Kleenex Alert! Don't say I didn't warn ya: D
Bad Behavior – Finale
To Ryan, With Love…
Ryan felt like his chest was going to explode. Yanking off his tie and suit coat, his dress shirt followed shortly after. He looked at the clothing lying crumpled on his bed. He had no idea the morning of his hearing would be this tough. He expected it to be bad, but this was ridiculous.
"Ryan, are you ready to…go?" Sandy got the answer to his question with one quick look at Ryan. "What's wrong?"
Ryan was audibly breathing nervously, "I can't do this. I can't go. I thought I could…I wanted to. But, if she says…if she says I have to go back…I don't think I can handle that."
"Ryan, it's your hearing. You have to go."
"I can't. You're my attorney, can't you go as my representative?"
Sandy was disappointed in Ryan's decision. "Are you sure this is what you want? Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"
Shaking his head, Ryan looked to the floor. "I don't want to see her any sooner than I have to. Just, when the Judge gives her verdict, when it's over, tell my Mom I said I hope it was worth it."
"Ryan, this thing isn't over until it's over."
"I know. I know everyone is keeping their chins up and I tried to, but now that today's here…" his mouth moved but no words followed.
Nodding, "I understand Ryan." Sandy sighed deeply. "I'm worried about you. You know I have to leave Seth here with you."
Snorting a laugh, "It's okay. I just…if this is my last day here, I kind of want to spend it here, not at court."
"Please promise me you won't do anything stupid, and I mean 'anything' stupid."
Nodding, "I promise."
Giving Ryan a hug, "Stay strong Ryan. We'll get home as soon as we can. The hearing should be very short. Everything has already been turned in and reviewed. Today is just the decision. Go hang out with Seth. Have some fun."
Taking a deep breath at Sandy's words, Ryan nodded again. He was doing a lot of nodding this morning since nerves had the best of him. He knew the next few hours were going to last an eternity.
Dawn sat in her seat chewing her nails, even though at this point there was nothing left to chew. She hated being in court. She pulled her sweat jacket back onto her shoulder as she watched Sandy and Kirsten step into the courtroom. They were impeccable. Both dressed in suits, both with their game faces on, both prepared for battle. Dawn dropped her eyes down to her torn jeans and once again she clutched her sweat jacket close to her. Sandy pulled several files out of his briefcase, copies of the information he'd disclosed to the Judge no doubt. All Dawn brought with her was a single letter sized envelope.
"All rise," the Bailiff called.
"Good Morning…Mr. And Mrs. Cohen…Mrs. Atwood," the Judge paused. "Is it just me or is someone important missing?" she asked a bit perturbed.
Clearing his throat, "Yes Your Honor, Ryan is not here. As his attorney and foster parent, I will be representing him."
Dawn became even more nervous than she was thirty seconds ago and she glanced around the courtroom in a panic. Ryan was nowhere to be found.
"And why isn't he here today?" the Judge pressed, unhappy with Ryan's absence.
"Your Honor, Ryan was extremely nervous about the outcome of today's hearing. He's grown rather close to his foster brother and he said if it turned out that today was going to be his last day in Newport, he wanted to spend it with him. As his foster parents, and under the circumstances, we allowed it."
"So you do know where he is and that pending the outcome of this hearing, you may have to relinquish custody of him?"
"Yes Ma'am. We understand and so does Ryan."
"Very well…let's get started…"
It had been exactly two hours and forty-five minutes since the Cohens left for the courthouse and Ryan had spent the entire time alone in his old room. When he heard the patio door shut, he froze and watched Sandy and Kirsten walk across the patio. Their body language and facial expressions didn't offer any comfort.
Ryan was visibly nervous when they entered the pool house. So much had happened recently he could only imagine they were bringing more bad news. Standing up, he felt his stomach tighten when he saw the yellow envelope in Sandy's hands…his court papers. This was it. It would all come down to this moment. Either his future was with the Cohens, or he was heading back to Chino and his life was going nowhere. He'd learned how to have hope being with the Cohens. Hope wasn't a word used in Chino. There was just no point in it. As much as he hoped the envelope contained the right documents with the right signatures, he was an Atwood after all, and things of this magnitude never had a happy ending.
"So," Sandy started. "This is what we've been waiting for. In this envelope…"
"Sandy just…" Ryan's nerves got the best of him and he looked away from his foster parents before dropping his head to the floor to hide his emotions. "Just say it." His chest rose and fell with each deep breath he tried to control. "There's no need to dance around it. I…I appreciate everything you guys did for me, and everything you taught me. My time here was…the best of my life so far. I won't forget either of you." His voice squeaked with disappointment even though he tried to stay strong.
Kirsten and Sandy exchanged a look. "Ryan, I don't know that I can just blurt it out like that I mean…this is the rest of your life we're talking about."
"I already know what it says. Just…just get it over with." Raising his head, Ryan's eyes locked on the envelope, tears streaming down his cheeks. He didn't want this. He didn't want to leave and he certainly didn't want to go back to life in Chino. But this was it. He knew it. His time here was over.
"Well…okay," Sandy hesitated with a straight face. "I'll do it any way you want." Releasing the clip on the envelope, he opened it and retrieved the papers inside. He stared at them for a moment before exchanging another look with Kirsten. A small groan escaped from Ryan as a result of trying to control his emotions. He held his breath when Sandy started speaking. "It says here, according to the State of California…you're stuck with us."
Ryan's eyes darted back and forth across the floor trying to comprehend the words. After blinking several more times, he looked up at Sandy. "What?"
Sandy and Kirsten both offered gentle smiles. "It's official Ryan. You're staying here with us, for good this time. You're Mom signed the papers this morning."
"Oh my God. I don't believe it. I thought for sure…" his words faded.
"I admit kid, until we got to court this morning, we didn't know either. Your Mom ended the hearing before it began telling the Judge this was the right thing to do. She said she'd never seen you this happy."
Kirsten crossed the room and put her arms around Ryan whose emotions finally ran rampant after the stress of the previous few weeks. He held onto her hard…and he cried. Stroking his back, "Oh my sweet boy. There's nothing but good things to come. We're so happy you're part of our family. We love you."
Ryan maintained his grip on Kirsten, he wasn't ready to let go. "I love you too."
The words came naturally. They weren't forced or fake. When Ryan did finally let go of Kirsten, her face was as soaked with tears of happiness as his was from relief and happiness. They laughed at each other in spite of themselves.
Turning to Sandy, "I should be calling you names for messing with me like that."
"I know. I couldn't resist. I knew you'd forgive me once I gave you the answer." Sandy reached forward and gave Ryan a solid hug. "Welcome home son."
"Can I come in yet?" Seth screamed from the patio.
"Ah, a call from the wild," Sandy joked, releasing Ryan. "Yeah, come on in."
"RYAN! DUDE! You're staying!" Seth took a running embrace at Ryan that nearly knocked him over.
"Seth, don't break him," Sandy joked again.
Pulling away from Ryan, "Oh my God, you're…crying," Seth observed, realizing he'd never seen Ryan cry before.
"You're Dad poked me in the eye and your Mom's wearing that perfume that bothers me so…"
"You are still such a lying S.O.B.," Seth mocked. "Why can't you just admit it's because you just inherited a really cool, kick ass brother and you're happy?"
Ryan laughed and gave a sheepish nod, "Yeah that might have something to do with it."
"We need to celebrate. Mother, can you make the appropriate arrangements?" Seth delegated.
"Absolutely. I'll get right on it."
"Wait," Ryan said, halting all the plans. "Before we do that, there's something I need to do."
The Cohens looked at Ryan, lost, unable to imagine what could be so important that it had to be done right now.
"This is going to be a little weird, but I think it's the right time for this. And Seth, you can stay for this, only if you promise me you won't bring any of this up again after we leave this room. You'll understand when I'm done."
"Okay. Sure," Seth nodded and shrugged.
Ryan nervously shoved his hands in his pockets. "There's really no way I can repay all of you. I know you'd say you don't want anything, but…there is one thing I can give you guys."
Ryan stood still for a moment as if he was contemplating whether or not to go through with his gesture.
"Ryan, you really don't have to…"
"Yes I do."
Turning his back to the Cohens, he crossed his room and stepped up onto the walk leading to the bathroom. Turning momentarily, he glanced at the Cohens before returning his attention to the painting on the wall. Sliding his hand behind it, he gently removed something.
All three Cohens looked at each other on the opposite side of the room and shrugged their shoulders. No one knew what this was about.
With the item hidden in his right hand he crossed the room back to his new family where he stood silent again. Now everyone was curious about the mystery item and no one was going to suggest 'not' showing it off.
"When Kirsten took me back in, I told her I had some stuff that I would get rid of. Stuff I didn't give her at that time or even tell her about. I got rid of everything but this."
He opened his palm to reveal a switchblade. Putting pressure in just the right place, the blade shot out from the leather handle. Ryan held the blade in his fingers and, extending his arm, he handed the worn leather handle end to Sandy. Confused, Sandy accepted the item. When the knife left Ryan's hand, he put his hands back in his pockets.
"That knife has a lot of history. I've used that knife to do things…things I promised you I wouldn't do anymore. Back in Chino, I did what I had to. I haven't used that knife since I came here…but I held onto it incase I went back to Chino. I guess you could say I can't live without it in Chino. But I don't need it here and I don't want it anymore. I want to forget that part of my life ever existed."
"Jesus Ryan," Seth said quietly. "I thought you were gonna show us a gun or something. It's only a knife."
"A knife is just as good as a gun. You can break windows or unlock them, you can pick locks, you can cut wires, start cars…you can really hurt someone if you have to."
Seth's eyes got as big as saucers. "You mean you've…you've…"
"I've never killed anyone if that's what you're asking me. Have I ever cut anyone? Yeah, I have," Ryan answered quietly. "I haven't hurt anyone in a long time though…and I don't ever want to do it again. I'm not admitting this to scare anyone. Never at any time did I ever think about hurting any of you. I held onto that blade incase I got sent back to Chino. But now, since I'm staying," his voice paused. "It's just…it's the only thing I have to make you realize how much it means to me, that you took me in and got me away from that life," Ryan acknowledged, nodding towards the knife. "Doing this is the only way I know of to prove to you that I won't go back to that life."
"We're very proud of you. Thank you Ryan," Sandy commented, looking down at the knife and closing the blade. He knew that was huge for Ryan. The gesture wouldn't have made a lot of sense to most people, but to the Cohens, it made perfect sense.
"Um, one more thing while we're being all serious," Kirsten added. "Ryan, this is for you. It's from your Mom," she explained, holding out an envelope to Ryan. "She said it's very important and that you should read it when you're alone."
Gingerly Ryan reached for the envelope. Looking at his name scribbled across the front he tapped the envelope against his other hand.
"You gonna read it?" Seth asked.
Nodding, "Maybe I could meet you guys in the house in a few minutes?"
"Sounds like a plan," Sandy agreed, ushering the rest of his family out of the pool house. When he and Ryan were the only two left, "Ryan, take your time. We'll be inside if you need anything."
Nodding again, "Thanks." Closing the door behind him, Ryan watched Sandy go into the main house and start talking to Seth and Kirsten. By the excitement through the window, Ryan imagined they were already making plans for a celebration.
He looked down at the envelope and noticed his hands were shaking. Sitting down on the edge of his bed, he took a deep breath and decided to get it over with.
Cautiously he opened the edge and pulled out the folded notebook paper inside. A second sheet of paper turned out to be a folded copy of his birth certificate and inside the folds was a photo of him on his Big Wheel. He recognized the photo right away. His Grandmother had taken it on one of his visits to her house and she had displayed it in her living room for as long as Ryan could remember. The photo showed him about five years old, sitting on his Big Wheel with a popsicle in one hand and a big smile on his face. A childhood photo of him happy…he was surprised his Mother had not only retrieved it, but also surrendered it.
Realizing the contents of the note might not be as vicious as he had prepared for, he turned his attention to the letter. Opening it, he began to read…
Today is the hardest day of my life. Today is the day I let you go. It took your absence for me to realize a lot of things…things that are too late for me to change. There are things that I've already ruined, people that I've already ruined. I don't want to ruin things any more. I don't want to hurt you any more.
Your foster parents are good people. I might even dare to say they love you more than I do because, like good parents, they are willing to do whatever it takes to raise you the way you deserve. I can't give you the life you deserve and I don't want to hold you back. I want you to grow up and be someone you're proud of.
I want to make sure you understand what I'm saying…I'm not letting you go because I don't want you. I'm letting you go because I love you. I love you more than you'll ever know. When the court said I had to decide, I knew letting you go was best for you but I was afraid to do it. Afraid I'd never hear from you again. Afraid I'd never see you again. Mostly knowing because I don't deserve to be a part of your life any more. But I realize now that some spirits can't be contained. Some spirits are meant to be free…that's you Ryan.
I hope you're life becomes everything you want it to be. At night when the stars are out, I will look up and find the brightest one and know that's your star and it's so bright because you're happy. You're out there somewhere and you're smiling. That's what I want for you.
I'm proud of you for being so strong, for wanting more for your life. You're already so much more than I could ever have dreamed.
I love you Ryan and I miss you dearly. Stay sweet and enjoy your life.
With all my heart, I love you,
It wasn't until Ryan finished reading that he noticed he was sobbing at his Mother's words, words he never expected to come from her. She let him go because she loved him. He didn't realize how important it was for him to hear that. That was the final phase. He knew now that everything was the way it was supposed to be. He folded up the letter, now damp with several of his tears, and put it back in the envelope. He folded his arms across his chest, sniffled back the tears and allowed a smile to flicker across his mouth.
Just as the last of the tension was leaving Ryan's body, there was a knock on his door.
"Come in," he garbled in a low voice.
"I know I told you to take your time, I'm just checking to make sure…"
"It's fine," Ryan said standing up and walking over to Sandy. Wiping his eyes, "For the first time in my life, everything is fine. Everything is the way it should be. She said…she said she let me go because she loved me." Ryan's chin trembled. "She's never said that to me before."
Stepping forward, Sandy embraced Ryan and held him tight. And Ryan hugged back just as tight. "I'm glad to hear that Ryan. I'm glad she took the time to tell you that."
Finally pulling away, Ryan continued to sniffle and he wiped his eyes again.
"You know Ryan, you're life here in Newport doesn't change the fact that she's your Mom. If you ever want to go see her or if you ever want her to come here, just say the word."
Ryan nodded with hiccupped breathing. "I know. Maybe…someday when I'm ready for that. Right now I think I'm ready for that celebration."
"Sure thing kid. Why don't you go splash some cool water on your face, it'll freshen you up a bit. Then you name the place and the day is yours."
"I like the sound of that," Ryan admitted. Family life had never looked so good.
It didn't take long at all for Ryan to settle back into every day life in Newport now that he knew he was staying. He was back to school and buried in work. If he wanted to keep on track he had a whole month's worth of schoolwork to catch up on. And with Seth breathing down his next neck every five minutes about not being allowed to fall behind, Ryan knew he'd get caught up as fast as he could, if for no other reason, than to shut Seth up.
It was a week and a half later on a Wednesday evening when Kirsten strolled into the kitchen for a late night snack. She was surprised when Ryan entered the kitchen with a chemistry book in his hand.
"Hey, how's it going?"
"It's going okay," he sighed, grabbing an apple from the fruit bowl.
"I thought I heard you say you forgot your chemistry book."
"Oh, is that's Seth's book?"
"No, I went back and got it," he gargled, wrestling with a large chunk of apple in his mouth.
"Oh…wait a minute. Ryan's it's nearly eleven o'clock."
"Wasn't the school closed up?"
"Uh huh," he replied, contently munching on his apple.
Kirsten's jaw about dropped to the counter. "Please do not tell me you broke into the school to get your chemistry book."
Still chewing a piece of apple, an innocent smile broke out on Ryan's face and that familiar sparkle of mischief twinkled in his eyes.
"Hey I warned you a long time ago that some habits would take some time to break," he joked. "Besides, are you really going to get mad at me over getting my chemistry book, just so I can get caught up? It's my book, it's not like I stole something."
"Ryan, you broke into the school!"
"Yeah I did."
Shaking her head, "Please no more breaking into the school. I know what you mean, it's not like you stole cigarettes or something, but…"
"Nah, if I want a cigarette I have to go in your box of tampons."
Gasping, "How did you know that's where I hid them!"
"Hey you're the one that said there were in a place I'd never look! Led me right to 'em!" He smiled again and couldn't help but laugh at Kirsten's flabbergasted face.
"I don't believe it! Dinner dishes…one week for smoking and no…no…I'm too floored right now to come up with a punishment for breaking into the school!"
"You can let me know. I gotta go work on this, it's getting late." With the flick of his eyebrows Ryan turned and jogged up the steps toward the pool house.
Kirsten stood alone in the kitchen and laughed out loud. "That little shit! I can't believe it!" She shook her head smiling. "Truth be told Ryan, if that's the worst you get into now, I think I can handle it."
Dawn poured a bag of tortilla chips into a serving bowl just as her friend, Angie, came into the kitchen.
"Hey Ang, grab the salsa out of the fridge," she requested.
As Angie closed the door, she noticed a new photo of a boy on the front. "Hey, who's this? Nephew or something?"
Wiping her hands on a towel, Dawn crossed the kitchen to be next to her friend.
"No, um, that's my son. That's Ryan."
"That's Ryan!" the friend asked surprised. "My gosh he's all grown up, and what a good looking kid. Is he home?"
Dawn felt a twinge of tightness in her chest. "Um, Ryan's…Ryan's living somewhere else now."
"Oh, I didn't realize. Did he go to live with your Mom?"
"No. He um, he lives with a new family now. We went through some hard times and he…" she was embarrassed to admit the truth, but she continued. "He deserved so much more than what I could give him." Tears welled in her eyes as her friend looked on. "I gave up custody. He has a new family."
"Dawn…I'm…I'm…I don't know what to say," Angie stammered to get out.
With the wave of her hand, "Oh don't you feel bad for me. I brought this on myself. The drugs, the drinking, the abusive boyfriends, I'm the one that drove Ryan away. I know that now. But Ryan, he's doing really well. Kirsten, his new Mom, she sent me a letter with some new pictures of him. He goes to this fancy, private school now and he's taking all these advanced classes. And he loves it according to her. He gets himself up for school every morning and hasn't missed a day. You know they got him to quit smoking? Can you believe it? He's made some new friends and Kirsten says the girls just can't get enough of him…I guess some things never change," she chuckled nervously. "He's a good boy. I'm proud of him. This…this wasn't the place for him. Where he's at now…that's where he belongs. They're good to him Angie. They're really good to him."
"Well then that's a good thing…right?" she asked cautiously.
Smiling with reservation, "Yeah it is."
Angie wrapped her arms around her friend as Dawn continued to open her heart.
"I just hope, maybe some day he can forgive me."
"Do you, I mean, do you miss him?" Angie asked quietly still holding her friend.
"Everyday, and with every bit of my heart."
For whatever reason, Ryan couldn't sleep. After wrestling about for another twenty minutes, he finally gave in and got out of bed. He stepped out onto the patio thinking the fresh air might do him some good. He noticed there was no moon out, that the sky was particularly dark. The pitch-black sky did, however, highlight all the stars in the sky. Turning in the direction of Chino, he remembered his Mother's letter and he located the brightest star in the sky. He couldn't help but wonder if his Mom ever took the time to look at the stars like she said she would. After some thought he realized it didn't matter, she'd given him what he wanted, more importantly, what he needed. For once, she thought of him first. He gave a knowing smile to the star, "Thanks Mom," he whispered. With a nod of satisfaction, he returned to his bed, nestled himself against the scent of fabric softener and drifted off to sleep.
Even I can't believe it's done! What will I do with my evenings? LOL! For the die-hard fans, don't lose all hope! All the pleading and begging for a prequel/sequel has worked! LOL! But I need a little time to get organized for that. "Bad Behavior" set a standard that we're all accustomed to now…even me! In the mean time it's time for a little break for me to catch up on a few things. But I won't be gone long…I will be back: D
Thank you everyone for your encouragement and support and for embracing my version of "the dark side". : D This was a lot of fun and I'm glad so many of you enjoyed it!
Super Chino : D