‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Round Two

“Thanks for coming to help me with the interviews,” I greeted as Chance pushed up out of his car and moved across the back drive to meet me at the deck. “I’ve done it before for my dad, but it’ll help to have someone here in case Sascha needs something.”

Chance shrugged and hopped up the two steps. “Happy to help,” he said easily, wrapping his arms around my waist and hauling me back toward the sliding glass door.

I automatically wrapped my arms around his neck, laughing as he stepped into the house, his mouth hot against my neck with his own laughter. “You’re being weird,” I said with a chuckle, resting my elbows on his shoulders as I ducked back to meet his gaze.

He smiled and eyed me, shrugging under my weight. “I’m just glad you asked,” he said, finally pulling out of my arms. He stepped back to pull the door shot and let his eyes roam over the living room, finding Sascha plopped in his bouncer in the middle of it. “It’s the kid going to be present while you interview them or do you want me to take him upstairs?”

This time I shrugged. “If he’s content, he can stay down here. If he gets upset, it’d be nice if you’d take him up and fix whatever’s wrong.”

Chance shot me a cheeky grin. “By that, you mean change a diaper.” He kicked his shoes off and dropped down on the couch, daring me to correct him.

“Yeah, probably,” I answered with a smile. “But he might just want a cuddle. You never know.”

Chance nodded, and I followed his gaze to Sascha. I’d just stuffed him in his little chair before stepping out to let Chance in, and the floor was still littered with a few of his toys on top of his little play rug. He squirmed in the seat, letting out of a few squawks as his uncoordinated little fingers grasped for the buckle at his waist.

“He doesn’t seem to like the thing,” Chance commented as he leaned into my side and motioned toward the bouncy chair.

I shrugged, watching Sascha reach up and push his pudgy little fingers through his dark curls. “He likes being on his tummy more,” I said. “I was trying to get him to reach for things before you got here. I think he might honestly try to crawl soon.”

Chance looked at me with shock in his dark blue eyes, lips parted as he glanced back to Sascha. I couldn’t help but feel tender toward Chance when he seemed young like this, unjaded. He watched Sascha with a quiet fascination, as though he was learning everything he could about the baby just by keeping an eye on him. Chance normally seemed to keep a distance from Sascha. Mostly I figured it was out of respect for Ronnie, but sometimes, like now, it was obvious that Chance hadn’t spent much time around babies, was uncertain how to care for them. Like so much about him, it reminded me how young he is.

“Want to help me feed him some yummy pureed lunch before the first applicant gets here?” I asked Chance.

He frowned at my grin, eyeing me. “Why do you look like that?” he asked, crossing his arms lazily across his chest as he lounged on the couch. “Is something bad going to happen to me?”

“No,” I promised, waggling my eyebrows at him. “It’s just exciting to see him try new foods. We’ve firmly established that he loves mushy peas. I thought we’d switch it out for something new today. I’ll let you do the choo-choo-train honors.”

I pushed up off the couch, using Chance’s knee for leverage, and darted down to unbuckle and liberate Sascha from his chair. He instantly stopped mewling as I took him into my arms and rounded back to the kitchen, leaving Chance to follow us.

His footsteps sounded on the tile right behind us, and the island chair scraped against the floor as he moved to sit in it while I situated Sascha in his own chair. Chance leaned forward with his elbows on the island.

“First one’s going to be here in less than thirty,” he said, turning his gaze from the stove clock to me as I moved to the cupboard with Sascha’s stuff. He was still mostly being breastfed, but I’d started introducing bottles more and we’d been experiment with canned foods as well. Neither Ronnie or I suffered from food allergies, but we were trying foods out one at a time with Sasch to make sure he hadn’t inherited anything from a distant relative. Neither Ronnie or I knew much about our maternal side, so we were always overly cautious about unknown health problems. Luckily, we were blessed with a healthy baby whose only distant gift were the darkest blue eyes from some unknown ancestor.

I pushed two small cans across the island toward Sascha and Chance. “Take your pick,” I said to Sascha, moving them within his reach and shooting a grin at Chance as he rotated them to see the labels.

“What the hell is ‘cardamom’?” Chance asked, looking over Sascha’s head to me. Incrementally, he pushed the other jar toward the baby. “Pick this one, kid,” he whispered conspiratorially, fingering the butternut squash.

Sascha slapped a hand down on each jar, tipping over the one Chance didn’t have his hands on. The purple carrot banana acai with cardamom went rolling, bumping up against the raised sides of his high chair.

“The boy knows what’s good,” Chance said, taking the action for decision. With a shrug and a shake of his head to say ‘what can you do?’, he picked up the overturned jar and pushed it away on the island.

I grinned at his antics and got up to put that jar away. I grabbed a baby spoon and a bib from the drawer and handed the spoon over to Chance. “Do the honors,” I said with a smile, setting it down in front of him to muscle open the baby food. “Don’t get it on his clothes.” I fastened the bib around his neck, knowing there were plenty of ways to get food around it. Ronnie was notoriously negligent when it came down to it.

Chance looked a bit stricken when I pushed the jar over to him, the purple rubber spoon already balanced between his fingers. “I’m feeding him?” he asked quickly. “Where are you going?”

“I’m just going to run up and change my outfit real quick,” I said, motioning to my t-shirt and shorts. “Maybe throw on some makeup. I don’t want them thinking I’m a bum. I want to look like one of those rich moms who manage it all.”

Chance’s gaze slid down my body before moving back to meet my eyes. “You do realize you are one of those rich moms who do it all, right?”

I grinned and shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt to look the part. We need to make a good impression.”

Chance glanced down at his own clothes, feigning nervousness. “Oh boy. What if they think I’m some ruffian, Atticus?” Setting the jar down with a clatter, he rubbed his palms along his shorts. “There are wrinkles! The horror!”

“Oh my god,” I groaned. “Shut up. You’re wearing slinky basketball shorts and a t-shirt. You’re fine. You look carelessly flawless. It’s honestly the moms that people judge anyway. No one cares what you look like.”

Chance leaned back against the island, facing me as I stood in the mouth to the hallway, the entryway and the stairs beyond. He licked his lips. “You think I’ll pass as a DILF?”

Shocked, laughter bubbled out of me. I moved back to him like being roped in. Wrapping my arms over his shoulders, I brushed my fingers through his hair, longer now that I’d ever seen it. “You’re not a dad,” I whispered, bending down so my lips were at his ear, “but you could pass for the young, seducible pool boy.”

His fingers pressed against my lower back, pulling me closer. “There’s only one problem with that,” he whispered back, lips brushing against my chin. “You don’t have a pool.” He nipped at my jaw with a little growl and pulled back, amusement and attraction dancing in his expression. “Go get dressed,” he said, pushing me away. “I’ll feed the boyo.”

I pressed a quick kiss against the top of Chance’s head, lightly touched Sascha’s curls, and turned to get ready. I changed into a high-waisted pair of trousers that tied with a fabric belt and a white halter blouse that tucked in along the top fringe of the pants. With a shouted confirmation form Chance that he and Sascha were fine, I quickly curled the ends of my hair and dusted on a light coating of foundation and mascara.

“Uhh, Atticus,” Chance said from the doorway of my bedroom.

I swiped the wand over my eyelashes one last time and turned back from the bathroom. “What is it?” I asked, but the question became moot as soon as I laid eyes on the two of them. Sascha’s shirt was rimmed with peach, like a shoddy tie-dye job. Chance held him up like the baby was seated in a little chair, also like he was a little shield. Chance ducked behind him.

I pulled my bottom lip between my teeth, watching my young son wriggle in Chance’s bucket hold, taking in the food on his face and his shirt. Behind him, Chance peaked out, and I caught sight of the single splotch of baby food staining Chance’s white t-shirt.

“Did you seriously try to wipe something with your shirt?” I asked slowly, not understanding how, otherwise, he could have such a splotchy stain near the bottom.

Chance frowned at the accusation. “Nooo,” he said defensively. “Your child is a disaster, Atticus. I couldn’t control it. Short of not feeding the boy, I don’t see any solution for this mess.”

I blinked at them both as Chance lowered Sascha to rest against his stomach. Then finally I sighed and stepped forward. “Alright, give him to me,” I demanded, taking Sascha and holding him an arm’s length away from my own white shirt. “I’ll wash him up and change him. Please find a shirt that matches your shorts. I’m sure there’s a few of yours around here somewhere.”

Chance grinned and nodded, turning to watch me as I hustled across the hall to Sascha’s room. I hurried into the jack-and-jill bathroom that connected Sascha and Arch’s rooms and wetted down a washcloth, awkwardly holding Sascha on the counter and away from me as I yanked his shirt off and wiped down his hands and face.

I carried him half-naked back into his room and rooted through his tiny hangers. His little jogger pants seemed surprisingly clean, but I picked out a new matching outfit anyway, laying him down to change his diaper and his clothes quickly, worried that the first interviewee would arrive before I got him situated and back downstairs.

Heather had arranged two meetings with women who worked for her. One was in college and didn’t have the degree that Heather’s daycare demanded, and the other was just looking to make some extra cash on top of working for Heather. Because Heather normally baby sat for me from home rather than as part of her daycare, neither woman had met either of my children. I thought it best to interview them while Arch was at school, at least this first time.

I was buttoning up Sascha’s new pants as Chance stepped into the room, donning a clean new shirt. He lifted it to his nose and sniffed as that thought crossed my mind. I paused, waiting for his assessment.

“Yeah, it’s good,” he said with a shrug, answering my silent question. “It smells like you.”

I gave him a look. “Yeah,” I chuckled. “Chances are it got picked up off my bedroom floor and washed with the rest of my things.”

He stepped up behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist. “’Chances are,’ huh?” he repeated, nuzzling his nose along my hairline.

“Yes,” I answered, lifting Sascha, leaning back into Chance’s shoulder. “And ‘chances are’ the first applicant is going to ring the doorbell at any moment, so we need to get downstairs.”

Chance backed away and the three of us made our way back to the living room. I got Sascha situated on the floor, and Chance dropped down to keep him company while I picked up the room a little bit. It was rare for anyone to really come through the front door these days. Most of my family parked in the driveway off the alley in the back and let themselves in through the slider, and the entryway was a bit of a disorganized free-for-all. I was in the middle of picking up pairs of mine and Arch’s shoes and tossing them near the bench that ran along the stairs when the doorbell rang.

I looked up like a deer in the headlights, peering through the archway into the living room where Chance laid on the floor with Sascha, already looking my way. Nervously, not wanting to be too eager, I waited a moment before moving to the door. Chance sat up and pulled Sascha onto his lap, facing the door.

I pulled open the thick front door and plastered a smile on my face, taking a look at the young woman who stood there. She was definitely early twenties and pretty similar to what Heather described.

“You must be Marseilles,” I greeted, reaching out to shake the young woman’s hand. She had an average build, a bit on the bigger side, and mid-length deep brown hair. Dimples gleamed in her cheeks when she smiled and she stepped forward to take my hand without hesitation.

“Marseilles De Leon,” she greeted. “You must be Ms. Atticus. It’s great to meet you. Heather had a lot of great things to say about you and your kids.”

I nodded her into the house, stepping to close the door behind me. “If you don’t mind taking your shoes off, you can leave them here,” I said with an easy shrug, leaving it up to her. “Heather told me about you as well. She said you’re a part-time receptionist at the daycare?”

Marseilles nodded eagerly, reaching down to unzip her boots. She stepped out in her tights and answered as she stood again. “I applied wanting to work with the kids, but I don’t have licensure yet. It was great of her to let me work reception though. And to pass my info your way.”

Chance climbed up from the ground with Sascha as we stepped into the room.

Marseilles looked somewhat surprised to see him, but it lasted only a second as her attention was drawn to Sascha, sitting on Chance’s arm, resting against his stomach again. “He is adorable,” she said, grinning as she glanced back to me.

“This is Sascha,” I introduced, reaching out to brush the baby’s cheek before resting my hand on Chance’s shoulder and leaning into him. “And this is my boyfriend, Chance.”

Chance shuffled Sascha into one arm and reached out to shake her hand. “It’s good to meet you,” he said politely, shuffling his hands into his pockets when I reached to take Sascha from him.

“Go ahead and have a seat,” I said, motioning into the chair behind us. Chance and I moved to the couch and dropped down together, Sascha splayed across both our laps as he wriggled.

Marseilles sat down lightly, tucking her skirt under her. She looked at us expectantly, her expression bright.

I bent forward and grabbed the folder off the coffee table. Heather helped me brainstorm interview questions the last time we talked. Discussing all this took me back to our years working at the daycare together.

“So, this will be pretty informal,” I said easily. “I figure we should just get to know you a bit, and let you get to know us.”

“That sounds great,” she said with a quickly, fluttery nod.

“Cool,” I answered. “I guess I’ll start. Heather probably already gave you some of the details, but basically, I’m looking for someone who is interested in being basically a nanny for the boys. It wouldn’t be a live-in situation or anything like that. Just a consistent part time sort of thing, where you’d be here somedays, but mostly in the evenings or at night. My job calls me out from about seven to midnight or even one some nights, so obviously I can’t stick the boys in Heather’s daycare that late at night.”

Marseilles smiled, nodded. “I did wonder why you didn’t put them with Heather,” she said honestly. “She’s great at what she does.”

“She is,” I agreed, “and she’s been great about watching them for me up until this point, but her daycare is growing, and I want to find something more consistent where Arch and Sascha can be in their own beds at night rather than getting woken up.”

Marseilles tucked her hands under her thighs as she spoke. “Do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “It’s not a secret or anything. I work for a recording label. It’s called A&R, but basically I’m a talent scout, so I go out and check out live music and see if they’d be a good fit for the company. The boys’ dad is actually a musician for a living, so we both live in that sphere.”

Marseilles nodded politely, her brown eyes sliding toward Chance. “That’s really neat. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who makes a living being a musician.” She winced as the words came out that way, and immediately began to apologize. “What I mean is, I’ve just never met any musicians really.”

I grinned and shrugged it off. “I know what you mean. It’s fine. Ronnie is one of the luckier ones. He’s actually signed to the same company I work for. He’s actually touring now, so you won’t be able to meet him, but if this works out, we’ll probably introduce you over FaceTime if that’s okay. He likes to be involved.”

“Oh yeah, of course,” she said eagerly. “I totally get it. My father was very involved, so I know what that’s like. When he gets back would, uhm, I stay at his home with the kids too, or…?”

I tucked one leg under the other on the couch, the position leaning me further into Chance’s shoulder. Sascha squawked as Chance resituated him, swooping forward to grab one of his toys from the ground. He jangled it in Sascha’s face, turning his eyes to me as I answered.

“Oh, no,” I said, not anticipating the question. “I’m not sure how long-term this job would be, honestly. Their dad will be back in less than three months and we’ll have to decide what to do then when he gets some sort of schedule. But as for your question. It’s really not a concern; Ronnie lives here.

“Oh,” Marseilles let out, a little wrinkle forming between her eyebrows.

Beside me, Chance let out a little chuckle, acknowledging just how unconventional the whole situation was. Discreetly, I pressed my elbow into his ribs in warning, content as he squirmed away from me.

“Yeah, it’s a bit of a complicated situation,” I answered, hoping she didn’t think there was anything weird going on sexually. “Ron and I aren’t together,” I clarified, “but he stays here when he’s in the city so he can be near the boys. Chance doesn’t live here.”

“But I do stay over most nights,” he quipped, already sliding away from me in anticipation of my elbow meeting his ribs. “But I’m not here when Atticus isn’t here, so you wouldn’t have to worry about that.”

I gave him a look, unsure why he felt the need to remind her of the possibility of being home alone with strange guys. I turned my best smile on her, nodding along despite myself.

“Yeah, really, it’s quite a regular situation. Chance and Ronnie know the deal, and there’s typically no problems. It’s best for Ronnie to be here when he’s in town.” I sighed slightly and clapped my hands together. “Anyway, Sascha is almost seven months, and Arch just turned seven.”

Marseilles tucked her hair back behind her ear and rested against the back of the chair. “He’s at school?” she asked, blessedly having the grace to let me move the conversation away from my relationship dynamics.

I grinned at her and nodded. “He attends Nicolas,” I said. “I’m not sure if you’re familiar. It’s a magnet school here in LA. He’s on the gifted track and was able to start a year ahead.”

The conversation drifted toward her, and I blissfully let it shift away from us. I asked her a couple questions from the list Heather and I created, and she answered quite openly and honestly about her interests and what her philosophies were on looking after kids.

“I don’t know if I have one set-in-stone idea of the best way to raise a kid,” she said with an amused smile. “I’m only twenty one, but my classes have taught me a lot about just trying to understand kids and let them teach you want they need. I think that would work well with your older son. He seems really smart.”

We talked about her degree and her classes, and her ability, between school and working for Heather part-time. She seemed to have her plate pretty well full.

“Why are you looking for another job?” I asked, lifting Sascha from Chance’s lap as the latter hopped up to go to the bathroom. He stretched as he stood up, like he’d been cramped up under Sascha’s solid weight. Even as I waited for Marseilles’ answer, I couldn’t stop my eyes from traveling over Chance, and the little strip of olive skin that appeared at his side when he stretched his arms over his head while he walked out of the room.

“Honestly, I don’t really get a lot of hours working with Heather,” Marseilles answered, her eyes glancing from me to Chance and back as he disappeared. My attention pulled back to her. “She’s great and I understand the situation, but she already had a full-time receptionist when she brought me in. It was more taking pity on me than anything, I think,” she joked lightly. “I was really eager to work for her.”

I grinned back at her. “No, I’m sure she really liked you,” I said. “Heather isn’t one to pass on someone she can trust. She wouldn’t have recommended you to me otherwise.”

“She mentioned that you’re the godmother for Kyat,” Marseilles said with enthusiasm. “She really did have a lot of great things to say about you and your family. It would be amazing to work with you. Sascha is just so cute. Those curls are to die for.”

I bent to look around to Sascha’s face, absorbing the compliment. “He gets it from his dad,” I answered, fingering one of the ringlets. “Ronnie’s is too thick and long to really curl up, but it does when it’s damp.”

“Att, your phone is ringing,” Chance cut in, leaning in against the wall at the entryway. He nodded up toward the stairs.

“Can you see who it is?” I shifted on the couch to look back at him. He nodded, bottom lip between his teeth, and turned back, his footsteps heavy on the stairs as he ascended.

He was back less than a minute later, phone held up as he raced into the room. “Lyla Ains,” he said quickly, flashing the screen at me before tossing it down on the couch cushion, far enough away that I had to lean over Sascha to grab it.

Lyla’s calls were fewer and far between with Arch’s adoption finalized. We’d been more in contact with our lawyer, who was overseeing the change in birth certificate and helping Ronnie research second-parent adoption. So seeing Lyla’s name on the screen sent a shock of nerves through.

I stood up immediately and slid to answer to the call, quickly apologizing to Marseilles and passing Sascha into Chance’s waiting arms as we switched places. “Can you show her around the house?” I asked sweetly, squeezing his arm as I passed and headed toward the rarely-used family room across the entryway. It was less than half the size of the living room, and we’d shoved a desk in along the far wall to hold most of my work papers.

“Lyla, sorry about that,” I greeted, finally lifting the phone to my ear. “We’re interviewing babysitters for the boys. It took me a second to excuse myself.”

“That’s fine, Atticus. I’m sorry to call unexpectantly,” she answered, her voice as serious as always. “I hope everything is going well for you.”

“Yeah, things are normal as can be,” I replied, basically shrugging to myself. “Ronnie’s on tour, so Arch is acting out a bit, but really he’s doing fine.” I frowned at the truth of it, wondering if she heard about his incident at school somehow, if it was going to be noted in some file for future reference.

“I would be surprised if Arch wasn’t upset,” she said nonchalantly. “But I’m not calling about Arch, necessarily.” She paused. “I’m calling about Abigail.”

“Is there something wrong?” I questioned, sitting down at the desk to hear the news. She hadn’t updated me since we’d seen the woman at Arch’s adoption finalization in July. When we’d seen her, she was overtly pregnant. “Oh gosh, is it the baby?”

Lyla’s delayed answer confirmed it. “She had the baby two days ago,” she confirmed. “They’re both healthy and doing okay. It’s a little girl.”

I sat in silence for a moment, stunned by the abrupt news. Of course, I knew that Abigail was due to give birth soon, but the thought hadn’t crossed my mind a couple of weeks, and more than that, she’d given birth to a daughter. To a sister. And we hadn’t even told Arch that she was pregnant.

“I- I mean, what is happening with the baby?” I asked, the question bubbling out of me before I could process what any of the answers would mean. Lyla had always told me the possibilities, going above and beyond to keep me in the loop with about Arch’s mother, and now Arch’s sister.

It had always been a question of whether Abigail was stable enough to raise Arch. The answer had been no after years of upheaval and turmoil. Arch went through the ringer trying to get someone to love him, and I could already feel how much it would hurt him to know him mother chose another child and let him go. She’d fought for him in the end, but he’d always remember her not coming for him four years ago.

“The baby has a separate case worker,” she answered. “I’m not the one in charge of the child’s case, so I don’t have all the answers, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to share them with you, Atticus. I’m sorry.”

“Then why did you call?” I deadpanned, my voice raising a little in panic. “I’m not just some stranger, Lyla. This baby is my son’s sister. How do I find out what’s going on?”

“Arch’s case has been closed,” she said. “He no longer has legal ties to Abigail. Unfortunately, neither do you. No case worker is going to share information with you that doesn’t legally concern you, but I recommend reaching out to Abigail’s lawyer. With her permission, he might be able to give you information.”

“Okay,” I breathed, jotting down the number on a scrap piece of paper lingering on the desk. I wasn’t sure if I could bring myself to call and insert myself into another battle with Abigail, but I could picture another little version of Arch, the blonde haired, blue eyed newborn version of him I never experienced.

“If you get any photos, could you send me one?” I asked, hoping that answer would be yes despite her speech about my involvement.

I heard her sigh quietly over the line, not at my words, but just at the situation. “I can do that,” she said, “but I’m not sure if I’ll have access. But, you can throw your name in the hat if it comes down to it, Atticus. That’s why I called. If that’s something you’d like to consider, I can give you the baby’s social worker information once I get it.”

“Uhm, yeah, I’m not sure,” I replied, “but do keep me updated if you can. I know it’s not your case, but you’ve been involved with Abigail as long as I have. If you end up being involved, please let me know.”

“I will,” she promised. “You guys have a good day. Let me know if you reach out to anyone.”

“Can do,” I answered, nodding as I said a soft goodbye and ended the call. In the silence, I sat for a moment and listened to Chance’s voice carrying down from the second floor. They were talking about Sascha’s bedroom, Marseilles cooing over the décor.

I sat for another moment, sending off a text to Ronnie about the situation, then I composed myself and headed upstairs to relieve Chance of distraction duty and wrap up the interview. The second candidate would be here in the next fifteen minutes, and it felt like bad taste to have them collide on the doorstep.
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Well we knew it was coming! Poor Atticus. There's always something on her plate.

Tell me something, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
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