‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Searching For

“Atticus, do you want anything to eat?” Chance called from the kitchen. I heard his footsteps as he padded over to the archway and peered into the living room where I sat, curled up with Ronnie’s old laptop on the couch. He leaned his shoulder against the door jamb as he peered into the room.

I smiled back over my shoulder, shaking my head at him. “No thanks,” I replied, curling my legs under me. “I’m going to try to get some work done while Sascha’s still knocked out.”

The baby slept at the other end of the couch, tucked between a pillow and the cushions. His pacifier fell out earlier, and his little rosebud mouth was pink and wet as he slept. I grinned at his little fingers where they were in his hair.

Chance hummed in replied and went back into the kitchen.

I turned my attention back to the laptop and the data displayed. Between working on some paperwork for Adejiay, I couldn’t help but do some research into children of parents who’d had one child placed into foster care and later adopted.

Arch’s previous social worker couldn’t give me any information about Abigail’s new baby – instead passing me Abigail’s lawyer’s information – but I knew that I wouldn’t get anywhere reaching out to them. Abigail Drewry would never allow a lawyer to share any information with me, no doubt seeing me as a threat rather than a solution.

In truth, I wasn’t Abigail’s ally. I never was. While the goal of the family court system was to reunite children with their parents above all else, I never looked at Arch’s situation that way. When I looked at my son, even early on, I saw an instable home life and mother who didn’t want him until someone else did.

I knew from the get-go that not only was Arch better off with me, but he wasn’t safe with Abigail. He took no comfort in the woman who gave birth to him, which was unfathomable and telling after she’d raised him for the first three years of his life.

I still hadn’t told Arch that he now had a sister. I wouldn’t be able to bare his reaction when he learned that he wasn’t allowed to have any contact with her. While Abigail might’ve allowed Arch to build a relationship with the baby, I knew it would be for her own interest, and, maybe selfishly, I didn’t want to allow Abigail back into Arch’s life in anyway. He was struggling enough right now; I wouldn’t put him under any more stress.

Instead of contacting Eric Burley, Abigail’s lawyer through Arch’s custody trial, I opened up my messenger app and texted Ronnie.

I feel guilty that Arch doesn’t know he has a sister
It’s better right now, right?

When he didn’t reply immediately, I sighed and closed out the app. It was mid-afternoon, so I couldn’t be sure that Ronnie was even recovered and out of bed from the night before. Normally, we usually wouldn’t speak on the phone until he was calling to say goodnight to the boys, but we texted periodically throughout the day.

Tense over the situation and frustrated with Ronnie for not answering, I opened up my email. Mr. Burley’s email was something I’d seen countless times during Arch’s custody trial, so I typed it into the receiver box and simply stared at it. Lyla had given me his phone number, but I wasn’t brave enough to call directly. What would I even say to him?

I had no right to know anything about the child. The only leverage Lyla mentioned was if I wanted to adopt the child if she were removed from Abigail’s custody, and I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen.

What good does it do to tell him right now, Atti?
It’s a shitty situation but you’re doing the right thing.
Trust what you feel

I read the texts a couple times through, wishing I felt the same confidence in myself that Ronnie always did in me. He never second-guessed my decisions when it came to the boys. Even when I was pulling my hair out over what to do, Ronnie deferred to me, supported me.

Did you just wake up?
It’s almost 12:37
Your kids got me up at 7

guys had me up until 4
would rather be up early at home

Good show last night?

Good crowd, yeah
Let me take a shower quick
then I’ll call and you can tell me what’s wrong

Go shower. I’m okay.
Chance is here.

. . .

I could see Ronnie typing then stopping. The dots popped up a couple times and disappeared before I replied again, avoiding whatever he was going to say.

Lyla can’t tell me anything about the new baby.
She’s not the social worker anyway, but I can’t stop
thinking about Arch’s baby sister, Ron. What if
something happens and we don’t know?

. . .
What would happen? Abigail was
neglectful not abusive. Now that she
has a new kid maybe she’ll leave us
alone. Leave Arch alone.

I don’t want Arch to feel replaced.

He has you and me. He doesn’t want her.

But what if you’re right? What if she did have
this baby just to replace Arch? That’s on me.
What if this little girl isn’t what she wanted?

I sighed as my phone screen starting buzzing on the couch next to me. When I fished it out, his name lit up the screen. He obviously didn’t care if Chance was here or overheard us. I declined the call anyway, turning back to the text thread on my laptop.

Ronnie, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
Sascha is sleeping next to me anyway. I don’t want
to get upset right now.

The typing bubble popped up again then disappeared just as my phone began to vibrate again. With a glare, I answered the phone call and lifted it to my ear.

“What, Ron?” I answered, my voice firm but quiet with Sascha next to me and Chance in the other room.

”I don’t want you to be upset either, Atticus, but just listen to what I have to say,” he said, ”Whatever happened or will happen… none of that is on you. Everything is on Abigail. She’s the one who forgot she had a fucking kid and said she didn’t want him, and she proved that she wasn’t capable of taking care of Arch. If she had another baby because she’s sad she couldn’t handle the one she had, then the court will see that and she’ll lose this one too.”

I swallowed and glanced down to my own son asleep at my feet. “Then that’s another child going through what Arch went through for four years, Ron,” I said solemnly, “and it may not be my fault directly, but indirectly, that baby girl could be alone because of me.”

Ronnie sighed on the line, understanding the catch-22 of my mind. “Atticus,” he said solemnly, ”You can’t save every child with shitty parents. Arch is yours. He’s always been yours. You gave him the home he’s supposed to have. You’ve gone through enough because of that woman and she still vilifies you.”

I closed my laptop and rested my arms on top of it. “I just can’t stop thinking about Arch’s baby sister, Ron.”

“What are you even thinking? You said yourself that you have no access to her. What can you do about any of this?” There was a bit of commotion in the background, and I heard one of the guys call to him. He quickly shushed them with some harsher-than-necessary words. Laughter filled the background as he told them to get out. “Sorry, Att, he muttered. “The guys want to stop for lunch soon. What were you going to say?”

“Lyla mentioned that I could apply to be the child’s foster parent if it goes that way…” I trailed off cautiously.

Ronnie hummed. “Yeah, of course she would put that idea in your head,” he commented, more to himself than to me. “Great, Lyla, thanks.”

“Oh, come on,” I complained. “Don’t be like that, Ronnie. You know that this is hard for me, and you know it would’ve crossed my mind if Lyla hadn’t brought it up first. I need you to be supportive, not sarcastic all the time.”

“I am supportive!” he defended, something ruffling in the background behind him. “I really am, Atticus. If this is something you feel you have to do, you know I’ll be there. I’ve grown up since Arch came into our lives, you know that, and I hope you know how much I regret the way I acted when you wanted to take him in. I know I was shitty and immature and couldn’t see past my own vision of my future, but I love that kid more than anything. So, if you want to do this all over again, I’m here for you. Always.”

I looked up as Chance came around the side of the couch I was leaning back again. He eyed the phone in my hand as he sat down in the armchair near Sascha. His expression was perplexed as he settled down with a half-eaten plate in front of him.

I wanted to point him back to the kitchen with his food, but I didn’t want him to think I was trying to keep him from overhearing my conversation with Ronnie.

I glanced away from his concerned expression and spoke to Ron again. “It wouldn’t be the same as Arch,” I told him, idly scratching at something sticky on the lid of my laptop. “I adopted him because it was so obvious that he was meant to be my son-“

“Our son,” Ronnie interrupted.

“Yeah.” I nodded. “I can’t even fathom going through all that again, really, but I’m scared for that little baby, and I need to know that she ends up somewhere good, if she can’t be with Abigail.”

What are you going to do if she stays with Abigail?” he questioned, his tone not very pleased with the idea and the complications that came with it. “Will we just never tell Arch he has a sister? That keeps him away from that woman.”

“Ron…” I trailed off, pressing my fingers to my temples as I considered all of it.

I’m pointing that out because you need to be conscious of what it means to get involved with her again, baby. We just got out of that situation. No one will blame you for not wanting to go through with that again. We can let the state handle it. Let them find somewhere for the child to go, if that’s the way it goes. We don’t have to let Arch see that baby, especially if it means that he has to be around her again to do it. It’s not selfish to put him first.”

I heard the guys yell back to Ronnie about it being time to go. Ron replied by telling them to go on without him, his voice muffled as he held the phone away from him to reply.

“No, no,” I said. “You go get something to eat. I don’t have anything else really to say about this right now.”

Already yelling for the guys to wait for him, Ron turned back to the call. “You sure? They can bring me something back. I don’t mind.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I promised, sparing a quickly glance to Chance. Looking to Sascha, I said, “The baby is probably going to wake up soon, and I’ve got to get Arch a little bit anyway, so I should really get some work done before then.”

All right, Att,” Ron said, his voice distant as he moved through the little bedroom on his bus, most likely getting dressed quickly. “I’ll call you guys tonight, but you can text me before then. I got to go then. I love you, Atticus.”

I sighed softly. “Bye, Ron.”

I ended the call and let my phone fall back onto the couch. Finally sparing a braver look to my boyfriend, I struggled to read the look on his face. His eyes were on Sascha, and I figured he didn’t want me to know the thoughts running through his head.

“What’re you thinking?” I asked anyway, slipping my feet to the floor so I could lean forward toward him.

He set his plate on the coffee table and shrugged, pulling his night-blue eyes up to meet mine.

“Please, Chance,” I begged, tucking my hair behind my ears. “Talk to me.”

He let out a sarcastic little laugh. “Talk to you?” he repeated. “You apparently feel like you can’t talk to me, so why should I make the effort, Atticus?”

“Can’t talk to you?” I echoed. “That’s not fair. I tell you, straight up, what I’m thinking all of the time. I’ve relied on you so much, Chance, and you know that. That’s not fair at all.”

He clenched his jaw, glancing away. I watched as he battled back the hurt.

“Chance,” I said again, getting up from the couch to go to him. Kneeling in front of him, I took one of his hands, pressing my fingers against the pulse at his wrist. “Chance,” I said again. “Tell me what you’re thinking. You keep so much to yourself and just expect me to be able to read it off of you. I know it hurt you to hear me confide in Ronnie, and I’m sorry, but I can’t separate myself from him. We have a life together, two in-fact, and sometimes I need him.”

“More than you need me, right?”

My eyes closed for a fraction of a second, the question battering me more than anything else would’ve. It was the question of a hurt child, someone on uneven footing. “It’s different with you,” I said, unable to lie to him. “You were here for me when I needed you the most, Chance. I know that.”

“If you know I was there for you when Ronnie wasn’t, why can’t you talk to me about what’s going on with Arch’s mom?” he questioned, slipping his hand out of mine. He stood up and stepped around me, leaving me crouched on the floor.

I got up and followed him into the kitchen. “You already know what’s going on,” I implored. “I told you the minute it happened that she’d given birth and that I don’t know what’s going to happen from here. You were here.”

His plate clattered into the kitchen sink as he put the island between us and looked up at me, both hands gripping the edge of the counter. “You’re right. I was here. I’m always here. I’m the one that stays for you, Atticus. The one that crawls into your bed at night. The one that loves you enough to be here.”

“Chance, that’s not fair-“

“Neither is calling your ex every time you can’t handle your life, Atticus!” he burst, shaking his head as he wiped at his eyes. “It’s not fair that I’m not enough for you. I try so hard to be enough for you, to be here for you, to take care of his kids when he’s not, and now you and him and going behind my back to take in another kid. The two of you, Atticus, not you and me.”

“How am I supposed to talk to you about that, Chance?” I asked incredulously, my own voice breaking as I stared at him. “Really? How? You freaked out last week when you found out that there’s a one in a million Chance that I’ll take care of Kyat someday! How was I supposed to bring this up with you when it’s a lot more real and a lot more possible? I knew how you’d react.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, he looked at me with an expression I hadn’t seen before. He wasn’t just hurt, he was angry. He was rallying against so much. “How do you think I would’ve reacted? How do I always react?” His voice was dark, the emotion stripped back as he pushed it away.

“Chance,” I breathed, shaking my head at him. “You smile, you say everything is fine, but you never really invest. You don’t have relationships with my sons. You try with Arch, but it goes nowhere, and that’s not on him. He’s seven.”

Chance’s mouth parted in surprise. “I do try,” he defended, “but Arch has been in Ronnie’s court since day one, Atticus. I can’t make him like me, but I still show up, don’t I? How is that not enough?”

I shook my head. “I’ve never even heard you call Sascha by his name. It’s always ‘the boy’ or ‘the baby’ or something else. You don’t play with him; you don’t cuddle him. It’s like you’re on autopilot with the kids. I know this isn’t easy, but we’ve been together over a year.”

“I try a lot,” he said, glancing to the floor before looking back to me. “I help with diapers and feedings and carry his stuff and get Arch buckled into the car. I babysit when you need me to. Sure, I don’t know how to be overly affectionate with someone else’s kids, Atticus, but I’m here. I’m trying.”

“That’s the problem,” I answered. “If you wanted all of this – if you wanted more than just me and you, Chance, you wouldn’t still think of them as just ‘somebody else’s kids’.”

“They have a father,” he replied, shocked, imploring. “They do. They have Ronnie. You made damn sure of that when you gave him all those chances, when you literally brought him into his house. I wanted to step in for the ba- for Sascha – I want to be the man that you need, Atticus, but it isn’t enough for you. I can’t be their dad when you don’t see me as that. I can’t step in when you’re always calling for Ronnie. I can’t be there for any of you if there’s no room for me in this family.”

I stepped back, one hand braced against the countertop, and felt those words hit me. Separated from Chance by the island, I could feel his pain across the divide, feel my own wrongs amplified back at me.

“I never wanted to hurt you,” I said quietly, standing up straight to look to him. “I didn’t, Chance. I really don’t. You’re… you’re everything I imagined for myself.”

“Then what happened?” he asked, taking a step closer. Skirting the island, his gaze settled on me. His expression uneasy, he moved toward me. “What happened, Atticus? Why can’t you let me in?”

I shook my head, unable to give another answer. “When we got together, you said you knew that I'd never be able to separate from him; you said you didn't care. I thought this was enough for you."

As hurt flickered across his features, his hand grabbing for the edge of the counter, I shook off the tears, wiping them away without acknowledging them.

Chance crumpled in on himself, turning to hold the counter with both hands and steady himself. It looked like lightening funneled through him, taking his balance out from under him. He held himself upright, standing in the middle of my kitchen, all his doubts confirmed.

"I don't think we should be around each other right now," he said, not sparing a glance up from the marble. "I think I should go..." He nodded as he spoke, his words on autopilot, his attention turned from me like it was too much to look, "... so you can really think about how you've spent over a year of our relationship unable to move on from your ex, and how you still think it's my fault that I'm not part of this family."

"I told you the first time we were together that I couldn't start a new relationship because I couldn't walk away from Ronnie," I replied, taking a step closer to make him face me. "And you know what you said? You said that you'd take what you could get."

"No one can wait forever," he answered, finally looking up. "No one, Atticus, can be with someone for a year and still not be sure that you're the person she wants. Every single day something happens to make me think that you'd be happier with him, and every time you defend your co-dependent-ass relationship rather than choosing me."
♠ ♠ ♠
"You know the truth can be a weapon..."