‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Too Much

Ron and I got the boys in bed without either of them waking up. Arch’s eyes blinked open for a moment on the stairs, looking down at me in confusion over Ronnie’s shoulder for a split second, but Ronnie stopped moving when I reached out and grabbed a fistful of the back of his shirt at his waist. For a moment, we stood one after the other on the stairs, Sascha in my arms, Arch in his, holding completely still except for the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. Finally, Arch’s unfocused eyes fell shut again and he rested his cheek against Ron’s shoulder.

I let go of Ronnie’s shirt, urging him forward again with my fingers pressing into the small of his back. Cautiously, he continued up the stairs, reaching back with his free-hand to take mine.

We separated at the top, deviating off to the boys’ separate rooms. I cradled Sascha to me as I lingered at his closet, pulling out a clean onesie and the smallest socks known to mankind. Very carefully, I pulled his little jacket off and tossed it onto the dresser shoved in the closet. He was a warm, solid baby, so it was better for him to sleep in something lighter. He seemed to sweat at night no matter what, so we tried to keep him cool but comfortable. He fussed as I repositioned him, needing to wake him up for a feeding before I could put him back to sleep. My body was achy from going so long, like some sort of genetic side-effect of not feeding my baby.

I set Sascha on the changing table just long enough to drag my own shirt off and grab the blanket that was folded over the crib. I wrapped it around myself and then brought Sascha into the fold, sighing in relief as he rooted before I even sat down in the little chair. I positioned him better, dragging a pillow up beneath my arm, then covered the two of us with the blanket, letting myself relax as I balanced him in the curve of my body. He fed without really even waking.

I shuffled him into his crib and tossed the folded blanket back over the rail. Sliding my arms back through my shirt, I turned the monitor on and stuck it back onto the wooden railing, positioning it so that I could see all of Sascha as he slept.

I left Sascha’s room, shutting the door behind me, and crossed the hall to my own bedroom to find my end of the baby monitor. Just like my cell phone, I normally fell asleep with the monitor in bed. The sheets were still a mess, left over from this morning. Chance and I both had a bad habit of leaving the sheets a mess and only straightening out when we were ready to lay back down. I tossed the pillows to the floor and dragged the blankets out of the way.

“If you’re trying to make the bed, that’s basically the exact worst way to do it.”

I turned around quickly, jumping back from the bed at the sound of Ronnie’s voice. He stood in the doorway, arms crossed as he leaned against the frame. He looked amused, eyebrows raised.

I rolled my eyes at his joke and turned back with a huff. “I was looking for Sascha’s monitor,” I said as the comforter slipped to the floor at the end of the bed, revealing the sheets, no monitor.

“I stuck them on the charger this morning,” Ronnie said as he wandered into the room and pulled the blanket from the floor. He half-heartedly folded it and tossed it back onto the mattress. “Yours is in the kitchen.”

I slowly spun around and picked the pillows up from the floor, nodding to Ronnie in relief. He stood there with his own monitor hooked to the loop of his jeans. For a moment, I saw him differently, back on stage with the mic battery-box hanging from his jeans in the exact same way. It was nostalgic and bitter-sweet seeing him like that, especially knowing that he’d soon replace the baby monitor with a mic-box once again.

I nodded and turned away from the bed. “Is Arch still out? I thought for sure he was going to wake up as soon as we got home.”

Ron nodded and side-stepped so that I could slide past him into the hall. “He was up there for a minute when I stuffed him into his pajamas but I threw him back in bed and he went right to sleep.”

I paused in front of Ronnie, looking at him askance. “You’re joking about the throwing, right?”

He just smiled and shrugged, causing me to slide away with a shake of my head. I rounded the stair-railing and headed down to get my baby monitor from the charger on the kitchen. Ronnie seemed almost amused as he traipsed after me down the stairs.

We hooked a left at the bottom of the stairs and went past the hall bathroom into the open kitchen. The charger was hooked up near the window, blinking green.

“I can be on Sascha-duty tonight,” Ronnie said as he casually leaned against the island counter. “I mean, it’s still your birthday.”

I plucked the little machine up and flipped it on. There was a moment of static before I took a step back from Ronnie, separating the two monitors. He glanced down and turned down the volume on his own.

I shrugged, setting the little thing down when the image of Sascha flicked to life. “Well, Chance will probably be here in a little while, but we’ll be here, so it’s not like I can’t run in and check on the baby.”

Ron nodded slowly, glancing toward the fridge and away from me. He always did that when he was trying to bite his tongue. It was as though he couldn’t look at me a moment, as though I couldn’t read his every facial expression anyway.

I bit my own tongue against the awkwardness, wanting to say something but not wanting to make it worse. I wished it wasn’t like this between us; we’d done so well all day pretending that everything was normal.

Finally, Ronnie broke the silence in the worst way possible. “Does he have to come over here tonight?” he questioned, arms crossed and resting against the counter. He was trying to be nonchalant, but his tone was anything but. I would’ve felt his frustration from the other side of the city.

“Ron,” I replied, giving him a look. “That’s not fair. It’s not like we have anything planned, and I’ve barely seen him all day.”

Ronnie sighed and spun away from the island. “You see him every night,” he answered with a frustrated shake of his head. “He comes in every single night and stays all night. I’m getting a little sick of having breakfast with the man, Atticus. He’s not my boyfriend.”

I matched his expression. “You’re being ridiculous.”

Ronnie nodded sarcastically, not even looking at me. “Okay, whatever,” he said with a shrug. “I’ll be on kid duty. You enjoy with night with your boyfriend.” He turned and marched dramatically out through the kitchen side-door and into the living room.

Incredulous, I followed him. “That’s what you moved in for, Ronnie!” I called after him. “You literally moved in here to help with the boys. What did you think? That we would miraculously get back together just because we were sleeping under the same roof? That I’d stop seeing Chance because I was seeing more of you? That’s not fair.”

He wheeled around, dark eyes pinned on me. “None of this is fair, Atticus. None of it. The reason I moved in here was because I wanted to be closer to my son, my kids. I wanted to make the most of it while I could before I have to leave for months.”

I shook my head, glancing away from his stare. “You can’t lump the boys and I together. You’re here to be with them, not to be with me.”

“Like hell,” he answered. “I’m here because of you just as much as I am because of them, and I know that you want to pretend that isn’t true and act like I’m just some live-in babysitter that’s here for the boys, but you’re what I want, Atticus.”

“I can’t keep having this same fight with you!” I argued exasperated. “We can’t keep doing this. You’re here for Sascha, for Arch. I let you be here because of the boys. No where in the deed to this house does it say that we’re supposed to get back together, Ronnie. It wouldn’t work!”

“Why not?” he challenged. “Why wouldn’t it work? Give me one good reasons that we can’t actually be together, because from where I’m standing, we’re playing the roles already.”

“Because you’re leaving for four months, Ronnie! Because you left! ” I snapped my mouth closed immediately, watching as his expression opened. I didn't mean to throw his past back at him, but it was true. I'd forgiven him to walking out after I told him I was pregnant, for reacting to the sight of Chance and I together, for running when he got his heart broken, but his second chance was to return to his son's life, not mine.

He laughed ironically, shaking his head at the conversation. “It’s always going to be about my job, isn’t it?” he questioned. “This is the same fight we had when you ended it, Atticus. When are you going to get over your shitty childhood and accept that this is the life we have, whether you wanted it or not?”

I couldn’t help but glare at him. The problem with knowing someone so long was that they knew you too well. He thought he could dissect my feelings like some shrink.

"It wasn't because of your job when you left, Ron, and you know it," I answered bitterly, pinning him with dark eyes. "I let you come back for Sascha, for Arch. Not for me."

"You can keep telling yourself that, Atticus," he answered, "but that doesn't make it true. You might've let me in for the boys, but that doesn't mean I haven't been here for you this whole time too. I'm trying to make up for those four months; I'm trying to do better. But you're just going to remember that every time I have to leave, aren't you? I'm never going to be free of it." His expression softened, and his eyes landed on me with sympathy. "I broke you, didn't I?" he asked, swallowing hard. "I walked out on you like your mom and Brett, and I ruined everything, didn't I?"

“Stop that,” I demanded, turning away from him. “My parents have nothing to do with us. I’m with Chance. That’s the bottom line.”

Ronnie rolled his eyes. “Always bring it right back to him, don’t you? Too scared to face what we have, what hurts inside of you. How can I fix it if you won't even acknowledge it's there?”

I shook my head against his words, wrapping my arms around myself to keep from him. “I don't need you to fix me, Ronnie," I answered. "I can fix myself. All you have to do is accept that I'm with Chance now, and I love him."

Ronnie flinched but didn't pull his eyes from mine. “We both know that isn’t going anywhere,” he said darkly, hurting. “It’s not like you fought very hard to marry the guy, did you?”

I leveled an icy look at him, hating him for using that conversation against me. I said whatever I needed to in order to make him okay with leaving and not seeing his sons for months. I put all of what I felt to the side in order to help him, and now here he was standing in front of me using my empathy against me.

“You’re an asshole, Ron,” I replied, crossing my arms over my chest. “I’m trying here, okay? But I can’t be the way you think you want me to be. I'm not the same single twenty-five year old who you swooped into fix, Ronnie. You've got this version of me in your head that I can't live up to.”

“What? Single?” he said humorlessly.

“You already used up your wish with the not-marrying-him thing,” I bit back, glancing up to meet his gaze as I walked past and out of the room.

I took the baby monitor upstairs and into my bedroom, needing a some time away from Ronnie and weight of everything he brought down on us. With so much history, it was impossible to separate from it. He would never just be Sascha's father; he'd never let me build walls between us.

I kept myself sequestered in my room, texting Chance until he responded that he was parked in the driveway, waiting to come inside. When I hopped down the stairs, I found him coming through the sliding door, Ronnie standing there holding it open for him.

"Your favorite coping mechanism is here," Ronnie bit out, slamming the sliding door behind Chance without sparing a glance at the man. His eyes were like daggers pointed in my direction, betraying all the hurt he felt.

“Thanks, Ronnie,” I said darkly. Chance stepped across the room to where I stood in the entryway and leveled me with a confused look, having missed this round of argument between the two of us. I led the twenty-one year old upstairs without sparing another look at Ronnie, shaking my head at his questions.

“The boys are sleeping,” I whispered to Chance as we climbed the stairs and rounded the second floor landing toward my bedroom. “Did you stop at your aunt and uncle's while you were in Pasadena?”

He shook his head. “No. What’s going on with you and him?” He motioned over his shoulder at the stairs and the ticking time-bomb below.

I shook my head and took his hand, pulling him into the bedroom. I shrugged as I paused to close the door behind him. "Same old," I answered casually. "He just can't let things be. Always has to stoke the fire."

Chance slipped his jacket off and tossed it onto the corner of the bed before throwing himself down on his stomach. “Sounds like Ronnie,” he commented, rolling over to look up at me. “He doesn't want to be the only one burning. What was it about this time?”

I sighed and laid down next to him. “What do you think, Chance?” I asked. “It’s always the same fight. He wants things to go back to the way they were. He thinks he can fix it. Doesn't understand that we're different now, and it's never going back to the way it was."

Chance dragged me to him, fitting his head against my shoulder. “Maybe you should’ve thought a little harder about who you stuck yourself to for the rest of your life before you had a baby.”

I scoffed, pushing his head off of me, and lightly smacked his chest. “You’re not funny,” I complained, moving so that I was laying on him. “I’m just so tired of this. I try my best to help him, Chance. To give him the strength and let him know that it's okay to go on tour, and he throws it back in my face.”

He sighed and wrapped his arms around me, tangling our legs together. “What did you expect?”

I frowned, wondering how Chance could see Ronnie so one-dimensionally, could expect this attitude from him without expecting anything more. “I don’t know," I answered, wondering which one of us was wrong about him, "I thought maybe that he’d eventually realize that being here for the boys is enough. That he wouldn’t make demands about my life, wouldn't ask me not to marry anyone else, wouldn't beg me not to break his heart anymore."

“What?” Chance sat up abruptly, moving me as well. He turned his face to me, scooting around so that we were facing each other directly. “He made you promise not to marry me?" he asked, fixating on those words. "What did you say?”

“Yeah, he actually did,” I muttered, fanning my hair out behind me. I sighed at the ridiculousness of it and shook my head, reaching out for the blue eyed man next to me.

Chance frowned, bumping his knee against mine. “What did you say, Atticus?”

I frowned at Chance, meeting his dark blue eyes, realizing that it was more hurt than curiosity spurring his interest. “What do you mean, ‘what did I say’?" I asked rhetorically, sitting up to face him. "I told him the truth - that I’m not getting married by the end of the year. Why are you freaking out?”

“Your ex made you promise that you wouldn’t agree to marry me while he’s on tour,” Chance replied, scoffing as he glanced away, blue eyes turning toward the windows. "I think I have a little right to be upset, Atticus." He shook his head, almost to himself, as though he was trying to bite his tongue. But finally, he looked back to me with heavy brows, frown-lines framing his expression. “Why would you even agree to that?"

I frowned, trying to meet his eyes, but he kept glancing away. “Chance,” I deadpanned, trying to soften my disbelief. "You and I aren't getting married anyway. He was feeling insecure about leaving, so I placated him. It was nothing more than that. Why are you upset about this?"

“So you would marry me?” Chance, expression guarded, leaning toward hopeful. Like he wanted to believe my words but wouldn't let himself. “Would you marry me if I asked you? If the time was right? Or would you keep your promise to Ronnie over me?"

"That's not fair," I answered, moving to stand up, put some space between us. "You want me to choose you in a hypothetical situation? I can't say 'yes," Chance. We've barely been together a year, and even then we're not stable, Chance. I said no to Ronnie even after three, after living with him every day."

Chance rolled his eyes, hope burning away to bitterness. “Back to Ronnie again,” he answered, also getting up from the bed. “The time doesn't matter if he's not right for you, Atticus! Six months, a year, three years, it doesn't matter if I'm right and he's not. But you let him use us as a bargaining chip, and you fell for it. All to make him feel better about problems that he caused! He wouldn't be so insecure about leaving if he didn't mess up in the first place. He's the one who left you, Atticus, and I stayed."

I shook my head in disbelief, rotating away from the man. I couldn’t believe that I was fighting with both guys within an hour of each other. “When we started this,” I said, motioning between the two of us, “you’re the one who said you’d live with whatever this is with Ronnie. You knew what you were getting into. I can't change it.”

“I knew he would be this way,” Chance defended, “but I didn’t think you’d be so naive, Atticus. Who cares if he’s leaving. He always leaves, and now you’re letting him control what you do while he’s gone? Control us?”

“This is a hypothetical,” I breathed. “We're not getting married in the next four months anyway, whether I promised him that or not, so why does it matter?”

Chance shrugged, shaking his head, steadying his gaze on something out the window, out into the dark and away from this conversation, away from me. “That’s not the point, Atticus.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, letting the weight of this settle over me. It was too much, too unbelievable. "Then what is the point, Chance?” I asked softly, shaking my head. "Because I'm lost."

“Me too," he replied, shrugging, still not looking at me.

I climbed back onto the bed and reached across to grab Chance’s wrist. I dragged him closer, urging him back to me. He lingered at the edge of the bed for a moment, stoic and stiff, reluctant to return to me. Then finally, as I pressed my fingers to the pulse in his wrist, he buckled onto the edge of the bed, moving to face me on his knees.

He ducked his head against me, pressing his forehead against my neck. I wrapped my arms around him and ran my fingers against his short hair. His arms wrapped around me; his fingers dug into the notches of my spine.

“I'm sorry," I whispered, holding him to me. "I don't mean to hurt you, Chance. You have to know that."

He looked up finally, answering with a solemn tilt of his chin.

“Chance,” I murmured, lightly kissing his solemn mouth. “You want to be mad at me in the last hour of my birthday?”

“Atticus, this isn’t a joke,” he replied, meeting my eyes with his own dark gaze.

I cupped his jaw, fingers splayed over his cheeks. “You’ve got to let it go,” I murmured. “He’ll be gone in a little over a month. Then it'll just be you and me.”

He breathed a sigh and dragged me against him, pulling me down to our bed. He climbed over me, his hand traveling down my body, revering and claiming in the same movements. His palms were rough, calloused from work, and warm like his mouth.

I grabbed his wrist just as his fingers delved under the waistband of my pants. He let out a startled breathe, broken from his reverie and looked at me with eyes that swayed like the ocean, deep and uncertain.

"The baby," I sighed, pressing my mouth to his jaw. "I'll be right back."

I left the room, shutting the door behind me, leaving Chance in bed with heavy thoughts that I wanted to pull from him. Sascha’s bedroom door was open across the hall, but the light was still out so I figured Ronnie hadn’t made it up here yet. I hurried in with bare feet and checked on the baby, glancing at the the time on the clock above the window. It wasn’t time for him to eat, so I figured he needed a diaper change or a little bit of comfort.

I lifted his hefty little body up from the baby mattress, resting him against my chest. He cried out despite the contact, and I backed up to the changing table on the opposite wall. I was in the middle of stripping his little clothes off when a body appeared in the doorway.

I glanced up to see who it was. Ron stood leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed as he looked on. It was his typical posture nowadays.

“I’ve got him,” I said, noting his shirtless body. “You can go back to sleep. You look tired.”

He shrugged and stepped into the room. “So you’re worried about me now?” he questioned, veering around me.

I pinned him with a look, stripping Sascha’s wet diaper off. “It would be bad parenting to ignore you in front of our baby.”

Ron placed his hand over his chest. “Well, don’t let Sascha stop you saying what you want to say, Atticus. He knows you love Daddy.”

I strapped Sascha’s clean diaper on and went about re-buttoning his onesie. “Is that so?” I asked, lifting the baby to my shoulder. “I think Sascha also knows that we’re a good family, no matter what.”

Ronnie nodded ambivalently. “Yeah, I’m sure he doesn’t want his parents together, Atti. He’ll grow up just like the rest of the well-adjusted kids with separated parents.”

“Oh, now we’re using our kids to guilt each other?” I asked, turning to face him with Sascha. “Well I’m sure Sasch will be just fine, Ron. There’s plenty of well-adjusted people here to support him as he grows up.”

Ronnie’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, I’m sure there are, Atticus. And I’m sure Sascha knows that his dad would be here all the time if he could be, but Daddy has a career and makes money. I’m sure he’ll like it when he gets older and gets to leave with Daddy.”

I froze, staring at Ronnie unamused. We rounded right back into the same argument we always had. The same reality we always landed on. I travelled with Ronnie on his first big tour after he was signed by the label; it ultimately was part of why we broke up. He would leave and I would stay, and it was the unavoidable fate of our future. Now, it seemed, Ronnie intended to take my sons along with him.

“Go back to bed," I said to the singer, turning toward Sascha's crib. "We're done here."
♠ ♠ ♠
Someone's moving outside
The lights come on down the drive
I forget you're not here when I close my eyes
Do you still think of me sometimes?

And oh, love, watch the sun coming up
Don't it feel fucked up we're not in love?