The original Challenge was:
PAIRING/CHARACTERS: Seth. Sandy, Kirsten, Summer, mentions of Ryan. no pairings
PREFERRED LENGTH: long one-shot, at least 1500 words
SCENARIO and PLOT: An AU. Seth never ran away, or only ran away for a few days, Ryan never came back to Newport. Sandy finally sees Seth's life as it was and is without Ryan and comes to understand his son better.
RATING: G - PG-13
SMUT?: no thanks
SPECIFICS?: Summer is dating Zach. Sandy has to have some reason to be at Harbor School during the day (substitute teaching, lecturing for a law class, etc.) Has to last multiple days, and he has to witness both physical and verbal abuse against Seth from some of his classmates. A heart-to-heart most ensue. One or both of them must cry, or at least get teary.
QUOTE: Without thinking, Sandy reached out and squeezed his son's shoulder when they passed in the hall. And to his surprise, instead of his hand smacked away or a stern warning about parental touching in public, Seth looked directly into his eyes, and there was gratitude.
you don't have to use the quote, and you can change it around any way you want. this is my second request, and i've already claimed a fic. that's ok, right?
Seth lay in his bed, holding his abdomen as if he were trying to keep his intestines from falling out. It hurt every time he breathed. He closed his eyes as he heard his father’s heavy steps approaching his bedroom door. No doubt, he wanted Seth to come down to dinner. He shifted to his side so that his back would be to Sandy when he inevitably entered Seth’s private domain. He inhaled sharply, muting his audible gasp, so his father, right outside his door wouldn’t hear. He ignored the pounding, but as he predicted, Sandy eventually let himself in.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well, your mother and I want you to come down anyway.” Sandy stood next to Seth’s bed, hands on his hips. Ever since Kirsten had flown to Portland and had dragged Seth home, their son had been distant and uncommunicative, just as he had feared. He sighed, wondering how he could reach out and bring him back to the happy unaffected teenager he had been last year.
“I’m not in the mood.”
“Your mom and I want to keep dinner time as family time. Be down in five minutes.”
Seth closed his eyes tightly, fighting the tears that threatened to spill. They weren’t — couldn’t be a family again. Not while Ryan was refusing to come back home. While he was still in Chino, working construction, instead of finishing high school at Harbor.
“I mean it Seth, five minutes. Or I’m going to take away the play station for a month.”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t coming! Jeez. Give a guy a minute.”
Sandy sighed again. “It was hard to tell from your silence. We’ll see you downstairs.”
Seth waited until he was alone to gingerly get up from his bed. He lifted his shirt and gazed at the purpling bruises that were forming along his midriff.
“Hey Cohen, where’s your bodyguard?” Chip Saunders strolled up to him in the hall and slammed him into a row of lockers.
Seth stood on his tiptoes, trying to wrestle free from the water-polo player’s grip. Chip was the new captain of the team and it seemed like his mission this year was to get Seth every chance he got.
A hundred zingers raced through Seth’s mind, but he had no energy and no inclination to hurl any of them.
“Nothing to say?” Chip asked. He threw a punch at Seth’s stomach. “What? Without Atwood around the cat got your tongue?” He threw another punch. “Tell me,” Chip jeered as Seth doubled over to try and catch his breath, “What did you have to give Atwood in return for protecting you?” Still doubled over, Seth tried to escape, but one of Chip’s cronies, yanked him back up against the locker, allowing Chip to land a few more well placed punches. “Hhhmm?” Chip grunted. “Was it a blow job?”
Seth never imagined he’d be so grateful to see Zach. He ran up to the group, his longish hair, flying in his face, breathlessly calling out, “Dr. Kim alert. I saw her walking this way.”
The group immediately broke up. Seth slid down the lockers to the floor and held his midsection. When they were alone, Zach said, “Are you all right? Do you need the nurse?”
Seth shook his head. “I’ll be fine. Thanks man.”
He had gone home, even though he had two more periods left to the day. He hoped the school wouldn’t get on his case about cutting, because the way his parents were acting lately, they’d probably ground him or throw him into therapy or maybe both. But Zach shared at least one of those classes and it could be his new found comic book ally had covered for him. And Mrs. Fagen never took attendance.
Seth pushed the food around his plate, not interested in the grilled salmon or salad that his parents had prepared. His father was king of the grill, but his mom, with her lack of culinary skills, had become queen of the salad. You couldn’t ruin a pepper or a bag of pre-washed lettuce.
“You’re not eating,” Kirsten noted.
“I told Dad I wasn’t hungry.”
“You need to eat something Seth. You’re starting to loose weight. And you don’t have much to loose.”
“Mom, please. I’m a big boy. I can handle my own food intake myself.”
“Don’t talk to your mother like that,” Sandy admonished.
Seth looked down at his plate and stabbed a tomato with his fork. “Sorry,” he muttered. But he didn’t put the food in his mouth. He’d vomit if he tried to eat.
“Ms. Fisher called this afternoon.” Sandy used a false cheery voice.
He stared at his food with heavy lidded eyes, trying to hide the anxiety that was welling up in the pit of his belly, like a balloon that was about to burst. He was busted. They knew he had ditched his last two periods.
“Harbor’s hosting a career fair next week,” Sandy continued. “And Frank O’neill was called into court last minute. He can’t do it. So, they needed another lawyer in his place.” Sandy pointed to himself. “Voila.”
“That’s great!” Kirsten leaned over and kissed her husband lightly on the cheek.
“I’m surprised they didn’t call you honey. How many real estate developers are parents in the school? What do you think, Seth? Shouldn’t they have called your mom?”
Seth was relieved that he wasn’t going to get into trouble, but the thought of his father spending a week in his school where he was taunted and bullied on a daily basis, was too much to bear. He could feel the acid rising to his throat and the bitter taste of vomit in the back of his throat.
“Seth?” Sandy repeated, hoping to elicit a response from his son.
“I think they don’t want mom around, in case she lands in jail next year after Grandpa implicates with whatever he did.”
Sandy threw his fork down, not bothering to hide his irritation. “That was uncalled for. Apologize now.”
“For the truth? The only reason they called you, was that they were desperate. They know that you’re not at a firm anymore and that you’re only case is Grandpa’s.” He threw his napkin on the table and started to push his chair away. “I just assume you call back Ms. Fisher and tell her you can’t do it. Because I really don’t want you in school with me all day.” He couldn’t stand for Sandy to witness his daily humiliation.
Kirsten felt her face burning as if she had been slapped. Seth had been difficult the past month. Unreachable even. But she had assumed that it would get better with time. Instead, he was becoming more and more distant. She watched him stand, a little stiff, she thought, and start walking out of the kitchen.
“Seth,” she called, regaining her composure. “Get back here now. We’re not finished.”
“I am,” he threw over his shoulder and walked out of the room.
Sandy and Kirsten sat at the table, their food untouched and getting cold. But neither of them was hungry. Kirsten stared at her hands, wondering what she was doing wrong as a mother. What had made her son hate her so? Before Ryan had come to live with them, there was no denying that Seth was a loner that he was unhappy at times, but he never took out his loneliness on them. He had always been close and loving with both her and Sandy. And while Ryan had lived with them, she had a different child. It was as if he had finally blossomed into the person she knew he could become. But since Ryan had left, he had curled inside of himself. He was angry, sullen, withdrawn.
“What are we going to do?”
“Send him back to Portland?” Kirsten shot her husband a lethal look. “He was happy there. He found a place for himself,” Sandy continued in a whisper. “When I decided to let him stay, it wasn’t some arbitrary decision. I was thinking of him.”
“Are you saying I’m not?” Her nostrils flared.
“I’m saying that our son is miserable. His best friend won’t come home. His girlfriend won’t look at him. G-d knows what’s going on in school, because he won’t talk about it. And I’m sick of tired waking up every morning with a boulder in the pit of my stomach as I knock on his door to wake him up for school, because I’m not sure if he swallowed a bottle of pills to escape the misery he thinks is his life.”
“Don’t exaggerate Sandy and don’t try to put this on me. I did not do this to him.”
“I’m not saying you did.”
Seth leaned against the wall, trying to drown out the rise and fall of his parents’ argument with his own thoughts. But he realized he didn’t want to be with his own thoughts and there was no escaping the hell he was in. It was weird, because he hadn’t seriously considered suicide, though the thought had entered his mind. He hadn’t realized that his father was so in tune with him.
He was grateful for the ringing phone. Slowly, so as not to strain his aching belly, he went to pick up the phone they kept in the family room.
“Seth. It’s Ryan.”
“Hey, man. What’s up?”
“Just calling to check in,” he said.
“Oh. You want to talk to my parents?”
“Not right away. How have you been?”
Seth sighed, something he had been doing a lot lately. “Fine.”
“How’re things at Harbor?”
“The same.” The same as it was before you came to live with us.
“That’s good, right?”
“Right. So. Um. How’s the construction job?”
“It’s okay. Exhausting.”
“How’s Theresa doing?”
Seth noticed Ryan’s hesitation. He had been in Portland when Theresa called to say the baby had died. After weighing his options, Ryan chose to go back to Chino to help Theresa through the trauma. Seth had seen the desire in Ryan’s eyes to return home, back to Newport, but doing the right thing had won over as usual. Seth had expected his parents to insist that he return home, but after asking Ryan a few times they stopped asking. Seth wished Kirsten or Sandy or both had taken a drive down to Chino and dragged Ryan back home the same way Kirsten had flown out to Portland to do the same to Seth.
“You still living with her?”
“Who’s on the phone, Seth?” Kirsten came up behind him.
“Can I talk?”
He nodded. “Ryan, Mom wants to talk to you. Bye.” Seth didn’t hear Ryan say good-bye as he handed the phone to his mother. Things would never be the same until Ryan was back home where he belonged.
The career fair started at Harbor the following week. The entire school was involved, though they focused on the junior and senior students, who were starting to think about college and their futures. There was a whirlwind of activity, not unlike the days leading up to the kick-off carnival or one of the major dances that the school hosted.
Parents could be seen milling around the campus, embarrassing their children with affectionate hugs or childlike horseplay. Seth did everything he could think of to avoid Sandy. For the most part he was successful. He hadn’t seen his father the entire first day. But he was walking to his Global Studies class on the second day, when Sandy bounded up to him in the hall.
“Hey, kid,” he said cheerily.
“How’s it going?”
Seth shrugged. His eyes darted back and forth to make sure none of the water polo players were around.
“That good, huh?”
“It’s school. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s just a place to bide your time until graduation.”
“Yes. Well.” Sandy shifted from foot to foot. “Only one year after this one.” He looked at his watch. “I’m due in Mr. Schmidt’s class for a lecture. I’ll catch you later? Maybe we can do lunch?”
“Um, sorry. I have to work on Lit Mag during lunch.” Seth lied.
A genuine smile spread across Sandy’s face. “Well, I’m glad you’re getting involved in school activities again. See you at home?”
Seth used his gym shirt to wipe the sweat off his face. He never did anymore than he had to in PE than was necessary to get a passing grade. But they had only been running laps, and Seth started to like the tension the running released. So as a result, by the end of the period perspiration was dripping down his forehead and into his eyes.
He opened up his locker to take out his change of clothes. The stench of urine hit him immediately. He rifled through his things and saw that his shirt and slacks were okay. But when he reached his socks and shoes, he immediately realized that someone had pissed on them.
“Shit.” He pulled out his slacks and shirt and slammed the locker closed. On the bench, he looked through his bag and was glad to see an extra pair of socks. But he hadn’t thought to bring another pair of shoes. They had never ruined his shoes before. Despite what he told Ryan the year before.
Damn. What do I do?
He could hear the sniggers of a handful of students behind him. Surreptitiously, Seth stole a glance behind him and noticed Chip and a few of the other water polo players in the back. And that was when he made his decision. He finished getting dressed, pulled on his spare pair of socks and walked to class. He was in the guidance counselor’s office less than an hour later and Sandy was there five minutes after that.
“Mr. Cohen, I would normally talk to Seth a little more before calling you, but being that you were already on campus.”
Sandy settled into one of the straight-back wooden chairs.
“Of course. What’s the problem?”
Ms. Fisher pointed to Seth’s feet. Sandy’s gaze followed her finger.
“What happened to your shoes, Seth? I’m pretty sure you were wearing them when you left to school today.”
“They were bothering me,” he answered, “so I chucked them.”
“Bothering you?” questioned Sandy.
“They were tight and uncomfortable.”
Ms. Fisher sat behind her desk, fingers folded in front of her. “Where are your shoes now, Seth?”
He shrugged. “I threw them in the garbage.”
“You threw out your shoes?”
He shrugged again. “Yeah. It’s not like I don’t have a whole bunch more at home. And it’s not like you and mom can’t afford to buy me another pair.”
“What’s gotten into you?” Sandy tried to keep his voice level, but at that moment he was certain that his son had finally snapped. He was sure that the next thing he would have to do was drive him to the psych ward. Seth was a lot more troubled than he or Kirsten had imagined.
“I know the dress code says no jeans, but I don’t remember anything about shoes being a must.”
“Seth,” Ms. Fisher interjected, “can you please tell me the truth? What happened to your shoes?”
“They got ruined. Okay? And I didn’t want to wear them.”
“Ruined? How?” she asked.
Seth looked at his feet, mentally kicking himself. He should have realized he couldn’t just walk around school without his shoes. Naturally, someone would make an issue of it.
“I accidentally stepped into some water and the leather got all warped. I had an extra pair of socks in my locker…” He let his voice trail off.
Sandy breathed deeply. Maybe Seth wasn’t as troubled as he had first thought. Seth used to always do and say crazy things. Maybe this was Seth pulling some of his old shtick. He glanced up at Ms. Fisher to see if she was buying Seth’s explanation. She seemed satisfied, nodding as Seth spoke.
“I have some time before my next scheduled lecture. I can drive home and pick up another pair of shoes for Seth.” He stood, ready to leave.
“Seth and I will keep talking in here while you go do that Mr. Cohen. Thank you for your time.” Ms. Fisher watched Sandy leave the office, before she asked, “Who ruined your shoes, Seth?”
“I told you —“
“I don’t believe you. Is someone bothering you?”
He shook his head vehemently.
“Seth, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me the truth.”
He slid down in his seat and closed his eyes. He wished he could shut out the world.
“Seth, I can help you. I don’t have to tell your parents. At least not right away.”
He recognized the determined note in Ms. Fisher’s voice. She wouldn’t give up. She would hound him and call him into her office every day until she got the answers she was looking for.
“Someone pissed in my shoes.” The words came out in a whisper.
“I see.” She wet her lips with her tongue. “Do you know who?”
“There were some water polo players laughing when I discovered it. But I didn’t see them doing it.”
“Have the water polo players given you any trouble before?”
Seth lifted his shirt. The bruises had healed for the most part, but they were still purple and yellow patches to be seen. He could hear her sharp intake of breath. It was almost a whistle.
“When did that happen?”
He told her.
“Just don’t tell my parents. Okay?”
“Seth, I can’t not tell them.”
“Isn’t there like doctor patient confidentiality? Please, don’t tell them. I can deal with this on my own.”
“Seth, this is very serious.”
“Dr. Fisher, I swear, if you tell my parents, I will not come back to this school. Please, I can handle this on my own.”
She shook her head. “I’m going to have to call those students in.”
“I knew this was a mistake.” He stood up as if to go.
“Sit down, Seth. You still don’t have any shoes on.”
“For now, I’ll keep your secret. Against my better judgment, I won’t tell your parents. But I will have to call those students in. Harbor has a zero tolerance policy on bullying.”
Seth muffled something between a sob and a snort. “Just don’t tell my parents.”
Ms. Fisher must have kept her word, because Sandy didn’t bring up the real reason for his lack of shoes. But it was a topic at the dinner table. He listened to Kirsten’s lecture about respecting his things, and not just tossing them out like they were yesterday’s trash.
“I’m not saying we’re lacking for money. But they were brand new shoes. Maybe they could have been saved!”
“I’m sorry. I’ll pay for them out of my allowance.”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is the point?”
“Seth,” Sandy warned, tired of his son’s attitude every time they tried to have a talk with him.
“What? I get it, don’t take things for granted. Does everything in this house have to be a whole production?” He threw down his napkin. “I’m going to my room. I have lots of homework.”
Once again Sandy and Kirsten were left at the table not sure of what to make of Seth.
The next day, Sandy spied Seth walking down the empty corridor. The strap of his messenger bag crossed his chest, and Sandy was grateful to see shoes on his son’s feet. The late bell had already rung, signaling the end of homeroom, and Sandy had watched with amusement as students hurriedly ducked into their classrooms, afraid they’d be marked tardy. He was surprised that Seth wasn’t rushing to class. Sandy was pretty sure that Harbor had a strict policy about being late. He recalled Seth and Ryan mentioning a new policy last year, where one point would be deducted from their final grade for any unexcused lateness. Despite Seth’s drastic mood and attitude change, he and Kirsten hadn’t noticed any dips in their son’s academic performance.
He was about to call out to his son, when a group of tall, thick-muscled boys walked up to Seth.
Sandy thought he recognized Chip Saunders slamming Seth into the locker. Seth didn’t try to fight back, his shoulders and back sagged against the metal lockers as if in defeat. Chip held Seth down as another boy, Sandy didn’t recognize him, slammed a fist into his stomach.
“I don’t like being called into Ms. Fisher’s office and being rakes over the coals as if I’m in middle school.”
“Sure. Whatever you say, Chip.”
Sandy thought Chip was going to punch Seth again, so he took his briefcase and slammed it against the lockers. Some of the boys looked over their shoulders, and though they saw no one, Sandy made sure to stay hidden in the shadows, they scurried off. Seth stayed doubled over, gasping for breathe.
Sandy ran over to him. “Are you okay?”
Seth looked up the color draining from his face. His father had seen that? His father had witnessed his utter shame and humiliation, after all the time and energy he had spent to protect him from it? Tears welled up in the corner of his eyes, but he fought them back by biting his bottom lip until he tasted blood.
Seth straightened up. “I’m fine.”
“How long has that been going on?”
“I’m late for class.” He started to go. Without thinking, Sandy reached out and squeezed his son’s shoulder. To his surprise, Seth didn’t shrug it off, or chastise him with some comment about parental PDAs in the hall. Instead, Seth looked his father directly in the eyes, and there was gratitude. Then he turned his back and walked away.
Later that evening, Seth was surfing the Internet when Sandy entered his room. Kirsten was right behind him.
“We have to talk about what happened this morning. I spoke to Ms. Fisher.”
Seth whirled around. “You did what?” he shouted.
“Those boys assaulted you.”
“You weren’t there, Mom.”
“Your dad told me what happened.”
“He was exaggerating.”
“Seth, I know what I saw.” Sandy hitched up his slacks and sat on the edge of his son’s bed. “I know in the past, before Ryan came, you had a lot of trouble at school. Is it happening again?”
“You can talk to us.” Kirsten put a hand around his shoulder. “We want to help.”
“If you want to help,” he seethed, “then bring Ryan home.”
“You want Ryan home because he protected you at school?”
Seth shook his head. “I want Ryan home, because he belongs here. He was my friend and he made life in this G-d forsaken city bearable. I have no one to talk to at home or school.”
“You can talk to us!”
Seth stared at his mother as if she’d just grown a third eye in the middle of her forehead. Abruptly, he pushed back his chair so hard that it fell over. He jerked open his closet door and yanked an extra backpack from the hook. Shirts and pants spilled to the floor. He scooped them up and jammed them into the bag. With one long stride, he walked back to the computer table and he grabbed a few CDs off the table and threw those into his bag.
“I hate this place. I just want to leave. Why did you make me come back?” Tears were streaming down his face. He didn’t care anymore that he was too old to cry. He didn’t care that men didn’t cry. He just let the tears fall.
Sandy and Kirsten’s eyes locked as they wordlessly communicated.
“Seth, honey, your dad and I want you to go see a therapist.”
He threw a CD case at the wall. It crashed and clattered to the ground. “It’s not going to make things all right.”
“You’re just not happy. We need to do something to start making it better. A therapist is a start.”
“I was happy in Portland, Mother, but you made me come back.”
Kirsten bit her bottom lip. She knew she was right to bring Seth home. Running away from his problems wouldn’t solve anything. Staying in Portland just meant he didn’t have to face real life. A life without Ryan in it.
“Children belong home with their parents. You are not yet an adult Seth Ezekiel Cohen and your father and I get to make the decisions.”
“That’s rich. Dad was the one who said I could stay.” He wiped away tears and snot with the back of his sleeve. “You!” He pointed an accusing finger at his mother. “You’re the one who changed the plan. You used all that energy to make sure I came back, but what about Ryan? Theresa lost the baby! She doesn’t need him anymore. Ryan should be here. We should be downstairs playing video games. It’s all screwed up and it’s all your fault.”
He stormed out of the room, slamming the door so hard that the walls shook. Kirsten started after him, but Sandy grabbed her arm. “I’ll go,” he said. “I think he needs a break from you right now.” Sandy knew his words hurt, but right now he had to focus on his son.
To his relief, Sandy found Seth sitting on the edge of the pool, his feet hanging over the edge.
“You’re going to ruin another pair of shoes that way.” Sandy dropped to the ground and sat down next to Seth.
“I didn’t ruin my first pair of shoes, someone pissed in them.”
“I know,” Sandy said quietly. Seth stared at him, so he added, “Dr. Fisher told me when I was reaming her out this afternoon. I didn’t tell your mother.”
“I don’t know if you should be thanking me. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. I’m really at a loss, Seth. I don’t know how to help you.”
“Bring Ryan home.”
“Honey, I’ve tried.”
“Not hard enough. He’s my age. Can’t you tell him what to do? You do it to me all the time.”
“It’s different. As much as I think of him as my son, he’s not. As much as I thought it was the wrong decision, I understood that he felt like he had to go back to Chino to help Theresa, both when he thought she was pregnant and when he realized she lost the baby. But Seth, whether or not Ryan returns, you have to deal with your problems. And they won’t magically go away when he comes back.”
Seth heard every word his father said. Especially the word when. When Ryan comes back. Ryan was going to come back and be part of their family.
“I know that you’ve been subjected to a lot of bullying and teasing that no person should have to endure. I don’t think I realized how bad it was. I didn’t want to let myself believe that it was happening to my son. Because I did everything I could to protect you as a child and then I turned you loose on the big bad world….”
“You can’t stop this.” He looked down at his hands, noticing his reflection in the chlorinated water.
“Not entirely. But I can talk to the school. Hold these kids accountable.”
“It will only make things worse. Ms. Fisher called them into her office and their reaction was to slam me against a locker and punch me in the gut.”
“I’ll press charges if I have to. I’ll file a restraining order. I will do everything in my power to make this right for you. But you have to help yourself.”
“Therapy.” He said it flatly. He didn’t want to sit on a doctor’s couch and start spilling his guts.
“Yes. Therapy. And Seth, until I see you keeping your end of the deal, I will not bring Ryan home.”
Seth turned up his head. He realized Sandy had tears in his eyes.
“Ryan has been taking care of people all his life. He’s been taking care of his mother. Marissa. Theresa. I will not bring him home until I know that we can take care of him. That he doesn’t have to take care of us.”
He would do anything to bring Ryan back home. Anything. Even go to therapy.