Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, I don't own any of it. Go rub it in.
For the Episode - "The Distance"
Summary: Right after Ryan and Seth return from Portland.
Much thanks to chazper for reading and commenting and encouraging me and to Sister Rose for trying to make it better. (I didn't listen to everything she said, being my stubborn self, so blame me for mistakes and all the other stuff.)
The early morning sun filtered in through the slats of the shades and Ryan closed his eyes tightly, trying to forget that another morning had come. He swung his hand to the other side of the bed, expecting to feel Theresa’s soft mane of hair, but instead found it empty.
Everything came flooding back.
Theresa had miscarried. He had been in Portland. She told him not to come back to Chino. He was back with the Cohens.
He rolled over, burying his face in his pillow as he replayed the night before in his head. Starting from Kirsten’s squeal of delight as he and Seth entered the kitchen, to her hug, to his Seth-Ryan time before he went to bed. He had managed to avoid explaining why he was back to Sandy and Kirsten and they hadn’t asked. Not yet. Reluctantly, Ryan dragged himself out of bed, knowing that sleep wouldn’t come again. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he padded barefoot to the bathroom. He’d take a shower and get dressed before going into the kitchen.
The first thing Ryan noticed as he entered the bathroom was the new bottle of shampoo and bar of soap that hadn’t been there the night before when he went to sleep. Kirsten must have snuck in into the pool house in middle of the night while he slept and put it there. Ryan hadn’t slept so deeply and soundly without interruption since he had found out that Theresa was pregnant. Yet he didn’t feel rested. He felt tired down to his bones, as if he could still sleep for three more years.
He turned the knobs so that the water pelted down full blast and the steam immediately started rising. In Chino, at Theresa’s house, the knobs were prone to fall off if you turned them too much and it was nearly impossible to get it to a comfortable temperature. The pressure had been only a little better than a trickle. He had tried to fiddle with it, but he really didn’t know enough about plumbing to fix the problem.
He had to stop comparing and contrasting, Ryan thought. The water pounded on his back; each drop felt like small needles pricking at his skin. Last year, he had put his life in Chino behind him and he was going to do it again. He’d forget that he possibly got his first love and best friend pregnant. He’d forget that he had sacrificed everything to be there for her and the baby. He’d forget that his maybe baby had died and that Theresa had sent him away. He’d go back to his life of trying to fit in with the Newport elite and trying to be a perfect son to a couple who weren’t really his parents.
He let the water cleanse him and relax him. He had hoped the water would make him forget, but he couldn’t. His mind kept drifting back to Theresa and the baby that almost was. Was he sad? Was he relieved? A little of both? Ryan wasn’t sure and he knew that as soon as he went into the kitchen for breakfast Sandy or Kirsten or both would start asking him about what had happened. Why was he home? Why had he left Theresa? And when he told them they would want to know how he felt, if he was hurting, did he need to talk to anyone.
Could he admit that deep down he was a little relieved that he wasn’t going to be a father at 17? That he was happy to be amongst the Cohens and wanted life to return to what it had been last year? That he looked forward to allowing Sandy and Kirsten to take care of him again?
He was worn out; weary of being the responsible one; of the long hours working construction. Ryan rubbed his calloused hands, letting the water pelt down on them. He was tired of being the one people turned to. He was exhausted from wondering if there would be enough money to make rent and still put aside money for the baby. He was drained remembering how much he had almost lost because one night he had thrown caution to the wind.
The water turned cold before Ryan was ready to leave the shower. He turned the knobs until only a trickle came down, which slowed as the last of the water dried up. He used the plush white cotton towels to dry off, wrapping it around his waist while he rummaged through his remaining things for a stray pair of boxers he might have left behind.
He fumbled through the wicker cubby holes that served as his dresser searching for some clothes. They were only half full. Ryan had refused to take everything Kirsten had bought him to Chino so he had plenty to choose from, even though he had only packed the bare essentials for his trip to Portland. He found a pair of underwear and an old wifebeater that had seen better days as well as a worn pair of jeans and went back into the bathroom to get dressed. He emerged a few minutes later to find Sandy and Kirsten sitting in the chairs across from his bed.
“Good morning, sweetie.” Kirsten smiled broadly, stretching out her arm to hand him a mug of coffee. Ryan accepted gratefully. “Black, no sugar. Did I remember correctly?”
Ryan buried his nose in the oversized ceramic mug, letting the steam and scent of coffee assail his nostrils. “Perfect,” he murmured into the mug.
“We wanted to talk,” Sandy said. “Find out what happened back in Chino.”
Ryan shrugged. “Can it wait?”
Sandy and Kirsten glanced at each other. Ryan could see the worry radiating between them. He sighed and sagged into the downy comforter on his bed.
“I need to go back and get my things,” he asked, hoping to distract them from the question at hand. “Can I borrow the car today? I want to be totally settled before school starts again.”
He wanted to go back and talk to Theresa. He wanted to make sure she was all right. That she wasn’t grieving too much and that she could find a way to rebuild her life now that she wouldn’t be tethered by responsibility.
“How about I take you?” offered Sandy.
“You don’t have to do that. I’ll be okay on my own. I’ll come back,” he added, hoping they’d catch the light joking tone in his voice.
“I want to,” insisted Sandy. “I’ve missed you this summer. We can catch up some.”
Ryan sighed. “Sure. Whatever you want.” He plucked at a loose thread hanging from the edge of his comforter. Catching up was code for “tell us what happened.” But he knew he couldn’t keep it a secret forever. Eventually, he would have to share the truth or they’d get it from Seth.
“Why don’t you come in for breakfast?” Kirsten stood up. “We’ll show you some of the renovations that are actually complete and then you and Sandy can get on the road.”
Ryan smiled. “You really took the house apart.”
“You’re lucky Kirsten wanted to preserve things for you when you came back, or she would have tackled the pool house too.” Sandy followed Kirsten out of the door, looking over his shoulder to see whether Ryan was coming. “But if things don’t improve soon, we all might be bunking in here with you.”
Ryan trailed behind them. He ducked his head, grinning at the thought of all four of them in one room. Sandy swung an arm around Ryan’s shoulders, pulling him close.
“It’s good to have you here with us. This is where you belong.”
An hour later, Ryan was seated next to Sandy in the passenger side of the Range Rover. He fiddled with the CD player that was playing some sort of classical music. It was soothing and grating at the same time. Ryan twitched in his seat, moving his rear end back and forth and side to side unable to sit comfortably.
Ryan shook his head. “I’m a little nervous about seeing Theresa.”
“Are you ready to talk?”
Ryan pressed the top of his head against the cool glass. “She lost the baby while I was in Portland.”
“Oh G-d. Ryan, I’m so sorry to hear that.” Sandy squeezed the younger boy’s knee. “I know how much this baby meant to you.”
Sandy threw Ryan a long sideways glance before returning his gaze to the road. “I was looking forward to being a grandpa of sorts,” Sandy admitted. “Yet, here I am, a little glad that you’re not going to be a dad so soon, because it brought you back home with us. It’s twisted, I know.”
Ryan appraised his lawyer/guardian. He’d often wished that Sandy were really his father. That there had been some sort of mistake in the hospital and he and Seth had been switched at birth. Not that he ever wished Dawn on Seth, but Dawn wasn’t interested in being a mother anymore, so the Cohens could keep them both and he could call Sandy dad.
How strange that Sandy’s feelings mirrored his own. That Sandy could understand where he was coming from. That Sandy knew what Ryan felt and thought without having to utter a word.
“We chose names. If it was a girl we were going to name her Kayla Marie – Theresa liked Kayla and her grandmother was Marie. If it was a boy we were going to name him Thomas Sanford.”
Sandy swallowed hard. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. “I would have been honored.”
“I was in middle of putting together a crib,” Ryan continued, knowing that he was using more than his quota of words for the day. “We were turning Arturo’s old room into a nursery. And Theresa’s mom was knitting a blanket. She was using neutral colors like yellow and mint green. At least Theresa and her mom kept telling me yellow and green were neutral.” Ryan pushed his head against the head rest. “And we had a dresser already. It was practically full with all the things Kirsten had bought.” Ryan glanced at Ryan. “There were blankets and little snuggly outfits with no feet, but like a dress at the bottom. There were these… Theresa called them stretchies.” He paused to catch his breath.
“You know Kirsten, she loves to shop.”
“I don’t know what we’ll do with all the things. Maybe we’ll give them away to charity for a couple that can’t afford things.”
“That’s a lovely thought.”
Ryan let his mind wander back to his summer in Chino. He and Theresa avoided talking about the baby as much as possible. Even when they were preparing for its arrival, they never discussed how they felt about being parents or what this meant to them. “I wasn’t ready to be a father,” he blurted out.
“You’re too young,” Sandy agreed.
“But I did the right thing.”
Sandy clutched the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. “You did what you thought you had to do.”
“Would you have done differently?”
“I don’t know, kid.”
“I couldn’t let her raise my baby on her own. That wouldn’t have been right.”
“I just didn’t want you to stop being a child yourself, when you finally had a chance to be one. Teen parents don’t realize that they lose a part of themselves when they become responsible for someone else at such a young age.”
Sandy braked as the traffic ahead of them slowed down. It looked like there was an accident.
“I’m glad I’m home,” said Ryan.
“It’s hard to believe I’m going to actually start school tomorrow.” Ryan looked straight ahead, his gaze never wavering. “Don’t tell Seth, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Sandy smirked. “Your secret is safe with me. I always believed lots of kids were secretly glad to go back to school after a long summer break. It gets boring after a while.”
Ryan shrugged. “I never took school very seriously until Harbor.”
“It’s a good fit.” Sandy glanced at Ryan briefly, and then turned his eyes back onto the road. “And it’s a new year. It’s going to be different.”
They sat in companionable silence, inching along the highway until finally they passed the two cars blocking the way. It looked like a simple fender bender and Ryan was relieved that things would be okay for those people.
“Will you come in with me?” he asked, breaking the silence. “When I get my things together?” He didn’t want to face Theresa alone.
Sandy cupped the back of Ryan’s neck. “That’s what I’m here fore. You can lean on me.”
Twenty minutes later, Sandy pulled up in front of Theresa’s house. He turned the ignition off and waited for Ryan to exit the car. He could see Ryan taking deep breathes as if to gather up his courage. But Ryan eventually alighted from the car and trudged up the front walk to Theresa’s house.
Ryan rang the bell and waited a beat. When no one answered and he couldn’t hear any movement inside, he rang again. After the third try he dug into his front pocket and pulled out a set of keys.
“I guess they’re at church. Theresa’s mom is very religious. Every once in a while she manages to convince Theresa to join her.”
“We can leave them a note saying we were here and call them later. Chino isn’t that far a drive. You can see Theresa anytime you want or we can wait for them. It’s your choice.”
“Thanks,” Ryan answered as he concentrated on the stiff lock. Yet another item he hadn’t found the time to fix.
He entered the house and walked through the living room to his and Theresa’s room.
It was empty.
The top of the dresser was cleared of all of Theresa’s knickknacks and toiletries. The bed was stripped bare. He took a long step to the closet and yanked it open. It was empty except for his now full duffle bag carefully left on the floor. He wrenched open a dresser drawer and that too was bare. Ryan leaned his head against the top of the wooden dresser and something sharp poked at the corner of his eye.
It was a letter addressed to him.
I’m sorry. I needed to find myself again and to figure out a way to cope. Mom called my cousin in Atlanta and she agreed I could stay with her. Maybe I’ll be back one day, but for now this is for the best. I packed your things and left them in the closet. Thank you for being there for me and as sad as I am, I’m glad for you. After finding people like the Cohens, you didn’t deserve to be dragged down again.
Ryan felt Sandy’s presence behind him. He turned around to face the man he had come to think of as a father figure.
Hands deep in his slacks, Sandy swallowed, realizing what Ryan was facing once again. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
Ryan picked up the duffle from the closet and walked passed Sandy. His guardian put one arm around him as he used the other to pull Theresa’s bedroom door closed behind him.