‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Too Late

With Arch’s birthday landing after the band left for tour, we decided to celebrate early with Arch and Ronnie. It was bitter sweet, seeing as there was a lot of news to be passed down to the six year old. He didn’t know that Ronnie was leaving yet, or that the singer was interested in adopting him. We still had a lot to figure out on the latter front, but we couldn’t post-pone the tour news any longer – not if we wanted Arch to find out before the tour bus rolled out of the city.

We decided to celebrate Arch’s birthday early as an excuse to get the two of them together in a capacity that might distract Arch from his little heartbreak. Two weeks before Arch’s birthday, a week and a half before the band was set to leave, we let Arch sleep in late and I took to the baby to Heather’s.

When I returned, Ron and Arch were both just waking up, making their way downstairs, disheveled, wearing last night’s wrinkled clothes. Arch walked behind Ronnie, an inverse copy of everything he thought the older man was. He walked like him, yawned when he did, and continued right into Ronnie’s lap on the couch when the singer sat down, still barely awake despite the time. If not for their differing looks and well-known history, anyone might’ve mistaken them for father and son.

It broke my heart just to look at them. To know of the bond they shared, and how they both secretly blamed me for fracturing it. For making us less than the family that they both craved.

I steadied myself and continued into the living room. “Good morning,” I greeted cheerfully, kicking my shoes off as I leaned down and kissed Arch’s forehead where he sat in Ronnie’s lap. “What do you two want to do today?”

Ronnie stretched out on the couch, holding on to Arch to keep the child from tumbling to the floor. He shrugged, peering around Arch’s mess of curls to see his face. “I guess we leave that up to our honorary birthday boy, huh?” he asked, talking more to the child than to me.

Arch giggled tiredly, shrugging without lifting his head from Ronnie’s chest. He snuggled against the man, turning his cheek against Ronnie’s t-shirt.

Ronnie loosely wrapped his arms around the boy. “I remember someone told me that they wanted to start music lessons,” he said to Arch casually, “but I can’t quite remember who exactly that was. It might’ve been one of the nephews, actually.”

Arch twisted in Ronnie’s arms, blue eyes peering at Ronnie’s face, even as he giggled and shook his head. “It was me!” he said, totally caught up in Ronnie’s charade. “I said that!”

Ronnie feigned shock, bringing one of his hands to his chest. “What? No way. I could’ve sworn it was a much older boy who wanted this. A seven year old, at least.”

Arch giggled, climbing, ungently, to his knees on Ronnie. “I’m almost seven!” he cheered, grabbing Ronnie by the shoulders, then the face, trying to make eye contact.

Ron hummed, shock still playing through his expression. “You know,” he said, adjusting Arch on his lap. “I do kind of remember something. A few blonde curls come to memory, gigantic blue eyes maybe too, oh, and the boy I remember was incredibly ticklish!” Ronnie roared to life, lifting Arch up in one swoop as he got to his feet. He managed to hold onto the squirming boy, even as he clutched him upside down, using one arm to pin him against his body while the other ravaged Arch’s most ticklish spots.

Arch shrieked, a mix of laughter and screaming, as he tried to shove himself out of Ronnie’s grasp. He attempted to reach toward the floor and drag himself down, but Ron was too tall, holding him up too high, and it exposed his underarms, leaving them wide open to attacks from Ronnie.

I chuckled, and above the shrieks of laughter, said, “While you two work out the details, I’ll get started on breakfast. Come let me know when you remember.”

I left them alone, their laughter becoming a background soundtrack as I cooked up a birthday breakfast for our early birthday-boy. It was bitter sweet listening to them play and laugh and scream together knowing that one half of their duo was leaving soon. Knowing that today was for Arch, but would also make him cry.

Somewhat, I felt responsible for Arch’s little heartbreaks. I’d given Ronnie to him in the early days and fostered their relationship, grinning over them, loving every moment they shared as they grew closer. I’d encouraged Arch to grow attached as I did, thinking that I needed Ronnie just as much as he did. But I was prepared for these heartbreaks, guarded against them in ways that Arch could never. The last time Ronnie left, Arch and I sequestered ourselves in bed for three days, watching movies and eating snacks and waiting for Facetime calls.

This time, I couldn’t do that, wouldn’t do that. I’d hardened myself to Ronnie’s life in the last two years, prepared myself for all the times he would leave, but I gave him to my sons, brought them into my world already loving Ronnie, and they would cry for him every time he left, unable to protect themselves in the same way I did. And I couldn’t protect them either. For as much as they love, and would love, Ronnie, they’d pay for it in missing him.

The three of us ate breakfast at the kitchen island. Ronnie slathered Arch, rather than his pancakes, in whipped cream, and in his quest to get Ronnie back, Arch covered the rest of the kitchen in it. I smiled, giving him this morning of ease, letting it be his birthday weeks early to accommodate Ronnie’s schedule. I let them have this morning together, existing only on the outskirts of their time.

In the afternoon, after a bath and a fresh change of clothes, Ronnie and I took Arch down to a little music store in the heart of the city. We followed him as he walked through room after room, looking at all kinds of instruments. Ronnie described every one, knowing everything about them. He told Arch the story of his musical beginnings – the right-handed guitar that he played upside down in order to learn. The parent that couldn’t afford one better suited to his left-handed preference. The parent that really wasn’t all that thrilled with Ronnie’s infatuation.

Ronnie righted that wrong, helping Arch pick out the best child-sized guitar they could find, giving his son something he never had. Giving him something to keep him distracted in the months that Ronnie would be gone.

In the end, Ronnie settled on getting something custom made for Arch’s size and preference. Arch picked green, asked for white Xs detailed on the frets, grinned over every “yes” and “of course” and appreciative look that Ronnie gave him. They spent forty-five minutes talking with the shop’s owner, picking out details and discussing lessons. Arch didn’t realize that, if he were going to be around, Ronnie could’ve just taught him himself. Ronnie didn’t mention it either. Their forty minute guitar-design session turned into another thirty minutes of music theory and random chatter. Arch didn’t understand the half of it, but he stood next to Ronnie and smiled and nodded, happy just to be there. Happy just for Ronnie to be there.

“Jacky is going to be so jealous of your guitar,” Ron said as they finished up, plucking the six year old from the ground and holding him. “You’re going to be the coolest kid in elementary school. Everyone is going to be begging to play it.”

Arch grinned, wrapping his arms around Ronnie’s neck. “You’re the only one who can play with it,” he answered. “Maybe Jacky if he asks nice.”

“Boys,” I called from over by the merch section of the shop. “Did you pick out a case for this guitar, and a stand? I’m not going to have it broken. Ronnie, did you tell him that it’s not a toy?”

Ron nodded noncommittally, carrying Arch over to me. All at once he heaved the child into my arms, grinning. “We’ve got a regular hard-case,” he said, nodding back to the counter. “And I was thinking we could get a little wall-mount for his room. Keep it off the floor.”

I pictured Ronnie’s own room, his two guitars mounted above his bed. “Yeah that could work,” I said with an easy nod. “Put it high enough up that it can’t get damaged. We don’t want Sascha getting into it when he starts crawling.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Come on, Att,” he said. “He’ll have his own by then.”

I frowned, shaking my head. “No, Sascha is playing violin,” I answered, setting Arch on his feet as I turned away. “Then maybe piano, then guitar.”

Ronnie laughed behind me. “A very talented son we have,” he called after me. “How’d we get so lucky?” Then he was back to talking to Arch, leading the boy back to the counter so he could look over the readied custom paper work, sign, and hand over his credit card.

We left with a pick-up date about three weeks out. Ronnie passed me the information card; he’d be gone by the time the guitar came in. It was a perfect replacement for his presence, giving Arch something else to focus on after he and the band rolled out. In the afternoon, we headed back to the house. The boys would spend the rest of the day just being together while Ronnie worked up the courage to tell Arch.

I left them together, heading out to get Arch’s cake and pick Sascha up from Heather’s. She’d been heaven-sent in helping with the baby, despite her own responsibilities. In the process of opening her own daycare, Heather was currently running it from her home. She’d just recently left the daycare where we met so long ago, unsettled by the institutional facility feel of it. She’d agreed to take Sascha and now and then while we worked on his application to Nicholas.

The main front door was open when I pulled into the drive, and I could see a child or two in the foyer beyond the glass door. One of them turned at the sound of my car, pressing his little body against the glass. I couldn’t help but grin at his little toddler-self as I hopped out of my car and headed up. The glass door was locked to keep the kids from getting out, so I lightly knocked, hoping Heather would hear it over the sound of Kyat and this other boy playing.

Kyat turned at the sound, and he barreled toward the door at the sight of me. He grinned, wild white-blonde ringlets wispy as he tried to unlock it for me. At just over a year and half, he didn’t quiet have the skills to reach or unlock the door, but he tried his little heart out.

Seconds later, Heather came around the corner from the main living room. She grinned at the sight of me and hefted my son up higher in her arms. “Kyat Hofstater,” she scolded, pulling him back from the door by his little hand. “Mommy will get the door for Auntie Atti.”

She unlocked the door and pulled it open with a click, letting me slip inside. I immediately dived for my godson. “Kyat,” I greeted brightly, sweeping him into my arms and pressing unrelenting kisses against his curls. “Thank you for trying to let me in, my boy.”

Heather playfully rolled his eyes. “I just told him not to do that and here you are thanking him for it,” she said, turning back toward the living room. “Come collect your son and stop corrupting mine.”

I smiled at the little boy at my side, one of Heather’s charges, and nodded for him to follow us. I set Kyat back down and took his hand, not wanting to walk off with him and leave the third child excluded. “Who is this?” I asked Kyat, kneeling between the little boys.

As she disappeared into the living room, Heather answered, “That is Evan,” she said. “His daddy should be on his way here pretty soon too.” She returned with Sascha’s bag slung over one arm.

“How’s the daycare thing going?” I asked, getting back to my feet.

Heather shrugged and passed Sascha to me. “It’s a slower start than I expected honestly. But I think once we have a location rather than using the house, people will see us more as a daycare rather than a babysitter.”

“I’d put the word out,” I said almost apologetically, “but I don’t think a lot of Nicholas parents will pull their kids from the school.”

Heather nodded. “Yeah, yeah,” she said with a smile that lightened her words. “You Nicholas parents are so elitist, I get it. How’d Arch take the news?”

My expression darkened. “Ron hasn’t told him yet. At least he hadn’t when I left. My guess is he’s probably waiting for me to get home so he doesn’t have to do it alone.”

Heather rolled her eyes. “Good job, Dad,” she commented.

I looked at her askance, surprised to hear her criticize him. In one of our last in-person conversations, she’d been suspiciously pro-Ronnie. But Heather always said what she was thinking, no holds barred, so it wasn’t all that surprising that her endorsement of the man wasn’t permanent. “He doesn’t want to be the bad guy,” I said with a muted shrug.

“Yeah, so he leaves you to deal with the aftermath,” she answered, motioning to Sascha. “I mean, this is going to be a life-long thing; he really needs to get a better system for letting his kids down.”

“I think the plan is to take them with in the future,” I replied, glancing away from her sudden, surprised eye-contact.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Like, he’s going to try to get custody of the boys? How is he going to do that? No court will agree that being a ‘rock star’-“ she said ironically, “is a stable job. And he basically refuses to move out of your house and get his own. It’s not like, on paper, he has that many redeeming qualities.”

I shook my head. “No, no,” I said quietly. “He made a comment the other night about taking the boys on tour with him when they get older.”

Heather scoffed at the impracticality. “Oh yeah right,” she muttered. “He can keep dreaming, because no parent lets their child live on a tour bus. It’s not stable.”

I smiled at the irony of it, remembering my own childhood and the bunk my father assigned to me and my siblings during the tours he carted us along for. Seeing the look on my face, realization dawned on Heather, and she corrected herself.

“No sane parent,” she said pointedly. “And plus, you wouldn’t let that happen, Atticus. You remember how hard it was for you to adjust being back at home after all that. Your dad kept you along when it was convenient but shucked the three of you back to the city when it wasn’t anymore.”

“Ouch, Heath,” I muttered, frowning at her. “Yeah, I do remember that.”

She smiled apologetically. “I’m just saying. You know better. You want your kids to have stable lives. Ronnie should want the same.”

I sighed and nodded. “He does,” I answered. “He just wants to be part of it.”

Heather passed Sascha’s diaper bag over to me, glancing to her own son. “Well, he should’ve thought about that when he was planning his career path.”

I smiled and nodded, but didn’t remind her that Ronnie never sat down and planned his life. For him, it was a matter of survival. Music was the only way he could get out of his homelife, his home town. It gave him enough hope to keep him alive. Even as bigger opportunities brought more trouble into his life, music was the one thing he could cling to. He never planned for children, never planned for a settled-life. Chaos was a constant companion for Ronnie, and now he was struggling to keep it from his kids.

“We should go,” I said instead, trying to shrug off the weight of the life Ronnie and I created. “I have to stop for Arch’s cake and get back in time for the water-works.”

Heather smiled sympathetically. “Alright, babe,” she murmured, turning to walk us to the door. “Call me and let me know how Arch adjusts.”

I nodded, said a couple quick goodbyes to my godson, and Sascha and I were out the door, heading to the cake shop and then home. The whole ride, I couldn’t help but remember my dad’s early warnings, even before I met Ronnie and centered my life around him. Brett always warned me off musicians. I always thought it was a bi-product of the guilt he felt for treating my mother so bad in their early years, but now it felt like more than that. Like a warning about the life I’d give my kids if I chose a musician as their father. Someone reckless the way Brett had been. Ronnie never cheated on me, never wanted more than me, but his job pulled him from home anyway, took him away on a regular cycle. Maybe, deep down, Brett’s warnings weren’t about my heart at all, but about the hearts of his kids, my kids.

I never told my dad how hard it was to live off and on a tour bus for the early years. To be picked up and sent off whenever he felt like it. But maybe he knew more than my siblings and I gave him credit for. Maybe he’d seen it all along – the hurt that grew in us when he left and left us behind – and maybe his warnings had been a way of preventing that cycle from continuing.

But I hadn’t listened, fallen in love with the same chaos anyway, and now it was too late.
♠ ♠ ♠
"I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I'll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can't hurt us
We're far from the shallow now"

Been gone so long, I know! Been busy with traveling and summer classes, but I'm going to try to get a couple things out in this gap I have between summer classes ending and fall starting. :)

I also redid the last chapter a bit, so you might wanna check that out if you need a refresher.