‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Heartbroken Boys

Another thump landed against Arch’s bedroom door upstairs, followed by another and the high-pitched sound of Arch’s temper-tantrum. The six year old sequestered himself in his bedroom this morning at the realization that today Ronnie and the band would pack up and leave. He’d slammed his door closed and tossed himself to the floor in front of it, and for the last half hour he’d been kicking his heels against the door as he cried and misbehaved.

I’d given up on urging him out of his room, but before I could storm in and drag him out, Ronnie offered to take care of it, and he was sat on the floor outside Arch’s door, trying to calm him down.

“It’s alright, Sasch,” I murmured as I bathed the baby. He wasn’t concerned at all about his brother or his dad leaving – too young to really notice – but he wasn’t a huge fan of bath time.

I lugged his little body out of bath and the baby tub sitting in it, and laid him out on his hooded-towel before wrapping him up like a burrito. His curls were thick and damp and smelled like Johnson’s baby shampoo. I cradled him against my chest and got up from the floor. When I opened the door, I was unsurprised to see Ronnie still on the floor outside Arch’s room. I winced as Arch relentlessly kicked against the door.

“If he puts a hole in that, I’m going to be pissed,” I said to Ronnie with my eyebrows raised. “Just go in there and get him ready. You’re going to be late to your own tour.”

Ron sighed as he glanced up at me. “I’m trying, Att,” he replied, pulling his legs in as I stepped past. “I don’t want his last morning with me to be me dragging him out of his bedroom.”

“Well, he’s going to have to come out sometime. You haven’t even finished packing yet.” I glanced to his own room, where his clothes were still strewn across his bed rather than in his suitcase. “He better be downstairs and eating breakfast by the time I have Sascha ready to go.”

Ronnie nodded noncommittally and leaned his head back against the door, just in time for Arch fleeting kick to land against the wood. By the way he only kicked when we stopped talking, I knew the boy was listening to us from the other side. He was apparently a master at dragging out his tantrum and waiting for just the right moment.

I lotioned Sascha up and dressed him in his own bedroom, maneuvering him into a little black, hooded jumpsuit with mini boss written across the front in white scrawl. It was one of Ronnie’s contributions to his son’s wardrobe, as were the mini Timberland boots that I pulled from his closet. He smiled as I stuffed his little feet into a pair of striped socks, and I couldn’t help but smile back at his gummy little expression.

“Dressed like Daddy,” I joked as I lifted him up upright and clutched him to me. “Let’s get these shoes on and see if Daddy got your naughty brother out of his bedroom.”

“Nope!” Ronnie called from the hall.

“All right,” I said as I stepped out of Sascha’s bedroom and turned to Ronnie. “You take Sasch and I’ll handle this.” Stepping over Ronnie’s legs, I passed Sascha down to him and impatiently motioned him out of the way of Arch’s door.

Luckily, our six year old didn’t think to lock the door, so his act of locking himself in was mostly symbolic. As Ronnie clambered up from the floor, pushing himself up with one hand and holding Sascha with the other, I slowly pushed Arch’s door open, grateful that I didn't have to weasel my way in through the jack-and-jill bathroom that connected his and Sascha's bedroom. The little boy screeched as he realized I was breaching the front line, and he began kicking at his door frantically.

“That’s enough,” I said firmly as I slipped into the room. “Knock it off, Arch.”

He squirmed on the floor, his temper tantrum kicking up again, and slid away from me, kicking and throwing his arms around. “No! No!”

“Arch!” I stepped into the line of fire and grabbed one of his legs as he kicked at me. He screeched in protest and tried to squirm away, but I grabbed his wrist and lifted him from the floor. He screamed, real tears coming to the surface, as I sat him down on his bed and dropped beside him, pinning his arms so he couldn’t hit. “This is not okay.”

“I want Ronnie!” Arch yelled, turning away from me to bury his face in his blankets.

“You had Ronnie,” I answered, “and you continued with the attitude, so now you’ve got mom. It’s time to get up, get dressed, and get downstairs for breakfast. Throwing a tantrum won’t keep Ronnie from leaving, so you better get down there and spend time with him while you can.”

Arch sniveled, the sound muffled by the bed, and squirmed again. I could see him trying to decide what to do. Arch was normally a well-behaved kid, but sometimes things got too much for him and we had mornings like this. It had been awhile since he'd broken down in this way; it reminded too much of his early days with us, of the upheaval and the tears that followed in the days after his mother left him and the months he spent feeling unwanted in foster care.

“I know you’re upset,” I said, reaching out to rub his warm back, to bring him down, “but Ronnie is going to miss you too. Don’t let your last day together be like this, baby. He wants to enjoy it with you.”

Arch sat up slowly and turned to look at me. His cheeks were bright red and damp, and he was practically overheating from being so upset.

“I need you to apologize for kicking and screaming,” I said lightly, “and then we’ll get dressed so we can go downstairs and have breakfast with Ron, okay?”

The blonde practically leaped into my arms. He climbed into my lap and wrapped his skinny arms around my neck. His breath was warm and damp as he apologized against my neck.

I ran my fingers through his curls, pulling him back so I could see his face. “I forgive you,” I answered, “but we can’t act like that. This is your room, Arch, why would you want to damage it? It’s your job to respect your own stuff.”

“I know,” Arch answered quietly. “Sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” I slid him off my lap and got to my feet. I motioned for him to follow me over to his dresser. “What do you want to wear today? Sascha’s in his jumpsuit. Do you know where yours is at?”

Arch shook his head and raced over to me. “No, but I wanna wear my FIR shirt,” he answered, diving into the bottom drawer of his dresser where he seemed to stash most of his favorite things. He pulled it out immediately, flapping it around like a flag.

“What pants?” I asked, already moving to his closet to see which pairs of shoes were together. “Ripped jeans would go well with these Converse.” I nudged his all-black ones with my toe.

Arch shrugged, already slipping off his damp pajama shirt so he could replace it. Taking that as a glowing acceptance, I nudged his shoes out of the closet and turned back to the dresser to get a pair of his jeans.

Ronnie had breakfast going when Arch and I got downstairs, and Arch quietly apologized before sinking into his spot at the island. Ronnie was seated next to Sascha, who was sitting in his high-chair that clipped to the counter, and shoveling food into Sascha’s mouth. He had Sascha entirely wrapped in one of his t-shirts.

“Where are his bibs?” I asked as I came into the kitchen. I glanced at Ron like he was a crazy person.

Ronnie chuckled and shrugged. “I found the shirt in the hamper,” he said, nodding to the laundry set-up in the bathroom under the stairs. “It was easier to find than the bib.”

I went to the kitchen drawer were we kept bibs and rags. I rolled it open, looking pointedly at all the bibs in a neat pile under the dish rags. “Wow,” I said, “so difficult.”

We left the house about an hour later, somehow managing to get both boys out of the house without needing to change clothes, or take another bath, or stop for another tantrum. Ronnie and I strapped the boys into the backseat before either of them could upend the whole day.

The band payed to have the tour bus brought out of a storage and driven to a nearby lot today; they’d had it cleaned and somewhat restored at the end of the last tour, and it was practically shining as we pulled into the super-store lot where it was parked.

In the driver’s seat of the Cadillac, Ronnie grinned as the store, then the bus, came into sight.

The outside of the bus was fairly generic, black with tinted windows to give them some anonymity and privacy as they rolled in and out of cities. Their smaller storage trailer was hitched on the back, done up in the same black and chrome of the bus itself. The guys were loitering around the trailer and coming in and out of the bus, taking gear and luggage to their rightful spots.

“Jacky!” Arch shouted, rolling down his window.

The guitarist glanced up from where he was loading his amps into the trailer. His attention landed on us and it only took a moment for him to see Arch waiving at him.

Ron pulled up alongside the bus and backed it up so that it was easier to unload his own gear into the trailer. He killed the ignition and passed the keys over to me. He lingered for a moment, glancing up to me as he dropped the keys into my lap.

“Let’s do this,” I said encouragingly, not pausing long enough to let him think too much and get upset. “You’ve got a tour to get to.” I threw open the passenger’s door, unclicked my seatbelt, and slipped out of the car. Arch was seated behind me, so I yanked his door open and helped him unbuckle. He was heading across the parking lot toward the guys without pause.

Across from me, Ron opened Sascha’s door.

“I’ll get the baby,” I said over to him, nodding him toward trunk door. “You start getting your stuff.”

The generic outside of the bus didn’t let on to what the inside looked like. They’d installed hard-wood all the way throughout, making it easier to clean up the inevitable spills that carpet would show. The bus was spotless, seeing as it’d been buffered and cleaned up to make up for the years of foot traffic. The whole thing practically shimmered under the recessed lighting.

The couches were cream colored – one parallel along the left side of the bus, and the other was part of a booth and table, making up what the guys called the breakfast nook. Two smaller, matching recliners were bolted down on across from the couches, with a mini-fridge and freezer alongside them. Dark brown blinds came down over all the windows, deepening the aesthetic of the bus and matching the molding and shelves that were built into a couple of the walls.

The back of the bus was a little more crowded, but the space was managed really well for such a small space. Just beyond the breakfast nook was the bathroom. It was really just a small closet with a sink and toilet – the guys normally showered at the venues before leaving every night – but it worked well enough for what they needed it for. Across from the bathroom was a floor-to-ceiling row of bunks with curtains. There were five total with matching and sheets and blankets, just enough for each of the guys. The beds were made for the first, and probably only, time of the whole tour. The other two doors at the back of the bus opened up to two small rooms.

Ronnie claimed the room on the right as his own bedroom. It was barely big enough to fit a full-sized bed and built-in dresser, but Ronnie claimed that he couldn’t tour without it. The rest of the guys used his bunk space as storage and didn’t seem to mind that he claimed his own small room. It kept one of them from sleeping on the bunk closest to the floor.

The room next to Ronnie’s bedroom was used as a small lounge. It was big enough to hold a couple of chairs and offered the guys a space to get away from everyone else if needed. It tended to pile up with clutter, seeing as they were horrible at keeping their guitars and such in their hitched-storage trailer. When I’d been along with the guys years ago, it was the only space I preferred to stay out of. They were messy geniuses, heavy on the messy, but luckily it all compiled in the back lounge.

“Are you guys going to keep this place clean?” I questioned as I walked down the aisle with Sascha on my hip. Ronnie was behind me, barely keeping Arch out from under the guys’ feet as the six year old tried to bolt to the back of the bus.

Ronnie grinned as I looked back at him. “Atti,” he said, mockingly appalled. “We know how to treat our things.”

I rolled my eyes and deviated to sit on the couch as Ryan tried to make his way through the space and get back outside. Ronnie pulled Arch to the side as well, letting Jacky slip through. Arch used the opportunity to slip from Ronnie’s grasp, and he ducked back to the bunks where Derek was trying to shove all his clothes into the three minuscule drawers provided.

Ron followed after him, carting his duffel bag into the back bedroom.

“I can’t believe you guys are leaving,” I said as Derek wandered up to the front of the bus and dropped down beside me and Sascha. I let him pull the six-month-old from my arms.

He sighed, offering me a smile. “I know,” he said, sounding almost bitter-sweet. “Somehow, it just keeps getting harder and harder to leave.” He lifted Sascha up so the little boy was balancing on his little feet and let his wobble, building up those leg muscles. Derek beamed as he looked at my son.

I nudged Derek with my shoulder, pleased by how much he and all the guys seemed to care for Sascha and Arch. “We’ll be here when you get back,” I said. “Try to enjoy yourself, okay? This is what you all want.”

I could hear Ronnie and Arch’s voices in the back bedroom, mixed in with the sound of Ron opening his built-in dresser and slamming the drawers back shut. It was tell-tale Ronnie sign. He was incapable of closing anything quietly.

“I don’t know how we survived last tour without you looking out for us,” Derek murmured, scooting down so he could rest his head on my shoulder.

I rolled my eyes. “How many tours have you guys been on without me?” I asked rhetorically, lightly resting my own head against the guitarists’. “You’ll be fine.”

Derek scoffed, sitting up so he could look at me. “You think I’m joking?” he asked. “Atticus, you’ve been part of every tour. If you weren’t along, then you were flying out to help Ronnie’s dumbass, or calling to look after us every day. Or if you weren’t, all he was thinking about was coming home to see you again. I can’t imagine how miserable he’s going to make the rest of us this tour now that there’s three of you.”

I laughed brightly, authentically. “He’ll be fine,” I said, practically whispering as I glanced toward the back. “He’s got you all to look out for him. And I’ll still be calling; don’t want anything to happen to my baby-daddy.”

Derek laughed, practically giggling, and he bounced said baby on his knee. “It is pretty cool seeing this little piece of the two of you,” he commented, glancing at Sascha and then me. “Maybe I do want to make one of these of my own some time.”

I giggled back at him. “Oh yeah,” I joked. “Sascha and Arch are going to need some band cousins to play with.”

Derek smiled, but I could tell that it didn’t reach his eyes. His relationship had been struggling for quite a while, and while he hadn’t been that open about it, Christina wasn’t here to see him off today.

“It’ll happen for you, Der,” I said, reaching out to pat his knee. “You’re talented, and smart, and apparently great with kids.” I nodded to Sascha, who was plenty comfortable cradled against Derek.

“You forgot ‘good looking’,” Derek added, smirking at me. He cracked up as I playfully rolled my eyes, laughing with him.

I took Sascha back and ushered Arch out of the way so the guys could get the rest of their stuff into the bus. Despite the fact that they were leaving for months, they really didn’t have that much with them. Ronnie had a duffle that he overstuffed with clothes, some of the stage equipment that he kept stored since the last tour, and his own crate of mics and equipment.

“When is the crew coming out?” I asked as I followed Ronnie and Arch from the Cadillac to the storage trailer.

Ronnie passed his hoodie over to Arch, giving him a light-enough job, and turned back toward the trailer, hefting one of the amps. “They should meet us at the first venue in a couple days,” Ronnie answered off-handedly. “They’re picking up the van tomorrow and heading down.”

I frowned, hefting Sascha into my other arm. “Who’s all coming along this time?” Ronnie was notorious for hiring friends on as crew and tech members, but he’d been surprising close-lipped about who was traveling with them this time around. “Who’s managing?”

Ronnie lugged the oversized amp up to Jacky, who stood in the trailer and moved it into place like a Tetris game. He turned back to me and paused. “Ethan,” he said, naming one of the guys from my dad’s label. “He’s flying out.” He paused to think about the rest of the list. “Nasty is leading the crew this time around. He’s picking up the rest of them.”

I startled at the name, surprised to hear Nason Schoeffler’s name. He’d been one of Ronnie best friends when I first met the singer. He’d gone on every tour and hung around the guys more than I did. On their last major tour, Nason ran their behind the scenes stuff, but he’d moved out of LA after Ronnie cancelled the end of the tour, and I hadn’t seen him since they left last time around.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” I shouted. “Why didn’t you have Nasty come here today? I haven’t seen him in years!”

Ronnie grinned down at me, arms crossed over his chest. “You’ll see him at some point,” he said, sliding past me. He glanced back over his shoulder, smirking. “I needed him to do some real big-boy work tomorrow, Att!” He went to the SUV and dragged out the last of his equipment, taking it onto the bus rather than the trailer.

“Ron!” I called in frustration. “He hasn’t even met your kids!”

“You’ll see him!” he shouted back, practically laughing as he climbed the steps and disappeared into the bus.

I sighed and reached to grab Arch’s wrist before he could attempt to climb into the trailer with Jacky. “Take Ron his jacket,” I guided, motioning him toward the bus. “Make sure he folds it up instead of throwing it in a heap in the corner.”

Jacky hopped out of the trailer, letting Ryan slide the last of his drum set in, and then the boys locked it up. They each offered me a smile as they took their few remaining things onto the bus. I waited outside, reluctantly to say final goodbyes in such a small space with so many people.

Eventually, Ron and Arch made their way out to me and Sascha. Ronnie had Arch by the hand, and I could see that he was fighting every step of the way, unwilling to leave the bus and let Ronnie leave without him.

“Ryan’s going to pick up our driver,” Ronnie said as Ryan hopped out of the bus and headed toward his girlfriend and their car. “He’s like five minutes from here, so we’ll be rolling out pretty soon.”

I passed Sascha over to him wordlessly, nodding. “We’ll hangout until you go,” I promised, taking Arch by the hand. With every passing moment, Arch was getting more visibly upset. He was shrinking into himself, making eye-contact less, and his cheeks were getting rosier.

Ronnie nodded, skinning his toe along the cement. Like Arch, he was more upset with every passing minute. They had a lot of the same coping habits. Lack of eye contact was a tell-tale sign.

“Ron,” I said sympathetically. “It’s going to be okay. You’ll be back before you know it. Sascha and Arch will be right here waiting for you to get home.”

He nodded, biting his lower lip between his teeth. “I know,” he said, shaking his head as though he was shaking it off. He glanced up and tried to smile at me, but it was painful to watch him sweep his emotions away.

“You can FaceTime any time,” I added, “and I’ll send you every single picture I take. You’re not going to miss a moment, Ron.”

He chuckled darkly. “Except for Sascha’s first day at daycare,” he replied, “and Arch’s first day of school. Sascha’s probably going to be fucking crawling by the time I get back. He’s probably not going to say ‘daddy’ as his first word if I’m not even around.”

“Ron,” I whispered, a little heartbroken for him. “He will, because I’m going to be talking about ‘Daddy’ every day, and showing you to him on FaceTime. He’s going to get so used to talking about Daddy that it’ll be the first word that comes out of his mouth.”

Ronnie nodded, although he obviously didn’t believe a word that I said. He was too upset to be comforted. “I know,” he said, pulling everything back inside, “but it's hard to believe that when everything wasn't okay the last time I left."

I frowned, reaching for his arm. "You know that wasn't the same," I said. "We're not fighting this time, things are stable. Everything is going to be fine."

Ronnie nodded, unconvinced, bitter. "Everything’s going to be fine," he repeated, the words echoing with half the meaning. "I’ll be home in no time. It’s only nine months. Sascha will one be a year and a half old when I get back. I’m sure everything will be exactly the same as it is now.”

“Ron, this is your job,” I said, shaking my head at the weight of it all. “You're not running off to avoid things you don't want to face. I know that and you know that. I know it’s hard, but there’s nothing we can do about it. You have to go.”

He’d always been the one advocating that we could make this work. That he could tour the world, make music, and still have a stable family - a happy family. I was trying my best to adjust, to make things easier on us both, but it was apparently hitting him harder than he expected. It wasn't hypothetical anymore. He was really leaving his sons.

“I hate that I have to choose between my career and my family,” he deadpanned. “I didn’t know that it’d be this hard to leave, Atticus.”

I sucked in a deep breath, meeting Ronnie’s dark eyes with my own, and stepped forward to wrap my arms around Ronnie and around Sascha. I felt Ron pull Arch into us, felt the little boy hug us both and bury his head between us, and then Ronnie wrapped his free arm around me.

“You’re not choosing between us,” I murmured. “You’re doing this for us, and the boys know that. They’re always going to know that. They’re proud of their daddy.”

Ronnie sighed into my hair, squeezing me and Arch one last time. “I already miss you guys,” he said as he stepped back, still holding Sascha. He glanced away, brushing his cheek against Sascha’s shoulder before he pressed a kiss to the little boy’s dark, curly head. He reached out and grabbed Arch with his freehand, dragging the blonde close to kiss the top of his head as well. “I love my boys,” he murmured, kneeling down to hold them both. "I love you," he said, looking up to me through his lashes, pinning me with the word, with the fear behind it.
♠ ♠ ♠
I'm here, with my hands on the wheel all alone,
And the further I get the more you're moving on
Endless mile after miles of those broken white lines
Know this ain't where my heart belongs
So I'm on my way back from gone.
Playing this game cost me everything