‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Thanksgiving Part I

Walking into my dad’s house was more hectic than usual. I was used to having to search the oversized home for any sign of life, but today I could hear everyone the minute I walked through the door. Arch took off automatically, slipping his arms out of his jacket and pushing it toward me quickly as he rushed across the foyer and through the swinging door into the kitchen.

“Arch!” I shouted after him as the coat slipped out of my already full hands and fell to the ground. He was through the doorway without so much as a look back and I grunted in annoyance, preparing myself for the journey down to the floor to pick up after him.

“I’ve got it,” Kasey laughed slightly, reaching down in front of me to pick it up. She glanced at the pie in my hands and the bulging stomach knowingly.

“Thanks,” I replied, shifting the pie to one hand so I could hang the jacket one the hooks behind the door. “Reaching to the floor is a huge operation at this point.”

Kasey was a couple feet in front of me as I turned back to her. “I can’t even imagine what six months pregnant feels like,” she said. “Picking up Arch’s coat is the least I can do.”

I smiled, not believing that I’d be in this situation now either. “I don’t think anyone’s really prepared until they’re here,” I told her as we walked through the swinging door into the kitchen where the rest of my family congregated.

Gina stood behind the island, near the sink and was rearranging plates of food that smelled delicious. She had Holland at her side. The little girl was strapped into her highchair and her big eyes were looking at everything around her. Nico was at the kitchen table and Arch had joined her. The two of them were chatting, but Arch was doing most of the talking.

“Atticus,” my dad greeted warmly as he hurried over and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, the pie and my stomach between us. “Happy Thanksgiving, sweetheart.”

“Happy Thanksgiving,” I responded, looking at him and my step-mother both. I set the pumpkin pie down on this side of the island and rounded it to Gina, wrapping her up in another hug before stepping around her to my third sister.

“Where’s Frida?” I questioned, looking across the room to my brother as Kasey joined him at the end of the table. “When I talked to her she said you were all on your way home.”

“She’s upstairs Skyping Caleb,” Gina said knowingly, her eyes rolling over to me. “Apparently they were fighting before we left and are ’working through their issues’ now that she’s back. Whatever that means.”

I sighed at the dramatics and raked my fingers through Holland’s hair as I headed back around the island towards the door we came through. “I’ll go get her,” I said softly. “I’m sure whatever they’re going through can wait until tomorrow. I’m sure they’ll be back to normal by then anyway.”

I stepped out of the room and lumbered up the stairs. My room was the first at the top, and I headed two doors down to Frida’s. I couldn’t hear anything through the door, so I banged my fist against it and waited until it opened.

“Fri,” I greeted, grinning at my sister, “it’s almost time to eat. Come join the party.”

She glanced back, and I noticed the laptop sitting open on her bed. I sighed and leaned against the door frame. “I’m sure his mom wants him back too,” I told her. “You two can talk later. I need some back-up downstairs. Arch and I are dipping out early to go to Russell’s and you know Dad is going to be pissed.”

She grinned conspiratorially. “You want me to run interference?”

“Exactly.” I grinned. “I mean, Nico and Holland aren’t old enough, so you’re my only hope, Frida. You and Max are a perfect little distraction.”

She laughed and nodded. Her brown hair fell over her shoulder as she turned and went back to the computer. She slid it over to her and I could see Caleb on the screen as she explained that she had to go and that she’d text him instead. He said something I couldn’t entirely make out and then the call ended with the trademark sound.

“Okay, lets go,” she said, whipping back around to me. “Plus, you probably need someone to help you down the stairs now anyway, don’t you? I bet that’s why they sent you to wrangle me out of my room.”

“That was my backup card,” I retorted, laughing slightly as we headed back down.

The meal was mostly on the table now, and Arch was ranting excitedly about something that I didn’t even try to understand. Dad shooed Max out of his seat and the nineteen year old was up and rolling Holland and her chair across the kitchen and into her designated spot next to Gina. Nico was on the other side of our dad and Arch had moved into the seat next to her. They were two peas in a pod and I absolutely adored the sight of them together.

“Gina, is there anything left to do?” I asked from the edge of the table.

“No, Atti, go ahead and sit down,” she said off-handedly, waving her hands in our general direction. Max slipped back into his seat, leaving one open between him and Arch. I grabbed a couple of drinks from the fridge and headed over to the table, setting Arch’s juice near his empty plate.

Dad scooted Nico closer to the table and then grabbed the bowl out of Gina’s hands so that she could sit down next. Frida dropped into the seat next to Gina and then dad joined us.

“I know that it’s very overdone, but I just want to say a few things about today,” Dad said slowly, taking a long look at us and the set table in front of all of us as he grinned. “I don’t know how we managed to pull it off, but we get everything together today, despite your mom being out of town. That’s a miracle in itself.” He took a sip from the glass in front of him as he stifled a little chuckle. “Anyway, I’m very lucky to have the life and family that I do. I couldn’t have asked for five more beautiful or intelligent children. And I’m grateful for the relationships they’ve made and the families that they’re staring on their own -“ his glass dipped towards Arch and I, and I was momentarily reminded of the family that wasn’t.

“I’m grateful for my gorgeous wife and the beautiful daughters she’s given me, and all the days that I’ve had her in my life. After my first three children, I never imagined that I’d meet anyone new that would fit into our family, but Gina came in and was one of us so easily. And everyday with her I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have another shot at it. What I’m trying to say is that you all mean so much to me, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without each one of you.”

Frida grinned and her smile matched the rest of ours. “Geez, Dad,” she said. “Cheesy much?”

Brett chuckled and sent her a look. “I promise you won’t have to hear anything like that again for another year, Frida.” He sat down and reached for the bowl of mashed potatoes. It signaled the rest of us to dig in and we went for it, passing dishes around so everyone could get all they wanted.

I filled Arch’s plate as well as my own, even though we would eat again in a few hours. We could only stay here for a couple hours because we had a four hour drive out to Las Vegas, but I figured there would be enough time between now and then for the two of us to develop a bit of an appetite before our next meal.

Arch scarfed down everything as fast as he could, and I made him sip his juice for a few minutes while his food settled and then when he said he was still hungry, I gave him seconds. Despite the monstrous amount of food, we were going through it alarmingly fast, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty about finishing the rest of the mashed potatoes and gravy.

“Atti, how are your classes going?” Gina asked when we were halfway through our second round of food. “You’re still going, aren’t you? I know that they seem like they take up a lot of time, but I met a lot of really great women there and some of what they tell you really does help relax you during the whole process.”

“I go when I can,” I answered, feeling slightly guilty about not going in awhile. “I mean, it’s a little hard because there are just so many other things to do, but if it counts for anything, I want to go.”

“Your baby classes?” Arch questioned, blue eyes big as he looked up at me with a mouth full. “I want to go too! I want to learn to be a good big brother.”

“You’re going to be a great brother, baby,” I answered. “You don’t need a class to teach you. You’re a natural.”

“But I want to go to baby school,” he retorted, frowning deeply. “You get to go, so I do too.”

“It’s not for little kids, sweetheart,” I told him. “It’s for new moms and dads to learn how to handle the new baby. I don’t even want to go, so trust me, you don’t want to go either.” I handed him his juice, hoping to distract him with strawberry kiwi.

He set it right back down on the table. “If Ronnie is the dad does that mean he has to be there too?” he asked, shocking me so much that my lips parted. The conversations that had been happening around us came to a drizzling stop as they all tuned into see how I would get myself out of this corner.

“It depends on the dad,” I told him, hoping he wouldn’t be too smart for my answer.

“But Ronnie’s the baby’s daddy and you said that dads have to go too, so doesn’t that mean that Ronnie needs to come home and go with you?”

“Sometimes it doesn’t work out like that,” I said, biting my tongue to keep from telling him that sometimes people’s priorities were off. “Not all moms and dads stay together, so they each handle these things separately. I’m sure Ronnie’s studying on his own, so it’ll be okay, Arch.”

The little boy opened his mouth again. “But what if he doesn’t know how to be a dad when the baby gets here?” he questioned, eyes wide as he worried. “What if he doesn’t know anything because he’s being a singer and when the baby gets here he doesn’t know what to do with it and something bad happens?”

“You and I will teach him,” I retorted, “so lets not worry about it right now, okay? We still have plenty of time to make sure that Ronnie’s ready when the baby gets here.”

Arch leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. “I want to call him,” he complained, eyes trained on the mostly empty plate. “I need to make sure or Ronnie won’t know what to do.”

“You can’t call him,” I answered quietly, leaning down into him, “but how about we see if you can come to class with me and you can learn everything that Ronnie needs to learn and then you can teach him later, okay?”

Arch grinned immediately. “Really?” He sat up straighter in his chair.

“I’ll have to ask if it’ll be okay, so we’ll see.”

The lunch continued and we moved onto easier topics, but I could see my father’s opinions bubbling just under the surface. I tried to put off leaving as long as I could, but finally we couldn’t wait any longer and still be on time. We were all in the living room watching highlights of the parade when I pulled Arch to his feet and told him to find his shoes. Brett was on us in a second.

“You’re leaving?” he asked, standing behind the couch as I stood on the other side. Arch darted around it as fast as he could and disappeared back into the foyer.

“Yes, dad, you know that we’re going to Russell’s tonight,” I said, grabbing for one of Arch’s abandoned toys and leaning down slightly to kiss Nico on the head.

“I thought maybe you figured out it’s better if you don’t,” he responded, leaning against the back of the couch as I said soft goodbyes to my siblings. Holland was already back down for her nap, so I told Gina to give her a big kiss for me and that I’d see them both soon.

“Dad, please don’t fight me,” I pleaded as I walked around to him. “It’s a little late to be upset about all this now. This is how it is and I’ll deal with it on my own, so just let me do things my way, alright?”

“Atticus, I just hate to see you like this,” he answered quietly, following me out of the room. “You’re so much stronger than this, and I just want what’s best for you, sweetheart.”

“Wanting Ronnie’s father to be in our baby’s life doesn’t make me weak, Dad,” I argued, glancing past him to Arch. I didn’t want to say too much with him in the room, but I also wanted my father to see things my way and to understand that it was harder for me to let Russell in than it would’ve been to cut them out completely. In fact, it would’ve been a hundred times easier to pretend that Ronnie never existed, but Russell already loved the baby, and I wouldn’t force away anyone that loved us just because Ronnie was MIA.

“Arch, can you go say goodbye to everyone?” I asked the six year old as my father geared up to saying something more. “I’ll be right in to do the same.”

“I don’t know why you’re bothering with that man, Atticus,” Brett said the minute Arch was out of the room. “He hasn’t even tried to contact you in months. If he can leave you and Arch behind, do you really think he’ll be here for his kid? You’re only setting them both up for more disappointment.”

“So, what? I’m just supposed to cut him out before he’s even in it, Dad? I’m supposed to walk away from everyone connected to him and just let him go on with his life like he’s not a father? That’s not me. I’m giving him space now, but when this baby gets here, I’m going to drag him back here by his hair and force him to man up. We’ve been through a lot of shit in the last year, but it’s not over and it’s never going to be over. My child is going to have a father and a family, and Ronnie and I are going to make it work, because he knows I won’t bring a baby into a world where it’s parents can’t even speak to one another. So he has three more months to figure out his own issues before he has to grow up.”

“You’re forgetting that this isn’t a perfect world,” Brett said softly, “and you’re forgetting that he has a career that demands constant attention and a life outside of you and this baby that he can run away to every time it gets too hard to be here. And guess what, Atticus, you’ll never be able to change that, because you’re not the type of person to pull him away from something he loves. So you, and this baby, are going to spend the rest of your life wondering which one he really loves more and which one he’s sticks by just because he has to.

“And while you’re splitting every holiday between his family and yours, he’s not even going to be there for most of them. He’s going to be on the road with his friends, too busy or too caught up to call, and eventually, you’re going to regret not keeping that kind of rejection from your kids.”

“I have more faith in him than that,” I answered. “I know that when the time comes, he’ll be here for his baby. Because I saw the way he reacted when he found out and I know that he’s hurting right now and that it’s because of me, but I have faith that he won’t let his own emotions stop him from being in his baby’s life. And if he doesn’t work that out on his own, I’ll bring him right back myself and force him to get over it.”

Dad and I both turned to the entryway of the living room when Arch stepped into the mouth of the foyer. “Atti, can we go please? I really want to see Russell and find out if Ronnie’s there.”

“He's not there, Arch,” I sang, “but the nephews are there, so there’ll be plenty to keep you busy tonight.” I held my hand out for him and he quickly crossed the room in his clunky brown boots to take it.

“We’ll see you soon, Dad,” I said, letting go of everything he said. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. “Drive safe, Atti.” He hugged Arch to him as well. “I’ll see you around, Kiddo. Have fun tonight.”

“Bye, Grandpa,” Arch answered, excitement creeping into his voice as he pulled me towards the front door. “Happy Thankgivings.”