and peering back toward the closed door. His worried eyes turned to me, and he moved to slide down from his chair. I put my hands on his knees and stopped him.

“Sascha,” he complained, huffing because he couldn’t go.

“Ronnie’s with him,” I said, calming Arch down. “He’s fine. We’ve got to finish up here.” I glanced back to the two social workers.

Arch huffed and threw himself back down onto his chair. “He’s crying,” he said, eyes darkening as he glared at the desk in front of him. Squirming in his seat, he moved back up to his knees and careened around to glance back to the door. Sascha’s cries weren’t consistent, and we couldn’t hear him anymore, but that did little to sooth Arch, who came running to his side whenever he cried.

“He’s hungry,” Arch said to me, giving me a look that suggested I better get out to the baby to check on him and feed him.

“Ronnie has his bottles,” I replied, turning Arch back around in his chair. “We’re almost done, I think. Then you can go make sure he’s good to go.”

Arch dropped back into his seat as Mrs. Roseta started speaking again. She asked him a few more questions about his home life and his house before turning her attention to school and asking about his teachers and grades. She seemed surprised to learn that he attended Nicolas, which was a well-known charter school in the area. Distractedly, Arch rambled off information about his class.

“Can I go see Sascha now?” he asked, practically bouncing in his chair.

Ms. Lyla nodded and got up to open the office door for him. “Go wait with Ronnie and your brother, okay? I want to talk to your mom for a few minutes and then you guys can go.”

Somewhat placated by the compromise, Arch hurled himself out of the room and down the hall to Sascha and Ronnie. The therapist also excused herself from the room, gathering her parents and murmuring a quick thanks as she went. When the door closed behind her, I turned my full attention to Ms. Lyla, feeling the typical anxiety of hearing about Abigail rise in me.

“Congrats on the healthy baby boy,” Lyla said, breaking the tension in the small office.

I immediately smiled, nodding my thanks. “Thank you,” I replied. “He’s definitely something.”

Lyla smiled and nodded politely. "Have you had any time to prepare for the meeting with the judge?" she questioned, reminding me of all the responsibilities that'd been pushed to the back-burner when Sascha arrived. "You should be finding out the date soon."

I shook my head. "We'll get on that," I promised. "It's just been a big transition these last few weeks, and we were concerned with getting Arch assimilated to Sascha and the changes. But we'll make time to talk about it."

"Okay," she answered easily. "As long as Arch knows what's coming and what to expect, I think it will go fine. I printed out some information for you and him that might help set your expectations for the meeting. The judge is going to ask a lot of questions about your home life. He has the information, but it's really just for him to get a better sense of the life that the child will be placed in. I don't see any complications - you're a great parent to Arch - but I want Arch to be prepared to be questioned."

I nodded along with her words. I had looked into what the court date would entail back when I first learned that we could go to court and request Arch's permanent placement, but I hadn't discussed the logistics with Arch. He practically already felt as though he'd been adopted, and now we just needed to make it legal.

Lyla tucked her severely cut hair back behind her ear. I could see her reluctance to shift the topic to something more stressful, especially since we were finally getting into a simple routine with Arch and the baby. As much as I didn’t want to think of the train-wreck that haunted Arch, there was nothing I could do to make it disappear.

“What’s going on with Abigail?” I asked. Neither Arch or I had seen her in months, since Christmas when she lashed out here in the office and ranted about her own pregnancy. It was then, because of that outburst, that the state no longer required monthly visits for her and Arch. We hadn't heard anything about her in over a month, at the last meeting with Ms. Lyla, where we were told that Abigail would have to prove she could adequately take her of her unborn baby. It was that baby's arrival which had signaled that she couldn't handle two children. So the focus moved to the unborn baby, and Abigail's case to regain rights for Arch was closed, giving me the opportunity to legally make him him after these years together.

Lyla sighed and straightened up at my question. She fiddled with a folder on her desk and then met my eyes. “She’s now about four months pregnant,” the woman spoke tiredly, exhausted by the drama that Abigail brought into everyone's lives. “The baby is due sometime in September. There have been some developments with Abigail, and as of now, the child will be placed into foster care at the time of birth.”