‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


“Atticus, your son has the most darling little face,” Heather’s mother called across the card table in the playroom where we stood piling our plates with food for our respective kiddos. She catered to Heather and Aiden as they made sure everyone else was taken care of, and I stock-piled enough food for three kids and Chance, who was tucked back in our seats trying to keep an eye on Nico and Arch while holding Sascha.

Heather grinned at me then her mother and nodded past me to the brood I brought with me. “That’s Atticus’s new guy,” Heather said conspiratorially, laughing as her mother immediately turned to look right at him.

The woman smiled. “Looks like your boys have taken to him.”

“Some days more than others,” I joked. I smiled and shrugged, watching as Chance got to his feet, tuned to us. Nico and Arch dived for his chair, giggling together as they squeezed into it.

“The baby is getting fussy again,” Chance said as he made it to my side, Sascha hanging from his own, Chance’s arm wrapped around his little belly. “He didn’t want that teething toy thing.”

I took a look at my baby and used the sleeve of my shirt to wipe the drool from his face. “Teething is not going well,” I said to the women across from us, hefting Sascha up so Chance had a better grasp on him. “He mashes everything into his mouth.”

“Would he want his teether if I cool it in the freezer for a few minutes?” Heather offered, blue eyes jumping from Sascha to me as she waited for my answer. “Honestly, Aiden used to just give Ky frozen rags to chew on. He was always getting soaked when they defrosted.”

“I can grab the toy,” Chance offered, leaning up to pass Sascha down to me haphazardly. “It’s worth a try.”

I shrugged hopefully and edged the plates onto the table so I could take the baby. He instantly pressed his face into my shoulder, attempting to rub his mouth against me. I rubbed his back, cooing for him to lift his head before he got too aggressive.

Heather smiled across to us as Chance darted back to our spot, shooing Arch and Nico out of the way so he could get to the diaper bag beneath the chair. “Thanks again for coming, Atticus,” she said. “I know you’ve got your hands full, but I’m glad you all could be here.”

“Oh yes,” Deanna said, just as kind as her daughter. “It’s nice to see you again. Heather and Aiden both talk so highly of you. Honestly, I was surprised when they decided not to have Aiden’s sister as Kyat’s godparent, but I can see why they care for you so much.”

I smiled at the praise. “I still don’t know if they made the right choice,” I said, glancing to my best friend, “but I love Kyat like he’s one of my boys, and I wouldn’t miss any of his birthdays. I even brought as many of the Gaschlers as I could wrangle on my own.”

Heather and her mother laughed lightly, glancing past me as Nico threw herself into Arch’s lap, making a vie for the chair and trying to slide him out of it. Arch pealed with laughter, pushing up against one armrest to right himself, managing to kick against Chance’s shoulder to hold himself in the chair against Nico’s barrage.

Distantly, I heard Chance warn them to be careful as he fished the teether out of the bag and rose to his feet, flashing it at me as he headed back over.

“Those two are wild when they’re left to their own,” he said, sounding a bit exasperated. He was a little wild eyed himself as he passed the gel toy over to Heather, who shuffled her plate into her mother’s hands to take it.

“They are a little pair, aren’t they?” I replied in a much lighter tone, smiling to myself at how close my son and sister were now. “Is your shoulder okay?” I reached up and lightly patted his shoulder.

Arch understood Nico, bonded with her without forcing her out of her shell, and Nico taught Arch patience and let him move past the history that made him a little too mature for his age. Even with the added responsibility of having to care for another child, I liked having the two of them together. I liked seeing their genuine enjoyment, and they each deserved to have the bond they did.

“I’m glad they have each other,” I said to the group, passing a full plate to Chance and setting another down to be filled. Sascha oscillated with my movement, lifting his head for just a moment before attempting to tangle his fingers into my hair. “Chance,” I sighed, leaning into the man so he could free me from Sascha’s hold.

“Always snatching mommy’s hair,” Chance tsk’d to Sascha, untangling his fingers.

“I really should get Arch and Nico together more,” I considered. “Arch was upset that Sascha isn’t old enough to really play with him. It’s hard to know he feels lonely without Ronnie.”

Deanna met my gaze with sympathy, taking a step closer to Heather to make room for someone else to grab a drink from the table. “I had mine close together for that reason,” she said, glancing to her daughter. “Heather and Hayden are barely a year apart. It was a struggle, but at least we got through it all in one go, pretty much. I couldn’t imagine doing it as a single parent.”

Heather turned, shaking her head at her mom. “With the two of us? I don’t think you could’ve done it, Mom. You and Dad were always so overwhelmed that you used to separate us, and each take one. Not to mention the vastly different punishments. Hayden got away with everything with Dad.”

“Your father has a soft heart,” Deanna defended, sparing a grin across to Chance and me. “You two always teamed up against him. He never stuck to the punishment we agreed on, so I was always backing down with you, Heather. We were lucky we only had two kids. We would’ve been overrun with another one of you.”

Heather grinned back at her mom, playfully rolling her eyes. “Take that as a warning, Atticus,” she said. “Momma says that you don’t need any more kids.”

“I did not!” Deanna called back in laughter, shaking her head. “If anything, I was pointing that at you, my girl. Two is the perfect number.”

“You have one impeccable grandson,” Heather answered, scanning the room for Kyat. He was mixed in with a group of bigger kids near the entryway, and Aiden wasn’t far behind, mingling with people I didn’t recognize. I wondered if any of his family had come to town for Kyat’s party. He and Heather tended to react differently to his relatives.

Deanna patted her daughter’s arm. “You know your brother isn’t making children a priority with the women he’s getting together with, but I pressure him just the same, Heather. If he knew what was best for him, he would’ve stayed with that Cheyenne rather than bed-hopping. He could’ve been settled by now.”

“Mom!” Heather scolded, glancing at me as if she couldn’t believe her mother’s humor. “Hay isn’t even twenty-five. He doesn’t need to settle down yet. He doesn’t even have space in his apartment for a kid.”

“That’s true,” Deanna relented, sweeping away from the table. “But you and Aiden have such a big, beautiful house. Plenty of room.”

“It’s getting quite full, actually,” Heather said back. Her smile was curtailed, close-mouthed but cheeky, and she raised her eyebrows expectantly as she waited for something to set in for us.

I glanced between the two women, then frowned, running through the layout of their home. There were three bedrooms in their house, a family room, a living room, a full basement, and a gorgeous kitchen. With the three of them, it was in no way cramped.

Heather grinned like she had a secret.

Heather,” her mother warned, trailing off as she turned back to search her daughter’s face. “What are you trying to say?”

Heather’s laugh caught the attention of some of the people nearest to us. At the same time, Aiden’s head of blond curls popped up. He turned and looked back over his shoulder to his wife. After a short pause, he excused himself from the conversation.

Heather grinned at him suspiciously, revving her mother up even more. Deanna’s attention flew to Aiden, who gave his wife a gentle look and went to gather Kyat.

I stared open-mouthed at Heather and Aiden as he moved to join her. Kyat hung from his arm, his little head bobbing around as looked over his party guests. He was old enough to know what the gathering was for, and his excitement showed as he smiled at everyone, content to lounge in his dad’s arms.

“We weren’t going to say anything yet,” Aiden mock-whispered to Heather as he stood at her side, adjusting his grasp on Kyat. He knew perfectly well that everyone could hear him, and his face lit up as the words registered with his wife’s mother.

Deanna gasped, hands flying out in surprise. “Oh my god! Oh my god!”

The rest of the guests turned their attention to the parents now, everyone catching on pretty fast to what Deanna was rambling as she tried to locate her husband in the crowd. When no other family came to embrace and question them, I assumed Aiden’s family hadn’t made it from out of town, but he fell easily in with Heather’s parents. Deanna threw her arms around her son-in-law, jostling Kyat abruptly. The little boy’s expression pinched in confusion as he bobbed in between his dad and grandmother.

Heather laughed and pulled her son into the stability of her arms.

“We were going to wait until after Kyat’s birthday,” she said, holding him up so everyone could see him a little bit better on his day, “but since he already knows, and I managed to spill the news before he did…” she trailed off and looked to her husband, eyes shining.

He stared back at her adoringly, head dipping in a bit. “We’re happy to share with our family and friends,” he said, wrapping his arms around his wife and son, “that we’re expecting our second child in April.”

The room erupted into cheers and applause, everyone shuffling closer to congratulate the parents and cheer on Kyat about becoming a big brother. Deanna found Heather’s father and was busy hyperventilating next to Heather, trying to hold back her questions so Aiden and Heather could revel in the moment of their announcement.

Realizing the commotion, Arch made his way over to me, Nico following close behind, and wrapped his arms around my waist. Nico stopped at my right side, trying to make sense of what was going on.

“Atticus,” Aiden said through a laugh, glancing at me across the table. “You look stunned.”

I immediately shook off the surprise that was evident on my face and offered Aiden a smile. “I am stunned,” I replied honestly. “I feel like I should’ve seen this coming, but Heather never even mentioned you wanted another baby.”

Aiden shrugged and glanced to his wife, whom was now finally addressing her mother and running through a list of questions. “We didn’t want to say anything until we were sure that we wanted another one, but it happened very fast after that.”

“I can’t believe it,” I said, breaking from Arch’s hold to embrace Aiden. I pulled him tight to me, running through the months that Heather stood at my side while I was pregnant. The late nights and panicked calls that Aiden graciously supported, encouraged. “I’m so happy that it’s you guys this time.”

Aiden let out a surprised laugh and hugged me back. “Me too,” he murmured, glancing to his wife as we pulled back, his blonde curls brushing against my cheek. He looked astonished himself, but his expression belied that the reality of it was setting in for him, for them.

Heather was in tears as she moved from guest to guest, soaking in their cheers and happy wishes. Kyat ate up the attention but balked when his mom shed a few tears. Heather promised him that it was all okay and set him on his feet, promising presents and cake very soon. She sent him off to play with friends, and he went without complaint, cheering aloud as he raced across the room in that haphazardous way that only little boys know how to do.

“Oh god,” Heather let out, turning to locate me through the crowd. “What if it’s another boy?” she asked, laughing at the horror and the possibility of four boys between us. She purposefully widened her eyes at the thought of it, but her laughter broke through the mock-horror.

“You’ve got the boy-mom thing down, babe,” I called back, shrugging as though it was as easy as she made it look. “Either way, Sascha needs a best friend.”

Heather grinned amidst the commotion and raised her glass to me. “Aiden!” she called, ducking to see through the crowd in the other direction. “Aiden, I need you to put Sascha’s teether in the freezer!”

She giggled as he called back from further into the room, promising to make his way back to her in just a moment, unperturbed by her demands. He mentioned to those around him how her words echoed the conversations coming in their near future.

I shared a small smile with Chance as we retreated back to our spot, leading Arch and Nico with us. Carrying Sascha in the ring of my arms, I considered my own pregnancy, Heather’s, and Abigail’s new baby.

“Another kid, huh?” Chance commented as we sat back in our seats, laying the plates out on the floor for Nico and Arch to sit cross-legged.

I shrugged off the parallels to my own thoughts and simply nodded at him. “I’m really happy for them,” I said honestly, watching them make their way back to their own chairs, Kyat in tow. “I remember when Heather first had Ky. They made it look easy. She’s just such a natural mom.”

“She must think the same of you to make you her son’s godparent,” Chance said. “You never mentioned that.”

I nodded, surprised that this was the first he heard of it. Heather always referred to me as her son’s godparent, always pushing for a close bond between Kyat and me that I was more than happy to nurture. I’d grown up helping raise my siblings, taken Arch in as my child, and given birth for the first time, but there was nothing quite like loving someone else’s child.

In my heart, Kyat felt like my nephew. It was a relationship that existed separate from the ones I had with his parents. I’d said yes to being his godparent because even though I loved Heather and Aiden, they weren’t the only reason that I cared for the adorable, white-blonde, wide-eyed two year old whom was running around the party re-announcing that he was going to be a big brother. Our bond was our own, and I would do for Kyat like I would for any of the other children in my life.

“Do you think they’ll ask you again?” Chance asked, leaning in close to my side.

“Ask me what?” I asked, pulled from my thoughts. I turned my attention from Kyat to Chance, shifting in my seat with Sascha on my lap.

Chance frowned like his question was obvious. “Ask you to be the godparent for their new baby,” he said, shrugging back into his chair. He looked straight ahead, his eyes as dark and undulating as always. His expression was like a storm in the middle of the ocean. Distant but heavy.

“I’m not sure,” I said genuinely. Heather and Aiden originally planned to ask his older sister, Roxanne, to be responsible, but they’d changed their mind after he was born, giving that responsibility to me instead. Heather had tried to explain the change of heart, and at the time, I didn’t understand how they could look at me and see someone capable of giving their son the type of life and love they would’ve. I was overwhelmed with my own life, trying to find a sense of stability that I’d only ever feigned, but they saw a life in me that they couldn’t give to their son, and they wanted him with someone who wouldn’t only replicate the life he’s known.

“Would you say yes if they did ask?” Chance questioned, reaching out to let Sascha curl his hand around one of Chance’s fingers.

I frowned at the question. I’d tried to say no the first time they asked, certain that I couldn’t be the type of parent they were to Kyat. It dawned on me how much had changed in the last two years. Arch was all mine now, and Sascha. Ronnie was less of a certainty in some ways, but more permanent in others, and Chance was a brighter blip than anyone saw coming.

“That would mean you’d have four boys to look after,” Chance continued, shaking his head at the thought of it all. “Let alone if you have any more of your own. It’s different when they’re your kids and there’s a father to help out, but I don’t know how anyone could raise four boys alone, let alone two that are grieving.”

“Arch was grieving when he found me,” I said, frowning as I turned to look at Chance, “and I took him all on my own. Ronnie wasn’t ready; nobody was going to help me. I didn’t have to take him into my home, but I knew that being with me was the best place for him. And the same would be true for my godsons,” I said with a shrug. “If Heather and Aiden were to give me the honor of raising their kids, I wouldn’t say no.”

Chance nodded, turning to look at me as I watched Kyat run up to his mother. “It would just throw a wrench in the plan, is all I’m saying,” he said with a shrug.

“Arch was the biggest ‘wrench’ of my life,” I said back, “and Sascha was the second. I wouldn’t shy away from anything else the universe wants to shock me with.”

Chance frowned and nodded without meeting my gaze. “Yeah, I get that,” he answered, pulling his hand back from Sascha. “I just don’t know if I could do the same.”

When the kids were done eating, I left them in the playroom with Chance and gathered up their plates to take to the kitchen. I took Sascha with me to hunt for his teether toy and found Heather in the kitchen, forearm deep in the garbage. She grinned at me as she ruffled through a few dirty paper plates.

“Aiden thinks Kyat managed to throw another of his friend’s phone in here,” she said, shaking her head at the madness of it all.

“Kyat’s friend or A’s friend?” I asked for clarification. “If it belongs to a two-year-old, there’s a good chance that it’s not a real cell phone, right?”

Heather laughed. “Aiden’s friend, unfortunately,” she said, adding a huge sigh to the end of her sentence as she pulled free from the garbage, going straight for the sink. “No luck.”

I tossed my plates in and offered an apologetic smile. “I could help you look. Has someone tried calling it? Or asking Kyat where he left it?”

“He’s been with Aiden all afternoon,” Heather complained. “I don’t see how my wonderful husband managed to let our almost-two-year-old take and lose someone else’s phone. Kyat’s going to be paying this off in birthday presents until he’s twelve.”

I grinned and leaned against the counter as she wiped her hands dry. “If it’s not in the garbage, I’m sure it’ll turn up eventually. At least you own the building and we’re not at a park or something.”

“True,” she conceded, grasping the edge of the countertop behind her. “I’m sure Aiden will find it. It’s just exciting that’s he’s finally the one who lost something for once.”

She and I laughed conspiratorially, edging closer together. She reached out to play with Sascha’s hands, rolling his fingers into a little fist and bumping it with her own.

“So, you’re going to have another one,” I said, looking from my child to my best friend. “How far along are you?”

She brushed her finger along the inside of Sascha’s arm. “I was going to tell you first,” she said. “Today, actually, but the secret got out to everyone before I had a chance.”

“Yeah,” I laughed, shaking my head at her. “The secret just managed to get out on its own.”

She flashed a grin before turning a demurer smile to the floor, folding her hands in front of her. “Only about eleven weeks.” She shrugged. “Like I said, we were planning on waiting to tell everyone.”

“It’s fine though,” I answered, unable to stop smiling at her. “I keep saying it, but I’m so excited. You and I were really barely more than work friends when you first got pregnant with Kyat. I wasn’t able to support you the way you supported me with Sascha.”

Heather scoffed. “Atticus, you kept me sane at work! You let me sneak breaks in your office and eat all your snacks. I had Aiden at home for all the other junk. You were where I needed you most!”

I hefted Sascha up higher in my arms, coaxing Heather to peal him from me. Sascha’s head reared back as he looked up to her, and she made a little snorting noise and dived into plant kisses on his cheeks.

“I wish our baby would have dark hair,” Heather sighed, brushing the tips of her fingers against his curls. “Aiden’s sister, Roxanne, has brown hair.”

“You never know,” I said, thinking about the gorgeous little children we had between us. Kyat and Arch weren’t that different in looks; I’d even once thought that looks-wise Arch would fit seamlessly into their family.

“I’m catching up to you,” Heather joked, bouncing the baby. “You thought you had me beat, but Aiden and I weren’t going to let that happen.” She spoke the last half in a baby voice, directing her words to Sascha.

I watched as he babbled at her, the end tapering off into a displeased squawk before he dove in and crammed his gummy little smile into her shoulder and hair.

“If you’re planning to have any more, you’re going to have me beat,” I answered, pressing back into the countertop. I bit my lip as I met her expression, able to read her face.

“What you’re done?” she asked lightly, turning it into a laugh. Her tone was playful as she added, “What does Chance think about that?”

I shrugged off my answer, absently touching Sascha’s hair as I considered it, shied away from the idea. I shrugged a second time, sighing as his words from earlier rang through my head. “He made a comment today,” I said finally, scooting closer to whisper the words.

Heather frowned as the moment turned serious, and the two of us bent around Sascha to speak. “What kind of comment?” she questioned.

I sighed, “I think he’s weirded out that I’m Kyat’s god-mom,” I said. “It’s the way he said it. He made it out to be some burden, like raising someone else’s kids is a ‘wrench’ in the plans.”

Heather’s mouth pressed together as she considered. “I mean, do you think he actually meant it negatively, or did it just come out that way, Atticus? Raising my kids would be a lot more work.”

“He said, ‘I don’t know if I could do it’,” I added, looking at her beseechingly over Sascha’s head. “It just seemed like he wasn’t happy about any of it.”

“Atticus,” Heather sighed, moving Sascha to her other arm so he wasn’t between us. “Just because he’s not thrilled at the hypothetical of raising my kids – God forbid – doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love yours.”

“I know it’s hard for him,” I said softly, honestly, turning my gaze away. “It took a long time for Arch to warm up to him, and they’re still not very close, and Sascha is Ronnie’s. Sometimes I think that’s all Chance sees.”

“No.” Heather shook her head. “He knew what he was getting into. He wouldn’t put himself in this situation, put any of you in this situation, if he wasn’t okay with it. He’s young, but he doesn’t come across that way to me. Look how good he’s been with them today alone.”

I offered her a reassuring smile and nodded, but I wasn’t sure if Heather had it right this time. The foundation of our relationship was never very strong, and I brought a lot to the table that he didn’t expect.

“I think he feels like I’m living my life and he’s just along for the ride,” I said with a sigh, shaking away the thoughts. “I don’t know how to fix that, Heather. He has an idealized view of how he wants his life to be, and I’m worried that what I have to offer is already too different from what he wants.”

“He wants you,” she answered, seriously frowning, “and you love him.”

“Yeah, I do,” I agreed, “but what about my kids? I feel this pressure to make my life work for Chance, and I want it to work for him, Heather. More than that, I want him to love Sascha and Arch – I want them to love each other – but if he feels like they’re a burden… like they’re keeping him from having the life he wants with me… that’s not fair to my boys, and it’s not fair to Chance to settle for something he doesn’t really want.”

Heather and I both turned and smiled at a woman as she walked into the kitchen. She congratulated Heather and complimented Sascha as she gathered a few plastic cups from the narrow table.

When she left, Heather turned to me, concern plastered across her face. “Att,” she started, rubbing her palm over Sascha’s back, “don’t do this. You did this with Ronnie too. You always try to stop the men in your life from choosing you. It’s like you think you’re saving them from making the wrong decision. I know you’re trying to protect them but look at your relationship with Ronnie. You ended things so he didn’t feel like he had to choose you and Arch over his music, but he’s still here, and he’s still choosing you guys. What if it’s the same with Chance? You said yourself that he really tries with the boys.”

She smiled, reaching out to squeeze my arm. “Talk with him, Atticus. Don’t let an off-handed comment derail it all.”
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Hi! I'm sorry it's been so long! As I'm sure you're aware, it's been a weird year. But I'm pushing forward to finish this story, because I definitely think it deserves an ending. I'm also rewriting it, so if you're interested in that, leave a comment and let me know if I should continue to post that version!