‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


“So, Rayleen, are you comfortable coming up with activities for kids? Arch would sit in front of the tv all day if we let him.” I grinned at the woman across from the – the second possible nanny that Heather recommended.

She lightly laughed in response and nodded as though she understood. “My daughter is the same way. She’s only four, but once she gets on her Paw Patrol kick, it’s a ride. Arch is older, right? I’m sure we could find plenty of other activities to do. I love being outdoors, hiking, fishing, having picnics..”

Chance shot an amused look at me from where he sat next to me. “Out of those, I think Arch would only go along for the picnic,” he joked, sharing a chuckle with the woman.

My own grin cut off as my phone rang from my pocket. I scrambled, sliding away from Chance slightly so I could reach into the pocket between us and slide it out.

Chance frowned at Ronnie’s image and name lighting up the screen, but didn’t look up to meet my eyes as I pushed up from his knee and got to my feet.

“I’m really sorry,” I said to the woman, turning to her to offer an apologetic smile. “It’s Sascha’s dad. I have to take this. I’ll be right back.” I offered Chance a desperate look, silently begging him to stay and make conversation.

With his congenial acquiescence, I left the room and rounded up the stairs, heading past where Sascha napped in his crib to my own room. I lightly shut the door and lifted the phone to her ear.

“Ron, hey. What time is it over there?”

“You’re ‘hey, Ron’-ing me?” he answered. “It’s evening over here, I don’t know. What’s going on? She had the baby?”

“Yeah,” I answered glumly, dropping down onto the end of my bed. “Lyla just called and told me. Apparently it’s a girl and she gave birth two days ago. That’s all I know.”

“Damn,” he drew out, sighing over the phone. “That’s all she told you? How are we going to tell Arch? What’s going to happen to the baby?”

“I don’t have any answers,” I said with a defeated shrug. “I know how I’m supposed to explain to him that he has a sister now, and we can’t do anything for her. He’s not going to understand why we can’t sweep in and do for her what we did for him.”

“Do you even want to do that, Atticus?” he asked, his voice soft, genuine. “I mean, it’s not like you went looking for Arch. He fell in your lap and you knew him. It’s not the same situation.”

I swallowed hard. “I don’t know what I want,” I said. “But he won’t understand it. He’s too young, and he was way too little to remember much of the daycare where we met. He was only three.”

Ron’s heavy silence filled the line, matching my own.

“I can’t really talk,” I said finally, picking at a thread of the blanket. “I’ve got one of the babysitters downstairs. She’s the second one today.”

“You’re making her wait to take my call?” he asked, the words surprisingly stripped of any bravado.

“Chance is down there,” I answered much the same way. “He’s been running interference with all these phone calls. Sascha is down for his afternoon nap. I think we like the first babysitter better, though. She’s a college kid.”

Ronnie hummed on the line. “You’ll have to tell me about them when you’ve got time,” he said, his words reminding me of the urgency. Ronnie’s voice was muffled as he added, “Don’t you have to pick Arch up soon? It’s past two there, right?”

I pulled my own phone away to glance at the time. “Yeah,” I confirmed. “We’ve got time. But I should go. I kind of feel bad leaving Chance down there without Sascha as an adorable buffer. They keep gushing over him.”

“Of could they do,” Ron answered.

We hung up without much fanfare, promising to talk later when he’d FaceTime to read Arch to sleep, and I hurried back downstairs, grimacing to Chance as I stepped back in and fell down to his side.

“Chance was just telling me that you two have been together almost a year,” she spoke, offering a congratulatory smile as she took in the two of us. “Heather didn’t mention that when she recommended the position to me. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about you.”

I smiled and shrugged, my shoulder lifting and falling against Chance’s chest. “Heather was actually the first person to encourage me to take a chance on Chance,” I said, watching his eyebrows raise in surprise. It was the day we met again at a park. He was fishing and drinking with his friends – still underage – and Arch stumbled upon them. Ronnie and I were still together at the time, and Heather was 99.9% joking, but Chance didn’t need to know that portion of the story.

“Aww, that’s so cute,” Rayleen cooed, grinning at us. “It’s always great when your friends like your significant other. It makes it pretty complicated otherwise.”

I turned a cutesy smile to Chance. We weren’t normally the center of adoration. Our relationship, more than once, was the center of controversy.

“So, what do you like about working at the daycare?” I asked, getting the conversation back on track.

We spent about another twenty minutes chatting with our second candidate before I thanked her and apologized for having to stop so abruptly.

“I have to pick up my older boy from school,” I explained politely, getting to my feet and taking Chance’s hand to pull him up at my side.

He really made me pull before he stood up, lightly wrapping a hand around my waist. He wandered the opposite way into the kitchen while I walked Rayleen to the door and saw her out, promising to get back to her soon with our decision.

“What do you think?” I asked Chance as I found him in the kitchen.

He shrugged and stretched his arms above his head, t-shirt rising a little to show a strip of skin along the top band of his shorts. As he brought his arms down, he saw me looking and grinned across the island at me. “See something you like?” he asked, leaning forward to rest his hands on the counter.

I slid my eyes up his chest to meet his gaze. “Always.”

With a grin cracking his composure, he rounded the counter and barreled into me. His weight into me threw me back a little, but his arms banded around me, keeping me against him as he swooped down and sloppily pressed a kiss against my mouth, again and again, his fingers pressing into my sides.

“Chance!” I laughed, peeling away.

“Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head as he caved over me, his chest against my back to keep me from escaping. “This is pay back for you always jabbing those bony elbows right into my ribs, Atticus.”

He lifted me backwards off the ground as he tried to tickle me. He had to simply hold on to keep me squirming from his grasp. Instead of tickling, his mouth found the place where my shoulder curves up into my neck.

I shuddered against his breath. “Chance,” I said, the word morphing from a warning to something breathy as he pulled me back against him, fitting me against his hips.

“Atticus,” he said the same way, palm sprawling against my stomach. “Let’s go upstairs.”

I shook my head, head thrown back against his shoulder as he tightened his hold. “We can’t,” I lamented.

“We can,” he whispered, trailing light kisses along my jaw. “We’ve got plenty of time.”

I practically sighed as I peeled myself from his body and turned to face him, keeping a solid three feet between us. “I can’t be late,” I said apologetically. “You want to ride with?”

Chance shook his head. “I’ve got dinner at my mom’s later,” he explained, “and I promised Andy that I’d stop over at his parents’ and check on Lilly for him. He worries that she’s too much for them to handle on their own.”

I frowned. “You check in on Andy’s daughter?” I asked, wondering why this was the first I’d heard of it. I’d only met the little girl once or twice, back when I was helping sign Pariah Conviction to the record label. She was a little thing back then; their drummer’s daughter.

Chance shrugged. “Sometimes, yeah. You know they’re on tour. He can’t really afford to send Lilly out to visit that often, and I think he feels guilty he just left her there. It helps if I stop in now and then. Let him FaceTime with her for a while.”

I offered Chance a genuine smile. I felt some kinship with the Pariah Conviction boys. They’d gone on their first ‘big’ tour this year. I knew firsthand the challenges it presented. Even though they’d been working forever for the opportunity, that didn’t make it any easier.

“I’m surprised they didn’t ask you to go with them,” I said, watching Chance’s expression.

He shrugged, holding my gaze. “I’ve got things here that I can’t walk away from,” he said seriously, finally blinking away from my eye contact.

I nodded along with his words, knowing that he still had dinner or lunch with his mom every week, despite the fact that she’d sent him to live with his uncle at fourteen. The same uncle who adopted his half-brother when they were kids and left Chance to be raised by an unstable mother. Chance and Spencer were closer now, but there was still some distance between Chance and his uncle.

“Spence might come to dinner tonight,” Chance said, shifting the topic.

I smiled hopefully. The brothers had different mothers and weren’t close growing up, but they were living together now, and it was nice for Spencer to show an interest in Chance’s mom. His own biological mother passed young; Chance said it was a rough subject for Spencer.

“That’s great,” I said genuinely. “Have they ever met before?”

Chance frowned at the question, but nodded as though he wasn’t quite certain. “Yeah, I think so. I remember my mom complaining once that my dad brought Spencer around when we were a few months old, maybe. I don’t know when my mom found out about Spence, but she definitely knew about him. I didn’t really get to know him until I moved in with Todd and Natalie.”

I stepped forward and took his hand, squeezing lightly. Chance’s family history was nearly as complicated as my own. While mine had evened out over the years with my father finally settling down, his own father up and left, leaving Todd and Natalie to raise Spencer while Chance volleyed in and out of his mom’s house.

“You’re a good son,” I said, reaching up to brush against his jaw. “I hope your mom enjoys meeting your brother. I’m sure you’ve told her a lot about him.”

His eyes held on mine. “I’ve told her a lot about you.”

“I can only imagine what she thinks of me,” I answered automatically, not believing any mother would enjoy having their own child dating an older woman with two kids who still lives with their ex. “She probably thinks I’m a mess.”

“I’d never let her think that,” he answered, grasping my forearm to tug me closer. “She’s happy that I’m happy. She’d like you.”

I smiled, and Chance changed the subject before I could form an answer.

“We should get going. You’ve got a kid to get from school, and I’ve got a kid to check up on and report back to her dad about.” He hastily kissed my mouth and grinned as he pulled back, blue eyes alight with mischief. “You want me to grab the baby or can I take off?”

I released him and ducked back toward the stairs. “Call me,” I demanded, motioning him off in the other direction through the small entry into the living room and the sliding door beyond. “Have a good dinner with Spence and your mom.”

“Always!” he called back, heading toward the door. “You can tell me later what that call was about!”

With a confirmation, I left Chance to back out of the drive into the alley, and I went upstairs to gently wake Sascha. I pulled a light jacket on him as we headed out the door, keys and wallet in hand, phone shoved into my back pocket.

It only took a few minutes to get to Nicolas from the house – a drastic downsize in commute that Ronnie never stopped holding over my head – and I lugged Sascha’s car seat out of the back so we could go in and get Arch out for the day.

We were behind schedule, so the halls were mostly empty, but that was fine with me. I was tensing up for another bad report from his teacher. He hadn’t bit anyone since the first time, but his days were consistently on the less-than-great side. He was grouchy and combative intermittently. Sometimes he’d forget he was trying to have an attitude and would genuinely find interest in something, but as soon as he remembered, his angry little mask fell back in place. His teachers were practically tracking it. With the phone call today, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Lyla had heard about Arch’s bad behavior. Nothing I’d done had fixed it so far.

I rolled up to his classroom and found him and a couple other students standing in the hall with their teacher. Arch lugged his backpack off the ground and crossed to me.

“Hi, Ms. Miguel,” I greeted, setting Sascha’s car seat down so I could shake her hand. “It’s good to see you. I hope today was on the upswing for Arch.”

She nodded easily. “We didn’t really have any problems. Arch took a little break when he got a little frustrated in math, but he was able to talk about his frustrations with Mrs. Halifax and he rejoined us in just a few minutes.”

I frowned and glanced down to Arch, who was pretending to be preoccupied by kneeling over Sascha. “We’ll talk about it when we get home too,” I said to his teacher, knowing he could hear me. “I’m glad it was an overall positive day, though. I hope that becomes a trend.”

“Same here,” she answered, smiling to the blonde. “See you tomorrow, Arch.”

Arch nodded silently and stood up, ready to go now that he was dismissed.

He loosely held onto Sascha’s carrier as we made our way out of the school. He was quiet, perhaps trying to postpone the conversation we would have about his school day, but he was contemplative, focused, serious in a way that was stunning to see in a seven year old. I knew it came from his past, from the insecurity, and it frightened me to think that even loving him enough could never replace what he’d gone through. What he was still going through.

As we stepped out through the main doors of the school, he palmed his heavy, golden curls out of his eyes and squinted into the sun, glancing up at me with bright blue eyes before scanning the parking lot for our car.

Seeing him, I could imagine the littler version of him, remember the three year old who used to curl up in my lap at the daycare, sequestered from the giggling, shouting, rambunctious children that circled us. He was a little duck, following me from place to place, barely looking at those around us, barely engaging.

In the last few months, he’d fallen back into some semblance of that, distancing himself with Ronnie gone. I couldn’t imagine what would happen when I had to tell him about his biological sibling.

“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked as I loaded them both into the car, watching Arch stumble over Sascha’s car seat and clamber into his own.

Sascha plopped into his seat, and I maneuvered his arms beneath the straps, grinning as he reached out and tangled his fingers into my hair.

Arch dropped a plastic ball into Sascha’s lap as I buckled him in and freed my hair. Sascha’s attention quickly turned to the new toy, wrapping his hand around one of the spires that skewered little wooden blocks. They fell and slid around as he flapped it around in front of him.

“Try to make sure he doesn’t hit himself in the head with that,” I said with a smile to Arch as I stood and backed out of the backseat, moving around to the driver’s side where Arch sat behind me. “We don’t want him to smash his little teeth out.”

The toy clunked to the ground as soon as we backed out of the school parking lot. Arch attempted to reach it, but his buckles held him to his seat. He looked at me expectantly as I eyed him in the rearview. In the past, he would’ve just unbuckled himself to get it, but he’d learned his lesson about letting himself out, whether it be out of the seat or the car itself.

I reached back without looking and scoured the floor for it, listening as Arch directed me. Finally I handed it up to him and he plopped it back into his brother’s lap.

“No, you have to hold onto it, Sascha,” he said, pushing it more firmly into the six month old’s hands. “You move the blocks, you don’t throw it.” A few of the blocks clinked together as he demonstrated for Sascha.

“We could go to a park,” I offered, sparing a glance in the mirror to see his reaction. “We’ll have to stop home so you can change, but I could pack up some food and we could have a late lunch at Griffith Park or something. I’ll grab the stroller.”

Arch eyed me, head lolling against the car seat. “Would we have to go walking?” he asked, crossing his arms over his little chest.

“We’ll, we’d have to walk to find a place to picknick,” I answered. “Or if that’s not up your alley, we could go to the trampoline park after we eat something. They have a little kid area that I could take Sascha in.”

“He can’t even crawl,” Arch answered. “How is he going to jump?”

“He won’t, but there’d be lots for him to look at while you play,” I said with a shrug. “I’m sure you could find plenty of other kids to run around with.”

The seven year old sighed. “I wish Sascha was bigger. He’s never going to be big enough for me to play with. I’ll be too big when he’s bigger.”

I shrugged. “You guys are six years apart. It’s going to take some time for him to learn to do all the things you can do, but you’ll be able to play together eventually. My brother and I are seven years apart, and Frida and I are almost ten years apart. We still have fun together.”

“You’re all big now,” he said with a little shrug, turning his attention out of the window.

I frowned and glanced at the clock on the dash. “Well what if we go get Nico? She’s big enough to play with you. And we could call Silvi’s mom and see if Silvi can come or meet us there if they’re not busy. It would be fun.”

Arch was hesitant to show enthusiasm, but I routed the calls through the car, dialing my father’s number first to find out where my little sister was.

“Atticus,” he answered, sounding a big distracted.

“Dad,” I greeted. “I was wondering if you want me to take Nico off your hands for a while. The boys and I are going to a trampoline park, thought she might want to come.”

I could hear him humming to himself as he thought it over. “You don’t want to take Holly by any chance, do you? I have to take your mother to the airport by nine tomorrow, and we’d love to have the evening together.”

“Sorry,” I said apologetically. “Two babies is too much out in public, Dad. Nico is old enough to do her own thing and follow directions.”

I rarely had all four kids anymore. When Nico was a baby, she was almost constantly with me. My job allowed for it, my responsibilities allowed for it. She spent the first few years of her life bouncing between my house and home, splitting her time with me and Ronnie and Dad and Gina. Even when Arch came along, he and Nico spent a lot of time together, just a little over a year apart.

“If Ron was home, maybe I’d consider it,” I said honestly. “But Holland is just too little. I can’t handle a one year old, Sascha, Arch, and Nico all at the same time. But I can meet you to pick up Nic if you want. She could stay over tonight. I’m heading out in the morning anyway. Could meet you after you take Gina to the airport.”

Dad relented, calling for the five year old from where ever he was at in the house. As he shuffled to go find her, I heard Frida shouting from another room, trying to figure out if he wanted her.

“If you’re not bringing her all the way to the house, make sure you feed her,” I directed. “We’re stopping home to change and eat, and then we’ll head to meet you. Same place?”

He promised he would, and I could hear him asking Nico if she wanted to go. He relayed that she did and ended the call, promising to text when he left the house in Pasadena to meet us just north of the city. We had a typical transfer place – a grocery store on the outskirts – like divorced parents trading their kids on neutral grounds.

Arch’s excitement built as we pulled into the alley and whipped into the driveway behind the house. He let himself out of his car seat, yelled at me to open the door for him, and then jumped down and rounded the car to the glass door, where he was stuck until I unlocked it for him.

He hopped up and down while I lifted Sascha out and grabbed Arch’s backpack, tossing it up the couple stairs to him.

Inside, he headed upstairs to change out of his uniform and into active clothes, and I followed to change Sascha. “Meet me down in the kitchen when you’re done!” I called to Arch as he rushed into his bedroom and shut the door, only to turn and shut the door to the jack-and-jill bathroom that let me look from Sascha’s room into his own.

Within an hour, we were dressed, fed, and back in the car, heading to pick up my sister and go to the trampoline park, Arch’s melancholy forgotten as he strained against his seat buckles.
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