‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Ages

“Can I please have a snack?” Arch asked as he wandered into the room for the fourth or fifth time. He’d come looking for dinner about an hour ago and wasn’t pleased to learn that he had to wait until dinner at my parents’ house tonight.

I smiled at the little blonde as he lagged against the arm of the couch, leaning as close to my face as he could without touching me. His eyes were big and blue, staring at me without blinking. He looked deflated, because he already knew the answer to his question.

I reached out and grabbed him under the arms, dragging him up onto my lap. His displeased expression didn’t change. “Baby boy,” I said, brushing his curls out of his face, “we’re leaving for grandpa’s in twenty minutes or so. You can make it. I believe in you.”

He shook his head. “I’ll starve,” he complained, dragging out the word as he rolled off me. He clambered to the other end of the couch and hopped up so that he was sitting on the arm facing me.

I could see his energy building and clashing against the cabin fever. While I’d chosen to spend my birthday at home with the boys, we’d exercised through most of the possible at-home activities, and now Arch and Ronnie both were antsy to get out of the house.

I chuckled and hopped up from the couch, dragging Arch from the side to set him on his feet as I went. “By the time you get dressed it’ll be time to go,” I said, turning him toward the front of the house and the staircase in the foyer. I could hear Ron overhead, music blasting from the other side of his closed bedroom door.

Sascha was asleep in his bedroom, enjoying his third nap of the day. We hadn’t taken him out of the house this late in the evening before, so tonight was a trial-by-error type of adventure. Ronnie was on Sascha duty this time around, so when the baby started fussing, Ronnie’s music snapped off and he popped out of his bedroom, monitor in hand.

He grinned at me, ignoring the look I gave him when I saw that he must’ve been right in the middle of getting dressed for dinner at my parents’. He was wearing briefs and hastily pulled on a zip-up hoodie as he rounded into the baby’s room. I peeked through Sascha’s open doorway as we passed by on our way to Arch’s bedroom.

“Atticus, are you going to have another baby?” Arch asked, holding onto the stair rail all the way around the second-floor. He stopped walking as he asked the question, practically hanging from the railing. He flailed his sock-clad feet against the wooden floor, watching his own movements as a distraction.

I did a double-take, stopping short alongside the six year old. “Where did that question come from?” I probed, crossing my arms over my chest as I turned toward him.

He shrugged awkwardly, still dangling from the banister. He got his feet under him and dragged himself into a standing position, peering down over the rail to the stairs below.

I frowned and took his arm, pulling him back to face me. “Arch,” I soothed, trying to shake off some of his anxiety. “It’s just a question,” I said, reaching to take his hand. “I’m just curious as to what made you ask.”

Arch marched forward into his bedroom, still holding my hand. I followed and let him lead the way. He let go of me as we crossed his carpet, and he practically threw himself into his bed. “I just want to know,” he said quickly.

“Okay,” I said with an easy shrug, hopping onto the bed next to him. “Well, we just had Sascha, and you and him are all I need right now.”

Arch nodded along with my words, meeting my gaze his with own. I couldn’t tell what his reaction was – if he wanted another baby in the family or if he was having second thoughts now that Ronnie and I split our attention between him and Sascha.

We’d decided not to tell Arch about our earlier conversation – about Ronnie wanting to legally adopt him – until we could be more certain about what it would take to make it really happen. I knew it was possible, but I didn’t know what the timeline looked like now that I was Arch’s legal mother. We’d never looked into both of us adopting him, and I wasn’t sure what the laws required of two unmarried people adopting the same child.

“What’re you thinking, baby?” I asked, letting him tinker with my feelings.

He shrugged again but wasn’t hesitant to make eye-contact. “I just wanna know,” he said easily, some of the anxiety slipping away.

I grinned at him playfully. “Don’t we have enough babies in the house with Sascha?” I asked, dragging him to me. “Or were you thinking that you wanted more crying and dirty diapers?”

Arch giggled and shook his head as he leaned into me affectionately. He rested his head against my side, eyes closing briefly as I squeezed him to me. More often than not, the complexity of his thoughts surprised me. I should’ve known by now that he was always thinking more than I expected. He’d been through so much instability in the last three years, and we were finally just settling into a routine. New house, new baby, new official family. Of course he was wondering if anything was going to come along and upend that.

“Do you want to change for grandpa’s?” I asked, glancing down at the t-shirt and shorts he’d been wearing all day. There were a little disheveled from crawling and running around all over the house and the front yard. “I think I just washed that pair of joggers with the x’s on the knees,” I said as I got up and moved to his dresser. “I think you should find a hoodie to wear with it.”

“Atti, it’s hot out,” he said as though I had no idea. He dragged himself off the bed despite his words and moved toward the closet where most of his stuff was folded and stuffed onto shelves that he could reach.

“Yeah, but Grandpa cranks the air, and it’ll be chilly once you get out of the pool.” I rifled through his middle drawers until I found the joggers that I’d stuffed in there a couple days ago. I yanked open the third drawer, I sighed and lifted Arch’s toy trucks out from where he’d stuffed them between his clothes. I dropped them to the floor and pulled the joggers and a shirt out.

“They were under your trucks,” I said, eyeing the little boy as he turned back from the closet with one of his sweatshirts in hand.

“Can you put them back,” he said, lifting his blue eyes from the toys to me. He threw his jacket on the bed and kneeled down to scavenge for the trucks. He gathered them up and shoved them back into the drawer before stuffing it closed.

I watched him silently and then moved on, deciding that Arch could hide whatever toys he wanted wherever in his bedroom. “Alright,” I said with a clap. “I’m going to go change too, and then we’ll head to grandpa’s, okay?”

Arch nodded eagerly and moved to shut his bedroom door behind me.

With a laugh, I crossed the hall to my own room, pulling my phone out of the pocket of my sweats. I hadn’t heard much from Chance today. He’d texted on his lunch break, but had been swamped for some reason today. He spent his work days tucked beneath cars and their hoods and came home exhausted and dirty. It didn’t leave him much time to respond to messages.

I sent off a quick text, letting him know that we were heading over to my parents in the next few minutes and urging him to join us when he got off. We didn’t have a good track record at my parents’, especially when Ronnie, Chance, and I were all there, and we’d never intentionally gone all together. I didn’t know how everyone was going to react, my father included. He didn’t shy away from making his opinion known, and I wasn’t that thrilled to find out what his opinion was about Chance.

The only time the three of us had gone somewhere together with my father was at Arch’s adoption celebration lunch. We’d picked Chance and Sascha up, and the five of drove to the restaurant together. Brett had been plenty preoccupied celebrating his grandson and hadn’t said a word about my relationship with both of the men. I wasn’t sure we’d get so lucky tonight.

We got to my dad’s around 6, when the sun was just beginning to to sink in the sky. I loved the drive up to Pasadena at this time of day in the summer. It was warm enough to have the windows open as we rolled through traffic, and Sascha was pleasantly cooing in his high-chair. Arch was impatient but excited, chattering aimlessly from his booster seat.

He was practically bouncing when we pulled into the driveway parked behind my brother’s car. He was home for the summer and readjusting to life under our dad’s roof. His girlfriend Kasey had also left for the break, returning to Wisconsin to stay with her family for a few months. They’d both just finished their freshman year of college at UCLA; Frida was heading into her senior year of high school.

Ronnie and I headed inside with the boys without knocking. My dad’s house was innately familiar to us – we’d come here together a hundred times before for a hundred different reasons. I found my dad in the living room with Nico and Holland spread out in front of him. Nico had just turned four a couple of weeks ago, and Holland celebrated her first birthday less than a month before.

Despite the age-gaps between my father’s children, Brett was equally excited for every single birthday, including my own, at 27. He rushed off from the couch, gingerly stepping over Holland on her play mat and then Nico with her blocks. He rounded the couch and hurried over to me, wrapping his arms around me without preample.

“My birthday girl,” he cheered. He pulled back just enough to turn toward the stairs and shout, “Max, Frida, your sister is here! Get down here!”

I pulled away, wincing at the sound of him yelling in my ear. He grinned apologetically and then turned to greet Arch and Sascha very similarly. He said hello to Arch first, pulling the little boy into a side hug before taking Sascha directly from Ronnie’s arms.

Ronnie shot me a look as my dad walked off with the baby, barely saying a word to Ronnie himself. I chuckled and shook my head. There were no words to explain my dad, especially when it came to Ronnie.

“Where’s Gina?” I questioned, following dad into the living room. He held onto Sascha as he sat back on the couch and Arch clambered up beside him, eager for the attention. I sat down on the love seat near the bathroom door, and Ronnie joined me, plucking Nico from the ground. He was the same way with Nico that Brett was with Sascha. They adored each other’s kids, even if they didn’t particularly enjoy each other. It was a weird situation; we didn’t question it.

Brett nodded back toward the stairs at my question. “She’s in the shower,” he said, surprising me. When he caught my expression, he grinned. “She wouldn’t miss your birthday dinner, Att.”

I smiled and nodded, even though she’d missed plenty of birthdays in the past. She was the only other person I knew who prioritized work as much as my dad. They were perfect matches for each other.

Ron set Nico on his lap and basically fawned over her until she smiled. He’d known this little girl almost as long as she was alive. As much as Brett hated it in the beginning, Ronnie and Nico were friends. He was a staple of her life. She was plenty comfortable with him, and he loved watching her timid smile become laughter. She had never really talked much, even though she could, but Ronnie always found ways to make her talk to him. She was secure around him. Their relationship was what first showed me that Ronnie would be a good parent.

Leaving Ronnie and Nico on the loveseat, I got up when Max and Frida trampled into the room. My brother was wearing a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and looked like he was making the most of his summer break. Frida was in a similar state, but she’d been going to the record label with our dad as much as she could this summer, trying to learn in the time she had free.

“Happy birthday,” they echoed each other, coming into the room.

Max dropped down onto the floor next to Holland and Arch scrambled down beside him. “Now that you’re here, can we have cake?” Max questioned, sounding so much like my six year old. Arch grinned at the question, finding a kindred spirit in my brother.

Dad shut that line of thinking down before I could answer. “We’re waiting for your mother,” he answered with a stern look at Max, trying to stop his reckless streak before it bubbled up tonight.

“We’re also waiting for Chance,” I quipped, glancing away before any member of my family could make eye contact or pick up on that topic of conversation. “But I say we eat as soon as Gina is ready. We’re starved.”

Arch nodded immediately, continuously.

I pretended not to see the look that Ronnie and my father shared at the mention of Chance.

We were in the middle of dinner when Chance arrived. He’d texted me when he left work a little over an hour ago. He’d gone home to shower before coming this way and had almost decided just to stay home, but I convinced him to come instead. And since it was my birthday, he caved easily.

I hopped up from the table and met him at the front door. He’d parked in the street, halfway between his uncle’s house next door and this house. I smiled at that and stepped out on the porch to wrap my arms around him. He smelled fresh and clean, and his hair was still damp from the shower. The light from the house made his blue eyes shine bright, and I grinned at him.

“Hey, babe,” he whispered, nervously peering through the open doorway behind me.

I kissed his full mouth and backed into the house, taking his hand and pulling him with me. “Hey,” I greeted. “We’ve got dinner going. I bet you’re starving.”

He smiled nervously and shrugged, reluctantly letting me lead him into the kitchen. He’d been in the house a few times before, but it’d never been for a small family gathering like this. The last time he’d been here was a coincidence – he’d come over with his uncle at my dad’s invitation. I’d arrived right after. He’d kissed me on the back porch and let everyone see what was happening between us. It was a reconciliation in the same place where we’d broken apart. The time he’d been here before was the baby shower, when the reality of Ronnie, me, and our child was too much for him. And his feelings were too much for me.

Now I brought him inside, pulling him from the edges of my life and into the center of my family. Bringing Chance into the fold, officially, meant something, whether we acknowledged it or not.

I took Chance to the kitchen. He’d seen my family, met my father, but it had never been in any official way. He was the nephew and semi-adopted son of the neighbors, my father’s friends, nothing more than that. Up until New Years, Brett had no idea that I knew Chance beyond that.

“Guys,” I said as all their eyes flew to me and the man holding my hand, “you remember Chance.”

I left little room for questions, yanking the twenty-one year old to the seat next to me. I’d slid Sascha up right there to save room for Chance, and now I slid the baby’s high chair to the other side, tucking him between Arch and I. Ronnie yanked Arch’s chair closer to his own, making room for Sascha, and Chance by proxy.

“Mr. Gurewitz,” Chance greeted politely before sitting down, “Mrs. Gurewitz. It’s really nice to see you again. Thank you for letting me crash Atticus’s birthday dinner.”

Dad looked Chance over, still hung up on the fact that we’d kept our relationship from him for months. It seemed I made a habit of that – not trusting my father enough to introduce him to the men in my life until it blew up in my face. He resented it, so subsequently he resented the men.

Gina, like aways, stepped up to be polite when Brett didn’t. He adhered to the ‘if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ philosophy, so he spent a lot of time quietly glaring. At Chance. And Ronnie.

“Chance, it’s really nice to see you again,” Gina greeted politely, leaning over the table to warmly shake his hand. “We’re happy you could join us.”

I caught a couple looks from my brother and sister at the end of the table. They’d met Chance at Arch’s adoption lunch, but I’d brushed it off as something casual between us. They both knew that it wasn’t as casual as it seemed if Chance was here today, in Dad’s house. I ignored Frida’s prying gaze and Max’s obnoxious smile, going to get an extra plate for Chance as he settled in. I didn’t dare glance toward Ronnie as I hurried back to my spot.

Chance joined the conversation openly, aware that my siblings were trying to drill down and learn as much as they could from him, but he didn’t seem to mind. He smiled at them both, letting the inquisition happen without a care. They side-stepped really personal topics, knowing I’d shut them down, but they managed to learn what they could from the man as we finished dinner.

Ironically, Ronnie and my father were both mostly silent throughout the rest of the meal. Ronnie kept his focus on Sascha and Arch, ever the vigilant dad, and Brett responded to Gina or the kids when they mentioned him directly, but otherwise he simply watched the conversation happening around him.

After dinner, Ronnie took Sascha up and laid him down in my childhood bedroom. Holland was out like a light, sleeping in Brett’s arms as he and Gina started up the dishwasher. The rest of us took Nico and Arch into the living room, letting them play as we congregated around them. Nico was at the age where she was happy playing independently – she didn’t need someone to entertain her, but Arch was constantly trying to steer the conversation in his direction. He kept popping up next to whoever was talking, pulling on their arm and climbing into their lap. Finally I corralled him on my lap, caging him in with my arms as Frida, Max, Ronnie, Chance, and I talked among ourselves.

“Max, I love college,” Arch piped into the conversation, grinning at his uncle.

Max peered around Frida to look at Arch. “Me too, dude,” he said. “I can’t wait to go back.”

Frida shoved him back out of her personal space. “I can’t wait for you to go back either.”

The rest of us chuckled as the two of them bickered. Max rolled his eyes and leaned away from his younger sister. He hopped up as Nico began toddling away. He wrangled her back, bringing her into his lap. Ronnie handed over one of her toys.

It was an odd sensation for me to be sitting here with my family, knowing half of the people in the room were here because of me. Half of this family was due to my choices. It wasn’t simply me anymore, it was me plus four. Ronnie, Arch, Sascha, and Chance were here because of me. I could somewhat understand how my father felt looking at his family, his wife and children.

The other Gurewitz kids handed over their gifts, bidding me to open them. We weren’t big present-givers. We didn’t necessarily believe that gifts were the best way to show affection, but Frida, Max, and our parents got me a little something. Frida framed a photo of us from Arch’s adoption day and Max handed over an unwrapped or boxed gift card for Bath and Body Works, claiming that I couldn’t possibly find a way to spend that on the baby. Gina and Brett passed me a card that they’d helped my littlest sisters sign and straight cash slipped out onto my lap as I opened it. Arch’s blue eyes bulged at the two hundred dollar bills and he tried to snatch them away.

Ronnie yanked them right back out of his hold and tucked them into the pocket of my jeans before Arch could wrestle for them back.

Chance sat at my side contentedly as the conversation dropped back to talk about the past. Making fun of the birthday kid was a family-pastime. Gina and my dad joined in, having a laugh at all the funny memories of me throughout the years. Max and Frida had plenty to contribute. As the memories became more recently, Ronnie featured in a lot of them, and he smiled so much his cheeks dimpled.

After a couple hours of being the butt of everyone’s jokes, I finally managed to end the conversation, promising that they could pick up where they left off next year. Despite their jabs and funny stories and how dysfunctional we seemed sometimes, I had a lot of love in my heart for this family.

Arch had moved from my lap to Ronnie’s over the course of the night, and he was snoozing in Ron’s arms, curled up like Sascha.

“We should probably get the boys home,” I said as I got up and moved to take the baby monitor from the side-table near Ronnie. The little one was fast asleep in my bedroom, tucked into one of Holland’s pack-and-plays. That was the silver lining of my father having a children almost the same age as my own – I didn’t have to bring much when Sascha and Arch came here. Dad had everything.

Ron nodded and stood up with Arch in his arms. “He’s been out for like a half-hour,” he said with a grin, repositioning the boy so Arch’s head was on his shoulder and he could hold him up with one arm rather than two. With his free arm, he grabbed the baby monitor from me and checked the little digital screen.

Sascha was perfectly fine upstairs. Noting that, he passed the little machine back to me and grabbed for my little gifts. “I’ll get the baby,” I said to Ron and turned to Chance, taking his hand and pulling him up from the couch.

Chance got to his feet, slipping his fingers between mine. He turned toward Brett and Gina. “Again, thanks for letting me into your home,” he said politely, sounding younger still than he was. He grinned as he turned back to me, sidling closer as we said abundant goodbyes to Max and Frida. Nico was already upstairs. Dad had taken her up about an hour ago when her exhaustion turned into attitude and tears.

I left Chance and Ronnie downstairs together while I went up and collected Sascha from my bedroom. I figured the two of them would be fine for the time it took me to change Sascha and bring him down. When I came down, we hugged my siblings goodbye once again and thanked my parents for dinner and the gift.

“Ronnie, let me get the doors,” I demanded, heading around in front of him to get the keys from him and unlock the Cadillac. His hands were full with Arch and the little presents from my brother and sister. He shifted Arch’s sleeping body out of the way and motioned toward his front pocket.

I met his dark eyes with a dark gaze of my own.

“Atti,” he deadpanned. “Get the keys.”

With a sigh and without sparing a look back to where Chance waited, I stuck my freehand into the pocket of his jeans and yanked his car keys out. The car lit up and honked as it unlocked, and I threw the back door open on Arch’s side before moving around to the passenger’s side where Sascha’s car-seat was. I threw the car keys onto the driver’s seat.

Ronnie got Arch in while I loaded Sascha, tightening his straps down as much as possible on his rear-facing seat. Once he was in, I turned back quickly, returning to Chance in the dim glare of the porch light.

Chance glanced behind me as Ronnie’s car started up. He frowned, and his dark blue eyes met mine. In this light, they were black and indiscernible from his pupils. “I didn’t want to give you your gift in front of everyone,” he said quietly, slipping his fingers between mine.

I grinned, glancing down between us. “Thanks for braving that,” I said, looking back up to him. “You handled it well, though. Took it like a champ.”

Chance chuckled and nodded half-heartedly.

“Are you coming over?” I asked, tightening my grip.

Chance smiled immediately, but his gaze flickered behind me. I sighed, knowing that his answer wasn’t what I wanted. Chance stayed over a lot, but we still tried not to flaunt it in front of Ronnie. It was an uncomfortable situation for the both of them, and me, and we didn’t know the best way to handle it. It wasn’t like I could invite Chance to hangout with Ronnie and I or vice-versa, and I hated the thought of bringing Chance over and taking him right upstairs, pretending Ronnie wasn’t there at all. There was no good way to deal with all of this.

“Come to my place,” Chance said, running his palms up along my arms. “I can get Spence to clear out for the night. He’s dating some new girl, so he probably won’t even be there.”

I hesitated and Chance jumped back in. “Atticus, come on. The boys are already sleeping. Ronnie’ll be fine with them for the night. I can drive you back before Arch wakes up. He’ll never know you were gone.”

“What if he comes looking for me in the middle of the night and finds I’m not there?” I asked, nervous at the thought of leaving Arch. He was good with Ronnie – so much so that Ronnie was the closest thing he had to a dad – but I was Arch’s first line of defense. I was the one he came to when things were too overwhelming for him. I was there to fight off all his nightmares. I hadn’t spent a night away from him since he’d come back into my life, and I didn’t want him to wake without me.

Chance watched as I made up my mind. He sighed when I began to protest. I knew it wasn’t easy for him to be with me. At twenty-one, most of his friends were out every night, spending all their waking hours with guys and girls their age. Chance, in on the other hand, spent most of his time working or with me and the kids.

“No, no,” I said, seeing his disappointment. “Just come to the house later, okay? Let me get home and put the boys down, and I’ll text you.”

Chance didn’t ask me if I was sure; he knew I’d made up my mind. He pressed a chaste kiss to my house, squeezed my fingers, and then took off down the drive toward his car. I couldn’t see his uncle’s house from this angle in the driveway, but I knew they were home and he wasn’t going to stop by, even though he was this close. Chance’s half-brother had been adopted by his aunt and uncle when they were kids, but Chance remained with his mother and her issues until it became too volatile. By the time Chance’s uncle thought to take Chance in from his mother, he was already a teenager. He never really grew close with them, and even though Spencer was his brother, their relationship was more that of cousins who only ever saw each other at holidays. They shared an apartment now, but it hadn’t changed their relationship.

I climbed into Ronnie’s Cadillac. The dome-light flickered on over the boys’ heads but they didn’t wake. Ronnie pulled out onto the street right after Chance peeled away from the curb.