‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Stormy Nights

Chance roused next to me, his sigh disappearing into the pillow as he pushed up onto his elbow and turned his sleepy gaze to me in the dark. I scrambled up to the edge of the bed, barely on my feet before Chance’s slim fingers grasped my forearm.

“Ronnie’s got him,” he said. “That’s what he’s here for. Let him make himself useful for something.”

Frowning, I slipped out of his hold before he could pull me back down to him. “He’s hungry,” I murmured, putting distance between myself and the bed. “He shouldn’t have to be bottle-fed.”

With another sign, Chance dropped down with his head on the pillow, nodding. “Alright, go,” he said with a hint of a smile. “Let me know if you need anything.”

I smiled too, already at the door. “Ronnie’s up if I need help,” I mentioned, peering across the hall to Sascha’s open bedroom door. “Go back to sleep.”

I was out of the room before Chance replied, following Ronnie’s footsteps into the dark bedroom of our infant son. He was already in Ronnie’s arms, wailing loud enough to wake the whole block. With a grateful, relieved smile, Ronnie slipped Sascha into my arms and moved to grab the little pillow that I used to balance the baby on nights like this.

Ronnie cursed under his breath as he tripped over the edge of the rug in the darkness, but it washed away easily as he sat down on the ottoman at my feet, reaching out with tattooed fingers to touch his child’s black hair.

Maneuvering awkwardly, I pulled my t-shirt up and positioned the baby, relieved as his cries tapered off. I stuck one of my fingers in his tight little fist, amazed by how quickly he latched on tonight.

Ronnie ran his fingers through his bedhead. “That was easy,” he said, sounding shell-shocked after all the nights of fighting Sascha to feed.

I nodded. “He’s fine now,” I said, lightly brushing my finger against the baby’s warm cheek. “You can go back to sleep. I know you didn’t get much rest today with both the boys keeping you busy.”

Ronnie shrugged. “We had a ball,” he spoke, dark eyes focused on his baby. “Arch’s a good big brother. He was really good about running back and forth for diapers. What did your dad say about you not coming back to work for a while longer?”

I shrugged. “You know him,” I replied. “He’s obsessed with his grandson. He didn’t have a problem with it. I think he’d probably take a month off too if he could still get paid for it.”

Ronnie smiled, a secret sort of grin that I learned to decipher a long time ago. When he saw me looking, he shook his head. “It’s just weird, y’know,” he muttered. “I knew that Brett would adore any kid that you had, but I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about one of mine.”

I shook my head, weaseling my feet into Ronnie’s lap. “He loves Sascha,” I spoke. “He’s our son. Brett’s just prickly, you know, but you’re part of the family, and Sascha only makes that clearer.”

Ron nodded, sliding my feet off him as he stood up. “I’m going to get something to drink, you want anything?”

I shook my head. “No, but can you look in on Arch?”

He left with the nod of his head. I could hear his footsteps all the way down the stairs – the old house creaking with his every move. After the sounds disappeared to the first floor, I heard Chance’s footsteps approaching – heard the quiet, apprehensive way he stepped into the room. I looked up expectantly, switching Sascha around.

“Hey, babe,” Chance greeted lightly, tiredly. “You okay?”

I nodded, reaching my freehand out to him. He took it as he stepped forward, half-clothed in just a pair of shorts. Leaning down over Sascha, he pressed his mouth to mine. 

“Can’t sleep?” I asked as he stepped back and leaned against the wall near the closet.

“No, once that kid gets screaming I’m right awake. Sleeping in there without you definitely doesn’t help either.” He stretched his arms up over his head, yawning obnoxiously.

I glanced down at the baby. “He’s almost done, I think,” I replied, eyes trained on his pale little eyelids as they fluttered.

Chance shrugged. “I’m fine,” he said. “He stopped crying pretty quick. Everything went smooth tonight?”

“Must’ve been hungry,” I replied. “Didn’t fuss at all. Ronnie handed him right over and that was the end of it.”

Chance stood quiet, nodding idly as his night-blue eyes ran over my son. Like Ronnie, I’d learned to read the silence of Chance’s body and the hidden slant of his expression. I could see all the apprehension that found home in his shoulders, all the restraint that pooled in the hollows of his collarbone. I could see the words forming on the tip of his tongue and the stubborn set of his jaw that held them back.

“What is it?” I asked, watching my own body language curl around the soft angles of my baby. I could feel Chance’s disappointment prickling against my skin.

“Nothing, Atticus,” he spoke, my full name falling from his lips.

“What did you hear?” I asked, replaying mine and Ronnie’s conversation in my head. “What upset you tonight?”

“You didn’t do anything,” he murmured, shaking his dark head. “I shouldn’t go looking too closely because all I ever find is jealousy. I’m trying to let go, but it’s harder to hide it in my expression than it is in my words. If you didn’t look at me the way you do, then maybe you wouldn’t see it so easily.”

Velcro-ed to the couch by the tiny weight of Sascha’s body, I couldn’t go to Chance. The same thoughts always reared their ugly head in the quiet hours of our lives. Chance and I never had a time together. There were never any easy days. Capital ‘L’ life always stood right between us, forcing us to work around it again and again. Even now.

“Chance,” I sighed, trying to meet his eye in the glow from Sascha’s night light.

He shook his head, shook it off. “It’s fine, Att,” he murmured, stepped forward to press a chaste kiss to my forehead. “I’m going back to sleep.”

Ronnie slipped in as Chance slipped out, not even feigning that he hadn’t heard the exchange between us. “Arch’s fine,” he said shortly, dropping back onto the ottoman. He nodded to the baby, whose little pink mouth had slipped away as sleep claimed him. “He’s getting chunky and spoiled,” Ron said affectionately, taking the baby from my lap into his own arms.

“Like he should be,” I replied quietly, watching the quiet, hesitant reverence that made its home in Ronnie whenever the baby was near. He became glass whenever Sascha was in sight, cautious not to step too hard or make too much noise or look away too long in fear of shattering into a thousand pieces on the eve of his child’s discomfort. The two together was better than anything else. They fit together, adored each other, were more than I ever imagined father and son could be. Loving them this much came with a hint of guilt. It was a revelation that I would never speak, but I knew that my boys had eaten up my affection.

“I love how much you love him,” I whispered, dragging the chair blanket up around my bare arms while Ronnie held Sascha.

Ronnie smiled at me like I had lost my mind. “He’s my son,” he said, cupping the baby’s head in the palm of his hand. “He’s fucking incredible.”

I grinned myself. “Little boys are the most beautiful little monsters. Especially little boys who are made up of you.”

Ronnie laughed and carefully leaned back against Sascha’s crib. “You’re an angel,” he said. “I’m sure that cancels out whatever hell-spawn DNA he got from me.”

Sascha had us both up a few hours later when the sun started to come up. The silver-lining of his waking routine was that none of us needed alarm clocks anymore in order to get up for work and get Arch up for school. Sascha’s cries had Arch up and grouchy in the morning as he ambled from his bedroom into his little brother’s where I sat feeding the baby once again. I had Sascha tucked beneath a blanket to abate the chilly morning.

“Good morning, baby,” I greeted my blonde boy when he ambled into the room, curly hair brushing his hands as he rubbed his little fists against his tired eyes. The color was the only visual link to his brother. Although shades and shades apart, they both looked at the world through spheres of blue. Arch’s were bright and excitable, even in his exhaustion, while Sascha’s cobalt eyes were curious and content.

Ronnie came in behind the little boy and yanked him from the floor, throwing him over his shoulder. “Wake up,” Ronnie laughed, maneuvering the little boy around and lifting him into the air over his head. “Good morning, kiddo. Time to go brush your teeth.”

“No,” Arch groaned, gently kicking his feet as Ronnie turned him around and set him back in the doorway.

“Go,” Ron echoed, pointing him to the bathroom. “I already set your toothbrush on the counter. Your mom will meet you in your bedroom when you’re done.”

Arch frowned, holding onto the doorjamb on either side of him like he was ready to climb up to the ceiling. “Where’s Chance?” he asked, leaning around Ronnie to ask me directly.

“Getting ready for work,” I said. “He’ll say goodbye before he leaves. Go brush your teeth.”

Arch sighed obnoxiously and dragged his feet down the hall.

Done feeding, I lifted Sascha upright in my arms and wrapped him up in the fleece blanket. “He’s need a bath,” I muttered, climbing to my feet and straightening out my shirt. “Can you pop him in the sink real quick while I get Arch dressed?”

I pushed the baby into Ron’s arms and side-stepped around him, hurrying out of the room to meet Arch in his room before he had to wait for me. He came barreling into the room right behind me, grinning to show me his squeaky-clean baby teeth.

“Where are you uniforms?” I asked, moving toward his dresser. He had the same bedroom furniture that we’d bought when he first came to live with me, before we ever thought that it would be permanent. It was inexpensive and starting to get a little run-down. The dresser drawers didn’t roll as smooth as they used, especially now that they were over-packed with Arch’s mountains of clothes.

“Middle drawer,” Arch replied, hopping back into his bed and scrambling under the covers.

“Arch, no, come on,” I said, quickly hurrying over to drag the blankets down. He screamed and kicked around as I grabbed him by the wrist and ankle and yanked him off the bed. “You have to get dressed, little boy,” I chastised. “Not get up here and decide what you want to wear.”

Arch clambered up from the floor and hopped to my side, climbing up onto his tip toes to peer into the drawer. “Sweater,” he quipped, reaching in to grab the embroidered Nicolas sweater. Simultaneously, I pulled out a dress shirt to go underneath and rounded up a pair of slacks.

“Your shoes are under your bed,” I told him, laying out the uniform for him.

I found Chance on the stairs, both of us heading down to the kitchen. He was dressed for the day and ready to head out. Hearing me on the steps behind him, he stopped and peered back, smiling easily and stepping down to the first floor. His hair was dark like always – growing out from his usual cropped style – and his eyes were bright blue in the sun as it filtered in through the front windows. The color winked into darkness as we walked around toward the kitchen.

Ronnie stood with Sascha in the sink in front of him. His foam baby-bath was beneath him, holding him up in the shallow water. I grinned at the sight of my water-logged baby. His curls were wetted to his forehead and his eyes were bigger and bluer than ever.

“We’re all done,” Ronnie concluded, grabbing for the baby’s towel on the island behind him without ever lifting his hand from our kid. He tossed the towel to me and I stepped up as Ronnie lifted him from the sink, putting his heavy little body into my arms as I wrapped him up. “I have to get dressed,” Ronnie said, cupping his son’s head as he pressed a quick kiss against Sascha’s forehead. “Are you two riding with to take Arch?”

The man stepped around me on his way out of the room, peering back with dark eyes at me and Sascha. His invitation only extended that far. I shrugged noncommittally. “If we can get ready in time,” I said. “You don’t have to go into the label today?”

Ronnie shook his head without turning back to face us. He walked down the short hall and rounded right to the stairs. “Nope!” he called back as he clomped up the stairs. “Took the whole weekend off.”

I frowned at his words, surprised, but he was too far gone for me to question him. Instead I turned my attention to Chance and passed him the baby so I could grab a clean diaper from the counter. We had diaper stashes all around the house.

“What time do you have to go?” I asked as I took the baby back from Chance.

The man glanced at his watch, frowning. “Like ten minutes,” he said, resting his palms flat on the counter top while I changed Sascha and rewrapped him in the towel to keep him warm. “What do you think Ronnie has up his sleeve?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. The two of them mostly ignored each other. Ronnie made plans with Sascha; Chance made plans with me, and while they sometimes overlapped, the two of them never went out of their way to so much as acknowledge each other. Like last night, I could feel a storm brewing between them.

Chance nodded to my answer. “Well, let me know when you finally figure it out. If he’s going to be here the whole weekend, then maybe he can babysit and you and I can go out tomorrow night.”

I smiled and spun around the island to kiss him, Sascha cradled between us.

Chance’s eyes blinked open slowly, but his fingers didn’t wind their way out of my hair. He hummed, his chest vibrating against me and the baby. “I love you,” he said quietly, looking down to me with a muddled gaze.

“I’ll let you know what he’s up to,” I whispered, pressing my mouth against his jaw.

Chance yelled his goodbye up the stairs to Arch, who quipped a quick ‘bye!’ back in response, and then the twenty-one year was out the door. Ronnie clomped back down the stairs when he heard the front door close. He had Arch wrangled in his grasp, mirroring myself and Sascha.

“You better get dressed if you’re coming,” Ronnie said, making a point to look me and down, assessing the oversized t-shirt and shorts that I wore.

I wanted to knock the smirk right off his face. “I would, but someone forgot to bring clothes down for the baby before bathing him, so now I have to go pick out his outfit for the day too.”

Ronnie rolled his dark eyes, but smartly kept his mouth closed. He flipped Arch in his arms as he walked around me and the baby and set the boy on his feet on top of the bench at the bottom of the stairs. Arch was growing rapidly, and he now stood over half Ronnie’s height. Without the boy in his arms, I could see what Ronnie had changed into – a long sleeved, black and white crew-neck with his own last name stamped across his shoulders and a pair of black jeans and boots.

Ronnie called out to me as I climbed the stairs. “Oh, Atticus, you don’t have a meeting with Lyla today, right?”

I paused, frowning down at him. Arch’s head popped up too, cerulean eyes pinning me in place. “No,” I said, drawing out the word. “Why? What’re you up to?”

“Nothing.” Ronnie shrugged and sat down next to Arch on the bench.

With an obnoxious sigh, I hurried upstairs to dress myself and my second son.
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