Ryan dumped a tray of ice into the small ivory hand towel and twisted the soft cloth until he had a makeshift ice pack.
“Here.” He shoved the pack into his brother’s hand.
“You need it more than me,” Trey answered.
“I’m making another,” Ryan said shortly. “Just take it.”
Trey took the pack and placed it on his hand, trying to ignore the shivers it sent up his spine. He watched Ryan closely as he confidently moved around the room, pulling out another tray of ice from the small freezer and dumping it into a crimson hand towel. They had been back at the Cohens for fifteen minutes and Ryan was quieter than usual. He hadn’t said a word to Trey during the drive back to the house and had merely motioned for him to walk around back. With fascination, Trey realized his little brother didn’t want the people they were staying with to know he had gotten into a fight.
“Let me look at that eye,” Trey offered.
Ryan’s right eye was starting to swell and was growing narrower by the minute. By morning it would be an ugly shade of purple and unless Ryan kept a tube of women’s cover-up, there would be no way to hide the signs of the fight.
“It’s fine.” Ryan stepped back from Trey’s prying hands. “I just need to keep some ice on it.”
It had been stupid really. They’d been browsing the store, checking out the array of clothing, hoping to add to Trey’s skimpy wardrobe. Then the clerk had started to look at them sideways, as if they were criminals, like the guards at jail kept an eye on the inmates. Trey had just lost it.
“Ryan. Trey.” The door to the pool house swung open. “Di—“ Kirsten stopped in her tracks. “Ryan. What happened?” She reached Ryan with one long stride and tenderly touched the side of his face, feeling for swelling. “Did you get into a fight?”
Ryan turned his head from Kirsten and pressed the ice to his face.
“Ryan,” she demanded. “Were you fighting?” When he didn’t answer, Kirsten’s eyes landed on Trey. “Trey? Was Ryan fighting?”
“He was just trying to break it up Mrs. Cohen.”
Kirsten sighed. “We’ll talk about it later.” She looked pointedly at her young charge and Ryan knew he was in for a “kitchen stool” lecture. “Dinner will be ready in five minutes.”
“I’ll set the table in a minute,” Ryan offered.
Kirsten nodded her head curtly, definitely displeased with the scene in the pool house. Ryan had known he couldn’t hide the fighting from Sandy and Kirsten, but he had been hoping to figure out what he would say. He had never forgotten the promise to Sandy and Kirsten when they had agreed to take him in: No fighting. And he’d pretty much kept that promise. He stole a sideways look at Trey and wondered what Sandy and Kirsten would say and what they would do.
* * * * *
“He’s a bad influence, Sandy. He can’t stay here.”
“You said the same thing about Ryan when I first brought him home.”
“That was different.”
They were holed up in Sandy’s office, talking in hushed voices. Dinner had been a quiet tense affair. Ryan refused to look at anyone in the eyes. The side of his face turned shades of black, blue and purple as they watched. Even Seth had been unable to keep up his incessant rambling. That was Kirsten’s sign that something definitely was wrong.
“We have to think about Ryan now. He’s been doing so well this year. I don’t want his brother to drag him down.”
“I understand, honey. But we can’t just kick his brother to the street. And we can’t keep Ryan from his brother.”
“Then we need to help him find a place of his own and a job and ease his influence over Ryan. And Sandy, we’re grounding him. He’s got to know that we mean no fighting.”
Sandy held up his hands. “No arguments here.”
* * * * *
They were sitting around in the family room banging away at the game controller. Trey had lost to Ryan and it was now Seth against Ryan. The competition was fierce.
“So, Ry, what are they going to do to you. You know about the fighting. Mrs. Cohen didn’t look very pleased with me or you.”
Ryan shrugged and concentrated on the screen. It was hard to play with only one good eye. The right side of his face was throbbing. “Whatever.”
Trey chuckled. “Mom or A.J. probably would have given you a black eye to match.”
Ryan shot him a withering look. “That’s not funny. And the Cohens aren’t like that.”
“Cool it, man. I know that.” Trey got up from the couch. His brother was nothing like the kid he remembered back in Chino. “I’m going to get a drink. Want some?”
Seth and Ryan shook their heads.
Trey took the long way to the kitchen, making sure to pass Sandy’s office. He heard the tail end of the conversation. It hit him, suddenly, what a great deal Ryan had. He hadn’t been joking earlier. Two years before, living with A.J. and Dawn, Ryan would have had a second eye to match. Here he had love and support.
If he wanted Ryan to break the Atwood luck, Trey knew he needed to find another place to live.