‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy

Comforters

I rolled awake to the sound of Arch whispering, but it took a few moments for his voice to register in my groggy head. After a moment, I rolled to the edge of the bed and opened my eyes to see Arch sprawled out beside the mattress on Ronnie’s floor, playing with something on my phone.

“What are you doing?” I asked slowly, rolling onto my back.

“I couldn’t find you,” Arch answered, peering up to me through the darkness of Ronnie’s bedroom, the black-out curtains pulled over the window ever since Ronnie left for tour.

“Sorry,” I said softly, scooting over to make room for him.

Arch giggled and made a commotion as he pushed up from the floor. He threw himself into the bed, scrambling for the phone as it fell into the blankets. “I called Ronnie because I couldn’t find you. He can make you feel better about not having a boyfriend anymore,” Arch quipped, too thoughtful for my good. To accent his point, he turned the Facetime call in my direction. Sure enough, Ronnie was on the line, staring back at us.

I groaned and pushed the phone away as Arch stuck it in my face, encouraging Ronnie to do something like the singer was the answer to all our problems.

“Att, you good?” Ronnie asked, glancing at something extra hard. “Are you in my bedroom?”

I groaned at having to explain why I’d chosen to spend the night in his bed rather than my own. After a second, I nodded for him to see and pushed myself up, disturbing the curtains and making a strip of light flash into the room. Arch and I both flinched at the brightness in the second it took for the curtains to fall back into place.

“What time is it?” I asked, yanking the phone away from my helpful seven-year-old. “Ugh, Arch. It’s not even seven. Why are you awake?”

The little boy shrugged and took the phone back. “Wasn’t tired anymore.”

Over the video call, Ronnie cut into the conversation. “Arch, why don’t you go check on your brother then go lay back down or play quietly in your room so I can talk to your mom for a little bit.”

Arch stared at the phone, eyes narrowed like he hoped he could intimidate Ronnie into changing his mind. When Ronnie just gave him a look, the seven-year-old groaned and slid off the bed. When his knees hit the floor, he passed the phone back, stretched across the bed on his stomach.

“Go on,” I encouraged him, not exactly pleased with him for sharing my business with the one person who’d think they could benefit from my break-up. When Arch walked out of the room, I gave Ronnie a droll look. “Really, Ron, I don’t want to talk about this with you,” I said. “I’m actually off today so I’d like to try to go back to sleep instead.”

I got up and threw Ronnie’s blankets back into place on his mattress, making a show of gathering up my things and leaving his room. I passed Sascha’s room as I went, peeking in through the open doorway to find Arch peering through the crib’s bars.

Arch stepped out into the hall behind me as I passed. “Saschy’s fine,” he said with a little thumbs up. “It’s hard to tell, but he’s just breathing quiet.”

“Thanks, babe,” I said, softly brushing my hand over his hair as I rounded the staircase to my own bedroom. “I’ll make breakfast in a little bit, okay? Relax in your bedroom for a little while.”

Arch frowned but nodded, dragging his feet into his room. He shut the door behind him, pausing only to give me a mad look before he shut it on me.

“Ron, I’m hanging up. I’m going to take a shower and then get the boys’ breakfast.”

“Hey, hey,” Ron cut in, frowning at me as I stepped into my room and lifted the phone up to look to him. “I’m not saying anything about what happened. I don’t even need to know. I just want to make sure that you’re okay, which you aren’t if you’re avoiding your own bed.”

I rolled my eyes at the jab. “I knew you wouldn’t let that go,” I complained. “I should’ve slept on the couch instead. That’s what baby monitors are for.”

Ronnie frowned at me. “I don’t mind, Atticus. I just need to know you’re going to be okay. I know you care about him.”

“I love him,” I answered, unwilling to water down what I feel, felt, for Chance. With a sigh of my own, I dropped down onto the corner of my bed.

“Okay,” Ronnie allowed, glancing away for a moment to gather up the resolve to discuss a relationship that he cared little for, “so, uh, why then?”

I shrugged, knowing he probably couldn’t make that out in the dimness of the bedroom. “It’s a long story,” I said finally. “I don’t even know how Arch found out, really. He must’ve overheard me talking to Heather about it yesterday. He definitely wasn’t supposed to call you over it.”

“He’s worried about you, Att,” Ronnie replied. “It’s sweet, but I’m glad to know that he overheard it though and didn’t call me because you’ve been languishing in my bed over it for the last two days or something.”

I sighed. “No, it’s nothing like that. It’s been business as usual around here.”

“Well, not as usual,” Ron said back. “Normally he’d be there, wouldn’t he? You’re allowed to feel that. You don’t have to pretend for me.”

“Ronnie, I’m not pretending for you,” I answered. “I’m just not interested in rehashing this. Chance and I were never going to work, and between me and you, I’m the only one who didn’t see it, so I really don’t want to get into this when I know you’re not the least bit sorry to see him go.”

“You really think that of me?” he asked, getting up from where he sat in the bus’s tiny living room and moving toward the back. “Listen to me, Atti. I’m not sorry that you broke up, but I’m sorry that you probably feel alone right now. I’m sorry that you lost someone who supports you, whether I like it or not. I’m sorry that you love him and that wasn’t enough. I’m sorry that I’m not there to help you deal with any of this, or at least watch the boys while you deal with it. I hate thinking of you alone there, Atticus, heartbroken because it just didn’t work out. I know what that feels like, and I don’t want that for you.”

He dropped down onto his bed in the back of the bus and looked at me through the phone. I could see his sincerity, hear it in his voice, and honestly, it hurt to think that in other circumstances he could be here to take care of everything while I sank into the breakup. Ronnie would do that for me, even if he hated seeing me miss another man.

“I wish you were home,” I said quietly, glancing through the open bedroom door to make sure that Arch hadn’t snuck his way back to listen from the hall. “I mean, I just-“

“I know,” Ron said with a shrug. “It’s easier when we’re both there. I’d probably be too scared to have both the boys alone for months. I definitely wasn’t able to function well enough when we broke up. But you’re the one who has it all together, so I’m not surprised that you can manage.”

I scoffed a laugh, shaking my head. “Ronnie, you take charge pretty frequently. You’d have it under control.”

He grinned, turning it away from the camera. “That’s what I’d hope,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those dads who thinks they’re babysitting when they’re watching their own kids, but you’ve got more practice than me. And you were a natural with Arch. I didn’t understand him like you did.”

I smiled at the memories that used to be painful. “You were young,” I said with an easy shrug. “You were working so hard to get where you are now. I don’t hold it against you. You’ve always been there for us when it counts.”

“You were younger,” he noted with a sigh. “I wish that had all gone down differently.”

We’d never really spoken about that time in our lives. We were newly engaged. Arch was newly in foster care. I was struggling to see him there, having a hard time watching him struggle when I knew I could make a difference in his life. No one expected for it to be so permanent, Ronnie least of all. I didn’t think about it all that much, but I’m sure he regretted his decision and the ease at which he rejected the idea of us taking in Arch together.

Eventually I decided to do it without Ronnie, setting down a foundation in LA that had me here with Arch when Ronnie left for tour. It was the same situation that pushed me to end our relationship. I was reeling with responsibilities, pushing against the idea of tying Ronnie down with something he point-blank told me he wasn’t ready for.

When reality set in, however, Ronnie stood up. I didn’t make it easy for him.

“You’ve already been through this,” I said honestly, reminding him of all the times he put his feelings about our breakup behind him so he could be there for our children. “You came for the boys, Ron; I hurt you and you still showed up for them. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.”

“This was supposed to be me comforting you, not the other way around. You don’t always have to be the strong one, Att.” He laid back in his bed, holding the phone over him so I could just make out the tattoos at his neck that spread up along his face.

I shook my head at his words. “I’ll wash your sheets,” I said, glancing down to my own.

Ronnie shrugged. “No, don’t,” he said easily. “I don’t mind. You can sleep in there until I get back if that’s what you want. Good luck explaining heartbreak to Arch though.”

I rolled my eyes at his attempt at a joke. “I’m fine; I can sleep in my own bed.”

“That’s what I would’ve thought, but then I got a call from a frantic seven-year-old who couldn’t find his mommy,” Ronnie replied, giving me a look. “Really, Atticus, if you need to be somewhere Chance hasn’t been, help yourself to my bed. But we’re not buying a new house. We both love that one.”

“Oh god, Ronnie,” I complained. “I’m not that fucked in the head. This house is perfect.”

He grinned, idly making circles against the shorn part of his scalp. “I know. Just wanted to make sure you still feel the same way. What do you guys have going on for your day off?”

“I don’t know,” I said with a shrug. “I thought maybe we’d hang around here. The place needs a good clean.”

Ronnie nodded along. “Have you emailed that lawyer?”

Frowning, I shook my head. Abigail’s daughter was a weight on my chest that I didn’t know where to put so I kept carrying it along. Lyla Ains hadn’t offered a single update since she told me about the birth, and I didn’t have it in me to make social media accounts just to hunt Abigail down for updates.

“I thought about contacting Mr. Russo,” I said, referring to the lawyer who helped us through Arch’s adoption process. “I thought he might have some insight on what rights I’d have to know more about Arch’s biological sister. And I need to check in with him about the paperwork you submitted anyway.”

Ronnie perked up. “I actually spoke to him a few days ago about that,” he said, wincing at the fact he’d failed to mention anything about it. “Sorry, I forgot with everything else going on. He was telling me that California allows unmarried couples to apply for Second Parent Adoption, where basically we both legally become Arch’s parents. Russo said that there are a bunch of steps though, and he recommended that we wait until I’m back in the city to officially petition the court. There’s apparently a home-study or something that I have to be present for.”

I nodded along at the information, relieved that it was even possible for Ronnie to adopt Arch when we were no longer together. “Did he say anything about your background? Is your conviction going to be a problem?”

Ronnie sighed, and I tensed, wishing he’d start with the bad news. “He wants to pull my full record before he gives me a formal answer, but the State of California won’t let anyone adopt a child if they’ve got a battery charge within the last five years.”

For a moment, my heart gave out, but I quickly counted back the years, even though my brain knew the answer. “It’s been eight,” I blurted, eyebrows furrowed as I looked at him. “It’s been eight, hasn’t it? Does that mean you’re in the clear?”

“Coming up on nine,” he said, “and I told Russo that, but he didn’t sound too certain that it meant it was a guaranteed thing, Att. I don’t want either of us to get our hopes up and have it come crashing down.”

“They can’t seriously hold your past against you,” I replied. “I’m Arch’s legal parent, and I’m vouching for you. You’ve done nothing but love that kid since you met him.”

“If it doesn’t work,” Ronnie said, “it doesn’t work. I’ll still be his dad and take care of him the same as I do Sascha. I just won’t legally be able to have him.”

Shaking my head, I let out a breath through my nose, adding this stress to the weight already on my chest. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just please tell me when Russo gets back to you, Ron. I don’t want to be waiting forever because you’re too worried about me to give me bad news.”

He smiled a secret little half-smile, caught in his ‘things have just been hectic’ lie, and nodded at my words. “I’ll tell you either way,” he promised. “If anything, we can still give the boy my last name. It might not be legal, but he’s mine no matter what.”

I nodded, understanding every bit of that. I caught myself from speaking as someone knocked on his bedroom door and peaked their head in, from the sound of it.

“Hey, man, you doing better?” Ronnie’s bassist questioned. “Stage manager wants to run a sound check a bit early. They’ve been having some issues, I guess. I can totally tell him to push it back though, if you need a minute.”

I could make out the side of Ronnie’s face as he turned to answer his friend. “Nah, it’s fine,” he said with a nod. “I’m good. I’ll be there in a few minutes. I’m just finishing up.”

The other guy agreed and left as Ronnie looked back to me.

“Why is he asking you if you’re better?” I asked, frowning at the father of my children. “Are you getting sick? I swear Ronnie, you never take care of yourself when you’re on tour. You get sick every time.”

“No, no,” he said, calming me before I could jump his case. “I’m not sick. I’ve just been a little anxious lately. It’s fine though. I’m handling it.”

My frown deepened. “Anxious how?” I asked. “Like you used to get back then, or is this something different?”

He shook his head as he spoke. “It’s not as bad as it was after I got out,” he said, referring back to the anxiety and the stress he felt being around people after he was released from prison. It took months for him to feel comfortable on the stage again, comfortable around the fans and the crowds surging forward to meet him.

“Well, what is it?” I asked, straightening out the camera so I could get a better look at him. “How bad is it?”

“Really, Atti, I think it’s just from being away, y’know. Sascha is so little, and Arch is going through a lot with the tour being on, and you’ve got a lot on your plate. I think it’s just because of some of that. It’s really nothing to worry about.”

I had hoped that once Ronnie got on tour, he wouldn’t be so broken up over leaving. Getting him on the bus was difficult and took a lot of encouragement and reassurance. He’d gone because music was everything, but it wasn’t all he had anymore.

“It’s just like this burning in my chest,” he said finally, pushing the heel of his hand into the center of his chest. “It just pops up randomly, which is the worst part. I won’t even be thinking of home or worrying about you guys, and suddenly my chest burns. Like a reminder that I’m not paying enough attention to what’s going on back home.” He shook his head, shaking off the conversation and the desire to share with me. “I don’t know,” he said quickly. “It’s fine, Att. Don’t think twice about it.”

“Well, can you cope with that?” I asked. “You’ve been gone two months, and you have two more. Has this been happening the whole time?”

Ronnie shrugged, tilting the camera away from his face. “Really, don’t worry about it. It’s the last thing I want you upset over right now.”

I cocked my head at him. “The last thing, really? I’d have thought you’d want my breakup to be the last thing I’m upset about.”

Eyes darkening, he shot me a look. “Amusing,” he complained, “but no, if you want to be sad over that guy, then be sad over him. I’m not going to tell you not to. Just don’t sit there stressed over me. I’ve got it handled.”

“Well, now I really hope the rest of the tour goes fast,” I said with a frown. “I don’t like that you didn’t tell me any of this.”

“We only have so much time each night,” he answered with a noncommittal shrug. “I’d rather hear about the boys than complain about fucking anxiety, which I can’t control anyway.”

“I guess,” I relented, but he could see how unhappy I was with the truth of that.

I transitioned to talking about the boys, letting Ronnie find comfort in confiding in me rather than be grilled about it when he didn’t want to talk. After giving him a play-by-play of Sascha’s progress in the rolling-over department, I told him that Arch was doing a bit better in school since the biting-his-teacher incident. He hadn’t laid a hand, or tooth, on anyone else since, and we’d been working through his tantrums better when they happened.

Every day we tried to give him a little extra time to catch up with Ronnie, and it seemed to help, and we’d taken up our old post of counting down the days until the singer returned to the city. Arch changed the count each morning with a little magnetic white board that we’d mounted to the fridge. I helped him count the days on my phone every day – even though it always counted down by one – and he changed the number on his own. It helped him feel more grounded; helped remind him that Ronnie would be back soon.

“Oh, and Atticus?” Ronnie called just before we ended the call.

“Yeah?” I asked, picking the phone up again.

He offered me a reassuring smile. “You should contact that lawyer,” he said. “If Abigail won’t let him give you any information about the baby, at least she’ll know that someone’s keeping tabs on her. Maybe knowing that someone else is watching will keep her on the right track with that new baby.”

“If having one child removed from her care isn’t enough to change how she interacts with her children, I doubt me looming over her will make a difference,” I answered, smoothing out the comforter beneath me as I leaned to peer across the hall to Arch’s closed bedroom door.

“Maybe not,” Ronnie relented, “but maybe you’re the reminder she needs not to fuck this up like she did with Arch.”
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three updates in two days?? Who am I? Just had this story on my mind a lot, so I'm back with another update. :) thanks everyone.