‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Nightfall

I called Arch down to the kitchen island as soon as I got Sascha fed, changed, and settled in his little playpen. I pushed it into the kitchen so I could keep an eye on both boys at the same time, tearing my attention away from the baby only when Arch wandered in through the little hallway that ran alongside the stairs. He didn’t speak as he dragged his sock-clad feet against the hardwood floor and heaved himself into one of the chairs, but he looked at me expectantly once he was settled.

I straightened up and moved to slide a couple of blank pieces of paper across the countertop to him. I’d also plucked his backpack from near the door and set out his work books, checking his class schedule to see what assignments he needed to complete before tomorrow.

“You are going to write apology letters to Mrs. Halifax, Ms. Caty, and Ms. Miguel,” I spoke, tapping my finger against the paper as he languidly reached for one of the pencils.

I sat next to him and helped him work through some of his spelling, but he was slow to ask for it. Ultimately he didn’t need much help. He was able to plan out what he was going to say and execute it mostly without me, which is what he preferred in the moment. Even with me sitting beside him, he chose to be more reserved than normal. We spent a lot of time working on his writing and spelling, and despite the fact that he preferred TV to reading, he was still on track with his class, maybe even slightly advanced if I was bragging.

For the most part, I let his stoic attitude pass unmentioned, but I could see his attitude rising every time I spoke to him.

“Hey, don’t just cross it out,” I scolded from where I stood checking on Sascha, leaning over to still the pencil in Arch’s hand. “You have an eraser for a reason. Erase it then write it again.”

Arch sighed at me but did as he was told. It took him about fifteen minutes to finish the first half-page apology letter, and I made him read it to me when he was done. I figured he could write until he lost his attitude, and we had plenty of assignments to keep him busy.

“If you don’t stop glowering, you’re going to be doing work all night,” I said, nodding toward his writing and math workbooks that sat near him on the counter. I plucked Sascha from his playpen as Arch spared a dark glance toward the homework books.

“I don’t even have math work today,” he answered, huffing as he dragged another blank piece of paper toward him.

I shrugged, leaning against the island with Sascha in my arms. “We can get ahead then,” I answered. “I’m sure Ms. Miguel would be more happy to have you back in class if you showed her that you’re taking math seriously. Especially after today.”

“That’s not fair,” he grumbled, speaking more to himself that to me.

“Mrs. Halifax getting bitten because you weren’t listening wasn’t fair either,” I countered, nodding toward the apology letter to accent my point. “You know better than to treat other people that way, and I’m telling you now, Arch, if you ever bite another teacher, let alone another child, you will not the like the consequences.”

The little blonde frowned but dropped his attention back to the paper without another word. He sat there and worked while Sascha played and I started on something for lunch. It didn’t take him too long to finish the apology letters and clean up the bits I suggested, and because lunch wasn’t quite done yet, I slipped his math book in front of him to make a point.

“We’ll eat when you finish these problems,” I said, coming around to his side to point out the two-problem practice set for what they were working on in class today. Nicolas only assigned one or two pages of homework out of class a week, but they always recommended spending a little extra time on the practice sets for multiple subjects if the families had time for it. Each lesson matched with something in the books, and it made it easy to be involved in Arch’s learning process, to know what they were learning in each subject.

“Can I do a science practice instead?” Arch complained, scribbling something in the margin of his book. “I don’t like math.”

I moved flipped one of the grilled cheese from the pan onto a plate and looked back at him over my shoulder. “No, you didn’t listen today when Ms. Miguel asked everyone to turn their attention to math, so you need to catch up on what you were supposed to do before you bit Mrs. Halifax.”

He finished his problems just as I pulled our soup out of the microwave. I scooped some into a plastic bowl and set that and his plate of grilled cheese and salad on the island next to him as he folded up his work book and slid it over near the others.

“We’ll do your reading at bedtime,” I said as I set my own plate down and came around to sit next to him at the counter. “You’ll have to mark it on your chart to show your teachers tomorrow.”

With his mouth full, he asked, “Can I do reading with Ronnie instead?”

I frowned slightly, considering. The two of them always chatted at Arch’s bed time, or earlier if Ronnie had something in the way. Luckily Arch went to bed early enough that it didn’t normally interfere with when the singer had to be on stage, but sometimes the sound-check schedule shifted or the time difference skewed our schedules and Ronnie called earlier to chat for a while beforehand. During bedtime calls, Arch would read to Ronnie with the phone propped up next to him or me there holding it for them.

“Not tonight,” I said, glancing to his face for his reaction. “You can talk to Ronnie and say goodnight, but that’s it.”

Surprisingly Arch didn’t careen from his chair into a temper-tantrum. He just frowned and turned back to his food, silent.

“I’m not trying to keep Ron from you, but what you did today is really bad,” I said earnestly, hoping he would understand the seriousness. “If you start biting people, they’re not going to want you at school, Arch. It’s dangerous and painful. And honestly, I won’t be able to trust you at home with a babysitter either. I’m not going to have you biting people when I’m not around. That’s not fair to anyone.”

“It was just the one time,” he said darkly without looking to me. His sock-clad foot brushed against the island.

I leaned toward him. “I want to believe you,” I said, lightly reaching out to touch his curls. They were getting long enough now that they too heavy for ringlets, more frizzy than anything. “I really want to believe you, but you’re not acting like yourself. I know you’re upset and you miss him, but you can’t keeping doing this.”

Arch fiddled with his sandwich, tearing his bread into the little pieces. Normally I’d stop him from fiddling with his food, but I could see the thoughts whirling around in his head, and I didn’t want to admonish him and distract him from our current conversation. He folded his arms in front of him and leaned forward to rest his chin on his forearms. “Why can’t he just come home?” he asked, turning his face away from me.

Lightly, I ran my fingers along his back, sliding down from my chair to get a better reach. “I know it’s hard,” I spoke, stepped forward to wrap myself around his little frame. “I know you miss him, but he will be back. He misses you and Sascha so much, but he has to work, baby. He loves his job, you know that. We wouldn’t want him to feel sad about his job when he’s already sad about missing you and your brother.”

He turned and wrapped his arm around my waist, burying his head against me. From what I could tell, he didn’t cry, but I could feel how much he needed comfort, how much he really wanted Ronnie home with him.

Arch had gone with less in his past. He’d been left by his mother. Left even by me when he went into a foster home placement and I went on tour with the band, back when this whole thing was new for him. But back then, I don’t think he had so much hope. I think maybe he didn’t know what his life was going to be, so it was harder to want things without tangibles. Now, he’d seen the life we had when we were all together. He had months of Ronnie and me, of our little family all in one place. In his mind, it was always a permanent thing. Even without the paperwork, he saw us as his family, and when that became legal, I don’t think he expected Ronnie to be outside of that.

“Tell me what’s hurting you,” I murmured, scooping him up into my arms. It was getting harder and harder to do so, and part of me lamented the little boy I met at the daycare, the little boy who climbed in my lap and fell asleep without words.

“I miss him,” Arch whispered, his head against my neck.

“I know, baby,” I said, letting the words drag over me, hoping the truth of my own feelings would be a spark and not a fire. When it was just me, in those moments when Arch was at school and Sascha didn’t need me, it was easy to overlook what was missing. Easy to see how good this life was, but when Sascha would catch my attention or Arch peel off in laughter, it would hit me that I missed him too, missed the easy timbre of our days, the way he was always there behind me to pick up the slack. I missed the ease of our routine, the steady certainty that if I missed something or messed something up or fell, Ronnie would be there to fix it, to look at me like I was still the best thing in the world. I saw him in all the places he still was – in fragments of Arch’s personality, in the stubborn tilt of his chin, the way he picked up his birthday guitar and strapped it across his little chest. I saw Ronnie in the raven-tone of Sascha’s hair, a shadow like rainbows that appears in absolute-black. I heard him in every heavy breath from Sascha’s chest – the baby like a weight between us.

Arch spent the rest of the day reading in his room – the only activity he was allowed beside bathing and sleeping. Around seven I started preparing both boys for bed. Sascha only woke up from his afternoon nap a couple hours before, but he started dozing in the tub as Arch and I bathed him. Arch sat at one end near the faucet, the water barely up to his belly-button, and Sascha was poised in his baby bath seat at the other end.

We were in the middle of conditioning Arch’s hair when my phone rang. Arch’s bright eyes shot open despite the conditioner, and I immediately pushed his head back to keep the suds from running.

“You’re going to get soap in your eyes!” I scolded, brushing his hair back from his face to help.

“Go get the phone!” he answered, pointing toward where I left it charging in my bedroom. “We’re going to miss it!”

The call went silent just as I was about to respond to Arch, but it started up again just as quick. Arch looked incensed, his mouth hanging open.

“Go, go!”

“Arch, I can’t leave Sascha in the tub!” I answered, motioning to his baby brother like it was obvious, there was nothing I could do.

Just as fast, Arch scooted forward and cradled his body around Sascha. The baby looked up, startled by the proximity of his face to Arch’s damp little chest. “I’ve got him!” Arch practically shouted. “Go!”

With a lingering glace and chuckle, I pushed up from the floor and darted toward the bedroom room to get my phone. It quieted just as I grabbed it, but I quickly slid my finger along the missed call notification and FaceTime began ringing him back. I caught only a quickly glance of myself in the screen – hair damp and tied up in a mess, blue t-shirt wrinkled and also wet – before Ronnie answered the call.

“What’s going on that took so long?” he asked without malice. “I thought maybe you’d put the boys to bed and crashed already.”

I took a look at him in the moment before I answered. He had the phone propped up on something in his small room of the bus, and I could see him rooting through the duffel bag shoved in at the end of the bed. Unbuttoning a shirt – black and with silver lapels – he turned back to face the phone.

“Att?”

“Bath time,” I answered jovially, hurrying back to the boys’ jack-and-jill bathroom. With a smile, I noted that Arch was still wrapped around his little brother. I flipped the camera to show off the sight to Ronnie.

Ron grinned instantly, pulling the phone closer to get a better look. “If it ain’t my favorite boys,” he said, dropping down to his bed.

“Arch needs to get his head rinsed but then he can take the phone while I finish up Sascha,” I said, scooting down to the floor again near the tub. I turned the phone back so Arch can see Ronnie too, and the blonde grinned.

“Where are you?” Arch asked eagerly, scooting away from Sascha now that I’m there. “I forgot to check on the website.”

His casual use of “forgot” reminded me why we were so preoccupied today, and I frowned, knowing the conversation I’ll have to have with them both. It’ll pluck Arch right out of his newly-found good mood.

“We’re still in Brazil,” Ronnie said easily. “We just finished our second show here, we’ve got tomorrow off, then I’m not sure where we’re heading.”

Arch’s blue eyes glimmered, and I knew what he was going to ask before he did. “You’re off?” he said, scooting right up against the porcelain edge of the tub. “Can you come home for a day?”

I pulled the phone back enough to watch Ronnie’s expression shutter. “Sorry, kiddo,” he said. “It’s like a fifteen-hour flight. I wouldn’t even make it there and back before the next show.”

Arch’s face fell, but he nodded like a trooper, always playing at being brave for Ron.

“Here,” I said, leaning the phone against the floor and the sink. “Why don’t we finish you up real quick, then you can go get dressed, climb into bed, and chat with Ronnie. No sense of staying in the tub.” I motioned for Arch to move back into his place and I reached into the water with the little cup as he did. With a frown at the luke-warm water, I quickly reached behind Arch and restart the faucet, letting it reheat the tub but not fill too high for Sascha.

Ronnie chatted idly in the background while I quickly rinsed the conditioner from Arch’s hair and hauled him out into the rug. He leaned into me for balance and dampened the entire left side of my pants before I could get a towel around him, but I didn’t complain as he picked up the phone with damp fingers and moved to the counter to brush his teeth for the night.

They talk through Arch’s mouthful of toothbrush and paste, and I quickly cleaned Sascha up and pulled him out. By the time I had wrapped the little Radke in a towel, I caught sight of Arch through the doorway, sitting on his bed with his towel around his lap, Ronnie on the phone propped up against one of his toy trucks.

I didn’t bother to say anything as I stepped through the opposite door into Sascha’s room. I quickly diapered and dressed him, weary of getting peed on, then I peeled off my wet pants and wrap a blanket around us as I settle into the little chair near the window.

Sascha started eating real food along with feeding about a month ago, but he still preferred bottles or breastfeeding, especially in the morning or at night when he’s in a daze, unwilling to wake completely. Even though it’s more inconvenient to give him real food that I’m the only parent of two, I love these quiet moments between us. He changed so much in the last six months, getting bigger and stronger, more able to act on what catches his attention, able to express what he wants and what he thinks. But in moments like these, he’s still really the baby I first met.

I get him into his crib once he falls asleep, his little hands in fists tucked around his face. I veered off to my bedroom to slip on a pair of shorts, then I went to find Arch in his room, laying against his pillow with only his towel for a blanket.

“You,” I said, cutting into the quiet conversation between them, “need to put some PJs on and really get into bed.”

Arch both looked toward me and turned the phone so Ronnie could see as well. They’re like twin-heads of the same organization, partners in bed-time shenanigans.

I pulled out of pair of undies and tossed them over to him, moving to another draw in his dresser as he dropped the phone and pulled them. I yanked out a pajama top and turned back, picking up my phone as Arch dragged the shirt on.

“What time is it there?” I asked Ron, my face appearing on the screen.

Ronnie answered from his own room on the bus, but he was sprawled out on his bed, shirtless and tucked under his own blanket. The camera rested against something next to him, barely framed on him from the angle.

He disappeared for a moment as the screen blurred, then he said, “Almost midnight.”

That put them four hours ahead, I noted, as I checked our own time and motioned for Arch to climb up in his bed. He slipped under the covers and reached for the phone, but I eyed him for being chintzy and moved to sit at his feet.

“How was the show?” I asked, lightly touching Arch’s leg with my freehand.

Ron flicked on some smaller light beside him, but the room dimmed as he turned off the brighter overhead. He faded into the dark, and I could barely make out his shrug as he said, “It was a good one. They’re always a great crowd. How was Sascha today? Anything new?”

“He tried peas and carrots of the non-mushed variety for dinner,” I answered, grinning at how we take pride in such simple things. “He loved it. Still doesn’t like his squash baby food though, even though Arch says it’s the best kind.”

Ronnie laughed out loud at that one, his face crinkling in disgust. “Arch, you eat that crap?” he asked, grinning as I pass the phone back to the seven year old. “You really eat it?”

Arch giggled and nodded, but didn’t say more about it.

“And what about you kiddo?” Ronnie asked, and I wondered what they’ve been talking about for the last thirty minutes if Ron was just now asking him about his day. “How’s school? Do you like your new teacher? Make any new friends?”

Arch’s expression turned regretful as he glanced over the top of the phone to me. I didn’t say anything, but Ronnie knew him too well not to interpret that look.

“What is it?” Ronnie asked, his tone flattening.

Arch still peered at me. I nodded for him to go ahead and tell him.

The little boy is practically in tears as he said, “I bit my helper teacher, Mrs. Halifax.”

As I leaned closer to Arch so Ronnie could see us both, I caught the surprised expression on Ron’s face, almost as though the words didn’t make sense coming from Arch’s mouth. Even in the dim light of his bus room, Ronnie sighed heavily and sat up in bed, pulling the phone from whatever it was resting against.

“Why did you do that?” he asked, holding the phone up so we could clearly see him.

Arch fell into outright tears, passing the phone back to me in a heap as he leans down and pulls his knees up to block his face. This isn’t the answer he showed me earlier when I first learned about his day at school, it’s an instant sense of shame for letting Ronnie down.

“I don’t know,” Arch cried, the sound muffled against his blanket-covered knees.

Even though the sound was hard for Ronnie to make out, I didn’t translate for Arch, deciding to let this moment be between the two of them. I knew that whatever Ron would said would really hit Arch, would sink into him.

“That’s not cool, man,” Ronnie said, his tone evening out into something more serious. “You know better than that. You’re supposed to go to school, be good, and learn. That’s why your mom and I send you there.”

“I was mad,” Arch said, looking up with blood-shot blue eyes, his bottom lip quivering even as he tried to defend and explain his actions. “My helper teacher wouldn’t listen to me and she wasn’t being fair. I just wanted to finish my letter.”

“You couldn’t have finished it later?” Ronnie replied. “I mean, biting her certainly didn’t give you the chance to do what you wanted, did it? What happened instead?”

Arch wrapped his arms around his legs, looking to Ronnie where I held the phone. He paused before he answered, and I could see him really thinking about it, mad that Ronnie was right. “Ms. Miguel stopped class and took me out of the room. I had to meet with Ms. Caty, and Mrs. Halifax came when Atti came to get me. She went to the nurse.”

Ronnie frowned at the new information. “Atti had to take you from school?” His gaze flickered to me where I sat next to Arch. “That’s not good. I didn’t start getting sent home from school until at least sixth grade.”

The joke rolled off Ronnie, but Arch seemed to miss it altogether, sniffling as he took the words to heart. Over FaceTime, I gave Ronnie a hard look that had two meanings. The first: this is not the time. The second: that just makes him feel worse.

“Okay, I didn’t mean it,” Ron added, “but that sounds serious to me. You’re seven. You shouldn’t be getting sent home from school or biting people. That’s what babies do.”

“He spent the afternoon writing apology letters to his teachers,” I said, scooting more into the frame. “We put them in envelopes, and Arch is going to deliver them in the morning with an in-person apology.” I glanced at the boy to see him nod.

“That sounds like a good plan,” Ronnie said. “Make sure you take that ‘sorry’ seriously, Arch. I’m going to be real bummed if this happens again.”

I told Ronnie that Arch couldn’t read with him tonight because of what happened at school, and Ronnie took it in stride, staying on my side about it even as Arch started crying again, begging Ronnie to stay on the call with him. I knew it wasn’t easy for Ronnie to lose out on any of the few moments they had together, but he didn’t say anything to Arch about how he wished it were different. He just said goodnight, told him he loved in, and I left Arch in his bed with a book to read on his own if he chose.

“He misses you,” I told Ronnie as I crossed the hall toward, peeking in at Sascha before I headed down. I rounded the stairs into the kitchen, going to where both of Sascha’s baby monitors were charging. “He was writing that letter for you and ran out of time.” I grabbed the monitor and leaned against the counter, looking to Ronnie on the call.

He sighed, running his hand over his face as he digested the words. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, tilting his head back against the wall behind his bed.

This time, I frowned, shaking my head. “I didn’t tell you that to make you feel bad, Ron,” I answered honestly, backing tracking on my words. “I just wanted to point out that Arch’s not being a bad boy. He’s hurting. It’s not enough with just me here.”

I sighed, glancing around the dark kitchen, taking in the house that we bought for Arch, for Sascha, for the life I wanted here in LA.

Ronnie’s tone is heavy, quick, as he bit out my full name. “Atticus,” he said, the word like a reprimand as I looked up to him. Even over the video call, I could see how serious he was, how dark his expression was as he took in my words. “Do not ever let me hear that you think you’re not enough for anyone,” he said, his voice quiet but firm. “I won’t believe that, and neither do our boys. To them, you’re everything.”

“Maybe that’s true in the grander scheme of things,” I answered with a shrug, “but Arch is struggling, and there’s nothing I can do about that. And not all of it is about you,” I added, knowing it was the truth, even though on the surface Arch’s missed him too much. “It’s not all about you being on tour, Ron. It’s about what we have here. Arch’s a little boy who wanted a family, who deserved so much affection, and as soon as we solidified him as part of this family, he’s competing with Sascha for attention. At least when you were here there was one of us for each of them. I’m worried that Arch feels neglected and that’s why he wants you back so bad. I’m not enough for both of them.”

“The hell you aren’t,” Ronnie snapped, shaking his head. “God, Atticus, you are so much, and you have no idea. You don’t even see how much you give to the people around you. When we met, you were stretching yourself thin giving every piece of yourself to your siblings and your dad, and you’re trying to do the same for our kids now. Arch knows you love him. He knows that this is his family. He’s not missing out on anything now that’s Sascha’s here. Sascha’s another person who loves him and another person for him to love back. That kid is spoiled rotten by how much everyone loves him, Atti, and he’s damn lucky to have you forever.”

I nodded, knowing that he could see me even in the kitchen with the only light coming in through the window to the back patio.

“You understand?” Ronnie asked, firm but soft. “If anything, you’re the one who needs more. I should be there to help you with this, I know, and I’m sor-“

“Don’t apologize,” I insisted, shaking my head even as I pushed away from the counter and headed into the living room. I set the phone down and moved to refold one of the blankets off the couch. “Don’t apologize, Ron. I don’t expect you to, and I don’t expect or want anything to be different.”

“See,” he said. “You’re taking it all on your shoulders even now. Trying to give me peace of mind or something.”

I turned my smile toward the phone. “Well you are the one earning the big-bucks to pay for Sascha and Arch’s college funds.”

Ronnie laughed at the abrupt change in tone, accepting the half-heartedness of the joke, the half-truth that we knew was already really a factor. Ronnie and I split Arch’s Nicolas education cost in half before Arch was even ours, and soon we’d be chipping in more toward daycare for Sascha when Heather finally relented and allowed me to pay her like all the other parents of her daycare.

“You should get some sleep,” I said, watching the clock roll closer to one AM his time. “You don’t want to sleep away your day-off tomorrow. Go sight-seeing with the crew.”

Ron grinned and nodded noncommittally, sliding down in bed and pulling his comforter up over his bare shoulders. “What are you going to do for the rest of the night?”

I grinned as Sascha let out a single little wail, the sound tinny coming through the monitor. “Go check on your son,” I answered, lifting the little machine into view, “and try to get some sleep while he still is.”

“He’s not sleeping the night yet?” he asked. “I read online that by six months they can go like eight hours without a feeding at night. I hoped Sasch had figured that out so you could both sleep.

“He’s out for about four hours at a time,” I said, listening to the prolonged silence from Sascha’s end as he kept from waking all the way. “I’ve basically trained my myself to fall asleep instantly,” I joked.

Ron smiled but didn’t laugh. “I think that’s called ‘exhaustion,’ Att. You know your sister would come over and stay a few nights. I’m sure my dad would even fly in if I asked him. He’s rough around the edges, but you know he’s good with my brother’s kids. He’d smother Arch with attention, even.”

I shook my head immediately, moving through the quiet house to the second floor, whispering as I moved to peak in on Arch. I flipped the camera around to show Ronnie Arch passed out with his book open next to him.

“We’re doing fine here, Ron,” I promised, knowing that his dad would drop everything to come stay in LA indefinitely, would adore every minute with Sascha and Arch, and would most likely be a big help. But he’d also spend his days as an in-home babysitter, and I didn’t want our time with Russ to always run him ragged. “Heather is going to help me find a night-time in-home babysitter for the boys so that I can start going back to work for real,” I told him, anxiety niggling at me. “She has someone she knows that works for her daycare that she thinks might be interested in a little extra cash.”

“Someone would stay in the house alone with the boys?”

I stepped through my bedroom door, not bothering to turn on the lights as I crawled into bed. “Yeah,” I said easily. “Just for a few hours with the boys when I need to see a show or something. I can’t keep doing office work with Bruce. It’s not my job, and it’s not the job I want.”

“Atti, really, my dad would be more than happy to go to LA and stay with the boys.”

“Ron, no,” I said firmly. “Your dad can’t stay for the next three months. We need someone until you get back. Then we can work around both our schedules.”

“What about Chance?” Ronnie asked, glancing away from me as he saw the startled look on my face. In defense of breaking his typical ‘never-talk-about-Chance’ rule, he added, “At least you know him. Know he won’t kidnap the boys or steal shit from the house.”

“It’s not Chance’s job,” I offered openly. “And he’s never been hands-on with the boys, Ron. I know you have it in your head that he does what you do when you’re not here, but it’s not the same thing. Chance is good to the boys, but he and Arch aren’t close. It would only cause problems. I’ll find someone we can trust, someone Heather knows or knows of. Everything will be fine.”
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I was reading this back earlier and I couldn't believe all the tense issues! I was really tired when I started the chapter a couple days ago, but still! I haven't ever seen that many issues in my own writing. I haven't looked back at the chapter before this, but hopefully that wasn't as painful to read, issue-wise!

It's been really nice to fall back into these characters. Even when I haven't updated in awhile, I'm always thinking about this story. I started this series in 2011. This series has grown up with me, and I'm excited to finish it strong and give Atticus the story she deserves.

Thanks for the comments, and thanks for still reading after so long!

Now the day bleeds into nightfall
and you're not here to get me through it all
I let my guard down and then you pulled the rug
I was getting kinda used to being someone you love.