Title: All About Family
Rating: PG 13 (Rish in some chapters)
Summary: Ryan's Dad comes to Newport.
S4 with spoilers up to My Two Dads
Thank you to chazper for beta duties.
A reminder that I give credit to brandywine421's hurting Ryan fic: http://brandywine421.livejournal.com/369537.html for kick starting my muse all those months ago.
Frank sat down on the other end the bench where Ryan was sitting, leaving enough room for a third person to fit between them. He turned slightly so he was facing his son and couldn’t help but notice that Ryan squeezed himself closer to the other edge of the bench, as if Frank were a smelly vagrant coming to share his space.
He appraised Ryan silently, his head foolishly bobbing up and down in approval. “You look good, Ryan.”
Ryan had always favored his mother in coloring, but his square strong jaw and muscular build were obviously inherited from Frank.
“Are you happy?”
Ryan’s head jerked up. He stared at Frank, silently setting his mouth in an o. He ran his tongue over his lips, hoping to moisten his parched lips.
Frank nodded. “Happy. Satisfied with where you are in life.”
“Well,” Ryan started slowly. “I graduated high school. Not easy if you’re an Atwood.” He slid his eyes sideways and then forward, staring out into the crowds of shoppers as he continued. “I was accepted into a good college. But I’m nearly 19 and I’m working in a restaurant instead.” He shrugged. “Sure I’m happy.”
As soon as the words left Ryan’s mouth, he regretted them. He felt like he had opened up a private part of him that he wasn’t ready to share with Frank. He shrunk back further into the bench, wishing he could turn back the clock to that morning so he could stop himself before he picked up the phone to contact Frank.
Frank shifted in his seat as Ryan continued to stare absently into the throngs of shoppers. He scratched the back of his head and cleared his throat. He didn’t quite know how to respond to Ryan’s quiet deadpan voice. Finally, Frank just blurted out the first question that came to mind. “Why didn’t you start college last September?”
Ryan blinked rapidly, trying to refocus when he heard Frank quietly call his name. “I was in a car accident last summer,” he said automatically. “And my friend died. I was too messed up to go to college.”
Exhausted from the mere mention of Marissa, Ryan fell back in his seat. He wondered if Frank had some voodoo powers or was it the magical natural bond between father and son. Confiding in Sandy, trusting Sandy, was always something he had to work on. Why was he practically baring his soul to Frank after the man had been absent for most of his life?
“I’m sorry, son.” Frank reached out to touch Ryan’s arm, but Ryan bristled from the touch. Frank jerked back his hand, as if electrocuted, and then stuffed the offending hands between his legs. “Were you hurt too? How long were you in the hospital?”
Ryan shook his head, wondering if he had sensed a hint of concern in Frank’s voice. “Not that sort of messed up.”
Ryan made it a point of keeping Marissa out of his daily thoughts. Sometimes it didn’t work, and she would creep in there at the least expected times. Her scent, her laugh, her voice would sneak into his consciousness and catch him unawares, like a spider catching prey in its web. It would grab hold of him and not let him go until the memories devoured him or someone like Seth or Taylor helped free him. But like any prey untangling itself from a spider’s web, the memory always left him mangled and maimed.
Frank started to say something, but was preempted by Ryan abruptly standing.
“This was a mistake,” he said, without looking back. “I should never have called this morning. I’m not ready for this.”
Ryan started to walk forward, and Frank jumped up as if to chase him. “Ryan, no. We’ll talk about something else. Please, don’t go.”
But Ryan kept walking as if he didn’t hear anyone calling for him. Within moments he melted into the crowd of shoppers and let them sweep him up and carry him away. He was on the other side of the mall before he stopped to look around. He moved off to the side to study his surroundings, grateful that he knew where he was. His car wasn’t parked too far away, but best of all, the comic shop where Seth worked was right there.
Frank kicked the corner of the bench furiously. After the first kick, his toe hurt. After the third kick, he stopped feeling the pain. After the tenth angry kick, he felt someone gently touch on his arm.
“Ryan? Son, I’m sorry.” He swung around and stopped abruptly when he saw it wasn’t Ryan. “Oh. Julie.”
She arched her carefully tweezed brows. “I’m used to a much better reception than that.”
“I was hoping it was Ryan. We were talking and he just ran off.”
Julie swallowed hard, hoping to mask her emotions. “Did you say anything to upset him?” she asked circumspectly.
Frank sank back down in the bench and ran a hand through his overgrown hair. “I was just asking if he was happy and he mentioned an accident this summer. I really put my foot in my mouth. His friend died—“
“I know all about it.” Julie’s voice was hoarse and strangled.
“Oh.” Frank stopped talking; taking the time to notice the color had drained from Julie’s face. “I guess this is a small town. Did you know Ryan’s friend?”
She averted Frank’s eyes when in a choked whisper she said, “My daughter.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
Feeling wobbly at the torrent of memories that flooded her mind, Julie dropped down beside Frank.
“What brings you to the mall?” Frank put false cheer in his voice, hoping to veer the topic of conversation from his faux pas.
“Kaitlin. My other daughter needed a ride home, but when she saw me she asked for some more time with her friends. I think she was just embarrassed that I dared show my face to her friends.”
“She must be a teenager.” Frank chortled. “Trey, Ryan’s brother—“
Julie cut him off. “I met Trey.”
“Oh.” He ignored the icy tone in her voice and continued. “So Trey was just about thirteen when I was arrested, but the teenage attitude and shame were already present.” He smiled to himself as if the memory gave him pleasure. “I almost wish I had the chance to relive those years with the boys, even though I’m sure it would have frustrated the hell out of me.”
“Marissa was like that too. She wasn’t afraid to let the whole town know that she hated me.” Julie looked off into the distance. “She and Ryan dated on and off most of the time he lived here in Newport. They were finally able to be with each other—“ She stopped mid sentence, groping, as if in the dark, for the right words to describe Marissa and Ryan’s complicated relationship. “They finally found a way to be friends the night she was killed.”
“She and Ryan were run off the road by some thug who claimed he loved her. The accident changed Ryan. It changed the way I thought of Ryan. He’s not the kid from Juvie who came to stay with the Cohens anymore. Marissa loved him. Had she lived they always would have maintained some sort of connection.” Julie looked at Frank. “You should know, I will protect Ryan if only because Marissa would have wanted it.”
“I’m not here to hurt Ryan.”
She looked up at Frank with an icy stare. “But I won’t let him be hurt either.”
When Ryan walked into the comic shop, Seth was in middle of a long-winded explanation of why D.C.’s Identity Crisis couldn’t be one of the top ten graphic novels of the year. His face was flushed and animated as it usually was when Seth talked about something that interested him. The young teen who was Seth’s captive audience was squirming in his seat, peeking around the slight lanky frame of the oblivious store clerk to find any escape route.
Ryan was the kid’s salvation.
“Seth, you’re going to run out of words for the day.”
“That’s not possible, Ryan.” The giddy tone in Seth’s voice seemed to go up an octave when he heard his best friend behind him. He swiveled around to face Ryan. “Especially when educating the youth of America about the missteps of the D.C. universe.”
Ryan shook his head ruefully and discreetly motioned for the kid to go. The young teen ran off and Ryan stepped in front of Seth as he tried to go after the kid.
“I just got back from meeting with my dad,” Ryan preempted. He let the announcement rapidly roll off his tongue for the sake of the teen that was going to be scared off of comics for life if Ryan didn’t do something, but he was glad for the excuse to blurt out the information. Otherwise, he would have beaten around the bush for hours. He wasn’t even sure if Seth knew his dad was back in town, since he and Summer were so consumed with their engagement.
“Oh.” The one word seemed to deflate Seth. “How’d that go?”