So it's time to wrap this one up. Just a couple of things...Thanks to one and all for the great reviews! This one was an adventure to write and I'm glad many of you tagged along for the ride. I must admit...the "sleepover" mentioned in this chapter here was something my parents and I did until I was 17 if something was bothering me! No, you don't actually 'sleep-over'...it's just a night filled will board games! Just clarifying that. LOL! Perks of being an only child I guess! And yes, I am somewhat superstitious and have known people that go through Ryan's motions at the end of the story. It's all in what you believe in I suppose. Oh....and no...I don't think Ryan would have ever pulled the stunt at the end of this one in front of Sandy the way he does...nor do I think Sandy would tolerate it the way he does here. But...this is my story and I'm sticking to it! LOL! : D This one got a little bit lengthy, and yet I didn't want to split it up. I hope you all enjoy the ending of this one....and I hope to offer some new, upbeat...funny material in the near future. ENJOY!
When Darkness Falls – Chapter 6
Ryan's face contorted into sheer confusion. "He's dead? Are you...sure?"
"The person that called me still works in the Public Defender's Office. He knows about you and he knows about AJ. I asked him to keep his ears open for me after that whole episode with AJ at the charity event set up, on the loading dock. I was worried he would come after you again and I didn't think it would hurt anything to have an extra set of eyes and ears on the inside helping us out." Sandy's tone was quiet, but he was clearly unnerved by the unexpected phone call.
"He's dead..." Ryan's face went pale and his eyes darted back and forth trying to absorb this new information. It felt like a cruel trick. AJ couldn't be dead. AJ never even got hurt, how could he be dead? Years of struggling against AJ's wrath blurred through Ryan's mind. The visions left him dizzy and he grabbed for the counter.
"Whoa Ryan...easy there. How about we sit you down? Are you okay?" By now Sandy was starting to second-guess his decision to just blurt out the new information to Ryan. Helping Ryan to a chair, he watched him carefully. He was wishing he shared Ryan's talent for reading people. He knew the wheels in Ryan's head were turning at warp speed but he couldn't even begin to imagine what this kid was thinking.
"Ryan..." he paused, waiting for Ryan to look at him. "Everything's going to be okay. It's over. It's finally over. He's gone."
Ryan stared back at Sandy, his eyebrows furled deep with concentration. He wanted to ask Sandy to pinch him, to somehow prove to him that this was real.
This news had knocked Ryan for a loop. What Sandy couldn't understand was, why wasn't Ryan...happy? This monster that had hurt him, repeatedly, was gone. He would never return. Sandy was having a hard time understanding what was so confusing to Ryan. Just when he was considering asking him, Ryan beat him to the punch.
"I want to see him."
Sandy's mouth dropped open at that request. "What? Why?"
And it didn't take Seth long to put his two cents in, "Ryan I don't think that's a good idea. This is great news. Your life is totally yours now."
"You don't understand," Ryan tried to explain. "I need to see him. I want to see him lying there stone cold and stiff. If I don't do that, I'll never believe it's true. I thought he was gone when I came here. I thought I was safe from him here, yet he found me. I need to prove to myself that he's really dead. If I don't...then he's still out there."
"Okay son," Sandy gave in after hesitating. "If that's what you need, that's what we'll do. We'll go. We can all go with you if you want. As long as you understand you have the right to change your mind at any time. You do not...have to do this."
"Spoken like a true attorney Sandy. I have to do this. I just...I have to."
"Okay kid. We'll get through this..."
Ryan couldn't relax at all that night. Every time he'd close his eyes, his subconscious reminded him that he'd be face to face again with AJ the next day. Dead or alive, the thought was intimidating. He wasn't able to close his eyes for more than a few minutes without the visions returning and taking control of his thoughts. When he couldn't stand it any more, he got out of his bed, pulled sweatpants on and went into the house. Shuffling through the dark house, he hoped Seth was still awake. Maybe he'd have some ideas for getting Ryan's mind off of the next day's events.
"Seth?" Tapping on the bedroom door, Ryan pushed it open to find the room empty. "Where the hell is he?"
Ryan wandered aimlessly to Sandy and Kirsten's bedroom door. He was relieved to see the door open and the lights on inside the room. They were still awake.
Knocking on the open door, "Sandy? Kirsten?"
"Ryan? Come in, come in," Sandy offered.
"I'm sorry. I know it's late."
"Oh it's fine Ryan, we're wide awake. Is everything okay?" Kirsten was worried about Ryan. He looked extremely skittish.
Ryan nodded, but he couldn't bring himself to look directly at Kirsten. "I'm fine. I was just...I shouldn't have bothered you. I'll see you guys in the morning."
"Ryan, hold up a minute. You can talk to us you know. Are you having second thoughts about tomorrow?"
Raising his head, "Yeah...I mean no. I still want to go tomorrow. I just...this is hard for me," he hesitated. "I don't want to be alone tonight." His face flushed with embarrassment. He wasn't used to asking for help, but tonight was more than he could bear. He needed help whether he liked it or not.
"Hey son, it's going to be okay. You don't have to go through this alone. And you can still..."
"I have to do this Sandy."
"Ryan, what are you doing in here?" Seth's interjection surprised everyone in the room. "Dad I need the Arts & Leisure section, you got it?"
"Hey Seth, Ryan needs our help to relax a little bit tonight. Got any ideas?"
"Dude! You've come to the right person! Yeah I do...SLEEPOVER!!!" Seth took a running dive up the middle of his parents' bed and landed between them. "Come on Ryan, give it a try."
Ryan forgot about AJ all right. He couldn't believe what Seth was asking him to do. Seth did this every now and then. He'd come up with an idea that seemed straight out of fourth grade. And this was one of them! "Seth, I'm not jumping on your parents bed."
"Ryan you have to! It's THE only way to start a sleepover! Come on try it!"
"Seth...you haven't had a sleepover in here since you were seven years old." Sandy tried coming to Ryan's aid, but it was hopeless. Seth's 'Operation Sleepover was already in motion.
"Dad, Ryan has NEVER had a sleepover! He is LONG overdue and you're depriving him! This is a momentous occasion in his life!"
"That's okay Seth. I think I can get by without it." Ryan had a whole new reason to be nervous now. It was bad enough he felt he was acting like a little boy instead of a man by asking the Cohens to keep him company tonight without Seth glorifying the event by turning it into a slumber party.
Before Ryan could turn to leave, "I don't know Ryan," Kirsten smirked. "Seth might be onto something. Besides, it's not as bad as it sounds. It's definitely not as big a deal as Seth is making it out to be. We don't sleep, we play board games."
"I'm 16. I'm not jumping on your bed. And I'm not doing a sleepover."
"Ah, see what's happening here Seth? He thinks he's too big for board games. That's what the problem is," Kirsten added.
Ryan forced his eyebrows down. Crackers. All of them were completely crackers. This was proving to be one of those cheesy 'family' things that the Cohens did from time to time and it just was not Ryan's 'thing'. "I'm just gonna go...watch TV or something..." Shaking his head, he turned to leave the room.
"NO! Ryan wait! Seth bounded over Sandy and blocked Ryan's path. "You can't leave. You can't. Trust us Ryan. This is exactly what you need."
"Seth, I was stressed out when I came in here. You're causing me more stress. That means you're not helping!"
"Okay, so that might be true. I seem to cause stress for a lot of people. But you haven't even given it a try."
"Ryan! Just try it. You're gonna love it. I swear. There must have been things that you didn't want to try before and someone forced you to do it and maybe you liked some of them and maybe you hated some of them. Like Trey asking you to steal that car..."
"SETH!!! I thought we agreed we were done talking about my past!" Ryan shot back.
"Oh this is getting good Kirsten. We should have made popcorn..." Sandy mocked, leaning against the headboard.
"Wrong Ryan! Stealing the car brought you to me, and that makes that incident part of my history. I'm only required to ignore your history Buddy...I can do what I want with my own."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means you need us tonight and we wanna help you! And as your brother I'm telling you to get your ass over there and jump on that bed and have some fun with us for a while!"
Ryan narrowed his eyes at Seth. "Are you raising your voice at me?"
Folding his arms nervously in front of himself, "Yeah I was...just a little bit. Don't hurt me though. I was going for that intimidation thing so you'd know I was serious."
"It was good. I'm proud of you."
"Seriously? Well...good. Because I meant it."
Seth and Ryan stood staring at each other with Ryan sighing loudly before looking at the floor. This was minty. Extremely minty. And it seemed Ryan wasn't going to get out of it.
"I've got the game," Kirsten said, sitting on the bed with the Monopoly box. "So who's in?"
"I'm in," Sandy answered, folding his newspaper and throwing it on the floor next to the bed.
"I'm in," Seth added with just a little too much excitement in his voice for Ryan's taste.
"So, what do you think Ryan?" Kirsten hoped he would drop the tough guy act and just be the kid he really is if even for a few hours. The next day was going to hold enough drama for everyone.
Ryan looked at each of the Cohen faces. He was clearly outnumbered. "Alright, I'll play the game but I'm not..."
"AWESOME!!! Come right over here, there ya go. Now pay attention Ryan, the spring off the floor is extremely important. Once again, Seth leaped onto the bed and sat himself across from Sandy, tapping the empty blanket space across from Kirsten.
Ryan gaped at the blanket, then looked at the Cohens...then looked back to the blanket. Shaking his head, finally he leaned forward and slowly crawled up the bed to his place next to Seth and across from Kirsten. Still embarrassed he kept his eyes low while Kirsten set up the game.
"I'm impressed Ryan. I'll give you a nine for courage," Sandy joked.
"Yeah but he's really gotta work on his form. I'm only giving him a six for his form. It's okay Ryan. This is only your first sleepover. You'll improve in time."
"Seth, stop calling this a sleepover. I said I'm playing the game but that's it." He could handle a round of Monopoly but he was sleeping in his own bed when this was over with and he would never even consider the idea of jumping on Sandy and Kirsten's bed. As ridiculous as all of this was, it was better than letting thoughts of AJ rule his mind for the next hour or two.
"Whatever you say Buddy."
Ryan noticed Sandy and Kirsten exchange a smirk.
The game began and minutes quickly turned into hours as icons and money went around the board. Hotels were built and empires were shattered. Kirsten turned out to be the first casualty of the evening followed soon after by Ryan. Seth and Sandy however were going strong.
Ryan sprawled out and propped himself up on one elbow to watch the rest of the game, or so he thought. It didn't take long before his arm stretched out and he was lying on his side watching the game. Seth and Sandy were still going at it with vigor. Both wanted to be the winner and no one was giving in. The pieces on the board were blurring and the conversation, even though it was lively was starting to fall on deaf ears where Ryan was concerned. His eyes closed, for what he only meant to be a minute, but he couldn't fight off the sleep and the darkness came.
Seth sat on the bed reading a comic, bopping his head to his own silent tune. Looking over he saw Ryan raise his head and stop.
"I did not just sleep here... What the hell am I doing here? How the hell did I fall asleep here?" Disgustedly shaking his head.
"Dude, I don't know. We lost you somewhere around Pennsylvania Avenue. What's the matter Ryan? Need Mom to assign you an earlier bedtime? Not a big enough boy to stay awake for late night Monopoly?"
Ryan turned his head to Seth and his face had "F-you!" written all over it.
"I'm just funnin' with ya man. Calm down. It's too early to be that pissed."
Ryan shook his head before letting it drop down into the pillows. "Where are your parents? More importantly, where did they sleep?" he muffled into the pillow.
"Well, after you crashed out, I triumphed in the world of Monopoly. Sorry you missed it. We put the game away and we moved you and..."
"You moved me?" Ryan asked, unable to believe that he didn't wake up.
"Yeah. We moved you. Remember, you were sitting down there. We couldn't let you sleep there, you would have fallen off the bed."
"Yeah but, you moved me?" Ryan repeated.
"It's really not that big of a deal Ryan. We just kept pulling on you until we got you up here. Mom tucked you in because, you know, she's Mom. You were in a coma Ryan. You didn't even babble."
Ryan shot a warning look at Seth for the second time.
"Again with the evil eyes! So to answer your question, my Dad slept in my bed and my Mom slept in the guest room. My Mom was actually excited about it because apparently my Dad is a blanket thief. I realize that's more info than we need but they were totally cool with it. They were actually pretty happy that you were able to sleep a little bit. Congrats dude. You made it through your first sleepover."
Sitting up in the bed, for the first time he remembered what the day was going to hold for him. "Today is the funeral home. AJ."
"Yeah. You sure about this?" Seth paused before Ryan nodded hesitantly. "Okay. I'll go with you if you want."
Ryan thought on it for a minute before nodding again. "I'd like that. I'm gonna need all the help I can get today," he offered quietly. This admitting weakness stuff was new to him and he still didn't like giving up the power, the control. That in itself was scary.
"You got us, all of us. We're not gonna let you do this alone."
"Ryan, it's time to go." Sandy tried to make his words sound calm. He knew Ryan was a total basket case even though he was doing his damnedest to hide his emotions.
The day went by surprisingly fast, "Isn't that always the way when something dreaded is lurking?" Ryan thought to himself. Taking a deep breath, he stood up from his bed and eyed himself in the mirror. Most people wear black to a visitation out of respect for the dead, but, since Ryan had no respect for AJ he had no intention of wearing black. In the mirror was the kid the Cohens had saved, not a stitch of Chino to be seen. He had chosen his outfit carefully. Even though he didn't necessary believe in ghosts and the afterlife, he wasn't taking any chances. If AJ could 'see' him from where ever he was, Ryan wanted to make sure he could see how far he'd come without him. He wore his brand new blue jeans, no holes, no stains. He wore a pristine white tank top, sure he wore those in Chino, but this one was new and clean and he happened to like wearing them. On top of the tank top he wore a royal blue, silk shirt, a gift from Kirsten during one of her many shopping sprees for Ryan. He made a point of wearing his new watch that Sandy gave him. AJ had pawned his old watch back in Chino in order to buy drugs and then he told Ryan he didn't need a new one. Lastly he wore his new black boots, another gift from Kirsten with Seth's help. No more scuffed toes and broken shoelaces. Everything he wore was new. Gifts from people who cared about him and felt he deserved the best.
The car ride was sheer torture for Ryan. On several occasions he considered asking Sandy to stop the car, thinking he was going to be sick. Kirsten lowered her sun visor to apply some lipstick and conveniently left in down, the mirror allowing her full view of Ryan sitting behind her. Her mothering instinct was strong. Even if Ryan felt just a little green in the gills, she was already asking him if he was okay. She must have asked him that question eight times during the hour-long ride to Chino.
When they finally pulled into the funeral home's parking lot, Ryan couldn't hide his nerves any longer. He pushed himself back against the car seat and attempted to control his breathing. Concerned Kirsten turned around and found Ryan locking eyes with her. His mouth was clenched shut and his chest was rising and falling rapidly, panicked. Even though Ryan didn't say a thing, his eyes were definitely crying out for help. He was terrified.
Reaching into the back seat, Kirsten placed her hand on his leg. "It's okay Ryan. We're all here with you. We're in no hurry. We can sit here as long as you need to. Just take your time okay?" She kept her hand on his knee and he kept his vision locked on her. No one said anything. Everyone in the car knew how tough this was going to be on Ryan and no one wanted to say or do anything to make it harder on him.
Several minutes had gone by and Ryan was still struggling to get a grip on his nerves. He hadn't taken his eyes off of Kirsten, not for a second.
"Ryan, I'm going to come around and open your door. You don't have to get out I just think the air would be good for you. Okay?"
Ryan quickly nodded and swallowed hard as Kirsten did exactly what she said she was going to do. "There we go. Seth, open your door a bit too. We'll get some air going back here." Kirsten leaned on the door and put her hand over Ryan's. He immediately grabbed her hand and held it tight. Closing his eyes, his chin shook momentarily but he managed to keep it under control.
Twenty five minutes had gone by before he felt strong enough to exit the car. "Okay. Let's just get this over with so we can go home."
"Just remember Ryan, we can get outta here whenever you want. Just say the word and we'll go." Sandy hoped Ryan would come out of this in one piece. The poor kid hadn't even gotten out of the car yet and he was out of sorts.
Ryan nodded in acknowledgement and everyone got out of the car and just stared at the door to the funeral parlor. They were the only car in the parking lot. Sandy had purposely contacted the director asking for a private visit. He didn't want any of AJ's acquaintances starting in on Ryan. Kirsten stepped up and took Ryan's arm and Seth stepped up and wrapped his arm around Ryan's shoulder and they started walking slowly toward the door.
The funeral home stunk with some unidentified smell. Sandy thought it was from standing water, Kirsten thought it was mold. All Ryan could think of was AJ's dead body in the next room. He knew that wasn't the case but it came to mind anyway. The director led them to the chapel where AJ was laid out. The funeral home was small only ten rows of seats separated Ryan in the doorway from AJ in his casket at the front of the room. Stepping over the threshold to the room, Ryan came to a dead stop. Kirsten noticed his breathing pick up again and he was trembling.
"Ryan if this is close enough you don't have to..."
"No." He cut off Kirsten's sugar coating and pulled his arms loose. Somehow he found the strength to walk up to the front row of seats. There he caught the first honestly glimpse of AJ. Dead.
Kirsten poked at Seth and whispered, "Don't let him do this alone...get up there with him." Seth was nervous himself but he wanted to show Ryan he had his back so he walked up to Ryan's side.
"Is that him?" Seth asked quietly, cautiously.
"Yeah," Ryan answered with barely a voice. Slowly Ryan stepped forward one step at a time as if the ground below him could give way at any minute. He made it all the way up to the casket, only an arm's reach away from AJ before he stopped and glared at the body. AJ was wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and a worn leather biker vest. No different than Ryan had seen him on any given Saturday. He searched AJ's face and remembered the anger that spilled from his mouth on so many occasions. Then he looked at his hands and remembered the violence and the pain they inflicted on him. Just enough anger was rumbling inside of Ryan to motivate him up to the side of the casket.
"Ry...Ryan...what are you doing?" Seth looked back to his parents who had come up to the front near the casket.
Raising a trembling hand, Ryan extended his arm over the body, his hand hovering over AJ's tattooed arm. Just as he lowered his hand to touch AJ, something crashed in the next room causing Ryan to snatch his hand away from the open coffin and practically jump out of his skin. His heart was pounding so fast he felt dizzy. He had to do this. He just had to. Stepping back up to AJ, Ryan quickly touched his arm while watching his face. Cold. Ice cold.
Sandy and Kirsten watched with apprehension. Regardless of what was written in his file, regardless of what Ryan admitted on his own, it was painful to watch Ryan come to terms with the monster that had terrorized him for so long. It was heart wrenching to watch the kid. The dead body lying before him still held enough power to scare this kid. But Ryan was about to change that. Forever.
Ryan spoke out loud and he didn't care who heard him. "You can't hurt me anymore. The Cohens are giving me the life you tried to keep me from having. I'm happy and I'm safe...and there's not a fucking thing you can about you son of a bitch. I hope you rot in hell for what you did to me."
Kirsten walked up, extending her arms to Ryan. Turning to her, he buried his head in her shoulder. His body was still trembling and she could feel his chin shaking. He held her tight. Looking over his shoulder, Kirsten got her first close look at AJ. The site of him gave her goose bumps. Even in death the man looked evil. Threatening. Intimidating. Kirsten couldn't even begin to imagine what it could have been like having to face him on a daily basis.
"I want to go home," Ryan mumbled against Kirsten's shoulder. Picking his head up, he gave AJ's body one last glare. "I want to go home and be with my family."
"Okay Ryan. Let's go home. Come on." Kirsten was relieved that this event was over. She understood that Ryan had to see for himself in order to put this behind him. With her arm linked in Ryan's arm, Sandy walked up and put his arm around Ryan's shoulder. Ryan was thankful for the help. His legs felt like tree trunks. This encounter has simply drained him. With Seth in the lead, they walked out of the chapel.
They had only reached the lobby when fate intervened. "Oh my God," Sandy said under his breath. Everyone turned to him to see what caught his attention.
"Ryan? I didn't think...I didn't expect to see you here." Dawn's shocked voice cut through the silence in the funeral home as if it were a chainsaw and Ryan felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "What are you doing here?" Her eyes swollen from tears looked at Ryan, half longing for the son she lost, half confused that she ran into him at this time.
Sandy and Kirsten stood firm next to Ryan. Seth stood with his hands on his hips. They weren't going anywhere.
"I came to make sure he was dead." Ryan's comment was cold and calculated and it cut right to the point.
"Ryan..." Dawn started.
"No, don't even try it." Ryan's voice was getting louder and his tone meant business. "All those years. Years Mom. How could you just stand by and let him do that to me? Not once, never, did you even try to stop him from hurting me. Never." Ryan's voice was starting to shake and his chest rose and fell with emotion. He was glad Sandy and Kirsten were holding him up. He wasn't sure how much more he could take.
"Ryan, you're my son! I love you!" Dawn was crying hysterically but Ryan wasn't buying it. He'd seen this song and dance one too many times.
"No Mom...these guys love me, all of them. They've done more for me in the past six months than you did in the last six years! I came here to put an end to my life in Chino. AJ's gone now. I don't ever want to see you again."
"Ryan please don't say that!" Dawn pleaded.
"I have a chance to do something with my life, to be somebody. At the very least to be with a family cares about me and loves me and they aren't afraid to show it. I'm not blowing this. If you want to ruin your life, fine, go ahead. You're not taking me down with you. I'm going home with my family." Turning away, Ryan pulled against Kirsten and Sandy in the direction of the door. He had had enough.
After the trio had gone through the door, Seth turned around to Dawn, hands still on his hips, "Be happy for him. We love him. We'll take really great care of him. I only wish you would have given him to us sooner. He's wasted a lot of time being unhappy." Seth felt the need to throw down one last dig on his brother's behalf. It felt good to be the one doing the protecting for a change. He owed Ryan a ton of payback in that department. He agreed with Ryan. There must have been plenty of chances for her to protect him and apparently she never did. Mother material she was not. Seth let the door close behind him. He could hear Dawn crying in the lobby...
Two weeks had gone by since the escapade at the funeral parlor. The first few days afterwards were rough. It took time for Ryan to let it all sink in. He really was safe now. No matter what, AJ was not coming back. Not this time. Ryan was starting to get that spring back in his step. There was just one more thing he wanted to do.
"Hey Sandy, there's something I need to do and I was wondering if you'd go with me."
"Sure kid, what are we doing?"
"It's...it's hard to explain. It's going to take a while. I need to go back to Chino to take care of something."
Sandy stood looking at Ryan quizzically. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah. Everything's fine. I just need to take care of something and I thought...since you got me out of Chino...it seemed appropriate that I ask you to come with me."
"Okay. Let's go."
Sandy had no idea where this was leading or what Ryan had in store. All he knew was that Ryan was in a fairly good mood so returning to Chino had to have a good reason behind it. Sites that were familiar to Ryan breezed by outside the car window. While stopped at one particular intersection, they watched a fight on the sidewalk. Ryan exchanged a look with Sandy and the look made Sandy nervous. That mischievous flicker was alive and well in Ryan's eyes again. It was the same flicker that had gotten him into trouble in the past.
"We aren't going to get arrested...are we?"
"Nah. And if we do, I know a pretty good attorney."
"Just pretty good? Not great???"
Ryan laughed at Sandy, "Okay. Yeah he's pretty great."
It didn't take long for Ryan to change the subject and direct Sandy into the parking lot of a convenient store. "Park down over there. You've got a fancy car. You don't want the drunks eyeballing it. I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?"
"I'll be right back..." Slamming the car door behind him, Ryan walked purposefully into the convenient store. Just when Sandy was starting to worry about him, he reappeared and walked back to the car. "Okay Sandy, let's go."
"We're done here?"
Confused, Sandy again followed Ryan's instructions and they came to a stop in front of what was supposed to be a playground. The swings were either broken or missing entirely. All of the equipment was rusting and looked like it hadn't been painted in years. And there wasn't a single child to be found.
"Ryan, what are we doing here?"
"Come on. Walk with me. We're saying goodbye to old memories. I'll keep some of the good ones. But most of what happened in Chino, should stay in Chino."
Confused again, Sandy followed Ryan onto the outskirts of the playground where Ryan prepared to reveal his first secret. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out, not one, but two bottles of beer and handed one to Sandy.
"Ryan...how did you...but when...oh my God, you stole these???"
That devilish smile danced on Ryan's face again. Sandy was speechless. He didn't know what to think, what to do or what to say. Lucky for him, they were on Ryan's turf and Ryan had a plan.
Walking up to the slide, Ryan used the ladder of the slide to pop the cap off his bottle before handing it to Sandy and taking the other bottle and doing the same. Ryan clinked the bottles before taking a sip and turning toward the factories across from the playground.
"My Dad used to work there, even before we moved here. When my Mom would drive out to pick him up, Trey and I would hang out at this playground while we waited for him to get off work. He'd push me on the swings sometimes, telling me I was in a rocket or something." Ryan smiled at the memory of his Dad before he continued. "He did pretty good here until the factory laid off a bunch of workers. That's when everything became a train wreck. He tried to get work but he couldn't and he got desperate. He ended up in jail and I never came back here. He was a good guy for the most part. Nothing like the other guys my Mom brought home. Something happened to her when he went away. She stopped caring...about everything and everyone. You almost done with that beer?"
"Almost done? Ryan you just gave it to me. You aren't planning on getting me drunk or something are you? Kirsten will kill both of us!"
Laughing, "No. We're not getting drunk. We're actually celebrating. I would have asked Kirsten, and even Seth, to come, but I didn't want them to be tainted by all of this. It took all of us, myself included, a long time to accept what happened here and put it in the past for good. No more beatings for me. No more questions from you guys. This is the last page. Today we close the book on Chino for good. Come on. We've got one more stop to make before heading home."
"Ryan we can't take these bottles in the car, they're open."
"Yeah you can. This is Chino. Even the cops have beer here. Just don't wave it in front of the window."
The drove along for a few more minutes, all the while Sandy was trying to guess Ryan's last move. They weren't anywhere near his mother's house. They weren't near any of his old friends, as far as Sandy knew. And he had stolen beer. This was getting more and more confusing to Sandy as time went by. Finally Ryan asked him to turn into a driveway. The driveway led into a small cemetery. Suddenly Sandy got a very unnerved feeling.
Grabbing Ryan's arm before he could exit the car, "Ryan, what are we doing here?"
"You'll see. Come on. I promise, I won't get you arrested."
Now Sandy had seen quite a bit in his day, but of all his experiences, this one rattled his cage. Skeptically he followed Ryan through the unruly grass. The sun had just about set and it was casting an orange glow across the ground. They kept walking until Ryan stopped just before a fresh grave. Sandy started putting pieces of the puzzle together and it was all starting to make sense.
"Ryan, is that..."
"AJ." Ryan took a couple of cautious steps and stood a safe distance away from the fresh mound of dirt. "I've wanted this since the day he came into my life. The first time he hit me was the second time my Mom brought him home."
Sandy listened and watched Ryan closely. He seemed strong and confident despite the fact that he was standing in front of AJ's grave. He assumed it was because this time they were looking at a pile of dirt, not AJ's face.
"I guess it's stupid and childish to admit that I feel like he might reach out from the dirt and grab me huh?"
"It's not stupid at all Ryan. The guy put you through hell. That's not an easy thing to overcome."
Nodding, "And that's why we're here." Ryan tipped his bottle up and drained it. "You finish that beer yet Sandy?"
"Um...no. Not exactly."
Ryan held his hand out for Sandy to hand him the bottle. Still not sure what the bottles have to do with anything, he let Ryan have it. Eying the bottle to see how much was left, Ryan put the bottle to his mouth and emptied it.
"Easy Ryan...easy," Sandy warned.
"It's okay Sandy. I promise to be on my best behavior once I leave Chino. Besides, it takes a lot more than this to get me drunk"
"Okay. Good to know although I'm not looking to get you drunk. We'd both have to answer to Kirsten and it wouldn't be pretty. Now what?"
"If you weren't standing here, I'd probably piss on his headstone. Considering he's dead, he wouldn't feel the embarrassment or humiliation such an act should bring nor does it even come close to the embarrassment and humiliation he put me through, so it's a waste of my time. I will however do this..."
Sandy watched as Ryan walked to AJ's headstone where he whipped one of the beer bottles as hard as he could against the stone causing the bottle to shatter. The scene before him caused Sandy to jump. Backing away from the headstone, Ryan turned and walked back down to the foot of the grave. Holding the last beer bottle out toward the grave, he tipped it upside down allowing the last few drops of beer to drip out. Facing the bottle on its side, he dropped it into the grass just below AJ's grave. Sandy just stared at Ryan wondering what the point of all of this was.
"Are you superstitious Sandy?"
"Sometimes," he replied, looking at Ryan to explain where all of this was going.
"You see Sandy, life in Chino is mostly about partying. When can we party, where can we party, who can supply the party, when's the next party and don't mess with my party. And by party I mean drugs and booze. Not all of Chino of course, but it is in my old neighborhood. The people who party regularly with each other leave beer, among other things, at the gravesite of a deceased friend so they can party in the afterlife. However, it's also said, that's there's nothing worse that you can do to someone in the afterlife than leaving them with a broken bottle, which is supposed to represent bad luck. Or leaving them with an empty bottle, which means they can't party in the afterlife. The well is dry. The fact that I drank out of the bottle that I left him, and it's empty, not to mention out of his reach, according to Chino urban legend should be upsetting him tremendously. And that gives me great pleasure. The fact that I shared a drink with you, the person who got me away from him...well that's a major sting."
Sandy stood speechless. Again he wasn't sure how to respond to all of this. He had never seen Ryan quite like this. Here he stood explaining to Sandy about Chino afterlife and getting even with AJ. It seemed AJ's death had empowered him, for the better.
"Don't be scared Sandy. I realize I'm not making much sense to you. It's just...being from Chino, I had to do this. It means for the first time ever, I got the last word this time. And there's not a damn thing he can do about it."
"I understand...but please promise me I won't start finding shrunken heads in your room."
Chuckling, "That won't be a problem Sandy. I actually don't believe in any of that stuff normally, but, just incase it does work, I couldn't pass up this opportunity."
Sharing a laugh, "You ready to get out of here kid?"
"Yeah. Let's go home."
Ryan gave AJ's grave one last stare before turning away to walk with Sandy. He never looked back. Sandy put his hand on Ryan's back and Ryan didn't even jump. Not only had AJ been returned to dust, but it seemed many of Ryan's demons got buried with him as well.
Once they sat down in the car, "Now Ryan, let me just remind you of one little detail."
Ryan smiled with a sideways glance at Sandy, "I know...stealing is wrong...under aged drinking is wrong...and I better not ever do it again."
"You really need to stop reading what people are thinking Ryan. It's giving the rest of us a complex!"
Ryan smiled, that mischievous spark twinkling in his eyes.
"So we should celebrate, maybe do something with Seth and Kirsten. What do you think?"
"Sure, sounds good."
"Any special requests?"
"I don't know."
"We could ask Seth for his input, then again, his last idea was the sleepover which would require you to do some jumping."
"Don't even start that again Sandy! Besides, with you-know-who dead and buried I'm in a good enough mood, I might have a lapse of judgment and go through with it." Ryan paused, waiting for Sandy's shocked comment, which came like clockwork.
"What? Ryan Atwood is going to jump on a bed? I don't believe it. But I thought you said you're too old and too cool to jump on the bed."
"I was traumatized last time, that doesn't count. Who knows, I might jump and then kick you ass at Monopoly." Ryan smiled out the window as Chino disappeared and Newport approached, clearly enjoying the exchange with Sandy.
"Oh now you've done it! Those are fighting words and no one beats me in Monopoly!"
"Seth won last time Sandy."
"Or sure, rub it in! And how do you know that? You were in a coma that night! So you really want to do this?"
"I don't know. Maybe. But don't say anything incase I change my mind."
"No no no, there's no going back now Ryan. You touched dead bodies, you stole beer and drank it in front of your attorney and guardian and by God, you're jumping on that bed!"
Ryan couldn't control the laughter any more. A genuine smile took over his face. "That was pretty ballsy wasn't it? Well since you put it that way..."
"That's right! You're Ryan Atwood, you can do anything!"
"Thanks Sandy...for everything." Ryan kept looking out the window.
"Oh don't you go soft on me now! Your soul has been freed and you're ridiculously happy inside and I wanna see it. And getting mushy on me isn't going to get you out of jumping on the bed or dueling me in a mean game of Monopoly!"
Laughing again, Ryan shook his head. "I tried."
Ryan's smile lingered as they drove on. His new life was good. And his future was looking even better.