‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


“Arch, Nico!” I called up the stairs from the first floor, Sascha against my hip, his chunky fingers gripping the neckline of my shirt as I carted him around, trying to pack up everything and get the two chaos-children downstairs and out the door. “We are going to be late!”

“Coming!” Arch shouted back, the sound coming from his room, and not the top of the stairs where I wanted them both to be, on their way down.

“That’s what you said fifteen minutes ago when I was up there! You had all night to do whatever you two are doing! Let’s go!” I yelled back, sighing as I rounded the banister and took my first step up. Sascha’s head bobbled as he looked up.

Nico’s dark head twisted to look up at me as I pushed the bedroom door open and leaned in, peering around to the see the mess of toys laid out across the floor. Arch looked up like a deer in headlights, blue eyes big and wide as he froze, half shuffling one of his trucks into Nico’s backpack.

“What’s going on in here?” I asked, pushing the door so it swept some of the mess away and let me step into the room with Sascha. “Nico?”

“We were-“

“Arch, let Nico tell me,” I said, watching his mischievous little expression shutter, little pink mouth snapping closed as we both looked to my sister.

“We are trading,” she said, pushing up from the ground. “I want Daddy to bring my toy so that Arch will give me his dozer.” As she talked, she wrung her hands in front of her, glancing to her older nephew for confirmation.

I paused and looked at them, trying to devise why they were acting like they were caught doing something they weren’t supposed to. We’d never given them rules that they weren’t allowed to trade toys – or at least I hadn’t. Arch knew he wasn’t supposed to ask to keep anyone else’s toys when he was playing with others, but this seemed fairly innocuous.

“Why are all the toys out?” I asked, glancing at them all. “And Arch, what toy are you getting out of this deal?” I questioned.

Arch shrugged and moved to scoop up his trucks and dump them back into the bottom drawer of his dresser where he always kept them safely packed away. It didn’t matter how many times I cleared them out to make room for clothes, he always tucked them back under his shirts and jeans.

“Nico, what are you giving him?”

She almost tumbled as she got up from the floor, standing between Arch and I. She only got cuter as she got older, her deep brown hair silky with big curls made into ringlets by the heaviness of her thick hair. Her eyes were big and round, dark brown like my own with a hint of lighter brown from her mother. She wrinkled her little button nose as Arch kept cleaning up his toys.

Every time we were together, it stunned me just how much Sascha looked just like her and Holland… Holland was practically identical, with hair a shade closer to black like Gina, even more alike to Sascha than Nico.

“Archy can have my snow globe,” Nico said, finally looking away from her nephew to answer me.

I frowned at the answer. “Arch, why do you want the unicorn snow globe?”

“Ronnie gave it to me,” Nico answered, turning the R of his name into a W in the cutest way. She said it just to have something to say and fill in Arch’s silence, but it also answered the question. Ronnie gave Nico the snow globe as part of a bigger birthday present. It was an off-handed gift, something sweet he could do for her.

“You guys,” I said with a mild sigh, slipping further into the room. I set Sascha down in one of the spaces Arch cleared on the carpet – waiting for Sascha to find his balance sitting up – and then I eased down with them, reaching for Nico.

She hopped over a pile of trucks and careened into my lap, gangly arms wrapping around my neck as she practically fell into me. At five, she hadn’t quite adjusted to how quickly she was growing and balance was slow to come.

“Arch, Nic should keep her snow globe,” I said, looking at him even as he wouldn’t meet my gaze. “It was her birthday present from Ron. You wouldn’t want to give her any of your presents, would you?

“And Nico,” I said, turning the attention so Arch didn’t feel obligated to answer. “If you want a bulldozer toy, if you ask nicely, I’m sure Arch has one he would share with you until Daddy gets you one of your own. You just have to take care of it so it’s in good shape when you give it back.”

Nico looked to Arch through her dark little lashes, too shy to really ask for something without the trade, which undoubtedly Arch’s idea.

I nudged her, encouraging her to use her voice. She was still the quiet child she’d always been – the last to speak up, to ask for anything. She relied more on body language to get what she wanted. It was part of the reason she and Ronnie were so close. He took to her immediately and never demanded anything back. She found comfort in that, in him.

“Archy,” Nico started quietly. “Can I have a dozer?”

Arch glanced up at the question, his expression etched into a frown as he looked over his fleet of toy trucks. After a moment, he nodded and loped across the carpet to grab the one he was going to give her in the first place. Unceremoniously, he stuffed it into her backpack and handed the whole thing over.

The five year old grinned and pulled the bag to her. “Thank you,” she said, her TH sounding more like a F. She got up from my lap and paraded over to hug Arch, practically falling in his lap as he sat up on his knees to hug her back.

“All right, boys and girls,” I cheered, getting to my feet quickly and lifting Sascha from the floor. “Daddy should be on the way, Nic, so we’ve got to get a move on if we’re going to meet him.” I looked to Arch as he tossed the last of his favorite trucks into the drawer. “And we’ve got places to be, my boy, so everyone downstairs.”

Nico carried her backpack and held my hand as we went downstairs to the foyer. She and Arch sat side by side on the bench as they pulled their shoes on. Arch tied his own, then Nico’s, and pulled her to stand, her backpack still on her back.

I hurried into the kitchen while they got prepared, avoiding the sink full of kid-safe dishes and bottles as I grabbed for the diaper bag and the premade bottle tucked neatly into the side pocket. I yanked my purse off the island, looping the strap over the diaper bag’s, and rounded back to lead the kids through the living room to the back driveway.

“Get Kyat’s presents!” I directed them enthusiastically.

Arch grinned and gathered up the gifts he’d helped wrap. He tried to carry them both, but Nico eventually took one, picking it up from the floor as Arch stumbled to make it through the living room.

“Everyone in,” I directed, yanking the back door of my car open. It was low enough to the ground that Arch could hop in, but I pulled Nico up by her hand until she got her footing and moved back to the third row of seating. I got Sascha in, checked Arch’s buckles, and crawled back there to get her situated as well, unceremoniously tossing the presents in beside her and my bags into the passenger’s seat.

On the way to meet my father and drop Nico off, he called, and I don’t know why I was surprised that he begged me to keep Nico with me for the day. The call automatically routed through the car, and so I didn’t argue with him in front of my baby sister, knowing that she was old enough to understand when he put her off for a work obligation. Even at five, she was used to it, and I wasn’t going to do the same to her.

“Yeah, Dad, it’s no problem,” I said, knowing he would hear the irritation in my voice that Nico was too young to pick up on. “We’re going to a party, but it’s no issue if Nico tags along. I’m not sure when I’m going to be free to meet up though, so you’ll have to work on my schedule.”

“Of course, Atticus,” he answered. “I’m sorry it’s last minute, but you know how things get sometimes. They need me to check a couple things before Monday, and with Holland already with Paulie, this is the best time.”

“Sure, Dad,” I said. “We’re going to head out then. I’ll call you later when we’re free and we can decide when to meet back up.”

We ended the call with another round of goodbyes, and I changed direction, taking an exit off the 110 so I could get back on going the other way. Routing it through the vehicle, I asked Siri to text my father’s nanny, asking about her schedule with Holland, hoping she would work as a back-up plan if Brett found himself too busy yet again.

Despite my hint of irritation, Nico and Arch chatted excitedly in the backseats, understanding that Nico was going to spend the day with us and get to experience Kyat’s birthday party. Even though they couldn’t see each other with Nico strapped in her car seat in the third row and Arch in his behind me in the second, they giggled and called to each other.

I exited CA-110 onto I-5, cutting back toward I-10 W to loop around downtown toward Heather’s daycare south of the Arts District. Kyat’s second birthday party was being held at Heather’s new daycare center. She’d purchased the actual building just a few months ago, and they’d moved in four weeks ago. While they day was all about Kyat, we were lowkey celebrating the fact that Heather was finally done hiring staff and ready to open full-time.

“What’s that water?” Arch asked, finger pressed against the window as he strained against his buckles to see.

I frowned and looked to my left. He pointed to a trickle of murky water that sat in a concrete river basin. “Arch, that’s the LA River,” I said ardently. “You’ve seen it before. Bunch of times.”

“No, I haven’t,” he answered, dropping into his seat.

Behind him, Nico pushed up in hers to get a look, but gave up when she realized she couldn’t see that low out of the left window.

“If you say so,” I said, “but we’ve driven past it hundreds of times. You must not have been paying attention.”

“Can we swim in there?” he asked, looking up to me even as I couldn’t look back.

“What? No, it’s gross,” I said quickly, pulling off the interstate into one of the major streets. I hadn’t been to the daycare building yet, so I slowed down to type the address into my phone’s GPS, a bit frustrated that I couldn’t spot the building.

The GPS cheerily announced our arrival about a block and a half from the exit, and Arch and Nico went silent as they tried to get a look out for it.. Sascha was silent most of the ride, always overcome by the urge to stare outside. He squawked as the car slowed and began to stop.

“I see it!” Nico called, pointing out the window as Arch whipped around to see where she was pointing.

Even though Nico couldn’t read, she was right. She’d spotted the colorful sign mounted on the building above the front door – the big purple handprint in the logo most likely giving it away as a contender. The Playhouse was a two story building snuggled between a couple more converted industrial-looking businesses, with a narrow closed-off patio out the front and a long line of floor to ceiling windows on the first floor. The door itself was a royal purple with a shortened version of the logo smacked on.

“Where do we park?” I asked to myself, but somewhat optimistic that one of the kids might figure it out before me. So far, it’d been a team effort.

We found the parking lot down a narrow alley two businesses down, the logos of nearby businesses painted on the alley wall as we passed. The row of buildings were all connected like Brownstones until the alleyway, and along the backside I found another purple door – likely the employee or back entrance to Heather’s property.

I recognized Heather’s vehicle in the lot as I pulled up near it, scanning the window for any kind of parking permit. When I didn’t see anything, I sent a quick prayer to the parking gods that I wouldn’t get towed or ticketed and shut off the engine.

“Everybody out,” I cheered, unbuckling myself so I could unload them all.

We ended up walking to the purple door in the back of the building to avoid having to cart three kids around the other end of the building and back up along the street. Nico held my free hand and Arch meandered along while holding onto a fistful of Sascha’s little pants. Cars continued to pull in and out around us as we quickly crossed the lot and stepped up the narrow staircase to the building.

Arch reached out and banged obnoxiously on the door, just grinning at me when I pulled him back to stop his eager battering. The present slipped in his hands, and he scrambled to get a better hold on it. He looked up at me with his little mouth puckered into a little O as he accidentally poked a hole through the paper.

“Leave it!” I admonished as he turned back and tried to peal it wider.

“Atticus!” Heather greeted as she pulled the door open in a flurry, immediately stepping out onto the landing to wrap me in a hug, trapping Sascha between us. Without a breath, she kneeled down to the kids to greet them. “Arch, Nico, thanks for coming! Come on in. You can put the presents under the table!”

“We’re a bit early,” I said apologetically, funneling the kids inside before I followed. The back door opened into a small kitchen, barely wide enough for a row of cabinets, a fridge, and a stove along the right side and a narrow standing-height table along the middle. The table was covered in covered dishes and party foods, drinks sloshing in their bowls as I bumped the furniture.

“I’m actually grateful for that,” Heather said with a grin as she closed the door behind us. “There are a couple things I have to finish up quickly, and I could use your help.”

I glanced pointedly at Arch and Nico, whom were already giggling conspiratorially as they ducked under the island-table among the presents. I immediately I bent down and pulled Arch out by his t-shirt, knowing Nico would follow. “I’ll help with whatever I can,” I said with a slight chuckle. “Where are Aiden and the birthday boy?”

Heather smiled sheepishly and wrung a roll of tape in her hands. “I sent them out for some last-minute items so I could get the rest of Ky’s decorations up. I’ve been a nervous wreck getting this place together.”

The kitchen opened up through a tall archway into a hallway. A single glass door sat across from this room, but I couldn’t make out much of what was on the other side. I looked to Heather expectantly. “You want to give me a tour now or wait until everyone gets here?”

The blonde smiled as though she’d forgotten and nodded eagerly. “I figure everyone can explore on their own when they arrive,” she said, tightening down the cover on one of the bowls as she stepped away from the table. “Follow me and we can show the kids to the playroom.”

Arch and Nico perked up at the news, content to follow.

Heather’s building was narrow, but designed well for the space. The hallway ran parallel through the length of the place, closer to the back wall so that back rooms – the kitchen, bathroom, and office – were smaller than those that faced the street. A rounded staircase made the office even smaller, but it was placed perfectly for a daycare. Heather was able to lock the office and keep the kids from the stairs and the storage/break room above.

With the building narrow and long, the front rooms were broken into three separate areas. The main entry that we passed on the drive in opened to a cozy foyer that Heather outfitted with benches and cubbies with little hooks. Walking straight through led to a desk where the receptionist would sit and turning left led into the front room, now the playroom. The last room was about half the size, filled with soft surfaces and quiet activities.

“This doubles as the nap room,” Heather said, bending down to straighten up the child-sized arm chairs that grouped near the built-in bookshelves. “

Arch bounded past her and threw himself into one, too curious about the building’s secrets to remain behind in the playroom. Nico hesitated, glancing to Heather for confirmation.

“This is so cute, Heather,” I said earnestly, shuffling Sascha on my hip as I looked to the bay windows that were practically floor-to-ceiling, overlooking the main road. “I might have to reconsider a nanny if you’ve got room for these terrors.”

Arch eyed me, reaching for something on the bookshelf.

Heather grinned but shook her head, lightly touching Sascha’s curls. “When Sascha gets potty-trained, we can talk,” she said, sounding eager for that possibility, and for the fact that she no longer had to watch infants, working for herself.

We left the kids in the soft room and headed back across the hall into the tiny kitchen as Aiden came through with Kyat, arms bogged down with a bag of last-minute items. From what I could tell, it was mostly a party platter and extra drinks. Heather piled it all on the last remaining counter space near the sink before encouraging Aiden to set up the card table in the playroom (where there was adult-sized seating).

“Okay, H,” Aiden said, shaking his head even as he looked at her with adoration. He passed Kyat to her over the island-table and headed back outside and down the stairs.

Heather grinned at me nervously, but excited, before turning her attention to her son. My godson. Impossibly, Kyat got cuter and cuter with age. With Heather’s white-blonde hair and Aiden’s wispy curls, he was angelic, a lighter, littler version of Arch’s deep blue and golden blonde. In him, I could see what Arch might’ve been at two years old.

Letting him rest on the edge of the table, Heather gently covered Kyat’s ears and grinned at me over his head. “Do you think it’s bad to celebrate his birthday so early?” she asked, looking mock-ashamed.

I shrugged, moving around to see him better. He instantly took interest in Sascha and Sascha in him, the two staring at each other with blank expressions. Kyat looked to Heather with concern. “I mean, Aiden doesn’t have a choice about work, right?” I reiterated the conversation we had when she invited us. “I’m sure Ky wants to celebrate with his Daddy,” I said, turning my attention to the boy as he grinned at the context of what I was saying.

“And open his presents,” Heather added, reaching to tickler his sides.

“Yeah!” Kyat cheered, squirming away from her hold and grinning as Aiden came through the back door with the folded table. “Daddy!”

“KyKy!” Aiden cheered back, resting the table against his hip for a second so he could brush his hand over his son’s head.

Heather, Aiden, and I walked back to the main playroom. We set Sascha on a soft mat and Kyat hovered around him while the three of us straightened up the table and rearranged some of the refreshments, bringing the presents and Ky’s cake out.

The rest of the guests started arriving just as we were finishing up, coming through the front door with big, excited eyes. Excited to see the birthday boy and his mommy’s new building. I made my way from the back with Sascha when Chance walked through the door, peering past unfamiliar groups of people until his night-blue gaze settled on me.
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I was so surprised to see I had comments waiting! Thank you! I'm really glad you're still enjoying the story. For those of you who are interested, I'm rewriting the very first part of this story into what I've always seen it as in my head. It's no longer a fanfiction, but the story lines are very closely related. Same general themes, just better writing! The rewrite of Atticus's story is called Infamous. Please check it out. :)