Disclaimer: The people belong to Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Fox. The lyrics belong to the late John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. Here's a question: what the hell's actually ours?
AN: Okay, guys. This was a little experiment we tried. We took identical lyrics and wrote separate stories using the lyrics as our sole inspiration without sharing until the stories were finished. This chapter is the first author's story and the next is the other author's story. See what you guys think. Know who wrote what? This is take one.
I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink.
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink...
No, no, no.
Kirsten grinds the wet sand between her toes until the friction rubs her skin raw. She shivers, wraps her arms around her midsection, but keeps her gaze set on the blackened horizon. White caps pepper the black scenery in front her - otherwise, darkness envelopes the landscape, having it appear endless, scary and dangerous. Such a large infinitive back hole could easily swallow…she doesn't finish the thought as another nervous shiver complements the instant nauseated feeling that always plagues her when she's worried. That very feeling's been following her around everywhere she's gone for the last three weeks.
Three weeks since she's slept through the night.
Three weeks since she's smiled and genuinely laughed.
Three weeks since she's seen her boys.
Three weeks since she's cried.
Three weeks ago, she didn't think it could get any worse.
Three weeks ago, she was a different person with a different life.
The weeks ago, she had hope.
She glances over her shoulder. A soft light glows behind her bedroom window. She's not surprised that Sandy's still awake. They've barely spoken - really spoken - since that fateful night. He's heavy with exhaustion, just as she is, and he rarely says a word unless it's directly related to the cause of their mutual depression. They don't blame each other - at least, she knows she doesn't blame him - but the heightened stress of the last three weeks has pushed them apart.
They share the same hope, but they can't always share the same space. So every night, he sits at the small table in their bedroom and pretends to read a book, clutching the phone with one hand, willing it to ring while she retreats to the beach. The beach where she watched her son grow up. Just feeling the sand between her toes and listening to the soft crash of waves makes her feel closer to her son.
All the while she grips onto her cell phone like a life raft. If he calls, she's damn well going to be there to answer him. She turns it over in her palm and examines the loose hinge. It wasn't like that three weeks ago.
She didn't have these worries three weeks ago. She was completely unprepared for the events that would leave her feeling so empty that hope has become a foreign feeling.
She laughs at herself when she remembers her biggest worry that morning had been gaining Julie Cooper as a step-mother. She had no idea that two of the most important people in her life would be taken away from her. It all seems to trivial now. So meaningless and inconsequential. Selfish.
She contemplates trekking back up to the house to retrieve a bottle of wine, but she doesn't want to leave and she doesn't want to alarm Sandy. She'll wait until he's asleep before retreating to the warmth of their bedroom. They have nothing to say to each other and they don't need the awkwardness of silent company. When you're a Cohen, silence is unnerving.
A large, crashing wave snaps her attention back to the raging pool of water that she prays hasn't claimed the life of her son.
She scans the empty beach which is illuminated just enough for her to distinguish the rocks from the sand, and the water from a boat…if need be. The sandy beach is meticulous - not a single pebble seems out of place. She doesn't comes down here as much as she did when they first moved in. Seth would wade through the shallow water and she would read her book, holding it low enough to keep on eye on him. Though it was always easy to tell when Seth strayed because that was the only time she couldn't hear him. Even at that age, the kid just loved to talk.
He's always been a Cohen. She was born a Nichol, she had to learn how to deal with Sandy's chatter and nervous energy. As soon as Seth found out he could express himself in words, they'd had no peace; she was given a constant window into his world. She'd give anything to hear him talk about superheroes or movie stars or oatmeal. She'd give anything just to hear his voice.
She's been remembering a lot on the lonely nights she's spent sitting on the same rock, dreading the same thoughts, making the same wishes.
Sometimes she forgets about Ryan, and the guilt that floods her entire body when she comes to that realization is debilitating. She wonders if there's a limit to the amount of worry one person can feel. If so, she's surely reached her threshold.
Losing one of her kids would be enough worry her senseless, but knowing that there's two teenage boys out there that she's supposed to be responsible for, and she has absolutely no control over their lives any longer…she swears she can feel her heart seizing.
She wonders if Sandy thinks about Ryan. Ryan's on land. Ryan's safe…or safe enough. But Seth's lost in the unknown. They don't really speak of Ryan. They allude to him, but she can't actually remember mentioning his name in several days.
Again, the unbearable guilt and sadness consumes her, and she shivers, clutching herself tighter as a cool breeze rolls in off the top of the waves.
I wonder should I call you, but I know what you'd do
Ryan, however, knows about Seth's disappearance, and immediately sliced all contact with Kirsten. Whether or not he talks to Sandy, she doesn't know. They don't talk about Ryan. But when she thinks about him, really thinks about him, she has to fight the urge to drive down to that hellhole of a town he called home his entire childhood, grab him by the scruff of the neck, chastise him for not being more sexually responsible, and banish him to the poolhouse for months. Sure, he might hate her, but she'd rather him hate her and know where he is than continue to live in a state of paralyzing self-doubt.
She shouldn't have let him go. She should have told him how much he meant to her, how much he meant to her family. She shouldn't have let him go. She should bring him home. She doesn't care if it makes him hate her, at least he'd be home.
But Ryan would find a way to reason. He'd find a way out. He'd find a way to torture and cut himself down by placing ten years worth of responsibility on his back. It just isn't right. But that's who Ryan is. That's why she loves him. Sandy loves him. Seth loves him.
As much as she tries to keep an open mind and understand Ryan, some of the choices he makes are beyond her comprehension. She could always lure Seth into doing something by dangling bait in front of his nose. A new comic book, a piece of cake, or as he got older, the promise of a new car. He would literally latch onto these offerings like a bloodhound on the trail of a jackrabbit, oblivious to the world around him. But that was never the case with Ryan. Ryan was too skeptical. If something was good, it was too good. There had to be a reason. He was always looking for the catch, because in his life, there was always a catch. Kirsten sometimes wished that he'd just relax, allow himself to enjoy a moment or a gift, but that wasn't how he worked. It's a part of Ryan that she's grown to appreciate despite her disapproval.
She never thought it would affect him like this. She never thought that it would affect their entire family like this.
You'd say I'm putting you on
It's not joke, it's doing me harm
You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane
Summer examines the nail of her pinky finger, puts it in her mouth, but removes it before she can bite down. She can't remember the last time her nails were colorless - naked. But they've been spending too much time between her teeth lately to justify the expense of having them done. She picks up a bottle of clear polish from the edge of her dresser and returns to her bed. Grabbing a pillow, she places it on her lap and carefully concentrates on applying the transparent coating.
She's sure people stare. Where she lives, a girl her age walking around without nail polish draws about the same amount of attention as if she were to wear a garbage bag to school. They stare, they whisper, they make conclusions based on what they see, but they have no idea what her life's been like for the last three weeks.
She hates Seth for what he did to her. She hates Ryan for what he did to Seth. And she hates herself for caring so goddamned much.
But whether she likes it or not, she feels betrayed. Alone. He left her through a note. A fucking handwritten note without a single sarcastic comment. He might as well as punched her in the face or made out with some whore in front of her, because that probably would have hurt less. He didn't know her at all if he thought that some fucking note was going to make her forget about him.
His gentle touch. His declaration of love on top of the kissing booth. His frizzy hair making her neck itch when they lay in bed together. Like she could forget about that. She wants to, but she can't convince herself to let go. The worst part of it all is she wants to see his face so badly. She wants to touch him, to make sure he's okay, and then slap him with all her might and tell him to screw off.
She hates that. It makes her feel needy and that disgusts her. She's never needed anyone and she certainly never thought she'd need Seth Cohen. But as the days slowly creep by, she cares less and less about what she looks like. She cares less and less about tanning, her nails, her hair…everything that makes her vain enough to be accepted in Newport.
All because he decided to throw a tantrum when his best friend had to leave.
She doesn't feel like dressing up and strutting around like everything's normal. She's tired of hiding behind sparkly nail polish or a new pair of shoes. She can't bring herself to care about that right now. She cares about Cohen.
She has all the money she could ever ask for. She has a car, a huge house, a trust fund…but she'd give it all away in a heartbeat if she could just know that Seth would be all right.
He'd never believe her. She can barely believe it herself.
She's not supposed to care.
She'd promise to never paint her nails again, never spend a ridiculous amount of money on an outfit that she knows she'll only wear once…she give up her life as she knows it. And she hates herself for it. In fact, she despises herself. This is not how she's supposed to feel.
I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind
As much as she tries to deny it, she can't deny the endless afternoons spent waiting. The nights she's spent tossing and turning. The morning's spent lying in bed, watching the phone.
She hates Seth Cohen, and she's never wanted him more.
I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh. He was such a stupid git.
Every night after dinner, Ryan slips out the back door for some "fresh air." He mentally laughs at the irony of the entire excuse when he realizes just how many cigarettes he goes through in the short amount of time he's gone.
He walks up and down the lifeless streets which are lit by a few sputtering streetlights that are soon to die like their neighbors.
He needs to be alone sometimes. If Theresa doesn't understand, she doesn't let on. She's hormonal, and when she's on a downswing, she can poke fun at herself, but a lot of the time she can be overwhelming - smothering, and Ryan's learned to savor every moment of silence because he knows it'll be short-lived.
She talks a lot. Seth talked a lot, but in a different way. He'd talk for no apparent reason and Ryan didn't get a headache trying to piece all of the facts together. Theresa talks with purpose and she insists on having an attentive audience.
Theresa voice winds him up while Seth always brought down. So he leaves and walks and smokes and kicks stones across the ground for sport. It's always felt good to have time to himself.
But lately, he's come to dread the time spent alone, without the distractions of hormones and everyday life. The quiet time allows his mind to work, to think, to process what he tries hard not to think about.
He flicks his lighter, protecting the fragile flame from the wind with a cupped hand and inhales deeply off the smoke. He wonders if Seth thought to bring a light. Food. Water. Money.
A few weeks ago Ryan would never have questioned Seth's intelligence, but he's since proven that he's not as smart as Ryan had given him credit for. .
He stops, pats his pocket to feel the familiar outline of his cell phone, and continues. He's constantly checking for that phone, which is ridiculous because he knows he always has it with him and turned on…just incase.
Ryan pictures Seth on his stupid fucking boat, calling inland for help. Seth wouldn't forget his cell, that much Ryan was sure of. God he loved that stupid boat. Ryan had been on that boat. That boat was a glorified raft.
Seth wasn't stupid. Seth had to know he wouldn't get far.
But it's been three weeks. Three weeks and no one's heard a word.
Ryan talks to Sandy on and off, but the usually optimistic man sounds a little less like himself with every phone call. It scares Ryan. It scares him to be scared. He thought he'd be desensitized to fear by now. But this…this is different. It's not his own life he's worried about.
Theresa nonchalantly asks about Seth and his whereabouts. Ryan doesn't know if she can see how her words spark panic inside of him. He should tell her. She deserves to know why he doesn't sleep. Instead he lets her believe that the Cohens have accepted his choice to come home to Chino. She seems comfortable with that. At least, more comfortable than she would be knowing that Seth's disappearance is the reason behind their negligence and his sleepless nights. There's no reason to worry her too.
He kicks a stone and watches it bounce over all the cracks in the sidewalk, rolling to the edge and falling through an opening in the sewer grate. A soft "plunk" sound echoes in the tunnel. Ryan stops, looks down at the black hole, tosses the remains of his cigarette through the same opening and continues to walk slowly down the tree-lined street toward home.
As he does every night, he prays Seth meets a kinder fate than the stone and cigarette butt.
You'd say, I'm putting you on
But it's no joke, it's doing me harm
Seth pulls on a smelly shirt and cringes when the damp material settles against his already clammy skin. It feels weird not having someone to do his laundry, to make his meals, to change the sheets on his bed…to check up on him. He's on his own. Completely.
As strange as it is being on his own for the first time in his life, he just can't imagine staying home. Home: where nothing makes sense and one dysfunctional relationship breeds another and another until Julie Cooper's his new grandma and the only real friend he's ever had has assumed paternal responsibility for something he's sure isn't his. Everything's so fucked up and he knows that it'll never be okay again. He doesn't want to be there to see the damage that's sure to come.
Seth should have left a long time ago. Before all of this mess. Before Ryan. Even before Summer. Good things never last too long in Newport and his life was getting a little too good to be true. He was naïve to think it could go on that way for much longer.
You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane
His phone's battery died after a week, and for that he's thankful. It saves him from making those impulse phone calls when he's panicking in the middle of the night, begging his parents to come get him because he misses his bed, his clean clothes, his shower…hell, even his mom and dad. Night's are the hardest.
But when the sun comes up, everything falls back into place and he's thankful he didn't have a phone available in his weakest moment because when he really thinks about it, he doesn't want to go home.
Life on his own isn't half bad. Or at least, it isn't half as bad as it would be if he was still in Newport.
He sits on the edge of the dock where his boat sat tied for the first couple weeks, and dangles the toes of his toes into the dark, cold night water. He had to sell Summer Breeze a few days earlier to subsidize his living expenses. Soon, he thinks, he'll have to get a job. A job that allows him to eat, buy new clothes and pay for an apartment. He hasn't even considered what to do about school. He stores that in the back of his mind along with fleeting thoughts of Summer. He told her to move on with her life and forget about him, but at night he dreams that she's with him and he secretly prays that she'll find him so they can experience freedom together. Deep down, he knows that's why he hasn't strayed far from home.
Then there's Ryan. He knows everyone's going to think Ryan's the reason he left. They don't understand and he doesn't expect them to. Ryan's the reason he stayed. He would have chosen this route long ago had Ryan not arrived and made his life in Newport slightly more bearable.
He looks out into the distance but can't distinguish the black sky from the dark blue water. It's at night when it's hardest to be alone, and every night he fights the same urge to run to the nearest pay phone and call his mom, his dad, Summer, Ryan, even his grandpa if he's available, tell them he's sorry and beg them to pick him up.
Sometimes all he wants is to go home. But home isn't home anymore.
You know I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind
He bites his bottom lip and does everything within his power to suppress the panic. But deep down he knows that one day it's going to get to be too much. One day he'll snap. One day he'll give up everything he's earned out on his own for the slightest peace of mind. He's knows he's not strong enough to last forever. Until that day, he'll struggle to make it work. He owes it to himself.
Before he gets up, he grabs the rock from the corner of the dock and scratches a horizontal line into the weathered wood to connect six small dashes. He takes a second to admire the three bundles of seven he's engraved during his stay.
Three weeks. He's already made it three weeks.