Note: As promised, here is the story I wrote for the_rocklobster's Sentence challenge. I'll bold the sentence, but want it to be a bit of a surprise. As it turned out, i decided to make this a sequel to Weekend on the house on Haunted Hill. I ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, and at the time was urged for a follow-up. I promised if I thought of something I would. I think it's been more than a year... go figure. So to read the previous story go here. But really, you don't need to read the previous story.
Summary: Seth and Ryan have been bad and aren't quite prepared for the consequences.
Thank you to rose_in_texas for her wonderful beta job. Mistakes are mine... I don't alway listen.
Ominous consequences hung thick in the air for their weekend escapades and it had both boys walking around on egg shells. They expected the ax to finally drop each time they bumped into Sandy and/or Kirsten, but it didn’t. And each time either of them mentioned going out to the pier or the Bait Shop with friends, Sandy and Kirsten waved them off with a smile and reminded them to come home in time for curfew or to be careful when driving.
It made both of them jumpy. Very, very jumpy.
It had turned them into very skittish teenagers and very polite ones, too. Whether or not it was asked of them, Seth made sure the table was set for dinner at precisely 7 p.m. Ryan was in charge of keeping the family room spotless: throwing out their empty snack containers so they didn’t litter the coffee table and putting away their video game console neatly when not in use so Sandy and Kirsten didn’t trip over the wires. They limited their time with the video games, keeping out of Sandy and Kirsten’s sight, hoping not to remind them of Ryan and Seth’s wayward ways.
“It’s just wrong. This is cruel and unusual punishment.” Seth was lying on his back on Ryan’s bed, his feet bent at the knees. He was holding a comic book above his head, not reading it but fanning himself with it.
Ryan knew how Seth felt. It reminded him of one of Dawn’s boyfriends. He had been unusually cruel, banishing Trey or Ryan to some corner of the house to stew while waiting for a beating. One hour was bad enough, but Ryan thought he was going to crack if there was another day of this.
He knew that anything Sandy or Kirsten threw at him couldn’t be too awful. It would be nothing like Dawn’s boyfriend, who took a perverse pleasure in leaving marks where people could see. It wasn’t even a fair comparison. Still, the waiting was the same. The anticipation. The not knowing how terrible the punishment would be this time around.
Dawn’s boyfriend was never very original. It was a fist or a belt or sometimes a thick board that was lying around. Usually he aimed for Ryan’s back, or top of the thighs. Occasionally, he hit Ryan in the face so the marks would be visible when he went to school.
He knew that wasn’t what he had to fear with Sandy and Kirsten. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was he feared. It wasn’t the punishment itself. A grounding? Extra chores? No allowance? Ryan could handle those. Sure, he would miss his freedom, but he’d suffered worse. He knew his relationship with the Cohens was solid and that they’d never send him away. No matter how badly he messed up. He was their son, as much as Seth.
No, Ryan feared the disappointment. The loss of trust. The look in their eyes when they didn’t know he was looking. The look that wondered where they had gone wrong and what had they done wrong. What they needed to do to make sure Ryan and Seth followed the rules so they wouldn’t get into any real or serious trouble where there was no turning back from.
Ryan’s stomach had been in knots the last few days, taking dips and dives anytime he was in the same room as either of his guardians just waiting to see what Sandy had meant by a more creative punishment.
“Maybe they forgot,” Seth suggested. “Maybe they won’t bother punishing us.”
Ryan shrugged. “Maybe. How long before we know the coast is clear?”
“I don’t know, Ryan.” Seth sat up and faced Ryan. “I never brought out this side of my parents before. I really don’t know.”
Ryan slid onto his bed beside Seth and together they faced the pool with matching despondent expressions on their faces.
Ryan was the first in the kitchen early the next morning. Seth wasn’t too far behind. By the time Sandy and Kirsten arrived for breakfast, the coffee was up and the bagels were sliced. Seth had the cream cheese prepared. But as soon as Sandy and Kirsten walked into the room, all dressed as if they were ready to go out, even though it was early on a Saturday morning, both boys knew that their sentencing day had arrived.
Seth was a little bit afraid to see Sandy approaching him with a smile and fishing gear. What was his dad proposing to do? Hook him to the line and throw him in with the fish? His father had made sure that Seth learned to swim way back before the days of Camp Takahoe.
Kirsten walked up to Ryan holding her gardening basket filled with thick gloves, a trowel and other gardening supplies. He stole a look at Seth and saw that his brother was as confused as him. Sighing, Ryan resigned himself to waiting to hear his foster parents’ explanation. His gut told him that Sandy and Kirsten had taken their time to be creative for a reason.
“Care to explain, Dad?” Seth asked.
“Mom and I have been concerned about your behavior.” Sandy put down the fishing pole on the kitchen table and pulled out a chair. He motioned with his hand for Seth and Ryan to take a seat at the kitchen counter. Kirsten sat down next to him. “Lately, the two of you have absolutely no regard for any rules. Grounding hasn’t worked and frankly, we weren’t sure what to do. You couldn’t even behave yourself with Caleb and Julie.”
“We’ve been model citizens since then, haven’t you noticed?”
Ryan threw a look at Seth. Making it obvious that they were behaving would only highlight that they had been doing this because they were afraid of the punishment. It wouldn’t strengthen their case in any way.
Sandy arched his brows but didn’t respond to Seth. He just continued. “Mom and I decided that punishing you again, grounding you, would serve no purpose.”
Seth brought his knee up in the air and waved a fist so his knee and elbow met.
“You’re not home free, Seth,” Kirsten injected firmly.
“Not at all. Whatever plans the two of you had this weekend, cancel them. Seth, you’re coming with me.”
“Going with you where?”
“We’re going fishing. Just the two of us.”
“Fishing? You’re joking, right? Dad, you’re from the Bronx. You don’t know how to fish. Your idea of nature is Central Park. Where did you learn to fish, with the polar bears at the zoo?”
“We’ll learn together,” Sandy’s voice was stern, leaving no room for Seth to argue further or to even joke.
“Ryan’s coming too, right?” Seth figured bonding, wearing a quilted vest lined with hooks and worms might be bearable if Ryan were with him. To his dismay, Sandy shook his head.
“Ryan’s staying home with Mom.”
“Yes, Ryan. You are.” Kirsten nudged the basket. “We’re going to spend time together gardening.”
“That’s not fair!” Seth protested. “How come Ryan gets to stay home with indoor plumbing, a TV, Playstation and a warm bed?” Seth wanted to say more, but Ryan shot him a withering look that could make even a Venus fly trap wilt.
“The deal is,” Sandy continued, ignoring Seth’s outburst “that you both stay close to our sides the entire weekend. You don’t do anything without us.”
“Bathroom, too?” Seth quipped.
Sandy just glowered at him and continued. “Ryan, you won’t have time to meet up with your friends this weekend. Kirsten has an itinerary planned. Seth, you can only take two comics along. I have our weekend planned, too.” Sandy dusted off his knee and stood up. “You have an hour to get your things together, Seth, and then we’re leaving.”
Sandy and Kirsten stood and left the boys alone in the kitchen with barely enough time to let the news sink in. The fishing pole and the gardening supplies remained on the kitchen table, making them realize that this wasn’t a joke.
Seth patted his chest, figuring if his hand didn’t go through his body, he wasn’t dreaming. “They’re serious, aren’t they?”
“Looks like it.”
“Grounding sounds less painful. Missing the ski trip sounds less painful.” Seth sighed heavily. “I’m thinking, man, but I can’t figure out a way to worm out of it. No pun intended.”
“Me neither.” Ryan leaned against the counter. “I think you’re going fishing.”
“Somehow, it feels like you got the better end of the deal.”
Ryan smirked and waggled his brows. “I’m sure hoping I do. After all, the only reason I’m in trouble is because I listened to you. You’re definitely the leader here.”
“Whatever.” Seth sighed. Head hanging low, shoulders sagging, Seth started to shuffle out of the kitchen. “Help me pack,” he suggested half-heartedly, waving Ryan forward with his hand. “It might be the last time we spend any time together.
Ryan only started to feel queasy and nervous after he watched Sandy and Seth pull out of the driveway in the Range Rover. The back of the SUV was packed with camping supplies, and Ryan barely had time to wonder when Sandy had time to make the all the preparations without even hinting to either of them what was going on. He wondered where Sandy had even hid all the equipment.
“Are you ready, Ryan?” He felt a light hand on his shoulder.
“Sure. What’s on the agenda first?”
“Weeding.” She looked him up and down, taking in his good jeans and pressed, button-down shirt. It was the blue she liked that matched his eyes. “You better change into some of your grungier clothes. Something you wouldn’t mind ruining. I’ll meet you by the pool.” She smiled encouragingly, and Ryan was once again reassured that the weekend wouldn’t be too awful.
“Where to, Dad?” Seth fiddled with the radio station, but Sandy slapped his hand away, muttering something about the music staying exactly where it was.
“How remote is remote?” Seth pestered, ignoring Sandy and changing the station anyway.
“You’ll see when we get there,” Sandy snapped and quickly flipped back the station.
Seth thought Sandy sounded angry. He wasn’t used to his father being angry at him. Once in a while, he irritated his parents, annoyed them. Maybe he even upset them, but he rarely got them mad. He wasn’t used to it. He didn’t know how to make things right.
Ryan bent down in the garden and started to look for the plants Kirsten had described. He was wearing an old pair of scuffed jeans that were fraying at the knees. He could feel the dirt and gravel rubbing against his knees and he wondered how long before the tingly feeling would actually turn irritating. The sun, which was already high in the sky, was beating down on his back. He could feel it burning against his bare skin. He had decided to wear a plain white wife beater, figuring he would sweat less.
He sensed Kirsten kneeling down beside him before he saw or heard her. She didn’t say anything, just started pulling weeds beside him, pointing out some of the ones he missed as they went along. Ryan could feel the beads of sweat dripping gathering at the base of his neck and falling down his back. His throat was starting to parch. Maybe fishing with Sandy would have been a better choice. He really hadn’t expected Kirsten to put him to hard work and had assumed he would be lounging around most of the day.
“So,” Ryan started to say, not really sure if he should talk. “Hard labor’s supposed to set me straight? Is that what you’re going for?”
Kirsten turned her chin up and stared at him for a minute before answering. “I never thought of gardening as hard work. I’ve always thought of it as therapeutic.” She slid over a few feet farther from Ryan and started to pull weeds in the new area she had set aside for her self. Ryan was afraid he had offended her.
“I was just kidding around.”
Kirsten dropped her butt down to her heels and then slowly slid her legs out from behind and stretched them out in front of her. She sighed heavily.
“We’re just worried, Ryan. I’m not sure why Seth is acting the way he is lately. But I’m pretty sure I know why you’re not sticking to the rules.”
Ryan rolled to a sitting position and pulled his knees up to his chin. He waited for her to continue.
“In part, it’s Seth. He’s hard to say no to. And sometimes I’m afraid that you humor him, do things you know you shouldn’t because you feel obligated to him.”
Ryan could hear the self-loathing in her voice as she uttered the words. He wondered why she hated herself for saying what was in part the truth.
He looked down to the ground, scratching the earth with the toe of his mud-caked boot.
“You aren’t Seth’s puppy.” Kirsten’s voice was low. “We didn’t bring you into our home so that you could keep Seth company. We brought you into our home-“
He cut her off. “Because I had nowhere else to go. Because my mom pretty much left me on your doorstep.”
He didn’t know why he sounded and felt bitter. Ryan just knew he didn’t like where this conversation was going.
“That’s not what it’s all about, Ryan. However it is you came into this family, you are now our family and we’re your family too even if you have another family. You are not Seth’s little pet. It concerns me that you follow him in his ridiculous escapades out of some sort of obligation, either to him or to us.”
“That’s not it.”
“So what is it?”
Ryan absently stroked the soft petals of the flower. He didn’t know which type of flower it was, though he imagined Kirsten would be able to tell him, if he’d ask her. But it was hard for him to ask Kirsten anything. Sometimes, he could talk to Sandy and Seth, but his relationship with Kirsten felt strange and strained. Trying to explain why he kept breaking the rules was just plain difficult. Did she sense it? Did Sandy sense it? Was that why they had decided to divide and conquer? To reinforce the relationship between him and Kirsten and the one between Seth and Sandy?
“Ryan?” Kirsten didn’t sound annoyed, but like she was waiting for an answer. Like she wanted to hear and to understand so that she could help Ryan out.
He slumped forward and gazed at the shrubs and wondered if they had been trimmed lately or would that be one of the chores this weekend.
He exhaled noisily. “It feels sort of good to get into trouble and know that nothing terrible is going to happen. That no one is going to totally give up on you.” He slowly turned Kirsten. “I stole a car and my mom threw me out of the house. She couldn’t be bothered with me. I break into the school’s office and look unstable and crazy because some guy likes my girlfriend and you and Sandy never hinted that you thought I should leave. And I don’t even belong to you.”
Kirsten stretched out her hand and rubbed his shoulder. “You belong to us now.”
He looked up at her through his thick lashes and smiled wanly.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to worry you or make things hard for you.”
“That’s okay. I’m glad you opened up to me. And you’re right, Sandy and I won’t give up on you. We won’t ever throw you out. It was awful when you left last summer. I couldn’t bear this house without you. But I have to say, I hate playing policeman. So from here on out, you have to try and do the right thing. You don’t have to worry about Seth. Let him fend for himself.”
“Okay,” he answered, grinning.
“Good. I need a break. How about we get something to drink and takeout?” She stood up and brushed off her jeans and offered a hand to help Ryan up. Smiling broadly, he accepted.
Seth scratched the back of his neck as he surveyed all the equipment around him. Life vests. Fishing poles. Bait. Cooler. He hoped there were enough snacks. He couldn’t survive without snacks.
Sandy had already climbed into the rowboat and was waiting for Seth expectantly. “Oh. Me?” Seth pointed to himself with a look of pure innocence. “My turn, I guess.”
He wearily approached the rickety old boat. The paint was peeling and the layer underneath looked rusted. He wondered if they’d spring a leak. Would they survive? He’d been hesitant to put on his life jacket. He barely ever did when he went sailing, not that he told his parents, but it seemed like a good idea this time.
Seth climbed in, holding onto the side of the boat, trying not to rock it too much. It was much easier getting into his little catamaran.
“Seth,” Sandy said impatiently.
“Hey, I don’t want to end this trip before it starts. I have to do things carefully.”
Sandy rolled his eyes. “I’m more than twice your age, son, and I had a hell of an easier time getting in.”
Seth, who had one foot inside, and one foot on shore, looked up. His hands were firmly gripping the side of the boat. “Dad, don’t admit your age.”
“Get in, Son.”
Sandy wasn’t kidding around anymore and Seth scrambled into the boat, making it sway wildly.
“Where on earth did you ever get an idea like this?” Seth asked as they pushed off from shore. “Did you go on the Internet to find parent/child bonding activities? What loser thought of fishing?”
“Don’t call your mother a loser.”
“Mom? Mom is responsible for this harebrained idea?”
“It’s not harebrained. What has gotten into you, Seth? Sarcastic I get. I’m used to it. When did you become rude and insolent?”
“Rude and insolent? I was just fooling around? What on earth did I do to make you so mad at me?”
Seth stared out at the water, ignoring the stinging in the corner of his eyes. The salt water, he told himself, ignoring the fact that Sandy had rowed them out into the middle of a lake. Other boats, similar to their own, dotted the water.
“I cannot believe you’re asking that!” Sandy thrust one of the fishing poles at Seth, who caught unawares, fumbled to get a good grip on it before the heavy pole went overboard. “Your behavior these past few weeks has been reprehensible and nothing your mother and I say —“
“What have I done that’s so terrible? I’m not doing drugs or drinking.”
“And how do we know that?” Sandy wound the reel and threw out the line.
“You forgot the bait.”
Sandy stared at Seth with a puzzled expression. “What?”
“You forgot the bait. You threw out the hook and line, but didn’t put any bait on it.”
Sandy continued to gape at his son as if he had fallen into the boat from the sky. As the reality of what Seth had said hit him, Sandy’s face broke into a grin and he started to laugh. His laugh started out low and guttural until it grew loud and raucous. He was bending over laughing, the fishing pole shaking in his hands.
“You okay, Dad?” Seth was afraid that his father was losing it. That whatever it was that had gotten his parents wound up so tightly had caused his dad to finally snap. “Dad?”
Sandy put his pole to rest and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. “What are we going to do with you, Seth?”
Seth groped the slimy worm in the cooler— to his dismay it wasn’t filled with snacks— and fastened it to the end of the hook. “To be honest, Dad, I don’t get what the big deal is. I stayed out all night once. I snuck out a couple of times. Isn’t it normal teen things?”
“But it’s not normal Seth things.”
“And tell me, what are normal Seth things? I’m not the same Seth you once knew. You’re not the same dad I knew. Things changed a lot in our family when Ryan moved in. I’m just being a teenager. I’m having fun. And frankly, your rules get in the way of that.”
“The rules are there for a reason.”
Seth bit his lip and resisted the urge to retort – to break them. Instead, he said, “I know. But rules get broken. And I know I’ve been breaking them a little more often than usual, but well, I’m having fun.”
He thought he felt something tug at the end of his line so he reeled it in. There was a piece of seaweed stuck at the end.
“At your mother’s and my expense.”
“That’s not my intention. Things were so different a couple of years ago. Before Ryan came, I always did everything right. Or at least that’s how it seemed. I didn’t have friends to stay out late or a girlfriend to sneak out with. I’m just being normal. I wish you could see that.”
Sandy sighed. “I can try. But you need to cool it a bit. And you need to stop enticing Ryan to follow. I’m not sure – your mother will talk to him about it this weekend – but Ryan tends to follow rules. I don’t want him following you out of a sense of obligation.”
Seth scratched his head. He wasn’t going to tell Sandy about how he had covered for Ryan a dozen of times while his foster brother stayed out all night with a girl. He wouldn’t recount the dozens of misdemeanors Ryan had committed since moving in to the Cohen household. It would be fruitless. And he hadn’t really thought about it. Ryan had been reluctant to invite the girls over to the Newport Group. He should be more careful to make sure that Ryan really was a willing participant in his escapades.
“I won’t say it again.”
Sandy smirked. “Will you at least make an effort to follow the rules for a little while and not to aggravate your mother for a few more months?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Sandy slapped Seth’s back, not bothering to hide his grin. “I’m starved,” he said. “I forgot the snacks. How about we go back to shore?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Ryan and Kirsten were sitting on the couch in front of the large-screen plasma TV. They had combed through the DVD collection and pulled each of their favorites to watch. Kirsten had insisted on Love Story, saying it would expose Ryan to culture. Ryan had opted for an old favorite – The Goonies — not culture, but definitely something Kirsten could enjoy.
They propped up their feet on the coffee table, which was littered with open take-out containers. Kirsten handed Ryan a fork and some Pad Thai. He accepted gratefully.
“So, we don’t have to go back into the garden?”
“We could. We don’t have to.”
He sighed heavily, not bothering to hide his relief.
“On one condition. Sandy never knows we deviated from the plan.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Civilization!” Seth fell into the hotel room and collapsed onto the bed. “TV a mini bar, snacks, running water, a toilet!”
“I get the point, Seth.” But Sandy was amused.
Sandy threw his bag onto the empty bed and sat down next to Seth.
“Listen, Seth. Ryan is going to be hard at work in the garden. Your mother never hears about this. As far as she’s concerned, we were fishing all weekend.”
Seth grinned broadly. “Deal.”