‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Las Vegas

I spent most of the morning alternating between annoyed and relieved at the ease of the day. Yesterday, we’d spent the evening with Ronnie’s father for as long as we could, letting Sascha fall sleep in his car-seat in the living room while we watched movies and caught up on each other’s lives. Arch tried his best to stay awake as he made room for himself right between Russ and Ronnie, blanket thrown over the three of them and snacks laid out on Arch’s lap. Ultimately he fell asleep and Ronnie and I each carried the boys out the way we’d carried them in while Russ promised again that he’d rather we stayed at the house than splurge on a hotel for the night.

At one point before dinner, Ronnie and Arch had run out together to check us into the hotel before they gave our room away. They made a trip out of it, and Arch returned excited, boasting about the hotel room and all the lights it overlooked on the strip. He was excited about his trip to LV, and somehow it felt like a christening, making him into a true Radke for having spent time in the city of Ronnie’s childhood.

The hotel was a suite, with a kitchen and living room, and two bedrooms off of it. One was a master, with an oversized bed, and an ensuite, and décor done up all in white and cream. I claimed it for myself, directing Ronnie to set up Sascha’s travel crib right next to the bed on the side closest to the wall to ceiling windows and cream curtains that I left open.

Arch claimed the second bedroom, excited by the twin-sized bunk beds. Also excited that he didn’t have to share with the baby, whom would have him awake a few times throughout the night. I worried about the neighbors as Ronnie unpacked the crib, and wondered who was on the other side of the wall.

The dark-haired man pinned me with a look over his shoulder from where he sat on the beige carpet, tightening down the bolts on the crib so that it wouldn’t collapse on Sascha in the middle of the night. “The neighbors won’t hear,” he said. “This isn’t some Motel 6 in Hollywood.”

I stood in the doorway with Sascha in my arms so that I could monitor Arch from this vantage point. He was in the living room, rummaging through everything like it was a scavenger hunt. When he located the mini-fridge hidden in the sideboard near the dining nook, I called his name sharply and warned him away. “Sascha is loud,” I said, turning my gaze from Arch back to Ronnie. “I just don’t want complaints.”

With an obnoxious sigh that pulled my attention back to him, Arch pulled away from the sideboard and moved to the full-size fridge in the kitchen, questioning why there were two and why he couldn’t help himself.

Ronnie pushed up from the carpet and practically stepped into the crib to test his weight on it. It was the same way that he installed the car-seats in our vehicles – using his own body weight to anchor them into place. “The hotel saw that we have two children,” he answered sensibly. “If they were concerned about there being an infant in this place, they would’ve made a rule against it. But they didn’t, so it’s fine, Atti.”

“Stop that,” I reprimanded, motioning for him to get out of the crib as he began to climb in all the way. I could see the curiousness on his face and knew where it was headed. “If you break it, you’ll go have to find somewhere that sells a new one. I doubt you’d have much luck at ten PM.”

Ronnie backed out of the travel-crib and smiled at me, and his son, who was dozing in my arms, waiting for his father to finish assembling his bed. Ronnie slipped past me in the doorway and moved toward the kitchen, and Arch, who was taking liberties with his postponed bed time.

I moved to set the baby in his crib and then rounded back to the open living room and kitchen where Ronnie set Arch on the counter next to the controls for the track lighting. Ronnie popped open a water and watched Arch move around all the switches and make noise like he were controlling a switchboard in a studio. Ronnie pitched in a few sounds and the two of them grinned at each other.

“You need a bath,” I said to Arch, interrupting their secret conversation as I walked up and dragged him off the counter and onto his feet. “And then it’s time for bed.”

He started complaining immediately, turning to Ronnie for backup, throwing his hands in the air as he tried to defend his argument. “I don’t need a bath!” he said. “I didn’t get dirty today! If I take a bath then I’m just going to be more awake from the water, and I won’t be able to sleep tonight, Atticus. I really don’t need a bath.”

He continued talking while I marched him into the bathroom and began filling the tub. Like the rest of the hotel, the room was brightly lit with light-colored detailing. Among the white and beige were subtle accents of teal blue, and the standing shower was lined with tile of the same color. The bathtub, however, was a free-standing porcelain monster with the claw feet, reminiscent of old horror movies where women get drowned when they’re just trying to wind-down after a stressful day. I shook that thought away as I lifted my son into the tub and decided that I wouldn’t spare him a second in here alone.

“Ronnie!” I called out through the open door. “Can you change Sascha into his pajamas and get his blanket from his bag?”

Ronnie answered that he could, and we each set about our tasks with our assigned children. I washed Arch up quickly and pulled him from the tub, carrying him, wrapped in a huge white towel, into the little bedroom where his suitcase was sitting at the edge of the bunkbed.

“Can I sleep on top?” he asked, looking at me with bright blue eyes, his cheeks warm and rosy from the heat of the water and his blonde curls heavy and dark from being damp.

I glanced up at the wooden bunkbed and shrugged. “I don’t see why not,” I answered. “Ronnie might try to fight you for it, but you’re here now and he’s not.”

Arch giggled.

I pulled out a pair of his footy-pajamas, noting how the A/C vents were in the ceiling and the air came down in a draft. The blankets were the comforting starchy and thin white ones of my childhood on the road with my father and his band. I’d spent countless days bouncing from hotel room to hotel room, fighting with my brother over the top-bunk in our assigned room. Whoever slept on bottom was forced to share with Frida, whom was terrified of rolling off the top. Our father was usually present, would tuck us in and leave to enjoy his night of freedom while we slept unknowingly in the hotel room. And when we’d wake up, wake each other up, and Max would kick my mattress from below, one of my father’s bandmates, our uncles, would swoop in and mediate, often cramming us both into the top bunk until neither of us wanted to be there.

I smiled at my son as he climbed the ladder to the top bunk, complaining that the narrow slats hurt his feet, but it was fine because he was happy to be so high. I reached up and dragged back the blankets enough for him to get in without ruining that tight tuck, and he squirmed in like an overexcited child at a sleepover trying to get into their sleeping bag without unzipping in.

“Are you going to be okay in here by yourself?” I asked, standing on the bottom bunk so that I could face Arch up so high. “We’ll be right in the living room if you need us, baby.”

Arch nodded like I shouldn’t even worry about him here in this strange place. He was abnormally adaptable after his time in foster care, and content to be wherever as long as Ronnie and I were close by.

I left Arch and went out to the living room, finding it surprisingly empty of any conspiring singers, and stepped into the bedroom where Ronnie was laying with the bed still made, and Sascha was on his chest, redressed in his matching footy-pajamas, still asleep.

Ronnie opened his eyes when I walked in, and held Sascha so that he could sit up. He leaned over and put the baby back in the crib. “I better go say goodnight to Arch,” he said quietly, pushing up from the bed.

He brushed past me, so close as I could feel him pass without him actually touching me. I turned to check on Sascha, gazing down at his little face. I had been afraid of this baby. Afraid that I wouldn’t know him the way I knew Arch. Afraid that he would be something I couldn’t handle. I had known Arch before he became my son, knew how well we fit together despite everything trying to keep us apart. Even now, with his biological mother pulling stunts and changing focus, he was more my son than ever. Even now, with Sascha, my blood, sleeping in the room next door, Arch was mine more than ever. And Sascha was real, no longer some abstract child holding me to a life and a relationship that I didn’t want. No longer a burden on Ronnie, some sick twist of fate that pulled us back together. He was my child more than any of that, and I stood still and reveled in the fact that both my sons were happy and asleep, even here in Las Vegas, the land of sin and Ronnie.

Ronnie slept on the bottom bunk in Arch’s room for most of the night, even though I didn’t ask him to confine himself to that tiny bed. When Sascha woke me at three AM, I nursed him and put him back to sleep and woke Ronnie, offering an olive branch in the form of the other side of the bed.

I found that I still knew the sound of his sleep and the weight of his body on the mattress next to me. Those things seemed ingrained in my muscle memory, like after so many years together, I still knew him in all those intimate ways, even when now I automatically compared that sound and feeling to Chance.

We went to sleep facing away from each other, and in the early morning I awoke with the baby between us, babbling as Ronnie whispered to him as the sun came out over Las Vegas, brightening our room because neither of us had closed the curtains the night before. I awoke already facing Ronnie and Sascha, the baby’s side pressed against my body. Even in sleep I recognized my child, and I smiled as I came to, running my fingers through Sascha’s dark hair.

“Good morning, Mama,” Ronnie whispered, scooting the baby closer to him so that I had more room. 

“Morning,” I answered back, grinning at Sascha and his unzipped PJs.

We spent that morning waking up slowly with both boys in bed with us. Arch had made his way in when he woke up and realized Ronnie was no longer with him. He came looking for food, but we spent that early morning before room service opened just laughing and playing. Arch laid in between Ronnie and Sascha, and Ronnie welcomed him with open arms, tickling him and holding his arms down so he couldn’t accidentally whack his brother, who looked on with a crease between his dark eyebrows. This was a new part of life for Arch and Sascha both, and watching them discover it all morning was the highlight of the trip.

After breakfast, we dressed, brushed, and packed the boys up for a day with Russ. Anthony was trying his best to get off work to spend the day with his brother and his nephews, but was struggling to find a replacement for himself. Ultimately, he decided that he’d have to just drop his boys off and come back around dinner time to spend the evening with us, maybe sneak away with us and leave the third generation with Russ. Ronnie liked the idea, believing that with his brother’s help, he might actually convince me to leave Sascha behind.

I admonished Ant for taking Ronnie’s side, while Ronnie pretended not to care that Ant couldn’t be around for most of the day. Instead he lavished his nephews with Sascha, adoring the way they cooed over him. Arch was right there with Ronnie, telling the Radke boys all the ways in which his brother was the best.

I helped Russ set up for lunch at the table. Russ had somehow managed to get Sascha from Ronnie. I figured Ronnie had given in easily, trying to prove that Russ was capable of keeping Sasch alive while we were gone for some of the evening. Arch raced around the home with the cousins, being too loud and too excited for inside. But none of us admonished them, too happy to see them getting along. Four dark heads and Arch’s blonde were all we saw as they raced through the kitchen, each smacking the same spot on the wall as they passed through.

After lunch, I snuck away to feed Sascha as well, and Ronnie took that as his opportunity to talk to me again about leaving the boys with his father. I was sitting on the bed in his childhood room with a pillow tucked beneath my arm and Sascha swaddled against my body. When Ronnie walked through the door, I slipped the top sheet up around Sascha and I. Ron noticed, but didn’t say anything about it. 

“You want to go in a couple hours?” he asked, sitting down near my feet. He lightly rested his hand on my thigh as he touched his son’s foot.

I frowned at Ronnie. “Who’s going to feed Sascha when I’m gone?” I asked, practically glowering as he silently reached down to the diaper bag and pulled out bottles, lining them up on the dresser in a neat little row. 

He glanced back to me with dark eyes, no doubt wondering if I wanted any further explanation. He scooted back on the bed and leaned against the wall, peering around the shadow of the blanket to Sascha’s content expression. “You should probably be pumping instead of feeding him right now,” he said, leaning closer and lying beside me on his elbows. 

“It’ll be fine,” I said with a noncommittal shake of my head. “He always falls asleep in the middle anyway.” 

Ronnie nodded reticently, reaching out to brush his thumb against Sascha’s warm cheek. It was these moments that made me hyper aware that Sascha was mine, created from some biological magic right at the heart of me, but it also seemed to do the same for Ronnie. It seemed that seeing Sascha fed by nothing more than my body reminded him that having babies was the most natural thing in the world, and more than that, Sascha was meant to be ours, with his dark ringlets and indigo eyes edging closer and closer to midnight every day. Ronnie pressed his finger against the palm of Sascha’s hand, and the baby closed his fist around it, holding onto us both in such tiny ways. 

“I’m so in love with him,” Ronnie said casually, so close that he was practically breathing the same air. “And it hits me somewhere how much of a mother you are. How taking care and keeping him alive comes to naturally to you. And I really didn’t think it was possible to love you more than I have these last four years, but watching you taking care of my son does something to me, Att, and I want to be around the two of you the rest of my life. I want more of this even.”

I sighed and reached out to brush Ronnie’s hair back so it wouldn’t tickle Sascha’s face. “Don’t let Russ’s words get to your head, Ron,” I said, looking from our baby to him. “You know that Sascha is it for us, right? We’re a family, but we’re not together like that anymore. It’s normal to feel that way for the mother of your child; it’s biology and some psychology. We’re the parents we wished we had when we were children.”

He frowned, not meeting my gaze, and pulled his bottom lip between his teeth as the weight of the words sunk into him. He looked at our son as he spoke. “You’re it for me, Atticus,” he said. “You’ve completely ruined me, and you’re right, I do think that someday you’ll admit that you and I are right together, and you have no idea how much I want that. It’s not because my mom left us and now I’m latched onto you in some sick Oedipus way. I fucking love you, Atticus, and our family. It has nothing to do with bullshit from the past.” 

He groaned and his forehead dropped lightly against Sascha’s stomach, his hair brushing against my bare skin. “I think I finally understand your dad’s need to have too many kids,” he said, sounding like understanding Brett was the worst sin he could commit. “There’s a high in it, you know. Watching this woman you love give you something that you could never get on your own. I want to feel like this a hundred times over.”

“You’re being a little greedy there,” I whispered, corralling the tension into something more manageable. “I pity the woman who has to have ninety-nine more of your children.”

Ron’s fingers grasped my thigh beneath Sascha’s weight. “It’s you, Att,” he said with a shrug against me. “It’s always you. I might be able to compromise on the number though. Six is a nice round number.”

Ronnie always talked in absolutes. Like he had no fear that his projected future wouldn’t be exactly as he saw it. To him, our life was set in stone and these last few months were merely a blip in the plan. Hearing him speak like this was commonplace, and I’d long ago accepted that he wouldn’t move on until he was ready, but sometimes I felt relieved. Relieved, looking down at the tiny baby that we created together, that he never wanted to do this again with anyone else. That there wouldn’t be children out there who would be my son’s family but not mine. I felt greedy too, wanting to control all the people who could lay some claim to Sascha. Even now, it was Ronnie and me, and our family. There was no divide, I was no outsider to any part of Ronnie’s life.

But sometimes, it felt like even more than that. There was this guilty greed in me that climbed up when I thought about Ronnie. It grew stronger and more obvious every time he spoke like this, reminding me that he would always be there. I’d never been someone who needed taking care of, but these four years with Ronnie, the three where we were synonymous, had rewired something in me. I got used to having someone on my side against the world, and now, with Sascha, it upset me more than ever that someday Ronnie might move on and I might have to go it alone. 

It was that greed that made me quietly pleased that he lingered, even after we’d hurt each other and shoved each other away. It made me feel guilty because he kept waiting for me to decide on him, but I was content enough just having him around. And it frightened me to think that someday he’d realize that all he had to do was walk away and I’d do whatever it took to get him back in Sascha’s life, in our life. 

For as much as I loved my son, something else had changed in me when I became a mother to a child with a father who had claim over us both. There was fear that had never lived in me before, and it was growing every day, right alongside the guilt and the greed. Sometimes I thought that Ronnie could see it too, and he knew that somehow the power had shifted from me to him. But he never spoke of it, never threatened to realize those fears; he simply curled up in my arms beside his child and stayed.

We didn’t go out on Saturday night. Instead we stayed and had dinner with Ronnie’s brother, father, and nephews. We let the boys, all of them, doze off around us, dropping like little deadweights. I followed soon after, falling asleep with my head on Ronnie’s shoulder and our son asleep in his lap. Sometime later, I felt myself lifted from the couch, and I realized that Ronnie had been carrying us to the car, one at a time. First Sascha, then Arch, and then me.

At the hotel, Ronnie carried both boys, Arch curled around him like a monkey and Sascha in his car-seat, and I tiredly led the way to our room on the fifteenth floor and fell into bed with zero recognition of Ronnie as he dressed and put the boys to bed too.

In the early hours before it was really morning, Ronnie brought Sascha to me to stop his crying, and I practically drifted in and out of sleep as Sascha fed, held in place by Ronnie’s arms as he cradled us both against his body. 

When the sun began to glow through the open-curtained window and streaks of light came down in mine and Sascha’s faces, Ronnie peeled the baby from my arms and moved him back into his place against my body, the heat of him giving me chills as I tried to pull myself from sleep. In the haze, I heard Ronnie’s quiet breathing as he kissed Sascha’s forehead, and I sighed in my sleep as he kissed my forehead too and trailed his fingers down my body to help Sascha latch. His hands were warm against my flushed skin as he cradled my breast like I cradled his son. Sascha was starting to mew quietly, hungry but not completely roused awake. On the brink of my own sleep, I shivered as Ronnie’s touch was replaced by Sascha’s warm, desperate mouth.
♠ ♠ ♠
I didn't realize it had been so long.