‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

July 14

I rolled over at the sound of the bedroom door opening. Sascha’s cries grew louder as he was carried into the dark room. I could barely make out Ronnie’s form in the weak light coming from the windows on either side of the bed . I pushed forward, lightly brushing against Chance’s bare side as I sat up and took my son into my arms. Ronnie deposited him silently, barely awake himself, and with a quiet confirmation that I could handle it from there out, Ronnie turned and went back to bed. I tiredly laid down, checking the time on the nightstand as I tucked Sascha’s warm body between mine and Chance’s.

When I woke for the day it was to the sound of Chance ruffling through the pile of stuff thrown onto the chair in the corner. Slowly realizing that Sascha was still cocooned against me, I pushed up onto my elbow and peered at Chance. He glanced back, offering a tired smile when he saw I was awake.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” he said. “I’m surprised Sascha slept this long.” He pulled a pair of jeans from the pile of his clothes, fastened his belt, and dived in again all while glancing back to me. He dragged out a work-shirt.

I lightly shook my head, basically shrugging in the process. I watched him stretch as he pulled the t-shirt over his head. I looked to the clock. “He had me up about four hours ago,” I answered, “so we’re right on schedule.”

Chance nodded, curving around the bed toward the bathroom. “I didn’t even hear when you brought him back in here.” He said with a some-what proud smile. “I must be adjusting.”

I smiled too, watching him dart into the bathroom. The clock said that it was almost eight, which meant he was practically running behind if he was supposed to open the shop today. I laid back down and watched him dart around the room, rumpled in a sort of cute way.

Chance knew I was watching, and I was aware that he knew, but I wasn’t shy about it. He tried to hide his smile as he finished getting ready, but I caught it in the quirk of his mouth and the way he couldn’t look right at me. Finally, I lugged Sascha into my arms, getting ready to follow Chance downstairs and start the day, but the blue-eyed, dark-haired man moved over to me instead.

He stopped right in front of me and smiled, looking down to me through those dark lashes. “Good morning, birthday girl,” he said, reaching around me.

I grinned despite how cheesy I found him to be. "Thank you," I said modestly. "You know you're late, right?"

Chance shrugged against me, leaning down to press his mouth to mine. "You're more important," he whispered against my mouth, kissing me again.

Slowly pulling away from his kiss, I brushed my fingers over his stubble, met his blue-blue eyes then peeled away from the touch of him. "You gotta go," I said reluctantly. "Don't let me be the reason you get in trouble." I threw open the bedroom door and walked out, leaving him to follow.

I veered off to peek into Arch’s room, finding him still fast asleep, and then went right downstairs to get ready for the day. Despite it being Saturday, Chance would be gone most of the day for work. I wasn’t sure what Ronnie’s plans were, but thanks to my extended maternity leave, I had the entire day off to spend with Arch and Sascha.

Chance popped into the kitchen just as I settled Sascha in pack-and-play to let him sleep until he decided to wake up on his own. The play pen sat butted against the end of the island, and Chance veered around it as he made his way to me.

“I’m am late,” he said apologetically, sweeping my hair from my face, “but we should do something tonight to celebrate. I’ll probably be off like four-ish. I can come right back here afterwards.”

I held onto his shirt at his sides, then smoothed the teal polo material against his body, turning my gaze up to him. "That sounds-"

“No can do,” Ronnie rebuked nonchalantly as he came in from the hallway, obviously having just come downstairs. He didn’t give us a chance to question him. “Dinner at your parents’,” he said to me pointedly. He stopped at the playpen and held the edge as he leveled me with a pointed look. When I met his gaze, he leaned down to touch his son. “They’ve got all your siblings coming tonight. Your dad asked me to drag you and the boys there for an impromptu party.”

I frowned and leaned against the island, sliding away from Chance and taking his hand instead. “Was this supposed to be a surprise party?” I questioned, eyeing the father of my child.

Ronnie shrugged, half-grinning at me as he straightened up. “I know you’re not a fan of being tricked into things,” he answered with that glint in his eye.

I rolled my eyes at Ronnie’s smirk then looked to Chance with an apology brimming. “We can do something on your next day off,” I offered, tugging him back to me. “Or you can come to my parents when you’re done at the shop.”

Chance bristled at the offer, but quickly shook that reaction off. He leaned in to press a kiss to my temple. “I’ll call you later and let you know when I’ll be done for sure, yeah? Happy birthday.”

He slid out of the kitchen, leaving my sight as he slipped into his shoes in the foyer and rounded through the house and out through the backdoor off the living room. I backed up to peer through the kitchen window to the driveway in the back of the house where his car was parked behind mine. I watched him just long enough to see him get into his car, then my attention turned back to Ronnie.

“Happy 28th birthday,” he said, giving me a little smile as he leaned against the play-pen. “You know, I was twenty-eight when we met."

I startled at the admission. When when we met, I'd barely been twenty-five, passing that mark by a matter of days. I felt so young and the gap between us was such a minuscule things - I never thought twice about it. But so much had happened between twenty-four and twenty-eight; I was so much older now, had learned so much about my life. It made the age bag between Ronnie and I seem like a gulf.

"I was thinking the boys and I could take you out for breakfast," Ronnie said, leaning against the island counter as he pulled me out of my thoughts.

I appreciated the gesture and couldn’t help but feel touched at the thought, even as Ronnie kamikazed my birthday. After a moment, I quickly nodded my head. I reached out and rested my hand on Ronnie’s shoulder as I plucked the back from the pack and play and passed him up to his daddy.

“I need a shower,” I said eagerly. “Can you wake Arch up soon? He needs to get on his school schedule. I’ll help him into the bath when I’m done.”

Ronnie nodded immediately, which was enough confirmation for me. I climbed the stairs and rounded the overlook into my bedroom, eager to have a shower without one of my kids needing my attention. I didn’t need to tell Ronnie anything about looking after Sascha and Arch; he was already acclimated to our routine. It was strange how normal the three of us were at playing house.

Depending on the day, either Chance or Ronnie rushed off to work. It took me awhile to figure it out, but it seemed that Ronnie had somehow managed to keep his schedule mainly opposite Chance’s. While I knew it made it easier on the two of them, it also meant that one of them was usually here with me and the kids. Ronnie didn’t necessarily like that Chance had a hand in helping with Arch and Sascha, but Chance was good with them. He was eager to show that he could do this family thing just as well. I was grateful for Chance, as much as I was grateful for Ronnie.

I took my time in the shower, trying to clear my mind and relax. At one point, I heard Sascha start up below, but he quieted just as quickly. Neither Arch or Ronnie appeared at the door, asking for something or needing my help. I got dressed just as meticulously, stepping around my bedroom in a towel with my hair wrapped up as I searched for my favorite pair of pre-baby jeans. They were a little snug, but so was everything else. I pulled on an old oversized color-block hoodie and slipped out of the room.

Unsurprisingly, I found Arch still sleeping when I turned to his room. Ronnie was standing next to the bed with the baby, bargaining with the little boy. I stopped in the doorway, unnoticed, and watched Ronnie’s exasperation grow as he tried to coax Arch out of bed without dragging him out himself.

“Arch, you’ve got two minutes,” Ronnie said, crouched down beside the six year old’s head.

Arch, waking more with every exchange, scrunched his face in attempt to appear sleeping. “For what?” he asked quietly.

With Sascha in one arm, Ronnie leaned forward and rested his elbow against the bed. As he moved, he noticed me in the doorway, and he flashed his mischievous smile at me, a warning for what he was about to do to my son.

I watched the exchange from the doorway, amused at the two of them, and how easily they wound each other up – how much joy they got from playfully pushing each other’s buttons.

Ronnie leaned forward until his lips were just at Arch’s ear. He spoke so quietly even I couldn’t hear, but I watched with skepticism as his words made Arch giggle in anticipation and curl into a ball under his blankets.

Ronnie grinned and leaped up to pass the Sascha into my arms. “Ten,” he started, turning back toward Arch and slowly stepping across the small room. “Nine.”

Arch giggled outrageously with every number, eyes still closed. He tucked his blanket up under his chin, anticipating Ronnie’s onslaught.

“Eight.”

I let out a surprised laugh as Ronnie jumped into Arch’s bed before he even got to one. He playfully fell onto the child, making Arch erupt in giggles. Ronnie grabbed him, tickling him through his blankets and trying to pry the little boy out from beneath them. Arch’s eyes stayed closed, but there was no denying that he was wide awake as Ronnie tickle-tortured him up.

Arch screamed out in laughter as Ronnie yanked his blankets away. Arch’s blue eyes shot open as he tried to shove the man away. Dropping the pretense of sleep, Arch grabbed the edge of his bed and tried to drag himself away. Ronnie grabbed the little boy by his sides and tickled him so much that Arch had no choice but to let go of the bed frame and cover himself.

“You give up?” Ronnie called through his own laughter, through the unending tickles. “You surrender? You’ll get up and take your mom out to breakfast for her birthday?”

“Yes!” Arch screamed in laughter, flailing around beneath his father-figure.

As I watched the two of them, so different in appearance, yet so much alike, it was easy to see this life as the one Arch imagined years ago when he begged the two of us to adopt him, make him our son. He’d legally been my child for less than two weeks now, but in a way he’d always been ours.

Ronnie relented and let Arch up. The little boy whipped out of bed and away from Ronnie, shooting a glare back at the man. For the first time, he noticed me and his baby brother poised just inside the door. He raced over and wrapped his arms around my waist. “You didn’t tell me it was for breakfast,” he leveled at Ronnie. “I would’ve gotten up for that.”

Ronnie grinned in surprise at the attitude in the boy’s words, and his dark gaze shot up to mine. A quiet notion passed between us – recognizing how clever, how funny Arch was.

Ronnie hopped out Arch’s bed, leaving the blankets a mess, and lightly touched Arch’s head as he slipped past us. The little boy tried to careen away from Ronnie’s touch, which only made the two of us smile more.

“You need anything?” Ronnie asked as he paused just past us, curbing his smile so Arch wouldn’t see our amusement. “I need a shower quick, but I can take Sasch if you want me to.”

I turned, Sascha in one arm, my other hand on Arch’s shoulder, and met Ronnie’s curious gaze. “No, I’m good,” I answered easily. “Have a good shower.”

Ron nodded but didn’t hurry away. “Okay,” he said, glancing between the three of us in front of him. “Good,” he added, turning his dark eyes back to me.

I smiled, looking over him, and nodded slowly. “Shower,” I said softly, “Ron.”

He nodded quickly. “Yes,” he said, shaking his head. “Right. Yell if you need me,” he said to me before looking to Arch. His dark eyes narrowed. “You, I’m expecting retaliation. I’ll see you coming a mile away. Don’t try anything.”

Arch tried to harden his expression, but couldn’t through the giggles. He narrowed his baby blues at Ronnie, and kept them that way as I sighed and led him away, knowing that Ronnie just started a little war between them. Arch was Ronnie’s mini, and if Ronnie was expecting Arch to try to get him back, Arch was going to try.

“No more,” I said to Arch sternly, loud enough that Ronnie could hear as we walked away from him. “Today is my day, and I’m not having you two making a scene at the restaurant.”

Arch frowned as he peered up to me. “What restaurant?”

I grinned in amusement. “I don’t know yet,” I answered, motioning him toward his bedroom. Sascha and Arch’s rooms shared a Jack-and-Jill bathroom between them. It was fairly big with a nice-sized tub and shower combo and double sink. It was made for the day the boys would have to share it – when they were both old enough. For now, it was mostly Arch’s.

If there was ever an issue with the two of them sharing, there was full guest bathroom on this floor. Currently, it was Ronnie, overflowing with his shower stuff and clothes. It was next to the extra bedroom, Ronnie’s, but not connected.

“I’ll fill the tub; you get some bath toys.” I told the little blonde, rounding into Sascha’s room through the bathroom to lay the baby in his crib. Arch lingered in his own bedroom, kneeling at his toy box to ruffle through for the water-approved toys.

Arch was old enough to stay in the tub alone for a few minutes if I was close by. It gave me the opportunity to change and dress Sascha. Having the boys’ rooms connected by the bathroom was really convenient for me, let alone them. I left Arch in the tub with his toys and the door open as I got Sascha ready.

I peeked out of Sascha’s door, looking kiddy-corner to the extra bathroom across the stairs to see if the door was still closed. It was, which meant that I had at least twenty more minutes before Ronnie was out and almost ready to go. Taking the baby with me, I hurried back into the boys’ bathroom to urge Arch out of the tub. I set Sascha down on the rug next to me and slid Arch closer to the edge of the tub so I could help him wash his hair.

“I’m not done,” he complained, swooping his toy truck through the bubbles before throwing it back into the water.

I ducked away from the splash and gave the boy a look. “Arch,” I warned, eyeing the water and then him. “Don’t make me get Ronnie back in here to finish you off.”

Arch rolled his eyes at me, too old for his own good, and let the truck fall to the bottom of the tub. He turned away from me, leaning his head back so I could lather and rinse his curls.

With a grunt, I lifted the six year old out of the bathtub, using my foot to slide Sascha, and the rug he sat on, out of Arch’s path. Arch wrapped the towel around himself and jumped over his baby brother so that he could scurry back into his bedroom.

“Arch!” I yelled after him, coaxing myself down from a heart attack. “No jumping over Sascha! If you fell on him, you’d crush him!” I swooped the baby up from the ground, cradling him against me just as Arch pushed his bedroom door closed behind him without a word.

I frowned after him, a little surprised. “You’ve got fifteen minutes to get dressed,” I said through his door, hearing as his main door closed too. “Let one of us know if you need help.”

Without waiting for his answer, I headed out of the bathroom via Sascha’s bedroom. Arch was plenty capable of dressing himself. He enjoyed piecing outfits together for school, so getting ready for casual July day was no big deal. I took Sascha with me into my bedroom so that I could do something with my hair. I laid him down on the baby mat in my room and dragged it into the doorway of the bathroom.

He was content to play with the items dangling overhead as I blow dried my hair. I was tying it up as Ronnie appeared on the other side of Sascha. He looked from the baby to me with an amused smile on his face before loping down and taking Sascha from the play-mat.

“Looks like you and Mommy have got things running smoothly,” he cooed to the baby, glancing past Sascha to meet my gaze. “You almost ready to go? I’ve got the other one downstairs hunting for his shoes.”

“The other one?” I laughed, shaking my head at the man. “You probably should refrain from calling my son ‘the other one’.” I turned toward him, arms crossed over my chest.

Ronnie rolled his eyes, and I knew where Arch picked that up. “When I’ve got Arch, Sascha is the other one,” he defended, “and vice versa. But I’m sorry, the older one is downstairs already.”

Ronnie backed out of the doorway, giving me room to step over the play-mat and through into my bedroom. It was an oversized space, big enough for my bed and both of the boys’. It was a little messy from the night – bed unmade, Chance’s t-shirt crumpled on the blankets, pajamas on the floor – but it was a dream suite.

“Speaking of shoes, I have to find some too,” I said to the man as I rounded back toward the closet off the bathroom. Ronnie paused in the middle of my bedroom as I clumsily stepped over Chance’s least-favorite work boots and slipped into a pair of sandals, holding onto the wall for balance.

“You ready yet, birthday girl?” Ronnie asked mildly as I hurried back into the bedroom.

In answer, I motioned for him to hurry out into the hall. “Yes, yes,” I murmured, pointing him down the stairs as I followed behind. We rounded down the stairs and careened into the living room, finding Arch on the couch, shoes on his feet, TV playing way too loudly.

I swiped the remote from the couch next to the blonde and flicked the TV off, ignoring as he cried out in protest.

“Time to go,” I said, giving him a smile and pulling him from the couch.

Ronnie passed the baby into my arms and went back into the foyer to get his shoes from the bench seat lining the stairs. I took Sascha eagerly and grabbed Arch’s hand, leading the two of them to the sliding door that opened up to the back driveway.

Ronnie met me and the boys in the driveway and shut Arch’s door as I leaned in on the other side to buckle Sascha into his rear-facing car seat. We ended up going to a low-key breakfast spot right downtown. It took us longer to find inexpensive parking than it did to actually get inside and eat. We were slowly getting used to taking Sascha out in public like this. Sascha barely recognized that he was somewhere new, but Arch adored the days out as a family. He crawled into the both beside me and sat as close as possible, practically leaning into my lap in his attempt to reach diagonally across the table to see Sascha.

Ronnie sat across from Arch, Sascha’s car-seat sitting on the seat facing him.

By the time we got back home, it was time for Sascha’s nap and we ushered Arch upstairs to play, trying our best to get him away from the TV before he spent the entire afternoon glued to it. Ronnie carried the baby in, taking Arch by the wrist and leading him upstairs.

“Let’s go, little man,” Ronnie urged, making a face at Arch as they crossed through the living room and into the foyer to get up the stairs.

I dropped down on the couch, listening to them go.

“Why can’t I play downstairs?” Arch questioned, little feet pounding on the stairs as they went up.

Ronnie laughed quietly. “Because all your toys are up here already, and I need to talk to your mom.”

They voices quieted as they made it to the second floor, and I turned my attention to the pile of papers sitting on the coffee table. We’d yet to tell Arch that Ronnie was leaving in a few weeks. Neither one of us looked forward to that conversation, but we were quietly preparing for the day to come.

Nicolas required we re-enroll Arch every year, so we were in the midst of that. This year, however, we were also putting Sascha in daycare, which felt more difficult than sending Arch off. The papers on the table were half-filled out. Arch’s information was done and ready to go back, but Ronnie and I hadn’t gotten Sascha sorted out yet.

I rooted through the papers and pushed off to find a pen. I was rifling through a drawer in the kitchen when Ronnie padded in barefoot.

“What’re you doing, birthday girl?”

I looked up dolefully to the dark-haired man as he leaned down on the island and peered at me. For the day, at least, it seemed that we were pretending that everything was fine between us. “Pen,” I said as I showed him and headed back to the living room. His clothes ruffled as he followed behind me.

I dropped onto the couch and picked up Sascha’s daycare application. Ronnie leaned over the back of the couch and read over my shoulder.

“We already pay them a ton for Arch to go to that place,” he said, motioning toward the application. “Why the hell do we have to apply for Sascha to get in? You know they could care less about any of this as long as we’ve got money to fork over.”

I leveled a glower at him. “It’s a private school, Ronnie. Obviously the daycare is an extension of that. Good programs mean paperwork.”

Ronnie shook his head, climbing over the back of the couch to sit beside me. He snatched the papers and flipped through the next few pages before taking the pen from me.

“How do they even decide what kids get to go there?” he questioned with a shake of his head. “Is it whoever can afford it or is it based on parents’ jobs?” He tapped his hand against the paperwork, motioning to where it asked for a breakdown of our careers and yearly earnings.

I smiled at his bristly attitude. “It’s the same information I had to include for Arch,” I said. “You just weren’t there to see it.”

Ronnie frowned and stuffed the papers back in my hand. “Att, this school teaches governors’ and politicians’ kids,” he said, glancing up to me with those dark eyes. “When you signed Arch up, you didn’t have to give them my information. You really think they’ll be excited to have my kid?”

I smoothed out the application and leveled a soft look at the man. “Ron,” I murmured, reaching out to pat his knee. “When they admitted Arch, both of our names were on that application. They know you, and they’ve seen you at school and with Arch. They never batted an eye at you or what you do, Ronnie. You’re a good dad and you provide for your kids; they know that.”

Ronnie sighed sweetly, unsurely, but nodded. He turned so that he was sitting on the couch facing me, one knee bent on the cushion. “That’s what I want to talk to you about, Att,” Ronnie said, reaching out to rest his hand on my leg.

I frowned, unsure of where this conversation was going. He recognized my confusion and continued before I could voice it.

“I’m Sascha’s dad,” Ronnie continued, sliding his hand into mine. “And you’re Sascha and Arch’s mom, and that just doesn’t feel right, y’know?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He grinned at my confusion, eyes flashing down between us and back again. He pulled my hand into his lap, tightening his grip.

“Att, I adore Sascha, y’know?” he said, meeting my gaze. “The best thing about being a dad is having him and knowing that there’s nothing that I’ll ever love more than him. He’s the best kid.” Ron sighed, almost nervously, and glanced away from me.

“But having him,” he murmured, “getting to meet and hold and love him has made me realize that I’ve had that kind of love in my life for a long time. I hate that it took Sascha coming around for me to realize that Arch is my son too, but it did.”

A little skeptically, I smiled and reached toward Ronnie, grateful for the admission. But he wasn’t done yet. He met my smile with one of his own but kept going, shaking his head at my response.

“I’ve always believed that you and Arch were made for each other, that you have always loved him like he was born for you, Att. You know that,” he said. “I love him too – I always have – but I didn’t realize that I what I feel for him is what a dad feels for his son. Arch has always been mine, even when you were the only one who could see it, and I’d like to make it real. If that’s okay with you.”

I paused, looking at Ronnie in shock. “What do you mean?” I parroted. “You want to adopt Arch? Ron, that’s a big responsibility. You can’t just go from one son to two if you’re not completely sure that’s what you want.”

He smiled, shrugged. “What’ll it change, Atti? Arch already is mine, short of the paperwork and calling me dad. He’s always been my kid, y’know? I already help take care of both boys. I help with school and daycare fees. I want to be able to say that Arch’s my kid as much as Sascha is. I love that kid, you know that.”

“Ronnie,” I trailed off, meeting the man’s dark gaze. He looked back just as a strongly, not an ounce of uncertainty in his gaze. He was right – I knew that. Ronnie took care of Arch all along, was there as much as he could be for the child. The day that Arch toddled into my life, he walked into Ronnie’s too. The very same night.

“I know I put a lot on you with both boys,” I answered, speaking quickly so that he couldn’t interrupt me. “I know that I do, Ron, and you have no idea how grateful I am that you’re here and you love them. Especially, Arch, because he needed us – needed you – more than anyone. You’ve always stepped up for him, and if you want to adopt him, you don’t need my permission. He’s always been as much your son as mine.”