Written for the OCSC2... for icewormlj Sentence: Ryan fails a test. This is for .
I do not own the O.C. or any of its characters. Set during season 1 - earlyish.
Thanks to chazper for going through this with a fine tooth comb.
Ryan stared at the large purple ‘F’ scribbled on top of his paper and his stomach dropped. It wasn’t the first time he’d failed a test. Back in Chino he would purposely fail tests so he wouldn’t stand out from the other kids in the class. But here at Harbor, Ryan had been working his tail off to keep up his grades so that the Cohens would be proud and to prove to them that he was worth the shot they were giving him.
His eyes flitted around the room, trying to gauge the reactions of the other students in the class. Maybe they had all done poorly and it wasn’t just him. Maybe there was hope for a retest or a slight chance that Mr. Bendis would disregard the grades because the entire class had scored low. Deep down Ryan knew that it was wishful thinking and that it was him and not the teacher that was the problem. While he was certain he wasn’t the only one in the class with a failing grade, Ryan knew that he’d been struggling in this class all semester long.
It didn’t make sense to Ryan. History wasn’t hard. He knew all the facts down cold. He could spit back dates and events without batting an eyelash. But Mr. Bendis didn’t want them just to regurgitate events; he wanted his students to synthesize ideas and he wanted them to write essays and that was Ryan’s downfall. He wasn’t very good with words. Even the written ones.
He scanned the tests and confirmed what he already knew. He had answered all of the multiple-choice questions correctly. Unfortunately for him it was only thirty percent of the test. He flipped the top sheet over to look at his pitiful essay. He had barely written three paragraphs. Sometimes less was more, but not in this case. Mr. Bendis expected at least five paragraphs.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the period, and Ryan stuffed the test paper into his notebook. He ducked his head as he left the classroom, not wanting to catch the teacher’s eye, in case Mr. Bendis would want to discuss his failing grade and the very strong possibility that Ryan would also flunk the class. Because until that test, which counted for twenty-five percent of their grade, Ryan had the A he and Luke had earned on their project keeping his overall average buoyed to a barely respectable C+. But the F had just sunk his average like a dead weight.
By the end of the day, Ryan had decided he was not going to tell the Cohens. He’d talk to Mr. Bendis and see if there was extra credit he could do. Maybe the teacher would allow him to retake the test. He hadn’t forgotten the teacher’s warning at the beginning of the semester--there would be no extra credit under any circumstances--but perhaps if he could just explain. Surely the teacher had noticed that he aced the short answers on every single test, that it was just the essays that were giving him trouble. Surely the teacher would see reason and give Ryan some opportunity to pick up the grade just a bit.
In the meanwhile, Sandy and Kirsten didn’t have to know about his big purple F. They never asked to look at his and Seth’s test papers, eventhough they were always asking about school and their assignments and checking to see that they were keeping up with their work. There had been plenty of opportunities for Ryan to let either Sandy or Kirsten know that this class was giving him trouble, but he hadn’t wanted to bother them with his inane school troubles when there was always so many more important things going on.
Ryan suppressed a snort as he sat down by the kitchen table and pulled out his notebook from his stuffed backpack. He thought about how a few months ago he had been trying to figure out how to stay clear of A.J.’s fists, wondering how much time he’d have to serve in jail, and trying to understand how his mother could just up and leave him to fend for himself when he was only sixteen-years-old. Worrying about an F was a far cry from that, yet he felt the exact same sort of anxiety anyhow. His stomach was in knots and he was practically doubled over in pain.
“You okay, kid?” Sandy sauntered into the kitchen and put a hand on Ryan’s back.
Ryan flinched at the unexpected touch. “Y-yeah.” He stammered. “Just fine.”
“What are you studying?”
“Another test already? Didn’t you just have one last week?”
“Yeah.” Ryan swallowed hard. “I’m just reviewing my notes. I’m just trying to stay ahead.”
He looked at Sandy through half-lidded eyes, hoping his guardian didn’t realize that he was lying. He knew he should say something. He knew he should just tell Sandy that he was having a hard time. He doubted that Sandy and Kirsten were the type of parents to forget about report cards sothey’d see his failure clear as day when his grades came out. It wouldn’t be like it was with Dawn. Ryan tried to think back to the last time he had shown Dawn his report card. Fifth grade? Sixth grade? By the time he had entered high school he’d been pretty adept at forging her signature.
“So, how was school today?” Sandy opened the fridge, took out two small bottles of cranberry juice and handed one to Ryan. “Anything interesting happen?”
Ryan shrugged. “No. Same ole’ same ole.”
“How was soccer practice?”
“It was okay. We did drills mostly. We have another game Saturday.”
“Home or away?”
“Then I’ll definitely be there.”
“You don’t have to come.”
“But I want to come.”
Sandy started to sit next to Ryan, but the phone rang. He jumped up and got it and Ryan could see immediately that it was business related. Sandy’s voice dropped and he turned his back to Ryan, just like he did anytime he was talking about a case. Deep in his own thoughtsRyan didn’t notice Sandy snapping at him right away, motioning for a piece of paper, until he was practically on top of him. Absently, Ryan shoved his notebook towards Sandy.
Sandy took the notebook from Ryan and flipped it open to a blank page. His eyes fell on a test paper, folded nearly halfway, but it didn’t cover the large purple ‘F’ scrawled on top. He glanced up at Ryan and quickly looked away, ripping out a clean sheet of paper, closing the notebook and shoving it back towards Ryan. He smiled at his young ward and turned his back again concentrating on the information his secretary was trying to give him.
As soon as he saw Ryan and Seth deeply engrossed in their video games, Sandy waved Kirsten into the kitchen for a private talk. He told her what he had seen earlier, talking in a quiet voice, hoping the sound of ninja’s battling would drown out their private discussion.
“What do you think we should do?”
Kirsten leaned against the counter, cradling a cup of tea between her hands. She dipped her nose into the rim of the cup, inhaling the steam, hoping for some answers. She looked up at her husband and shook her head. “I think we should wait for Ryan to come to us.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Well, either it’s a one time thing or he’s struggling with the course. If it’s a one time thing then it doesn’t matter. Everyone has an off day.”
“You’re right. But what if he doesn’t come to us and he’s actually failing this course?”
“Then we’ll have to deal with it when we get his report card. He’s sixteen, Sandy.”
“What if it were Seth?”
That gave Kirsten pause. She lifted the mug to her lips, taking a tiny sip of her Lemon Ginger tea. Finally she said, “Seth and Ryan aren’t the same. You’re right, if it were Seth I’d want to discuss the problem. But we don’t have the same history with Ryan and we have to wait and hope he trusts us enough to come to us for help.”
Sandy and Kirsten didn’t have to wait until report cards. Three days later, Sandy was leafing through the mail and noticed an official looking envelope from the Harbor school. He tucked his pinky finger into the corner flap and tugged his finger along, ripping through the top.
He unfolded the paper and scanned it, sighing as he read.
This is to inform you that your son, Ryan Atwood, is in danger of failing World Civilization. If Ryan does fail the course he will be unable to continue playing on the soccer team. Please take any steps necessary to prevent this from happening. If you would like to discuss this further, please call the school to set up a meeting with Mr. Bendis at your earliest convenience.
Sandy stopped reading. He carefully folded the letter, put it back into the envelope and continued walking to his office. He had hoped it was just one test, but apparently Ryan was hiding more from them. The letter left them no choice, Sandy and Kirsten would have to do something and he didn’t look forward to it.
“Hey, Seth.” Ryan and Sethwere driving home in Kirsten’s Range Rover. Caleb had picked her up in his limousine to take her to a meeting in L.A. and so for a change they had their own ride to school and didn’t have to depend on any of their friends for transportation.
Seth quickly glanced at Ryan before looking back at the road. “Mmmhhm?”
“I was just wondering.” He pressed his cheek against the cool window. “Did you ever fail any tests or classes? I mean, you’re pretty smart and you make good grades. But did you always?”
Seth arched his brows, which made Ryan think of Sandy. “I flunked the occasional test,” Seth carefully answered. He glanced at Ryan again, wondering where he was going with this. “No big deal.”
“Did your parents know?”
“Yeah. Mom was all over me about French when I first started Junior High. She said I wasn’t taking it seriously.”
Seth grinned, his dimples digging deep into his cheeks. “Nah. I thought it was a joke. But Mom came down pretty hard on me. So I didn’t have a choice but to put my nose to the book.” He drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. “Everything okay with your classes?”
“Yeah. Fine. I was just wondering.”
“You know, when I was having trouble with trig, they got me a tutor. Mom never yelled at me about that. She saw I was trying. You’ve been working real hard. It’s okay if you don’t ace everything.”
“Oh.” Ryan whipped his head around. “My grades are fine. I was just wondering, remembering things with Dawn and trying to compare them to how things work at your house.”
Seth’s eyes slid to the side but he said nothing. He figured Ryan would talk when he was ready.
Seth and Ryan were perched on the edge of the sofa battling ninjas when Sandy and Kirsten came into the family room later that evening. Neither one of the teenagers noticed the adults, until Sandy cleared his throat loudly and started to block the television.
“Hey.” Seth shouted.
Ryan scanned Sandy and Kirsten’s faces, trying to assess their moods. It was still something he did instinctively, even though he knew he didn’t have to worry about volatile tempers in this house. It was difficult to shed his old ways. Seeingtheir serious expressions when they looked at himhe realized that they wanted to talk to him, that he was in some sort of trouble, and immediately, Ryan cast his eyes down at the carpet.
“Seth, we need to talk to Ryan…alone.” Sandy stared pointedly at his son.
“Oh sure.” Seth dropped the game console. “I’ll be in the other room.”
Sandy followed Seth with his eyes as his son left the room. “Seth, no eavesdropping.”
There was grumbling, but they could all hear Seth shuffle up the steps, well out of earshot.
Ryan continued to stare at the floor, sliding his wrist cuff around and around. He could feel Sandy sitting beside him as the couch slightly sagged. He brought his eyes up and saw Kirsten sitting across from him, practically bumping knees.
“I’m sorry,” he said automatically.
Kirsten knitted her brows together. “For what?”
He looked down again and wrapped his arm around his midsection. “I – I don’t know.”
Both Sandy and Kirsten chuckled. “You aren’t in any trouble. You didn’t do anything wrong. At least, we don’t think so.”
“The confessional is open,” Sandy added with a lopsided grin.
Ryan shook his head. “So…” He didn’t know how to form his question. He just wanted to know what the drama was all about. Was it his mother? His father? Trey? Was there a problem with his probation? The questions raced through his mind at top speed and he didn’t even hear Sandy start to speak again.
“Ryan, what’s happening in Mr. Bendis’s class?”
He felt the acid rise to the back of his throat. He was in trouble.
“Please look at us,” Sandy demanded gently. He didn’t miss the deer-caught-in-a-headlight look that Ryan gave them.
“The school sent home a letter,” Kirsten explained, trying to alleviate some of his fears. “A progress report. You’re in danger of failing the class.”
“I was surprised,” Sandy continued, making sure Ryan knew they weren’t angry with him. “You’re always studying and working so hard. Is there a problem with the teacher?”
Ryan shook his head. His bangs fell into his eyes and he brushed them away. “It’s not him. It’s me.” He thought about what Dawn would have said. He bit back a bitter laugh. Who was he kidding? Dawn wouldn’t have even have acknowledged a letter home from the school.
“What do you mean, Ryan?” Kirsten put a hand on his knee. “How is it you?”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. Kirsten had to crane her neck to hear. “I screwed up. I’ll work harder… Unless?” He looked up and his normally clear blue eyes were the picture of a stormy ocean. “Unless that means I can’t stay here anymore. I… I’m sorry.” He tried to stand, but Kirsten’s hand which was still on his knee, restrained him.
“That’s not it at all. Staying here is not conditional upon your good grades.”
He felt his stomach settle a bit, though it still seemed like his insides were flipping and banging around, hitting the sides as if they were laundry in a washing machine.
“Ryan, you’ve been doing so well. I know you’re smart. I know you’re trying. Kirsten and I just want to help you. It’s okay to ask for help.”
Ryan shrugged. He didn’t know what to say, except that he’d work harder.
Sighing, Sandy tried a different tact. He had hoped that Ryan would open up to them. It seemed like they’d need the crowbar after all.
“Do you have your test papers, notes, and your reports? Can we look at them?”
He didn’t want to show it to them, but Ryan didn’t feel like he had a choice. As he walked into the pool house to get his things, Ryan felt so much younger than his sixteen years. He expected that any minute he’d look down and he’d be wearing a bib tied around his neck. He didn’t know parents still checked up on their kids’ work when they were in high school. He’d never known Sandy and Kirsten to look at their papers, unless of course Seth showed them off. He had only showed them a good grade or two on occasion, so that they’d see he was worth the investment.
A minute later Ryan was back in the family room with his notebook and folders. He pulled out the three tests that Mr. Bendis had given since the start of the term and passed them to Kirsten. He handed Sandy the report he had written with Luke and kept his notes handy in case either of them wanted to see that he really did pay attention in class.
It was absolutely silent in the room, except for the sound of shuffling papers. He was chewing so hard on his lips that Ryan could taste blood. Sandy looked up briefly at Ryan and smiled, hoping to reassure his young charge, but bent his head close to Kirsten pointing something out and whispering quietly in her ear.
It seemed like forever, though it probably wasn’t more than five minutes, when Sandy spoke up. Ryan’s forehead glistened with sweat.
“If I wasn’t sure you were trying before,” Sandy started, “I’m certain you’re trying now.”
“You’ve never gotten one multiple choice question wrong. It’s just the essay portion of the tests. The only time you scored well on an essay or term paper when you were teamed up with Luke.”
Ryan shrugged, not sure how to respond.
Sandy furrowed his brows. “How are you doing in your American Lit class? Are you having the same trouble?”
Ryan shook his head. “Mr. Morrissey doesn’t give us too many essays.”
“Really?” Kirsten laughed. “Oh. I remember him. No, don’t expect more than one essay a term. I hear he doesn’t like to grade them.”
Ryan bit back a grin.
“So back to Mr. Bendis’s class. It’s obvious this is a performance issue. Kirsten and I will meet with him and see what we can do.”
Ryan’s eyes widened. “You don’t have to do that.”
“We want to. We know you can do this.”
“I’m just not good with words.” He sank back into the couch, unsure if he felt relieved or scared all over again. What good could come of having one’s parents, or in his case his guardians, come fight your battle for you?
“It’ll be okay, Ryan. We’ll figure this out.”
Two days later, Ryan was seated with Sandy and Kirsten on either side of him across from Mr. Bendis with his trimmed gray beard and shiny balding head. His various tests and notes were scattered around his desk as he looked over Ryan’s work from the semester. When he saw what Sandy and Kirsten were trying to point out, Mr. Bendis leaned back in his chair.
“I’m not sure what you want me to do, Mr. and Mrs. Cohen.”
“It’s obvious to me that Ryan’s grades do not reflect his effort in this class or even his knowledge,” Sandy started in his best lawyer tone.
Ryan sat up a little straighter. He hadn’t expected that. The few times Dawn had come to school with him, by the end of the meeting, she had slapped him at least once on the back of the head and usually chewed him out for not putting in more effort or not listening to his teachers. Dawn never took his side when meeting with his teachers. It was always the adults against Ryan.
Sandy leaned slightly forward pointing to the various test papers. “It’s obvious to me that Ryan knows his material.”
“Multiple choice questions are easy to manipulate,” Mr. Bendis started. “That’s why I always give essay questions.”
“I would tend to agree,” Kirsten jumped in. “But even if I was guessing or cheating off of someone, which I know is not the case with Ryan, I doubt I would ever get all the questions right. You’ve had three tests, totaling over ninety short answer questions, and Ryan has never missed one. It’s only the essays that are dragging down his grades.”
“And his lack of class participation. If called on, Ryan knows where we are and can answer, but he never actively engages in the discussions.” Mr. Bendis stroked his beard. “If Ryan knows the material, why can’t he write the essays?”
“In the time we’ve known Ryan, he has never been one of many words. We can barely get him to talk at home.” Kirsten pursed her lips, hiding a tiny smile, and slid her eyes to Ryan. “Sometimes children have difficulty with one form of evaluation. The fact that you offer multiple assessments shows that you recognize this. But now that you see Ryan has difficulty expressing himself with words, how can we help him and make sure he doesn’t fail this class?”
Ryan swallowed, wondering what the teacher would say. He couldn’t believe how Kirsten and Sandy were coming to bat for him. He thought about Dawn and what would have happened if the same note had come to her house a year ago. Who was he kidding? If Chino Hills High bothered to send out progress reports, a dozen must have reached his house. He had barely escaped failing his classes. The situation wasn’t the same, he knew, because he hadn’t even tried to pass, but Dawn had never questioned his grades or cared about his schooling. She would have never have come to school to try and defend him or to help him out.
They talked further, mapping out a plan, forcing Ryan to participate in the discussion and to take charge of his problem. There would be tutoring involved to improve his writing skills, a chance to redo the essays he missed for partial credits, and he had to promise to put a concerted effort into class participation so he could pull up his final grade.
The meeting lasted past the last period of the school day, and at the end Sandy and Kirsten both shook Mr. Bendis’s hand thanking him for help, promising they would keep in touch. Ryan quietly thanked the teacher and ducked his head as he stuffed all his notes and test papers into his book bag. Sandy and Kirsten waited for him to finish up and followed him out of the room.
Ryan felt Sandy drop his arm on his shoulder. It didn’t feel heavy, like the weight of expectations he had been feeling all year, but rather it felt like love and reassurance, which he still had difficulty grasping.
They looked around for Seth on the Harbor campus, but realized he must have gone ahead without them. The three of them piled into Sandy’s car, Ryan sat in the back, leaning his head against the plush leather, just listening to Sandy and Kirsten compare notes about their day. He let the events of the day — the meeting really — wash over him. It left an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach, one he couldn’t place. The fear was gone as was the uncertainty of how Kirsten and Sandy would react to his grades. He gazed at the back of their heads and realized yet again how lucky he was.
When there was a lull in the conversation, Ryan slid forward, steadying himself on Kirsten’s headrest. “Thanks,” he said.
Kirsten turned. “For what?”
He saw Sandy turn his head briefly, before turning his eyes back on the road. “Thanks, for, you know, pleading my case with Mr. Bendis and taking my side.”
“There were no sides to take, Ryan.” Sandy turned his head again. “We all want you to do your best.”
“Yeah. I get that now. But... I just never had that before.”
Kirsten put her hands on his. “You have that now.”
“I know that. And thank you.”
He slid back so that he relaxed against the seat and closed his eyes. He didn’t need to say anymore. He didn’t want to say anymore. It felt like he had used his quota of words for the day.