1. Ryan finds Dawn at the car impound, crying as she stares through the fence at the remains of his graduation present.
2. Summer doesn't know how she is supposed to 'get over' the death of her best friend. And she's not sure that the comfort she desperately seeks can be found in Seth's arms.
3. Kirsten feels like a failure. She couldn't protect Sandy from the Newport Group. She couldn't spare Seth from watching her fall off the wagon. And she couldn't keep Ryan's heart from being broken one more time. (these exact words do not need to be used…but the concepts do)
Thanks to ctoan for arranging the sentence challenge and thank to rose_in_texas for beta-ing
Title: Two Days Two Nights
Summary: Written for the OC Sentence Challenge 3… Two Days and Two Nights after Marissa’s death how will Summer and Ryan and others cope with Marissa’s Death.
Dawn’s eyes are swollen and bloodshot, reminding Ryan of how she looked all those times she had been drinking, when he finds her at the car impound, crying as she stares through the chain-linked fence at the remains of his graduation present. The sun is just rising in the east, a large round orange ball of fire, gracing the sky in all its glory. Ryan notices his mother’s nose is pink, almost clownish. Her hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail, though a few short blond hairs have escaped and are sticking to her cheek, glued there by her wet tears.
He had begged the Cohens not to call Dawn after the accident, but Kirsten had insisted, saying a mother had a right to know. Ryan hadn’t wanted to worry her. He hadn’t wanted her to know that her gift to him had been trashed. He was afraid that somehow it would trigger Dawn to start drinking again. That somehow she would see it as another failure. He knew it didn’t necessarily make sense, but he wasn’t always using straight logic these days.
“Mom,” Ryan says softly and lightly tapped her on her shoulders.
Dawn whips around and envelopes Ryan into a fierce hug. She holds him close to her, so tight that he thinks he might not breathe again. He closes his eyes and leans on her shoulder, letting her squeeze the air out of him, seeking comfort and not really caring if he never breathes again. Because Marissa would never breathe again.
He coughs and sputters when his body insists that he isn’t getting enough air, and Dawn lets go. She strokes his hair, wetting her fingers to push down a cowlick at the top of his head.
“I don’t know what to say Ryan. I’m so glad —“ she stops, knowing that she can’t continue with her train of thought. What could she say? I’m glad it was your friend and not you? Ryan may have walked away with barely a scratch, but the internal scars would take decades to heal if they would ever heal at all.
“I know,” Ryan says. Because he does. Sandy and Kirsten had pretty much said the same thing. Seth, too, and they had all loved Marissa in their own way. Ryan knows that everyone is torn between being glad and sad. The diverging emotions are just too much for most people to express in a PC sort of way.
“I love you, Ryan.”
“I know,” he repeats.
She takes him by the crook of his elbow. “It’s just a car. I can try to get you another one.”
“Mom, no. You already used part of your savings…” He lets his words trail off as he stares at the charred black frame of what was once the white SUV.
He had loved the car instantly. Not only because it was his own or because it was cool. He’d loved it because it had been a gift from his mom and a symbol of her love and her struggle to get better. Ryan liked to believe that in part Dawn was getting better for him. She was trying so hard to be there for him in anyway she could, even if he was mostly grown. Ryan finally understands what the therapist had told him in one of the family counseling sessions Sandy dragged him to after Trey had been shot when Kirsten was still in rehab. It’s never too late for family.
“I don’t need another car,” he insists.
“But you’ll drive again. Soon,” she says with a concerned note in her voice that Ryan doesn’t recognize.
Ryan shrugs his shoulders. It’s been only two days since the accident, and he hasn’t been in a driver’s seat yet. He wasn’t doing much of anything, not even eating; already his blue T-shirt is feeling a bit loose.
“I guess. Whatever.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
He stares off into the distance, not really focusing on anything in particular. His voice sounds far away and flat, devoid of any emotion as he says, “I shouldn’t have sped up. I should have stopped. He wouldn’t have been able to push us over. I would have lost the creep.” Ryan blinks and once again looks at the wreck that was briefly his car. The more he stares at it, the more Ryan realizes what a miracle it is that he hadn’t been hurt. His mind rewinds to that night and how he’d climbed out of the car, only stopping to figure out how to best get Marissa out even after he’d noticed the sparks. He hadn’t told the cops or the Cohens that he’d known the SUV would probably blow. He wasn’t sure how’d they react, and he didn’t want to deal with it.
“You know, for me, one of the hardest parts of rehab is believing in a higher Being.”
They had been quiet for so long, each of them leaning a shoulder on the chain-link fence, that Dawn’s word causes Ryan to start. He looked at his mother, befuddled, as if just being woken from a deep slumber. He looks like he’s been sleeping in his clothes. His T-shirt and faded jeans, which he doesn’t even remember picking out and putting on, are rumpled. His blond hair isn’t brushed and his eyes are heavy with sleep or the lack thereof.
Dawn doesn’t wait for Ryan to respond. “But looking at the shell of this car, and feeling you standing here beside me, healthy, I can believe. It’s a miracle that you walked out of there.” She doesn’t say healthy and whole, because she knows he isn’t whole. He might never be whole again. “It wasn’t in your hands. It wasn’t your fault,” she concludes.
“But Marissa didn’t walk away.” His voice is soft and shaky. “Why Marissa and not me?”
“I don’t know, honey. I don’t know.” She rubs his arm, trying to offer some sort of comfort. She just can’t help being glad that he was the one who survived. “Let’s go. Enough wallowing. We need to live life. The sun has come up again.” Her chin juts up to the sun, which is high in the sky. “The Cohens are at home waiting for you. There are so many people who love you and need you. If we’re going to be sad about the life Marissa will never lead – if you’re going to miss Marissa – we’re going to do it together.”
Summer doesn't know how she is supposed to “get over” the death of her best friend, and she's not sure that the comfort she desperately seeks can be found in Seth's arms. He’s trying. But he didn’t love Marissa the way she did. For Seth, Marissa was mostly an appendage. His girlfriend’s best friend. His best friend’s girlfriend. His grandfather’s stepdaughter. A school mate. Seth didn’t love Marissa the way she and Ryan and Julie did, so he can’t grieve for her the way they all are.
She’s sitting by the Cohen’s infinity pool, her bare feet dangling over the edge. She notices that the pool house is empty. Ryan hasn’t been there since she woke up and wandered outside. She senses Seth behind her but doesn’t acknowledge him until he slides down next to her and wraps an arm around her shoulder. She shrugs out of his embrace, needing the holding, just not from him.
Her father is with Julie now, making the last-minute arrangements for the funeral. She knows he’s torn, wanting to be there for both his bride-to-be and daughter. She knows he’s hurting too, because her dad has known Marissa as long as they’ve been friends. He even opened his home to Marissa when Julie was down and out and trying to claw her way back to the top.
Kaitlin is somewhere in the Cohen household, in a drugged sleep. Neil had offered her the same drugs— he’s become the regular pill pusher since the accident— but Summer doesn’t want to dull the pain away. She wants to feel it. She wants the pain to tear into her. She wants to cry. She hasn’t cried since Neil told her that Marissa was dead. Not a single tear has escaped her eyes. Instead, she’s numb all over.
“Do you want coffee?” Seth asks. He’s let go of her, but Summer can see that Seth is hurt. She doesn’t mean to cause him anymore pain.
“It’s brewed and ready. I can whip up a latte if that’s what you prefer? How about a bagel?” Seth rambles. “A schmear of cream cheese? Dad always believes that food is the way to work your way through grief.” He stops short, realizing that his words were just bouncing off the water.
Summer opens her mouth and is about to say something, just as Dawn and Ryan come up from the beach path. Dawn is holding her shoes in her hand and her beige chinos are rolled up to right below her knee. Ryan is still wearing his black boots and his jeans cover the tops, though there is a hint of wetness.
Dawn is smiling and happy. Her free hand is wrapped around Ryan’s waist and while the sadness oozes from Ryan’s eyes, it’s the most relaxed Seth or Summer have seen him since Sandy brought him home from the hospital just two nights ago.
Summer realizes she’s been waiting for Ryan to come. She pulls her feet out of the water and jumps up, slipping on the tiles alongside the pool. Seth catches her, but she once again shrinks out of his hold and runs to Ryan.
Ryan twitches at first in Summer’s arms. His eyes search out Seth, but Seth nods his head slightly, indicating to his brother that it’s okay. Right now, Seth knows it’s not about him. It’s about Summer. It’s about Ryan. It’s about their grief and not his. If they need to turn to each other for support, then he’ll stand back and wait for when Summer is ready. He just hopes he won’t lose her for good.
“Are you okay?” Summer asks Ryan. “You left so early.”
“I was looking for my mom,” he answers. He waves at the house. “I left a note somewhere in the kitchen.”
“I didn’t look. But I’m sure Sandy or Kirsten saw it, otherwise, they’d be frantic by now.”
Ryan smiles shyly and ducks his head.
“Were you walking on the beach?”
“Ryan doesn’t like the water anymore,” Dawn offers.
“I told you, not in my clothes,” he insists.
Summer’s amazed, because it sounds like Ryan is almost happy. She wonders how that can be since it’s been only two days since Marissa died in his arms. She turns on her heels and stomps away and disappears someplace in the house.
Seth sighs and starts to go after her, but he’s stopped by Ryan. “Let me go.” And Seth agrees.
Kirsten sits at the kitchen table with her head in her hands, staring into an empty mug that was once filled with coffee. She sees Summer stalk into the kitchen and then right back out. A minute later Ryan comes in. He waves quickly but walks right by following the same path as Summer, without stopping to greet her properly or to fill her in on what’s going on.
Once again, she feels like a failure. She didn’t protect Sandy from the Newport Group. She couldn't spare Seth from watching her fall off the wagon. She couldn't keep Ryan's heart from being broken one more time.
She sees Seth and Dawn sitting on the patio talking to each other. Is Seth seeking comfort from the woman who abandoned her other son? Has it come to the point where he won’t come to her to comfort? Everything is upside down. It’s even Ryan, not Seth, who’s looking out for Summer. And Kirsten knows it’s her fault. She knows that she set everything in motion by drinking and then drinking again.
She can’t help stare at the cabinet under the sink, where she knows a full bottle of vodka is stashed behind the trash can.
Kirsten hears movement from upstairs. She doubts it’s Kaitlin, who took a pretty heavy sedative way past midnight. It’s either Sandy, getting ready for work or Ryan and Summer. Her gaze drifts in their direction. She wants to go upstairs. She wants to be the one who makes everything all right. She was once able to do that for her husband and for her children, but not anymore.
She stands up, ready to — but Dawn comes in. Kirsten wonders whether she was ready to go upstairs and follow the noise or whether she ready to go for her hidden bottle of vodka. She isn’t sure. She stretches her lips into a thin smile and Dawn shyly smiles back.
“Is it okay if I take some coffee?” The woman stands uncertainly, drumming her fingers on the corner of the counter.
“Of course. I’m so sorry. I’m being a terrible hostess.” Yet another failure she can add to the growing list.
“You don’t have to fuss, Kirsten. I can take care of myself.” Dawn reaches to the top cabinet, where she had seen Ryan take down a mug just the night before. “This is such a terrible time for Ryan, and Marissa’s family, and for you.”
Kirsten nods and before she has any control over it, her mouth opens and words spill out. “I just wish I could have prevented Ryan from getting his heart broken yet again.”
Dawn studied the coffee maker, collecting her thoughts. Kirsten has become more of a mother to Ryan in the three years he has lived in her house than Dawn had ever been in the sixteen years she had tried to raise him.
“This is a hurt we can never protect our children from. I wish we could.” Dawn pours the coffee into the mug— she takes it black, just like Ryan — and slides into one of the stools.
Kirsten can’t help but notice how Dawn’s mannerisms are so similar to her son’s.
“Can I confess?” Dawn’s hands are wrapped around the mug and she bends her head slightly, breathing in the coffee’s aroma. “I can’t help but be happy that it wasn’t Ryan. Isn’t that awful? A young girl is dead and I feel glad that it wasn’t my son.”
Kirsten moves forward and lays a hand across Dawn’s shoulders. “I know exactly what you mean. I had the same thought. I talked about it at an AA meeting, I felt so awful. There’s no way to make that feeling okay, but it is. I keep doing an ‘if only’ in my head. If only I hadn’t started drinking. If only I had been more attuned to the kids and their needs this year. If only Julie had driven Marissa to the airport.” Somehow Kirsten believes this wouldn’t have happened if an adult had been in the car, too.
Dawn stretches out her hand and lays it on top of Kirsten’s. Kirsten is startled by the touch and she gazes at Dawn. But her shoulders sag at the comfort this woman, practically a stranger, is offering her. Kirsten feels like she’s grasping at straws. She’ll take anything at this point.
Summer sits on the edge of Seth’s bed, her feet crossed at the ankles, and her hands busy plucking at the loose threads on Seth’s quilt. Thoughts, angry ones, at Ryan and Marissa and Seth, are crashing and tumbling through her head. They don’t make sense. They assign blame – at Seth for lying about Brown and making a dozen of other stupid mistakes this year – at Ryan for not protecting Marissa and Marissa for needing protection and all her other stupid mistakes since they started high school.
“It’s okay if we smile again.”
Summer doesn’t look up, but recognizes Ryan’s voice instantly. She turns a bit, so her back is facing him. So he doesn’t see her dry-eyed face. She’s ashamed that she still hasn’t cried. She’s ashamed that her boyfriend, the love of her life, can’t offer the comfort she needs. She’s ashamed that she’s alive and Marissa is not.
“Marissa would want us to be happy again,” Ryan continues. “She wouldn’t want us to mourn her forever.”
“It’s been two days!” Summer hurls the words out meaning to hit Ryan with them with the same deadly aim as a rapid fire machine-gun. “We don’t have to be happy yet.”
Ryan slips into the spot next to her and wraps his arms around her tight. “I think she’d want us to find the joy even in this crazy time.”
Summer falls into his embrace.
“We’re always going to miss her.”
“She was my best friend, Chino.”
And suddenly, Summer cries. The hot tears gush like water coming out of a faucet blocked only a moment ago. She heaves and her shoulders shake. Her entire body is crying and Ryan just holds her. He wraps her in his arms and lets her nuzzle her wet, dripping nose into his chest. He rests her chin on top of her corn-silk hair, practically making a cocoon out of his body and wrapping Summer inside of him.
Seth’s afraid to walk into the kitchen and interrupt the oddly intimate moment between his mother and Ryan’s mother, but he desperately wants to see if Summer is okay. Kirsten has pulled up a stool close to Dawn and their heads are bowed and their voices low as they talk in hushed tones.
By watching his mother’s tiny movements, Seth can see that whatever Dawn is saying is helping Kirsten. Her shoulders droop a little less. Kirsten stops pulling at the strands of her hair, a nervous gesture he only noticed when Kirsten came home from rehab.
Seth is about to try and go around to the front to be with Ryan and Summer, but Kirsten looks up and sees him. She waves him into the kitchen and he walks in hesitantly.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You didn’t. Dawn and I were just talking.”
“Well, I’m going to check on Summer and Ryan and make sure they’re okay.”
But Kirsten grabs his arm, so Seth can’t move without pulling away from her and he’s afraid that would send a message to his mother that said he didn’t want her or need her. Which isn’t true. Seth needs his mother more than ever since they heard about the accident two nights ago.
“What about you, Seth? Are you okay? Are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine once everyone else is.”
This is not entirely true, because Marissa’s death has left a gaping hole deep in his heart. Getting to know Marissa, for Seth, was a lesson in life. A lesson in not judging people by their covers. In not assuming he knew everything about people. He remembers discovering that Marissa and he shared the same taste of music. He remembers that Marissa actually talked to him when Ryan disappeared and the tenuous connection between them was gone. Marissa had become a friend, despite the fact he sometimes wanted to shake some sense into her.
“You know,” Kirsten says, “I think if we all stick together. You, me, Dad and Ryan. I think maybe we can figure this out and find a way to heal.”
“I think so too, Mom.”
“We’ve always been strongest when we stick together. It’s not too late to find that glue again. Maybe somehow this tragedy will help us come together again.”
Seth bites his lips, willing himself not to cry. But his mom knows him much better than anyone else in the world and she hugs him tight. He doesn’t try to wiggle out of her embrace with some lame joke. He falls into it, thinking that they’ve become so touchy feely in the past couple of days.
“I think I should check on Summer.”
“You go do that.” Kirsten lets go, glancing briefly at Dawn. She hopes she hasn’t embarrassed anyone. “I’m going to figure out dinner.”
So Seth stumbles out of the kitchen, drunk with the idea that maybe his family could be what it was only a year ago or maybe it was two years ago, and tries to find Summer and Ryan. He isn’t surprised to find them hugging on his bed. He pushes down the jealousy that bubbles in his chest and threatens to spill out, because this is about Summer and Ryan needing something from each other that he doesn’t have.
He may have loved Marissa more than anyone credits him for, but they still loved Marissa more.
“So how are you two doing in here?”
He realizes Summer’s been crying and he’s glad. He was worried that she hadn’t cried at all.
“We’re hanging in there,” Ryan answers.
Seth comes into the middle of the room, feeling like an intruder in his own space. He sits down on the floor, so his head is resting near Summer’s feet, touching slightly so she’ll know he’s there, but that he’s not being intrusive.
“You know, one of my first memories of Marissa was when we first moved to Newport. We’d been living at my Grandpa’s house for a couple of months while she was sick. Then my parents decided that they didn’t want to go back. So they bought this house or rather Grandpa built it for them. We actually lived here before the Coopers.”
It’s hard for Seth to tell a story and get to the point fast.
“So Marissa moves in a few weeks after we did. I’m sitting on the edge of the driveway, reading a comic book while watching the truck. All I can think of is that it’s a real shame the new family only has girls to play with. But Marissa bounds up to me, her long straight hair shining in the sun, and the first thing out of her mouth is some sort of snide comment about my comic book.”
Seth stops, realizing how lame his memory is. It’s not even a nice one and he feels guilty for speaking ill of the dead.
“I first met Marissa at the country club.” Summer’s voice is thick with crying. “She was such a snob.”
Ryan laughs and shares his own first encounter with Marissa. And they sit there together, swapping stories about Marissa, trying to one-up each outlandish tale.
An hour passes and maybe two, when their stomachs rumble and the scent of Chinese food wafts up the steps. Summer disentangles herself from Ryan and stretches out.
“Let’s go eat. I’m famished.”
Ryan hops up from the bed, willing to go. He’s about to offer his hand to her, but sees that she’s already pulling Seth up and leaning on his shoulder. He smiles at Seth, who’s shooting him a grateful look over her head.
They land in the kitchen, where Sandy is already setting the table with Dawn’s help. A groggy Kaitlin is absently picking at one of the open cardboard containers. Summer goes straight for the younger teenager and wraps her in a hug, stroking her hair. Kaitlin closes her eyes and leans into Summer. They all know that Summer is trying to picture and feel Marissa through Kaitlin.
They agree to take the food out onto the patio and move everything out together. The lively banter of the Cohen household is more subdued, but the old energy is there. The togetherness. And as they sit down to eat, Seth cracks an inappropriate joke. Sandy reaches over the table to swat him, but Ryan gets there first.
Summer laughs, despite herself and remembers something else about Marissa. A private memory that she doesn’t want to share, but it makes her smile. But she knows it’s going to be all right, because Cohen was there for her and she did find some comfort from him.
They realize they need drinks and Dawn pushes back her chair and jumps up to get them. She rubs Ryan’s neck on her way, just wanting to feel him again, to feel that he’s alive.
Kirsten leans on Sandy’s shoulder, wanting to be close. She knows that she’s made a lot of mistakes. She knows that she failed her family in more ways than one, but oddly enough, it’s Dawn who’s made her realize that she just has to look forward. “Pick up the pieces and move on. There’s only so much you can do to fix the past,” the woman had said. “The best way to fix all your mistakes is to work on the future.”
So Kirsten is ready to do just that and she’s ready to help her kids pick up the shattered pieces of their graduation to find a new future. Maybe it’s not the future they had pictured. Certainly, they had all seen Marissa somewhere in their lives. But she’ll help them find a way to keep her in their hearts while forging their ways into the world.
I wasn’t sure about writing this, because I haven’t been inspired to write a post death fic… I mean, it’s all been done. So I apologize for the lack of originality, but hope you were entertained anyway.