‹ Prequel: Infinite

Summer Boy


The child welfare building was flat, one story, and entirely made up of white-painted cinderblocks. Someone had poorly attempted to make the the front facade more welcoming, but the hand-decorated sign beneath the official one did little for aesthetics. Arch sat in his booster, pressed back against the seat with his arms crossed over his chest as he stared straight ahead without actually focusing on anything.

“We have to go in,” I said, standing in the space between the car and the open door. “You can’t just sit out here by yourself.”

He continued staring straight through the front window at the plain building without any sort of reaction to me. His blazer was unbuttoned and his sleeves had slid up closer to his elbows than his wrists. He looked determined.

I sighed and reached in to unbuckle him myself. His eyes widened and he looked outraged that I was forcing him out. I let the belt slide back into it’s normal position and reached in to grab him under his arms and lift him out of the backseat.

“I’m sorry,” I said as I set him down the pavement and reached in behind him to grab his back pack.

“That’s not fair!” he complained, throwing his arms into the air. “You can’t just manhandle me!”

“I did not manhandle you!” I answered, unaware that he even knew that word, “and you’re six years old, Arch, if I ask you to get out of the car on your own, you should do it. Or I’m going to lift you out, like I just did.”

The blonde was indignant. “I was going to get out, Atticus,” he spoke. “I just don’t want to.”

I stepped back and he stepped forward so I could push the back door closed. “I don’t want to go in there either,” I agreed, “but I told you, sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to do.” I reached down and took his hand and led him around the car towards the simple glass front door. His backpack was slung over my arm and it brushed against the door as I held it open for the boy.

There was a man at the desk and he smiled politely and stood up from his chair. “Hi, what can I help you with?” He glanced down at Arch over the tall countertop and then back to me.

“I’m Atticus Gurewitz, this is Arch. We’re here for a visitation with Abigail Drewry, but we need to see Ms. Ains before we’re set in to see Abigail.”

The man nodded and he reached down and pulled a couple papers from a rack. “Yeah, if you could just fill this out for me real fast. It’s just the standard sign in paper and monthly check in for Arch.”

I nodded and took them from him. I let go of Arch’s hand and the two of us backed up to the row of chairs along the wall behind us. Arch sat down, looking both bored and annoyed, and I sat beside him and fastened the papers to the clipboard that was left on the side table. I filled out the quick sign in sheet first. They needed the information of anyone who was currently inside the building due to it being a state run facility. I’d gotten used to the questions by now and it went fast.

The other was a worksheet about Arch and his welfare this past month. We would fill this out and he would still meet with a psychiatrist after his time with Abigail to make sure that neither one of us had permanently damaged him thus far.

I handed the clipboard back to the man at the desk and he buzzed us into the facility. When the locked door opened, Lyla Ains was standing on the other side, smiling reassuringly at Arch, like her belief that it would go well was enough to make it so.

“Atticus, Arch, how was your Thanksgiving?” she questioned as she led us down the maze of hallways towards the room where we’d meet Abigail.

“Good,” I answered honestly, reaching out to touch the ends of Arch’s hair. His attitude needed to melt away before he went to speak with his psychiatrist, or she would definitely make a note about it, and I didn’t know who that would fall back on. Abigail or me. “We had a really great day with the family.”

I leaned down and unbuttoned the rest of Arch blazer and pulled it off his shoulders. He shimmied out of it, and I replaced it with his back pack. “You need to write out your spelling words on flash cards,” I said as I situated the straps on his shoulders. “Maybe Abigail will help you go through them.”

Lyla met my gaze over Arch’s head. We had already talked about giving them something to do together rather than sticking them in a room together and letting them figure it out on their own. And homework would keep them both focused and allowed Arch to show Abigail his progress.

Arch pressed back into my side and offered Lyla a less than pleased grimace. She returned it much more upbeat and turned so that we was along side us rather than in front. “We’re going to do a half hour today and see how that goes,” she said, her tone indicating that she was speaking to Arch. She stopped near the door that led into the room and faced me. “Arch, I need to talk to Atticus for a moment, so would you mind waiting right here?”

He shrugged and she pulled me back down the hall a ways.

“What’s going on?” I questioned, glancing back at the boy whose eyes were trained directly at us.

“Abigail has asked if it would be alright for the four of us to get dinner down the street if the first half of the visit goes well,” Lyla relayed, folding her hands across her stomach as she waited for my reaction. “And the only reason I’m asking is because it might be nice for Arch to see his mother outside of this building. It might be healthier for him to connect her with real-world experiences rather than dingy rooms and lock down.”

I frowned at the woman. “I thought we were still on a trial basis here,” I countered, crossing my arms over my chest. “I thought that we were taking it slower after what happened last time. I won’t let her cause a scene in public, Lyla. It’s bad enough that she puts him through that when it’s just us.”

“That’s why we’re going to see how the first half of this goes, and then if she can hold it together and treat Arch like she needs to, we’ll consider going for dinner.” The dark haired woman offered me a slightly hopeful expression, and I didn’t meet her with one of my own.

“Are you asking me because I can no or are you just trying to be polite?” I questioned.

“I would like for you and Arch to try this, for his sake,” she answered.

“It’s for her sake, not his,” I answered immediately. “If any of this was about him than he would be with me full time and not going through this every month. You and I both know that he belongs with me. Hell, you were even on my side through the first court appearances and I know you don’t want him with that woman, so why are you playing devil’s advocate all of a sudden, Lyla?”

She was calm as she looked at me, waiting for me to get out everything I needed to say. I groaned and stepped back from her, pushing my hair away from my face as I tried to compose myself. I couldn’t take much more of this. This thing with Abigail was starting to wear thin.

She answered evenly. “Because they’re pushing for visitation rights,” she said out of left field. “I heard through the grapevine that any adoption for Arch will most likely be an open adoption, meaning that even if he’s legally your son, Abigail Drewry will always be in his life.”

I blanched. “But that’s not fair,” I rebutted. “They can’t possibly believe that he’ll be better off for it. If anything, he’d be better with all his memories of her erased. They can’t actually expect me to share my son with that woman. He’s never going to forget what she’s done to him.”

“Atticus, you have to understand, they can’t justify cutting her out of his life completely. So as long as she remains healthy and stable, she’ll be allowed to see him. This is what they want for Arch, and for you and Abigail too. They want a civil relationship between you, and if you can get behind this idea, then the adoption finalization will go much more smoothly.”

I stepped back again and felt the white wall brush against my shoulder. I didn’t look at Arch, although he was just beyond my peripheral vision now. I knew that he was still watching and that I needed to keep my expressions muted, but it was hard.

“Abigail hates me more than anyone I’ve ever known,” I told Lyla Ains. “I can’t spend the rest of my life with her in it. She’ll spend the rest of her life trying to convince Arch that I never cared for him at all. I can’t put him through that or let her treat either of us like that, Lyla. It’s not fair.”

I felt like a child who was told I needed to share my most favorite toy. And to me, Lyla and the court system felt like the reprimanding adults who were forcing Abigail and I to play nice together, even though we’d had this same fight time and time again. I couldn’t understand how they couldn’t see how bad she was for him and all the pain she continued to put him through. Abigail was nothing but a reminder that things would never be easy, and that Arch would never really be my son.

I turned and went back to Arch, putting on my best face to make sure that he didn’t hear about this before it was official. If I sent him in to see Abigail with this news fresh in my mind, I didn’t know how any of it would turn out. Lyla Ains followed me back to the boy and the doorway, and she reached for the handle to let us inside.

Abigail was already there, sitting on one of the chairs near the only window in the back. There were orphaned toys around the room, some of them in big plastic boxes and others laid out on the bed. I couldn’t imagine any child being forced to actually stay here, but the pillows and frilly blanket were stark reminders that some kids, like Arch, didn’t have it so easy.

Abigail stood up when we entered and her eyes immediately fell on Arch - on his dark slacks and button up, and the blazer that was folded over my arm. He grabbed the straps of his backpack as Abigail got closer, and he stopped feet away, watching as she smiled and motioned for him to sit beside her.

“Arch,” she greeted, smiling like this was his homecoming. “It’s only been a month but you already look so much bigger. How does this keep happening?”

He answered, “I’m growing.”

I ran my fingers over the back of his head and rested my hand on his shoulder. The action caused Abigail’s gaze to snap to me and she watched as I helped Arch get his backpack off and set it down on the child-sized table. Lyla Ains had already taken a seat in the chair nearest to the door.

Abigail looked shocked to see me, and I wasn’t sure if it was because I was directly in the room or because I was noticeably pregnant. She hadn’t seen me at any of Arch’s recent visits since I’d been left to wait in a separate room while Arch dealt with all of this on his own. And now, with Abigail’s eyes trailing over me, I could see everything she was thinking.

“He has some spelling work that he needs to do,” I told her, trying to ignore her expression the best I could. “He was hoping that you would help him get his flash cards ready and go through them with him.”

Arch looked at me like I was the biggest liar he’d ever seen, but he didn’t verbalize anything. He just unzipped his backpack and reached in for his homework folder.

“I’d love to help you, Arch,” Abigail said directly to him as she moved closer to the little table. “You know, a couple weeks ago I was helping your cousin Marley with some of her homework too. I think she ended up doing pretty well.”

Arch sat down in the small chair opposite Abigail and I moved back to perch on the edge of the bed as I watched them. “I don’t have a cousin called Marley,” Arch answered, diligently setting his list of spelling words out on the table.

Abigail frowned and faltered. “Yes, you do. You have two cousins. Marley and Hanna.”

Arch looked annoyed at Abigail’s insistence. “No, I have Nolan, Tanner, Sabrina, Devin, and Reeve and that’s it.”

She caught on quickly. “I’m talking about your biological family, Arch,” she explained, speaking in a tone that wouldn’t raise any red flags with either Lyla or I. “I have a sister named Tasha, which makes her your aunt, and she has two daughters, Hanna and Marley, who are you cousins.”

“I have a really big family now,” Arch said, fingers sprawled out against his papers as his excitement built. “Atticus has four brothers and sisters and Ronnie only has one brother, but he has five kids and that makes up for Max and everyone being too little to have kids, and I have two grandpas and only one grandma, but I’m going to have a brother or sister soon too.”

“You’re excited for Atticus to have her baby?” she questioned, not daring to look my direction. “Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“We’re waiting for Ronnie to come home before we see the baby,” Arch spoke eloquently, “and he’s not in America so we’ve been waiting a really long time, but we think he’s coming home around Christmas, so I know we’ll find out then.”

I’m sure Abigail had learned as much about Ronnie and I as she could, but I didn’t know how much of the online gossip she kept up with. Unlike my father and the singer, I wasn’t in the spotlight often, which also kept Arch out of it. But there had been rumors floating around following mine and Ronnie’s break up, and if she really wanted to, Abigail would be able to figure out that we were no longer together.

“Your sister, Tasha, is she the woman that was with you during a few of the court appearances?” I questioned, remembering a dark haired woman who sat beside Abigail on numerous accounts.

Abigail looked somewhat surprised that I was speaking to her. “Yes,” she answered. “She’s really hoping to get to see Arch sometime soon. She hasn’t been allowed to either of the times Arch was there and she’s really dying to reconnect with him.” She turned towards Arch and smiled brightly. “You spent a lot of time with Tasha and Marley when you were a baby. Hanna is only a couple years older than you and Marley is ten. They all really miss you.”

Arch turned directly around in his chair and looked at me with squinted eyes. “I don’t know who she’s talking about and I want to go home.”

Abigail looked taken aback by his directness. “Arch, darling, no, it’s alright,” she tried to soothe quickly. “They’re your family and I’m just trying to let you know that there are people who miss you and want to see you. I’m not trying to scare you.”

“I don’t care,” he answered, looking her dead in the eyes. “I don’t know them and I don’t miss them either.”

Lyla stood up then and directed the two of them back to making Arch’s flash cards. Abigail was obviously put off by Arch’s entire refusal to care about her family, but she did what she was supposed to and focused on something in Arch’s current life rather than something in the one she had with him.

When they got down to it, Arch was all business. He went through word after word without giving Abigail much time to ask about anything other than how to spell each one. He was a little factory and his sights were set on getting his words done and getting out of here. I wanted it to be that simple, but even when he finished writing out his flashcards, we still had to stay for the remainder of the half hour. So he asked Abigail to go through them with him, giving him each word as he tried to spell them.

I knew it was a tactic to fill up the time between now and when we could leave, but Abigail seemed pleased that he’d asked her instead of one of us, and I let her have that victory. Because I knew that no matter what Lyla and the court wanted, I wasn’t going to let her have any piece of Arch.
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Thank you to lizinreverse and Doublenickels for the comments! The two that I got honestly helped me and I hope this chapter was good as well! I know that there's a lot going on in this story and most of you are only here for Ronnie, but we'll get there. I promise. Right now he's off doing his own thing, so he'll pop back up eventually!

Also, check out the story playlist: ATTICUS & RONNIE