Caleb sees his chance to rid himself and his family of Ryan Atwood once and for all.

Rating: PG – mild swearing

Genre: Drama/Angst

Set immediately after "The Rainy Day Women".

Exile

Chapter One

"Here's the mail Sandy." Kirsten breezed through the kitchen, threw a pile of envelopes dismissively onto the kitchen table in front of her husband and then left to finish getting ready for work. Sandy looked at his wife leave reproachfully. It would have been nicer if she'd actually handed them to him. But he wasn't about to expect any miracles. That she addressed him at all was a miracle in itself. Things were still strained between them, despite the fact that Rebecca Bloom had disappeared out of their lives as quickly as she had appeared. Seth and Ryan stole a glance at each other over their bowls of cereal. Gone was the witty banter over bagels at breakfast time. Gone was the gentle teasing from Sandy to Kirsten about her father. The frost, which began when Sandy made the ill judged decision to exclude his wife from the knowledge that his fugitive ex fiancée was in Newport, had grown thicker.

Ryan idly trailed his cereal from his spoon back into his bowl. He hadn't been particularly hungry in days. Not since the night he'd let Lindsay slip from his life. Although the rain had stopped after twenty-four hours, the gloom that it had brought with it showed no sign of abating. The only person in the Cohen household who appeared happy at this point was Seth, fresh from the excitement of his super hero reunion with Summer. And even he, despite his self-absorption, couldn't fail to notice the atmosphere in the house.

Sandy examined the pile of letters in front of him, discarding several items of junk mail and putting household bills to one side. He paused at two business-sized envelopes and furrowed his eyebrows.

"Ryan, you have mail." He tossed one of the envelopes in Ryan's direction.

Seth looked across from his father to his friend.

"You have mail? You never have mail!" He reached across Ryan and grabbed at the envelope to examine it.

"Seth! It may be private." Ryan tried to grab the envelope back.

Seth held the envelope teasingly above his head, out of Ryan's reach.

"Since when have you become so law abiding about the U.S. mail Ryan?" he joked. Ryan flushed.

Seth immediately felt guilty.

"I'm sorry dude, that was uncalled for…"

Ryan pulled his mouth into a fake smile and held out his hand. "Just give it me back."

Seth glanced at the envelope as he handed it back to Ryan. He visibly paled as he saw what was printed at the top. "Probation Services".

Ryan caught the look and snatched it from Seth. He glanced at Sandy as he read what Seth had just read. Sandy smiled at him reassuringly.

"It's fine Ryan. See? I got one too. It's just requesting you appear in front of the judge as your probation is almost up. I'm sure it's just a formality. I got one too as your lawyer." He waved his own opened letter at the boys. " There's probably a third one on its way to us as your legal guardians."

"You'd think the probation service would try and save money by sending them all in one envelope," quipped Seth, recovering now that he knew Ryan was not about to be whisked away from him once again.

"Doesn't work that way son," mocked his father, "the left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing."

Kirsten glided in to the room, immaculately groomed and power dressed, leaving a trail of expensive perfume in her wake. Ryan sucked at the spoon in his mouth contemplatively. He was constantly impressed with how good Kirsten always looked. His Mom had generally looked kind of a mess, straggly hair, tatty clothes. Would she have looked this well turned out if she'd had the same opportunities? Ryan felt a pang of pity as he thought of Dawn. Actually, she could have looked good if only she had quit the drinking. Really it had nothing to do with money or opportunities, it was all about having a pride in yourself and Ryan knew that Dawn's pride had pretty much gone out the window once his father was thrown in jail.

Seth snapped him out of his daydreaming.

"Hey Mom, Ryan had mail!"

Kirsten turned to Ryan and smiled with pleasure.

"You had some mail Ryan? You never have mail! Did your brother write to you, or your Mom?"

Ryan looked confused at the idea that either of these people would put pen to paper to write to him.

"Nothing that exciting I'm afraid. You know the Atwoods, words aren't really our thing…" he answered.

Kirsten nodded understanding, wishing she'd thought more carefully before opening her mouth.

Sandy interrupted.

"It's from the Probation Service honey, Ryan's probation hearing is next Wednesday."

"Oh!" Kirsten was torn between wanting to have a meaningful conversation about Ryan's prospects of being taken off probation and keeping her discussions with her husband to a minimum. She sat down abruptly at the table. She needed to have this conversation. She couldn't let the state of her marriage interfere with the important matters in Ryan's life.

"So, what does that actually mean?" she asked. Three pairs of eyes looked to the lawyer in the family for answers.

Sandy pondered and rubbed his hand through his hair.

"I'm pretty sure it will just be a formality and Ryan will be taken off probation. He's not been in any trouble, he's doing well at school. Child services will be there, watching closely no doubt. If the judge is happy with Ryan's progress then there shouldn't be a problem with him continuing to live with us and I'm sure they'll just continue to keep an eye as they have been doing until he reaches eighteen. Ryan's social worker will be there too. She'll feed back to the judge how things have gone for you over the last few months," he nodded at Ryan. " As your lawyer, I'll call Dr Kim and ask her for a report from school. A good report from your teachers will help."

Ryan nodded. Sandy seemed relaxed about it so he wasn't too worried. Now all he needed to do was continue to stay out of trouble. That shouldn't be too hard. Since Lindsay had left, he'd barely been out of the Pool House. Seth had accused him of brooding and offered him his Boyz2Men CD and Kirsten had insisted he appear at every mealtime to make sure he was eating enough. He tried to tell her he would eat when he was hungry but she ignored him. She was under the impression that love sick teenagers never ate. She was probably right. Sometimes he wished he could just crawl under the comforter on his bed and forget about the Cohens. He knew they were only trying to help but he just wanted to be left alone to mope. He thought about Lindsay and what she was doing now. He wanted to burrow his nose in her hair, drink in her smell, hug her close to him. He should have stuck to his original plan and avoided dating this year. Then he'd never have had to deal with all this shit. It wasn't as if their relationship had been smooth either. Well, what relationship had Ryan ever had that was smooth? And they always seemed to have the same outcome. Somewhere along the line, something would get fucked up and someone would leave.

Kirsten looked at Ryan as he gazed into space. She was worried about him. This thing with Lindsay had really upset him and she felt powerless to help. He kept himself to himself most of the time, avoiding the house and the family as much as possible. Ryan seemed as distant now as he had that first day Sandy had brought him into their home. This was her father's mess and somehow it had ended up hurting the one person who could least deal with it. Ryan didn't need any more people in his life abandoning him. She walked over to the table and reached out to him, patting his hand lightly. He looked up, startled.

"Eat your breakfast Ryan," she spoke gently, " you'll be late for school."

He sighed and looked into the bowl of soggy cornflakes.

"I'll grab a bagel," he promised.


Kirsten sat at her desk, her "in tray" overflowing in front of her. She took a sip of the caramel latte she had just purchased from the machine. She may as well be lazing by the pool for all the work she was getting done. She picked up one of the framed photographs on her desk. Two boys standing by the barbeque, same height, same age but as different as two teenage boys could be. Sandy had taken the picture just after they had returned at the end of the summer, when the only thing that had concerned Seth and Ryan was how they were going to make it up to their girlfriends. Kirsten sighed. What a difference six months made. Seth had got back the girl of his dreams and Ryan had been shattered by the abandonment of yet another woman in his life.

"Kiki!" Her father strode into her office without as much as a knock. Kirsten placed the frame back down on the desk and smiled politely at Caleb.

"Dad. What can I do for you?"

"We need to schedule a meeting with the contractors for the beachside development next week. I was thinking Wednesday?"

Kirsten glanced at her diary.

"Uh, yes Wednesday should be…oh you know what Dad, I can't. I need to take that day off. It's Ryan's Probation Hearing. I should be there."

Annoyance flashed across Caleb's face.

"Putting that street thug before me again I see…"

"Dad!" she spoke warningly, " It's not a competition." Kirsten was frustrated with her father's point blank refusal to give Ryan any slack.

Caleb ignored her comment and continued. "Anyway, I thought his probation lasted eighteen months?"

"It does, and that eighteen months is nearly up," she confirmed.

Caleb raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"So, no one's actually caught him doing anything? I find that hard to believe. Do they know about the pregnant girl? Do they know he taught my grandson to steal cars?" he added sarcastically.

Kirsten's lips tightened.

"Dad. I'm not going to have this conversation with you again."

"I'm sorry Kiki, but you know how I feel about that boy..."

Kirsten raised her eyes to the ceiling but stayed silent.

" Of course, take the day off," Caleb waved his hands irritably, as he marched out of the room, " I'll schedule the meeting for Thursday."

Kirsten seethed at her desk for several minutes before picking up the phone. Her father's bullish ways never failed to upset her when they were directed at members of her family. Normally it was Sandy who bore the brunt of his caustic comments but more often now it was Ryan he attacked, knowing he would be too polite to defend himself properly. Despite her attempts to keep her distance, there was no one she would rather speak to at this point her husband.


"Sandy?"

Sandy's insides leapt nervously. He had just returned from a short walk alone along the beach, trying to think of some grand gesture he could make to put things right between them again. He had hurt her badly, he knew that. He'd convinced himself that keeping Rebecca a secret was in Kirsten's best interests but he had admitted to himself this morning that actually it had been his own interests he had really been thinking about.

"Honey? Are you OK?"

He felt her weariness at the other end of the line.

"I've just had another run in with my Dad.."

"Oh honey, why do you let him get to you?"

"I just….he was ranting about Ryan again…why can't he just give it a rest?"

"Because he is the one in control, you know that and he hates to think his daughter can make a decision without consulting him first. This isn't about Ryan. It's all about him and his own insecurities."

Sandy decided to strike while the iron was hot.

"Look, how about meeting up for lunch?" he suggested tentatively. He couldn't remember the last time they'd met for lunch. They used to do it so regularly.

He could feel her wavering.

"Well, I would like to talk about Ryan with you. I'm worried about him Sandy…"

Sandy's body relaxed with relief. He had just the smallest hope that she was beginning to thaw.

"I'll pick you up at twelve thirty…"


Sandy studied Kirsten from behind his menu. Her face was drawn and pinched with anxiety. He needed to organize that grand gesture as soon as possible. He wanted his wife back. He wasn't under any illusions that one random act would be enough to wipe out the events of the last few weeks but it would hopefully be a start.

The waiter arrived and Sandy ordered a bottle of white wine and frittatas for them both. Cal had been right about one thing. Frittatas were exceptionally tasty and this restaurant was a pleasant place to eat.

Sandy leaned over the table and grasped Kirsten's hand firmly.

"I'm sorry you've had a bad day…" he began.

Kirsten looked over to him helplessly.

"Sandy, I know things aren't great between us, but I…"

"Me too, me too…" he plunged in enthusiastically.

She looked confused and slightly annoyed.

"I was going to say," she continued coldly, "that I know things aren't great between us but we mustn't let it affect how we take care of the boys…"

It was Sandy's turn to look confused.

"What do you mean? The boys are OK aren't they? Seth's back with Summer, Ryan's upset about Lindsay I know but he'll get over it…."

Kirsten regarded her husband as though he were mad.

"Sandy, have you no idea how much this has knocked Ryan? Haven't you noticed how reclusive he's become? Are you so wrapped up in your…your work… that you can't see how Lindsay choosing her Mom over him was just another rejection?"

Sandy flinched as Kirsten emphasized work. He hadn't noticed, no. He had been too wrapped in Rebecca to notice much of anything lately. He looked at Kirsten, his eyes full of shame.

"You're right," he said, "I hadn't noticed."

Kirsten took a deep breath.

"Sandy, what happens when Ryan reaches eighteen? "

Sandy shrugged. He'd thought about that question a lot since they'd become Ryan's guardians but not much lately.

Kirsten continued.

"That time is going to come round quicker than we think. Ryan's part of our family now. When he reaches eighteen I'm guessing our legal responsibility for him will cease?"

Sandy nodded.

"Sandy, I want us to adopt Ryan. I want him to be a part of our family."

"He is part of our family Kirsten, the lack of a piece of paper won't change that."

Kirsten shook her head impatiently.

"He's been abandoned by too many people in his life Sandy. I want him to know we'll never do that to him."

"It'll be tricky you know. Dawn will have to agree to it, we'll need to discuss it with Seth first…and I don't know what your father will say!"

Their eyes locked in mutual understanding.

tbc