So, wow. It's over. Thank you all so much for reading and commenting. I'm glad I got to share this with you! And, always and forever, mad crazy love to Sarah, who is, by far, the best beta EVER. Ever.
[gulp] Here goes...The End. Enjoy...
I was upset you see,
almost all the time.
You used to be a stranger,
now you are mine
I was a short fuse
burning all the time.
You were a complete stranger,
now you are mine.
--"Regret," The Get Up Kids
"Hey, Kirsten?" Ryan poked his head into the living room.
"Yeah, honey?" Kirsten stood up and turned around. "Did you—" she stopped suddenly and looked as though she were about to cry.
"I'm sorry, Ryan. You just look so handsome."
Ryan fidgeted uncomfortably with the neck of his gown. Kirsten walked over to him and enveloped him in a huge hug. When she pulled away, there were tears in her eyes. She laughed.
"I'm sorry. But at least if I get it all out now, I won't embarrass you later." She wiped her eyes and smiled. "Did you need something?"
Ryan handed her his cap. "I don't know…" he started.
She smiled again. As she tried to position the cap on his head, she looked at him.
"Ryan, I cannot tell you how proud we are of you. You have accomplished so much since you got here. I mean, you got a full scholarship to Berkeley. That's amazing." She paused as she stood back to admire her handiwork. "You're a wonderful young man, Ryan." She touched the side of his face lovingly. "We love you very much. I'm so glad you came to us."
Ryan tried to speak, but he knew that even if his heart weren't in his throat, he would never be able to thank her for all she and Sandy had done for him. They had given him a home, and a family, and a future. It was more than he could ever hope to express. Instead, he opted for another hug.
"I love you, too," he whispered, and again Kristen smiled through her tears.
Upstairs, Sandy knocked on Seth's bedroom door.
"Hey, kid, you almost ready?" Sandy opened the door and stepped just inside to see Seth standing in front of his mirror, wrestling with his graduation cap.
Seth sighed in frustration and threw his hands to his side.
"The cap hates me. The cap wants me to suffer."
Sandy smiled. "It's the, what do you call it? Oh, the Jewfro. Graduation caps are anti-Semitic." He took the cap from Seth and positioned it perfectly on his head.
Seth checked his reflection in the mirror. "Thanks, Dad."
"You're welcome." Sandy paused. "Seth…" he began, but his voice faltered slightly.
Seth turned to face Sandy, wide-eyed. He expected an embarrassing blubbering scene from his mother, but this might be too much. Sandy smiled awkwardly. "Okay. Two, maybe three emotional comments, then we go back to the witty sarcasm. Deal?"
Seth nodded, and Sandy continued, clearing his throat. "Things have changed a lot since Ryan came to live with us. I feel like I've gotten to know you much better, and I just wanted to say that it's been an honor watching you grow up, being your father. I'm very proud of you, Seth, and I love you."
Seth could feel a lump rising in his chest to his throat, and he blinked rapidly. "That was actually four comments."
Sandy smiled again. "I owe you one." He hugged him, and Seth thought about Ryan, and the truth in his dad's words, and said another silent thank you.
"Guys! Let's go!"
Sandy patted Seth on the back as they walked down the stairs. Before Kirsten could say anything, Seth held up a warning finger.
"No. No crying, no gushing, no commenting on how handsome I look, and do NOT touch the hat."
Kirsten frowned, and Ryan and Sandy sort of tried to stifle a laugh.
"Fine. Then let's go. I don't want to be late."
Sandy grabbed the camera bag and walked past the two boys. "You heard the woman. Let's go." He followed Kirsten out the door.
Seth kissed Ryan quickly on the lips. "You look ridiculous," he whispered.
"Well, at least we match," Ryan replied, following Seth to the car.
Most of the ceremony was a blur. Ryan tried to pay attention, because in addition to being one of those 'once in a lifetime' moments, it was also a 'I never thought I could make it this far' moments, and Ryan really wanted to relish it. After a while, though, Ryan's mind drifted to Seth, and spending the entire summer without him. He hadn't mentioned anything, and he was surprised that Seth hadn't been talking about Spain non-stop. Maybe Seth was just as conflicted about the summer and their time apart. Ryan's stomach tied itself into every nautical knot Seth had taught him.
Afterwards, Ryan smiled for pictures until his jaw hurt. Surprisingly, Marissa didn't flinch at the suggestion of a picture of the five of them together. Seth had squeezed his shoulder just as the camera flashed, and Ryan knew that picture would be his favorite.
Once they were back home, Ryan went out to the poolhouse to change for dinner. Kirsten and Sandy had opted, at Seth's insistent pleading, for a nice, quiet family dinner at home, as opposed to a huge, ridiculous party, and Ryan was grateful. He chose the same shirt and pants as he had worn on his date with Seth, and he knew Seth would notice and smile at him when no one was looking. Just as he was slipping on his shoes, there was a knock at the door, and he looked up to see Sandy waving at him from the other side of the glass. Ryan motioned for him to come in, and he did, closing the door behind him.
"Hey, kid. You look sharp."
Ryan smiled self-consciously. "Thanks."
"Kirsten wanted me to come down here and let you know that dinner is ready. And by that, of course, she means it has arrived. And everyone is here, so we're going to eat soon."
"Great. Let's go." Ryan walked towards the door, but Sandy didn't move.
"Ryan, I actually wanted to talk to you for a moment, if I could, before we join everyone else."
Sandy's voice was serious, and Ryan's stomach dropped. "Uh, sure, Sandy. What's wrong?"
Sandy must've recognized his serious tone, because he smiled and said lightly, "Nothing's wrong. I'm just not very good with public displays. I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you. When we met two years ago, I never imagined this is where we would end up, and I gotta tell you, I couldn't be happier. You brought big changes to this family—to the whole town, even—and not a day goes by that I'm not grateful for your presence in my life." Sandy smiled. "I would hug you, but I know you're not into that kind of thing, so instead, I'll settle for a handshake." Sandy held his hand out, and Ryan looked at it for a second before stepping forward and hugging Sandy. There was no way a simple handshake would ever convey what he was feeling.
When Ryan stepped away, Sandy looked surprised, and there might have been tears in his eyes. "Well, this day is turning out to be a lot more emotional that I had anticipated. Let's go eat, huh?"
Ryan nodded, smiling, and he knew his ears were turning red, but he didn't care. He had just graduated high school, and he was going to have dinner with his family, and he was in love, really in love, and things just couldn't get any better.
"Can I have your attention, please?" Caleb clinked his fork against his water glass. Everyone stopped talking at looked at him, standing at the head of the huge table set up in the backyard. He smiled.
"This is a familiar scene, only this time, instead of celebrating a wedding," he paused and smiled at Julie, "we're celebrating a graduation. Similar events, though, in that they both signify the end of one life and the beginning of another, bigger and better than the one before. And, of course, there are presents." Everyone laughed quietly, and Ryan looked at Seth questioningly, but if Seth knew what was going on, his expression did not betray it.
"First, of course, my step-daughter, Marissa." Julie stood up next to Caleb and smiled at her daughter, and to her credit, Marissa gave her a genuinely happy smile. "Sweetie, we've been through a lot in the past few years," she began, her voice slightly faltering, "but I think we've made it through the worst. We love you very much, and we're very proud of you. We want you to have this." Julie handed her a large manila envelope, and when Marissa examined the contents, she looked up at her mother, mouth agape.
"Well, what it is?" Seth's question broke the silence.
"It's an itinerary. For an entire summer in Europe." Marissa stood up and walked over to her mother, hugging her. Julie smiled. "Yes, a parent free, stress free summer in Europe. Jimmy, Caleb, and I thought you might enjoy that." Marissa looked from her mother, to her father, to Caleb. "Thank you so much," she whispered as she rounded the table to hug her dad. She sat back down beside him, then, thinking better of it, stood and walked to Caleb, giving him a hug, as well. She sat back down, clutching the envelope to her chest.
Sandy stood up. "Okay, I guess it's our turn." Kirsten stood up and handed Marissa and Summer small, delicately wrapped boxes. "These are for you girls. Congratulations." Marissa opened the box and gently lifted a small pendant on a chain. "It's beautiful. Thank you." Summer fastened her own matching necklace behind her neck and smiled. "Thank you so much, Kirsten. It's beautiful."
Kirsten smiled. "You're welcome, both of you. My mother gave me a necklace just like that one when I graduated, and while I didn't think Seth or Ryan would appreciate the sentiment, I knew you two would." Each of the girls rose and hugged Kirsten and Sandy sweetly. When Sandy acted like he was going to sit back down, Seth cleared his throat loudly.
"Oh, that's right. I almost forgot." Kirsten hit him gently on the arm, and he grinned. "Okay, guys, you know we're not made of money—" Kirsten hit him again, smiling—"so you're going to have to share a present this time. Sandy pulled a very small box from his pocket. "Do we want to draw straws to see who gets to open it?"
Ryan laughed. "I think we'd better let Seth, before he explodes." Seth shot Ryan a look he had almost perfected, but Ryan just smiled. Seth took the box and shook it gently. "It's very small," he said, eyeing his parents suspiciously.
"Cohen, just open it," Summer snapped impatiently.
Seth lifted the lid of the small box and pulled out a key chain with a large key dangling from it. "Is this…?" Seth asked, his eyes wide.
"Yes, it is, son. Your very own key to the Range Rover." Kirsten elbowed Sandy again, and this time he held his side and winced. "What your father means is that it's a key for each of you, to your new RX8. We're going to pick it up tomorrow. You'll have to share, of course, but since you're rooming together, we didn't think it would be that much of a problem."
Seth flew out of his chair and over to his parents, hugging them tightly. "This is the coolest thing ever! Thank you so much." He looked at Ryan, grinning. "Dude, our own wheels. How cool is that?"
Ryan sat in his chair, eyes wide. It was very cool indeed. Sandy pulled Ryan's key out of the box and tossed it at him, and Ryan caught it instinctively, holding it out in his palm. He couldn't believe it.
"Now, Ryan, you will have to force Seth to share with you. He does have sixteen years of only child syndrome to overcome." Kirsten's voice was teasing, and she was beaming at him. He smiled a goofy, lopsided grin, and stood to hug them both.
"Okay, one more. I have something for my grandsons." Caleb's voice was loud enough to carry over the chatter, and Ryan noticed the 's' on the end of that word, and his heart fluttered a little. Seth noticed, too, and raised an eyebrow at Ryan.
"Since Seth already knows what his present is, we'll start with Ryan." Ryan shot Seth another look, but Seth just grinned.
"Now, it's no secret that I wasn't all that thrilled when Kiki and Sandy took you in," Caleb began, and Ryan knew it could go either way at this point. "But, over the past two years, I've watched you, and you're a remarkable young man. Your methods aren't always the best, but you're fiercely loyal, and I can respect that. In fact, I admire it." Ryan felt the tips of his ears getting red, and he couldn't believe Caleb was saying any of this. After dinner, he would discuss the possibility of an alien abduction with Seth.
"Kiki and Sandy told me that you got a full scholarship to Berkeley. Very impressive." Ryan felt his cheeks burning. "Kiki also told me you were thinking about becoming an architect. Therefore, I want you to have this." Caleb handed him an envelope. When Ryan opened it, he saw a check, made out to him, for more money than he could ever have imagined existed. "That should be enough to support you through your first year. We can't have you working all the time, and neglecting your schoolwork. If you're going to work for me, you're going to have to be the best." Ryan's face was burning, but he found the ability to stand and shake Caleb's hand. When he looked at Kirsten, she was still beaming at him. "Gotta keep the family business in the family, right?" She smiled warmly.
"Okay, now, Seth…as planned, here is your gift." Caleb handed Seth an envelope like Ryan's, but it was thick with paperwork. Seth opened it and flipped through it, grinning madly. When he noticed everyone looking at him, he announced, "It's a sailboat. A huge, gorgeous, amazing sailboat, upon which I will be traveling to Tahiti this summer. We leave tomorrow."
Seth smiled at Ryan, but Ryan's heart was in his throat. Tomorrow. Seth would be leaving tomorrow for, what, three months? He tried to return the smile, but couldn't. He heard Kirsten say, "Okay, now that's done, let's continue this celebration inside." and watched as everyone stood and made their way inside.
"You coming, Ryan?" Sandy clasped a hand on his shoulder.
"Um, actually, I think I'm going to take a walk. I'm a little…overwhelmed. I need a minute." Sandy smiled understandingly. "We'll see you inside later." He took a few steps inside. "Seth?"
"Uh, I'm going to intrude on Ryan's personal space a little, Dad," he replied, watching Ryan walk down towards the water.
"Okay. We'll see you guys in the morning. We're leaving early for the marina."
"Night, Dad!" Seth called, jogging to catch up with Ryan. When he did, he raced up beside him. "Hey, where you going?"
Ryan didn't turn, just kept walking. "I just needed a little air."
"Cool." Seth matched his pace with Ryan's, and put his hands in his pockets. "We shouldn't take too long, though, because we still have to pack."
Ryan stopped mid-step and turned to Seth. "What do you mean, pack?"
"We're leaving tomorrow. Didn't you hear me say that?"
"Well, yeah, but I just thought…I mean, I thought you and your grandpa would go."
Seth rolled his eyes. "Okay, first, I love my grandpa, but I'm not spending 84 days on a boat with him. I would die." Seth lowered his voice and stepped towards Ryan, taking his hand. "I'm also not spending 84 days anywhere without you." Seth smiled. "So, I was thinking, if you still have that map, you could navigate, and we could sail to Tahiti this summer."
Ryan blinked a few times, trying to sort out everything in his mind. So, basically, tomorrow morning he was sailing to Tahiti. With Seth.
"Yeah, that's pretty much it." Seth replied, and Ryan realized he had been talking out loud.
"I—I don't even know—" Ryan stopped and kissed Seth, wrapping his arms around his waist. Seth leaned into him, curling his fingers in Ryan's hair.
The whole summer, alone, on a boat with Seth, sailing to Tahiti. Ryan couldn't think of a better way to spend a hundred days.
The next morning, Seth came down the poolhouse early, before anyone was awake. He opened the door quietly, and locked it behind him. He crawled into bed beside Ryan, careful not to wake him. He lay there for a moment, watching Ryan sleep. It had been almost impossible keeping the sailboat a secret from Ryan since that afternoon he had picked it out with his grandpa, but he had wanted to surprise Ryan. He didn't know what his parents or grandpa thought about his decision to take Ryan to Tahiti, but he didn't really care. It's like his parents said, they were inseparable. Seth liked it that way.
Seth closed his eyes and tried to imagine what Ryan was going to look like on the beach in Tahiti, sun gleaming off his arms.
"What are you thinking about?"
Seth opened his eyes when he heard Ryan's voice, but he didn't stop smiling. He wondered if he had ever noticed how cute Ryan looked with bedhead.
"I was just imagining us on the beach in Tahiti."
Ryan returned Seth's smile. "I can't wait."
Seth leaned up and looked over Ryan's shoulder to the clock on the nightstand. "We should get up and get going. Mom and Dad will be up soon. They're driving us to the dock. You all packed?"
Ryan gestured to the duffel bag by the door.
"That's it? Man, I have, like, four bags."
"What's in them?"
"All the necessities. My iPod, batteries, sunscreen, tons of comics, a notebook in case I get inspired to work on the as-yet-nonexistent novel—"
Seth trailed off as Ryan kissed a line down his neck. "Are you planning on getting bored?"
Seth kissed Ryan's temple. "Nooo. But, I mean, let's face it. I have serious ADD issues. There's no way you can keep me occupied 24 hours a day for a hundred days. I'm just trying to be prepared."
Ryan trailed kisses down Seth's shoulder. "I could try," he said, looking up at Seth longingly.
Seth swallowed. "I might need to repack."
Ryan smiled. "Too late. We really do need to get going." He climbed out of bed and headed to the bathroom. "I'm gonna grab a quick shower. I'll be right back."
Seth stood and tried to follow him. "You know, Ry, I could help. I wield a mighty loofah."
Ryan tried not to laugh. "Later. On the boat. Go pack your loofah."
Seth smiled and kissed Ryan quickly. "I'm gonna go get my stuff together. I'll see you inside."
As Seth walked towards the door, he noticed a small folded map lying on top of Ryan's bag. Picking it up, he smiled to himself as he unfolded it carefully. He had been right. It was great for ideas.