‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


“I’m certain my dad’s been whispering in my boss’s ear,” I said, pushing my shoulder against the car seat as I turned to face Chance in the driver’s seat. “I mean, I’ve been back two weeks now, and they’re barely sending me out to do anything. It’s just been like meetings about bands they’re basically sure they’re already going to sign.”

Chance nodded at me as he pulled off the highway, veering into the restaurant drive-thru. His tongue peaked out of the corner of his mouth as he took the left turn across traffic, and I watched his ink-dark eyes flickered to the rear-view mirror as he straightened out of the turn.

I turned slightly to glance at Sascha in his rear-facing car seat.

“Weren’t you just saying that you’re worried about leaving the boys?” Chance answered, sparing a frown in my direction as he stopped behind the car at the order box. “It sounds like they’re trying to be considerate of your situation.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “It was my decision to go back to work,” I said with a shrug. “This is my job. I can’t be on ‘light duty’ for the rest of my career, and my dad shouldn’t push for that. He doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s career. A&R isn’t his department.”

Chance slowly pulled up toward the menu and the speaker, throwing his arm over my seat as he replied. “I mean, he is the CEO, Att. Isn’t the whole place technically his department?” He shot me a cheeky grin.

“You’re so irritating,” I shot, trying to smooth the smile that rose up at the sight of his own. “You don’t always have to play Devil’s Advocate, y’know. Sometimes you can just be on my side.”

Chance grinned deeper, dimples appearing. “Even when you’re being irrational and short-sided?”

I scoffed in surprise, reaching over to shove his shoulder and duck away from his grasp as he tried to drop his arm around my shoulder and pull me in.

He laughed, a sort of giggle that I didn’t hate coming from him, and began apologizing, defending himself. “Don’t hit the driver!” he cried, motioning to the steering wheel and the vehicle in general. “Atticus, you’re going to cause an accident!”

“We’re standing still outside a Wendy’s,” I laughed, shaking my head at his nonsense. “Just don’t lift your food from the break and we’ll be fine.”

Chance mocked outrage, holding the car still even as the one ahead moved out of the way. “Think of the child,” he said dramatically, dark eyes widening. “I’d hate for you to risk your own baby. You know what they say about having distractions in the car.”

I rolled my eyes but settled into my spot. Chance eyed me for a moment then slowly rolled forward to speak. “If we were to hit someone at this speed,” I said just before he stopped again, “it wouldn’t even be enough to wake Sascha. He sleeps like the dead.”

Chance snorted a laugh, biting his bottom lip between his teeth even as he smiled and pulled his eyes from me to relay our orders through the microphone box. A few minutes later he passed a couple drinks and our bag of food across to me, thanking the woman in the window with a bright smile.

“You have a great day,” he said, flashing her a dimpled smile.

He caught my eye as he reached into the bag on my lap and fished out a fry, stuffing it in his mouth as he pulled up through the driveway to turn back into the street. “What?” he asked after he swallowed, eyes narrowed as he noticed my gaze.

My answer died in my throat as my phone started ringing. I quickly reached for my bag that sat on the floor between my feet, hoping that the ring wouldn’t wake Sascha. It took me a minute to fish it out from between the baby stuff, but when I caught sight of the screen, I frowned at the name of Arch’s school lit up on the screen.

“Nicolas,” I said to Chance as a slid the bar across the bottom of the screen and lifted it to my ear. “Hello?”

Chance rotated between watching the street in front of us and glancing at me as I took the call. Back on the highway, we rolled to a stop in traffic, even in the middle of the day, and he was able to turn more of his attention to me, a frown on his face.

“What are you saying?” I asked into the phone. “Arch bit someone? Was it a child?”

I ended the call a few minutes later, pressing my fingers against my forehead as I sucked in a deep breath. After a moment, I looked up into the sun and to Chance. “We’ve got to turn around,” I said to his concerned expression. “Arch bit one of his teacher aids at school and has to be picked up for the day.”

“He bit a teacher?” Chance repeated, sighing as he moved to switch into the far right lane. We couldn’t get over in time for the nearest exit, but he pulled off at the next one, heading back the other direction.

“Yeah,” I said. “Luckily it didn’t break the skin, and thank goodness it wasn’t another child. I had those conversations with parents when I worked at the daycare. It never goes well. Children get asked to leave permanently if they make a habit out of biting other kids.”

“I didn’t realize little kids could get expelled,” he said, almost chuckling at the idea, but I nodded, knowing how serious biting was taken.

“If kids break the skin, that’s like sharing bodily fluids. It’s a big deal. Kids who get bitten can get infections. It’s not very common, but parents freak out about it.” I sighed, shaking my head. My job at the daycare was to keep track of kids’ injuries and behavioral issues and communicate with the parents. I could already hear the conversation at Nicolas running through my head; the warning they’d give me about Arch’s behavior.

Chance reached over and rested his hand on my knee as he merged back onto the highway in the other direction, taking us back toward the auto shop where he worked, where his own car was parked. I’d shown up around his lunch break, desperate to get out of the house with Sascha and lull the baby to sleep. Chance was more than eager to ride along, to drive even.

I pulled Chance’s burger out and handed to him to eat as we drove, knowing our plans for heading to a park or parking somewhere to eat together was cancelled. Chance frowned slightly but took the food.

“You should eat,” he said, nodding to my own meal forgotten in the bag. “I can drive you to the school, if you want, Atticus. I don’t have to be back yet. There’s more than enough time for me to finish the job I’m working on tomorrow.”

I sighed, lighter this time, and shook my head as I sat up. “Thanks, but I’ve got it covered today. I’ll take the food home and heat it up later. I’ll probably have to make something for Arch after I pick him up. I don’t know if he’s had lunch yet at school.”

Chance quirked a grin, spitting out the words even as he knew I wouldn’t find them funny. “Maybe the boy got hungry then,” he said, practically wincing as he glanced to me for my reaction.

I gave him a ‘really?’ look. “It’s a good thing you’re not coming,” I mildly joked back, lacing my fingers through his as he finished off his burger and tossed the wrapped in the bag now at my feet.

“Seriously though,” he said with another probing look. “I can just drive. I’ll keep my mouth shut. Scout’s Honor.” He tightened his grip on my hand before pulling away to flip the blinker on and slid into the far lane.

The exit for his shop was only a couple stops ahead. “I appreciate it,” I said softly, “but Arch and I need to have a serious talk. I think he’ll be more open to listen if it’s just the two of us.”

Chance dropped himself back at work, pausing at the front of the car as we crossed past each other when I walked to the driver’s side. Chance lightly grabbed me to stop me from walking away from him. With a half-smile, a consolation smile, he wrapped his arms around my waist and quickly kissed me, not unaware that his coworkers were right ahead of us.

“Call me, yeah?” he said as he released me and stepped backwards toward the shop. “I’ll be off around six if you want me to come over tonight. Take your mind off your little piranha.”

“You’re so not funny,” I answered, stepping to the open driver’s door. “You keep it up and I might not call you at all.” I shrugged, leaning against the car long enough to watch his expression darken. Then, before he could reply, I dropped into the car and pulled the door shut. I spared a glance back toward Sascha, able to see him in the little mirror strapped to the back seat headrest. With any luck, he’d sleep for at least another half-hour. Long enough to get across the city to Arch’s school and maybe even partially home if he didn’t wake too much.

It took about twenty minutes to cross LA and pull up outside Nicolas. Without giving myself time to overthink the conversation that was about to come, I hopped out, yanked my bag up from the floor of the passenger’s seat, and carefully lifted Sascha’s whole car seat from the back, keeping it levelled as I locked the car and headed into the building.

Nicolas was a familiar sight. With this being Arch’s second full year in either their daycare or their school, I walked in and instantly recognized the receptionist who sat at the front desk. The inside and outside of the building were both mostly cream colored. The lobby was small, with an even smaller seating area to the right and little cubbies along the wall to the left. Hallways ran parallel down either side of the reception desk, and the second floor was open and railed up above. The Nicolas logo sign was mounted to the wall above the desk.

“I’m here to get Arch,” I said politely, setting Sascha’s car seat down as I signed in on the clipboard. “I believe I need to meet with his teacher.”

The receptionist typed a couple things into the iPad in front of her before she said, “Actually your meeting is scheduled with Ms. Caty and his class aid, Mrs. Halifax. Arch’s teacher is currently with other students.”

I smiled tightly and nodded, knowing they were taking this seriously if Ms. Caty was involved. She was basically the headmaster’s assistant. When Teresa Gillian was unavailable, Ms. Caty stepped in to handle concerns. “Where is Arch now?” I asked, lifting Arch’s seat up from the ground. “I’d like to see him first.”

“He’s with them both right now. Ms. Caty’s on her way to walk you back.” She smiled brightly but didn’t motion to the small seating area, so I just stood awkwardly, hefting Sascha’s weight in my arms until the slim, blonde woman appeared from the hall on the left.

“Ms. Gurewitz,” she greeted, sounding a little too bright for the circumstances. “It’s good to see you again.” She paused at my side and instantly peered down at the baby, her smiling widening. “This must be Sascha,” she said, adding, “Arch was just telling me about him.”

I nodded, familiar with Arch’s tendency to talk people’s ears off. I noted that he must not be in that bad a mood if he was having a congenial conversation with Ms. Caty. “This is the one and only,” I said softly, watching Sascha stretch his arms out and turn his head, his black curls matting against the car seat.

“Well, come with me,” Ms. Caty said, turning back down the way she came.

We headed down the left hall and then took another left deeper into the building where the classrooms were located. I’d been through this building many times between Arch’s daycare here and now his schooling. We took a right where the daycare section separated from the school, and I found myself in a less familiar part of the building. Little lockers lined the walls and there were mostly empty bulletin and art boards lining the free space of the wall. There were only four class room doors in this section, and we passed two little bathrooms and one room that was labelled ‘staff only.’ At the end of the hall, just before glass doors that opened up to a playground in the back of the building, Ms. Caty stepped through another door on the right and held it open for me to follow her through.

It was a decent-sized office. The door opened into a small seating area with a couple of couches and a little coffee table. Beyond that was a desk with hefty armchairs poised in front of it. Arch’s blonde curls were the first thing I noticed, and he turned to look at me with big blue eyes as I walked into the room.

“Hi baby,” I greeted, moving to join him where he sat next to a woman I assumed to be his classroom air.

She stood from the other armchair and held her hand out to greet me. “I’m Mrs. Halifax,” she said politely as I set Sascha down and reached to shake her hand. “I’m the teacher’s aide for Mrs. Miguel’s class.”

“Atticus Gurewitz,” I answered. “Arch’s mom.”

Behind her, Arch sighed and threw himself back against his chair, scooching down so he could rest his head against the back of the chair, his curls bunching against the seat.

I gave him a look, but he looked away without meeting my gaze. He pulled himself up and peered over the edge to Sascha parked below him.

“Thanks for coming in, Atticus,” Ms. Caty said as she moved to sit behind the desk. Mrs. Halifax motioned for me to take the other armchair, and she went to pull up a smaller wooden chair from the other side of the room. “As I said on the phone, Arch needs to go home for the rest of the day, but I’d like him to explain his day to you before he goes.”

“What happened, Arch?” I asked expectantly, looking to him.

Arch glanced up from where he was bent over the chair, reaching down to Sascha, but he only glanced my way for a second before fiddling with the arm of the car seat, reaching to twirl the baby’s hair around his finger.

“Arch,” I said again, more firmly. “I’m talking to you. You know that you can talk to me about whatever happened.”

“Nothing happened,” he said, peering up at me through shimmery golden lashes.

“You know that’s not true, Arch,” Mrs. Halifax said immediately. “Tell your mom the truth about why you’re going home today.”

Arch pulled his knees up onto the chair, turning his back toward his teacher’s aide as he leaned over the side to reach Sascha. I frowned and scooted to the edge of my seat so that I could reach and pull Sascha away from Arch. When Arch just frowned but didn’t look up, I lifted my hand and lightly brushed it along his spine.

“I already know you bit Mrs. Halifax,” I said, trying to meet his gaze. “Do you want to tell me what got you so upset that you would act like that?”

Arch looked up at my admission, obviously unaware that I was already briefed on what happened today. Still on his knees, he glanced to his right at Ms. Caty before he slid from the chair and quickly crossed the space between us. He threw his arms around my neck, stepping between my legs to press his forehead against my shoulder.

“I just wanna go home,” he said, squeezing the life out of me.

I rubbed his back, nodding against him. “We are going home,” I said, “but it’s not a reward, Arch. What you did today is unacceptable. When we get home, you’re going straight to your room. You’ll stay there for the rest of the night if you don’t tell me why you were so mad.”

He pulled back enough to see my face, and his little frown tells me he’s surprised at the seriousness of my threat.

“I was trying to write a letter to Ronnie,” he said, his baby blues darkening with his glower, “but she wouldn’t let me.”

“We weren’t supposed to be working on writing anymore, Arch,” Mrs. Halifax said even somewhat softly. “Mrs. Miguel asked us all to put away our papers and take out our squares so we could work on our math problems.”

“She took my letter,” Arch answered, ignoring the other adults in the room. “When I tried to tell her that I needed it back, she said I couldn’t have it. She was going to throw it away!”

“Arch,” Mrs. Halifax said softly, calmly. “I’m sorry that I made you think I was going to throw away your letter. I was just going to put it away until after math time. I would’ve given it back during free time, and I would’ve helped you finish it then.”

Arch looked like he didn’t want to listen; he didn’t soften at her words. He just frowned and held onto me so much he was weighing me down by the neck, one level away from crawling into my lap like a much younger version of himself.

“Why would you think biting is the solution to having something taken away?” I asked, unlooping his arms from around my neck so that he’s standing in front of me. “Even when you were three, you never bit anybody. Why now?”

“She ripped it,” he said, sparing one dark glower in her general direction. “And now it’s gone forever. I’m mad.” He crossed his skinny little arms over his chest.

“So what,” I answered back. “You know how to use your words. I get mad all the time. I don’t bite people. Why didn’t you just talk to her about the letter? She probably didn’t know why it was so important to you.”

Arch is smart enough to look shame-faced as we talk through his actions, yet he doesn’t turn back toward the other two women. I can see that Mrs. Halifax feels bad about what happened to the letter, but she fingers the little cartoon band-aid on her forearm as she watches our exchange.

“Would you like to say anything to Mrs. Halifax and Ms. Caty?” I asked him, reaching my hand out to touch his shoulder and gently turn him toward the other women.

“The letter was for my dad, Ronnie!” he said, a little too loud, a little bombastic in his delivery. “He’s been gone a whole month, and I wanted to send it to him so that he’d know that I want him to come home!”

I frowned, having expected an apology from Arch rather than this admission, but I quickly step in to add the context.

“Ronnie is on tour with his band,” I said, not wanting them to misconstrue the situation. To novice ears, it might sound like Arch’s father walked out on us. I lightly grabbed Arch’s arm and turn him back to me, searching his angry little face. “Arch, I know you miss him, but Ron FaceTimes every night before bed time to say goodnight.”

“So,” he answered, slipping out of my grasp.

“He’s not going to be happy when he hears you’re acting like this,” I informed the seven year old. “Especially not during your first week back at school. You know how excited he is for you to have fun in second grade.”

“He’s not even here,” Arch spit out, clambering back into his designated chair and away from me. He bumps the car seat as he goes, and it jostles Sascha awake, his face scrunching up just before he lets out a staticky little cry.

I reached down and unstrap the baby, still talking to Arch. “You can’t bite people,” I told him, standing up with Sascha in my arms, peering down at Arch with serious eyes. “You’re not going watch TV the rest of the week, and when we get home you’re going to your room to write apology letters to your teachers for biting and disrupting the class.”

Arch’s expression is dark, but he doesn’t answer.

“Stand up and apologize,” I demanded of him.

He kicked his feet out in front of him. “Why do I have to apologize if I have to write a letter?”

“Arch Emerson Gurewitz,” I seethed, nodding for him to get his little butt up and do as he’s told. “You have been in a mood for a month, and I’m getting very tired of it. We’re not doing this for the rest of Ron’s tour.”

“You can’t control my mood,” he snarked, turning his blues eyes to my brown ones defiantly.

With a frustrated sigh, I bent at the knees and deposited Sascha back into the car seat. He was still a bit fussy as I buckled him in, but hopefully the car ride home with calm him down again.

I have to admit, I’m as eager for Ronnie to come home as Arch is. Once he left, Arch did a complete 180, so for the first time, I’m alone with a baby and a defiant kid. Arch went from being my second-in-command to being a four-foot-one thing of nightmares.

“He’s allowed to come back tomorrow?” I asked, glancing back to Ms. Caty as I situated the baby and then lift the car seat in the crook of my elbow.

The woman frowns, but confirmed it.

“He’ll be back tomorrow with a big apology for both of you,” I said, eyeing the child in question. “We’re going to go home, have lunch, and have a long chat with about today. Then were going to call Ron and you’ll explain all of this to him.”

Arch barely balked at the idea of telling Ronnie. Instead he slipped from his chair and moved to barrel past me, but I reached out and took his arm to keep him at my side.

Ms. Caty walked out back to the front of the building, offering me a smile that I’m sure is supposed to bolster me in the face of a difficult seven year old, but I don’t smile back as I lead Arch by the arm out to the car.

“Get in,” I demanded as I pulled the back door open on Sascha’s side of the car. As Arch clambers over the base of Sascha’s car seat, I said, “I don’t want to hear a word from you until we get home. The way you acted in there is not okay, Arch. You better believe you’re in trouble and Ron is going to hear about this. He’s not going to be happy with you either.”

“I don’t care,” he said as he throws himself into his own booster seat.

I clicked Sascha’s seat into the based and paused to look at Arch. Honestly, I know it’s true. He doesn’t care if he’s in trouble. There’s really nothing I can take from him to upset him enough to drop his attitude. The thought of restricting his FaceTime with Ronnie pops into my head, and I know it’s the only thing that will really upset Arch, but it’ll also upset Ronnie, and I don’t like the idea of punishing our seven year old by keeping him from the only father-figure he’s ever known.

I know Arch is mostly just hurt. Because we’re unsure of the logistics of Ronnie adopting Arch, we haven’t told him anything about it. Per Ron’s request, I’ve been doing research and talking to the lawyers who represented Arch and myself during his adoption hearings. Through Second Parent Adoption, it’s possible for Ron to adopt Arch, but it’s harder for multiple reasons. The first being that Ronnie’s schedule rarely puts him in the state of California for the next few months. The second is that we have to prove Arch and Ronnie’s relationship in terms of Ronnie’s ability to take care of him as a legal parent. When I think about it, Ronnie and Arch have never been alone together for more than a few hours, maybe a day. When I think about Ronnie’s future with Sascha, I know there will be times when Ronnie takes the boys separate from me, but I can’t imagine it. We’ve always been a group, Ronnie, Arch, and I, but the dynamics will change if Ronnie adopts Arch as well.

Without Ronnie and I being legally together, married, there are more hoops and fees to jump through when it comes to Arch. It’s not just up to me whether or not Ronnie legally becomes Arch’s father. The state decides whether Ronnie can, and even though Ronnie is the only dad Arch really ever knew, I’m not so sure the state would find his lifestyle stable enough to adopt a child.

So we haven’t mentioned it. We won’t until we know for sure that Ronnie can adopt Arch. And we won’t know that until Ronnie returns to the state for any extended period of time and can petition the court for legal rights.

“Go straight in the house,” I ordered as I opened the back door and let Arch out first. He dawdled near the potted plants that I stuck out here in an effort to hide the bulky air-conditioner that sits in the corner of the back deck, but when I barked at him not to touch my begonias, he tucked his hands against his stomach and made for the sliding glass door.

I lift Sascha out of the car seat completely, grab my bag, and move to unlock the back door and head in. Arch threw off his little backpack and tossed it to the floor by the door. Without a word, he headed toward the stairs and disappeared up to the second floor.

“Pick up those toys in your room!” I called after him, following at a slower rate with Sascha in my arms. “This is not play time! I’ll get some paper in a few minutes and you can sit at the kitchen island and start those letters before we start your homework!”
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You guys, it felt really weird writing this with what just happened with Derek. It's surreal. I just want to get this story finished so it can hopefully honor the whole band's legacy, but I'm not going to include Derek as a character any longer in the story. That's one of the tensions of writing about real people. I don't think of them as real people at this point. These versions are characters, but it feels disrespectful to continue writing that character. Ronnie will appear in the story, but he's the only one from the band who will.