Seth sat on the bottom stair hugging his knees tightly to his chest. His head shot up as his father emerged from Caleb's office. He watched in silence, unobserved, as his father maneuvered himself into the hallway.
"So what happens now?" His voice echoed through the hallway.
Sandy's worried frown transformed into a beam as he spotted his son for the first time.
Seth jumped up and ran over to embrace his father. They held each other closely, Seth's face buried in Sandy's shoulder as relief swept over him.
"You heard all that?" Sandy questioned.
Seth looked unperturbed.
"Eavesdropping is a skill I perfected last year when Ryan came to live with us," he answered dryly.
Sandy's face darkened with concern.
"So, how is he?"
"You know Ryan Dad, he's all about the silence…"
"That bad huh?"
Seth pondered for a moment.
"I think he's OK, distant though. Doesn't really want to get involved. Defense mechanism I guess," he added, in a fleeting moment of insight.
Sandy nodded, understanding.
"So, tomorrow you're gonna bring him home right?"
Sandy sighed when he saw his son's desperately hopeful expression.
"I wish it were that easy son. Unfortunately the bureaucratic wheels are in motion. I'm off to call Marlene Johnson now…hope she can help."
"It's nearly midnight!" Seth warned.
Sandy waved off Seth's objection.
"I'm hoping she'll understand…"
Seth stood and looked at his father. He felt so much better now that he was here.
"So, have you told Mom?"
Sandy shook his head.
"Not yet…." Seth thrust his hands in his pockets and sat back down.
"Are you going to?"
Sandy rubbed at his forehead wearily.
"Tell you the truth Seth? I don't know. If I tell her, it'll crush her relationship with your grandfather. If I don't tell her and she finds out, she'll never trust me again…"
Sandy looked beaten.
"Dad, for what it's worth? Don't you think this family has kept enough secrets?"
Sandy deliberated on his son's words.
"Maybe you're right son, maybe you're right…"
"It's good to have you back Dad."
Sandy smiled regretfully.
"I'm sorry Seth. Sorry that you had to deal with all this. You did the right thing you know…"
"I just hope Ryan thinks that…"
"Ryan knows you'd do anything for him. And that includes making a judgment call in his best interests. He'll get over it…"
Caleb kept his eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead. Sandy sat grimly, lost in thought next to him, a pair of crutches lying on the back seat. Silence had prevailed since they'd left Newport.
"Take a left at the next junction," Sandy indicated suddenly. Caleb sighed. The smart coastal road had been replaced by the grime of inner city living, boarded up shops, graffiti ridden buildings, streets strewn with garbage.
"So this is Chino?"
"This is Chino…"
Sandy continued snapping out directions, guiding the car through a maze of streets with densely populated housing. Eventually he indicated a run down one story house, much like any other on the street and asked Caleb to pull in beside it. A gang of boys, aged about ten or eleven watched them idly from the corner, an incongruous mix of skateboards at their feet and cigarettes dangling from their mouths.
Caleb looked at the building curiously, clearly confused, beginning to wonder ominously what Ryan's mother was spending his money on.
"The boy lives here?"
"No, this is where he used to live…"
"Then why are we here?"
Sandy swiveled round gingerly to face Caleb full on.
"See those kids over there?" Caleb glanced at the little group, huddled up together, discussing the surprising appearance of a smart BMW in their neighborhood.
"What about them?"
"That was Ryan four or five years ago. Hanging out, skipping school, smoking, raising hell…"
"What's your point Sanford?" Caleb replied, already tiring of the lecture.
"There are a lot of kids like Ryan Cal. Bright kids who given half a chance could get out of this crummy place, escape the poverty trap…"
Caleb bristled with irritation.
"You're such a do good-er Sandy…idealistic, anyone would think we were still living in the sixties…"
"Well, you're going to be a do good-er too…"
"What are you talking about?"
"You didn't think I was just going to let this go did you? What you did was unforgivable. The least you can do is try and make some recompense, to Ryan, to his mother, to Kirsten…"
Caleb spoke through gritted teeth.
"So what are you proposing?" Sandy leant forward suddenly, his eagerness getting the better of him.
"You set up a fund. Pay for a kid like Ryan to attend a school like Harbor…"
"Money's wasted on kids like that."
"Dr Kim wouldn't agree with you..…"
Caleb's lips tightened.
Sandy let out a sigh of resignation.
"Take it or leave it Cal. But if you don't do this, then I think you can say goodbye to having any kind of relationship with your daughter in the future…"
"I thought you weren't going to tell her…"
"I never said that. Besides, as Seth pointed out to me, this family's hidden enough secrets from each other. It's about time we were all open and honest with one another."
"Even if it means Kirsten never speaking to me again?"
Sandy sat up indignantly.
"Cal, that's all your own doing. Don't try and shift this on to me. I'm trying to help you…well Kirsten really. Maybe she'll find it in her heart to forgive you if she can see you trying to do some good for a change…"
"And what's in this for you?" Caleb asked skeptically.
"Hopefully a wife who I love and don't want to see hurt any more than is necessary, continue to have at least a functioning relationship with her father. Plus," Sandy added, "I get to see you hurt where I know it hurts you the most, your pocket!"
Caleb scowled; infuriated at the position he'd ended up in.
Sandy waved his arm. "Now drive on. Dawn Atwood lives not far from here…"
Ryan rolled over and groaned. The late morning sun beat down on him through the thin fabric of the blinds at the window. He pulled a pillow over his head, refusing to admit that it was time to stir himself. Vaguely he wondered what had woken him. His body was certainly telling him he had not woken up naturally. An insistent ringing permeated through the thickness of the pillow. Throwing it off in irritation, he dragged himself out of bed, pulled on some sweat pants and a wife beater and threw open the door to his room, just in time to see his mother emerge from hers.
"Who the hell is calling at this time on a Sunday morning?" she moaned blearily, wrapping a robe over her flimsy nightwear.
Ryan looked at his mother critically.
"I'll get it Mom, I think you may scare whoever it is…"
"What do you mean?"
Dawn touched the back of her hair and stared at herself in the mirror. Her face was pale and her eyes rimmed with dark circles. Streaks of mascara still lay on her cheeks and her hair was matted from a night of deep sleep.
"Whoever it is Ryan, tell them I'm in the shower…"
Ryan nodded, his own eyes still heavy with sleep. By the time he and his mother had finished talking last night, and he'd made her drink enough coffee to take the edge off her probable hangover, it was nearly three in the morning. Besides, neither of them had ever really been morning people. Until Ryan had gone to live at the Cohens', he had often not woken till midday at the weekends and was more often than not late for school during the week. Living with Seth however had changed all that. Constantly being woken at seven a.m. by a teenager who had no right to be so bouncy at that time in the morning had forced Ryan's body clock to shift dramatically. Ryan had been vaguely amused how easily his body had slipped back into its old ways now that Seth was no longer around.
He pulled open the door and blinked as the bright sunlight assaulted his eyes.
"Sandy?" Sandy stood on the doorstep, propped up on crutches.
"Well aren't you going to invite me in?"
Ryan's eyes were full of reproach.
"Seth told you, after I asked him not to…"
Sandy waved his crutch in the air.
"Now, don't have a go at Seth. He only promised not to tell me till I was able to cope…well, guess what? I'm able to cope!"
Ryan propped open the door good-naturedly.
"You'd better come in…"
As Sandy struggled through the entrance, the sound of an automatic door lock drew Ryan's attention away from his foster father. His face clouded.
Caleb marched up the driveway.
"Thanks," Ryan began warily, "for bringing Sandy over…"
Sandy turned and spoke gravely.
"I brought him, not the other way round. He has something to say to you and your mother.."
Caleb kept his head down thus avoiding the accusatory glare emanating from Ryan, and followed his son in law through to the living room. Ryan's eyes darted between them suspiciously as he removed piles of laundry from the couch and scooped up several abandoned coffee cups from the nearby table.
"Sorry," he apologized, "we weren't expecting visitors…"
Caleb and Sandy perched themselves on the couch.
"Can I get you some coffee or anything?" Ryan murmured.
Both men shook their heads.
"My mom's taking a shower, she'll be down soon…"
As if on cue, Dawn appeared at the top of the stairs, barefoot, but clad in jeans and a t-shirt, drying her hair roughly with a towel.
"Who was it at the door Ryan? Oh Mr. Cohen, I had no idea…" Dawn put on her most gracious smile. Both men stood up hastily.
"Uhh Mom, this is Mr. Nichol…Kirsten's dad," he offered in explanation.
Dawn moved forward to shake Caleb's hand.
"Good to meet you Mr. Nichol. Your daughter and her family have been so good to Ryan," she gushed.
Ryan stood to the side glaring, tension engulfing his body.
Caleb loosened his tie, his discomfort growing.
Sandy eyed them both apprehensively. He hoped desperately that he'd done the right thing in dragging Caleb here.
"Dawn, Ryan, why don't you both sit down for a moment. Caleb has something to speak to you about…"
Ryan folded his arms tightly, "I'll stand if it's all the same to you," he muttered.
He turned to Caleb, eyeing him coldly.
"So Mr. Nichol. What is it you have to say?"
Dawn shot her son a quizzical look, startled at her son's accusatory tone. She cast him a sideways quizzical look. He disregarded her, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on Caleb.
Caleb shifted uncomfortably, pulling his jacket straight as he began to speak haltingly.
"Mrs. Atwood, the two men that visited you a few weeks ago were….were sent by me."
Dawn was momentarily bemused.
"But I thought Ryan said…"
"I did!" Ryan spat venomously. "He's Kirsten's dad. But he hates me. Thinks I'm after his money, isn't that right Mr. Nichol?"
"Now I never said that Ryan…" he responded defensively.
Ryan ignored him.
"You threatened my mother…"
Ryan snorted in disgust.
Sandy stood up hastily, feeling that now was the time to interject. He rested his hand on Ryan's shoulder, causing him to flinch.
"Ryan, what Caleb has done is unforgivable, I know that. He knows that. But he's here to let your mother know that she has nothing to fear from those two goons. He's here to apologize and try and make things right. Isn't that the case Cal?"
Caleb nodded humbly. Right now, Ryan thought, he looked like a naughty kid who'd just been reprimanded in the schoolyard. Not the head of a multi million corporation. Three months ago he'd have laughed to see him like this. But Caleb had crossed the line when he'd threatened his mother and nothing he could say now would make Ryan ever forgive him.
Dawn folded her arms and leant back in her seat, suddenly aware of the power shift in the room.
"So, how do you propose to do this Mr. Nichol?"
Caleb looked her in the eye.
"I'd like to give you the money I promised you…"
"I don't think I want your money" she spat.
Sandy smiled, a self-satisfied smile.
"I figured you'd think that Dawn. Can't say I'd want it either…"
"You've had plenty of it in the past…" muttered Caleb in one last act of defiance.
Sandy ignored him.
"Caleb and I have come up with a scheme that we think will go some way to making recompense. Isn't that right Cal? Something that will benefit other kids like Ryan.."
Sandy joined Ryan on the front porch. Wordlessly he removed the cigarette from Ryan's mouth and tossed it on the ground, running over to scuff it out with his shoe.
"So what happens now?" Ryan asked, staring straight ahead.
Sandy shrugged. "I've called Marlene. She's coming right over. We need to get this custody thing sorted once and for all…"
Bereft of his cigarette, Ryan fiddled with his watch.
"So, do I stay here or go back to Newport?"
Sandy scanned his face anxiously.
"Do you KNOW what you want to do?"
Ryan gave a non-committal shrug, his face impassive.
"Well," Sandy said heavily, "we'll talk about it when Marlene gets here O.K.? Now I'd better go in and check your mom's not killed Caleb…"
"He's made this decision once. He shouldn't have to make it again..." Marlene sat resolutely at Dawn's kitchen table.
"Then who makes it?" Sandy questioned.
"Me..." she stated.
Dawn and Sandy both looked at her nervously.
Marlene sat up straight and took a deep breath.
"He goes back to Newport, with or without the adoption. I'm not having this kid jerked about with any more," she stated simply.
Marlene turned to Dawn and took her hand gently.
"Dawn, I know you love Ryan. But lets face it, he wasn't happy here. He's better off with the Cohens, you know that don't you?"
Dawn swallowed hard and bit her lip, nodding, afraid to speak.
"If you decide to sign those papers then Ryan can legally be adopted by the Cohens. But if you don't, well that's fine too. Right Sandy?"
Sandy nodded wordlessly.
Marlene handed Dawn another copy of the adoption papers.
"Think on it and let me know your decision."
She stood up and gathered up her purse and car keys.
She gestured to Sandy.
"You'd better go and tell him…."
Kirsten handed her passport to the official at Immigration. He flicked open the document briefly, glanced between her and her photograph, and handed it back to her.
"Welcome back to the U.S Ma'am!"
Kirsten smiled her thanks distractedly, tucking her passport back in the purse lying in her lap and waited for her escort to finish the same procedure.
It had been four weeks since Sandy had returned to Newport, leaving her to continue her rehabilitation alone in Italy. It had been three weeks since her father had appeared unexpectedly at her bedside.
"Are you going to throw another plant pot at my head?"
Kirsten regarded her father as if he were mad.
"How can you even begin to joke about this?"
"I don't know what else I can say…"
"I can't believe that after all that business with Lindsay, after what you did to her, to Mom, that you could do this…"
Caleb hung his head in shame.
"Kiki, I just get very protective of my family…"
Kirsten turned on him.
"Ryan IS family Dad. Whether you like it or not."
"Not by my choice…" he snapped back before he could stop himself.
Kirsten stopped and smiled bitterly.
"Well there you go Dad, you've said it really. We don't get to choose our family…"
Caleb winced at her words.
"How do you ever expect me to forgive you for something like this? I can't begin to think what you've put Ryan through. That poor kid. He's been through so much already. How could you do this?"
Caleb bristled, desperate to defend himself in some way.
"Think of it from my point of view Kiki. Sandy brings home this kid, a thief, he burns down one of my houses, within weeks he has my grandson hanging out with gun toting hoodlums and after all that, you ask him to stay and start paying for him to attend a fancy private school…And how does he repay you? He gets a teenage girl pregnant and runs off back to where he came from!"
Kirsten sighed. Yes, he would see it like that wouldn't he? And if she were being honest with herself, that was just how she herself had seen Ryan when Sandy had first brought him home..
"Did you not think I'd find out sooner or later?"
"I hoped you wouldn't. I figured you'd just accept that his parents had changed their minds…"
Kirsten looked helplessly at her father.
"The scary thing is that you're right. I would never have suspected this, not even from you. Thank God my son isn't as gullible as his mother," she added bitterly.
"I'm sorry Kiki…"
Kirsten by passed the apology.
"So what's happening to Ryan now?" she asked coldly.
"Sandy and I visited him and his mother. I told them what I'd done…apologized…" he added stiffly.
Kirsten snorted. "Just like that? And you expected them to forgive you?"
"No, I didn't expect that. But I've tried in a small way to make amends…"
She looked at him sharply.
Caleb bowed his head.
"I've set up a scholarship fund at a private school near Chino. It'll pay for one student every year from Ryan's background to attend."
Kirsten picked at the edge of the hospital issue blanket draped over her legs, the fury she felt with her father still rumbling beneath the surface. Did he expect that to make it all right?
Caleb took advantage of his daughter's silence.
"Can you forgive me Kiki?" he ventured.
Kirsten looked up at her father, the anger and hurt still prevalent in her eyes.
"I don't know," she answered simply, before continuing. "In some really warped way, I understand your reasoning. But I just wish you'd learn to trust my judgment. Ryan is a good kid Dad, if only you'd have given him a chance."
She lay back against her pillow, frustrated.
"I blame myself. I should never have allowed this silly vendetta you've had against him to continue. I should have insisted that you get to know him, I should have stood up for him."
A wave of exhaustion suddenly overwhelmed her, tears prickling near the surface.
Caleb reached out and took her hand in his.
"I promise I'll try. From now on, I really will. If only you'll forgive me…" he pleaded.
Kirsten pulled her hand away.
"I'm sorry Dad. I just don't know if I can…"
And after that she'd refused to see him again. He'd hung around fruitlessly for a couple of days hoping she'd change her mind but eventually he'd flown back to Newport and she'd been left to dwell, engulfed in turmoil, wondering if she could ever forgive him this latest betrayal.
Ryan hung back slightly as Sandy and Seth greeted her. She flung her arms around them both joyfully, almost pulling them both off their feet.
Seconds later her head tilted questioningly to the side of the two bodies blocking her view and she held out her hand to him. He shuffled forward shyly as Sandy and Seth broke away grinning like two Cheshire cats.
She smiled up at him from her wheelchair.
"It's not every day a woman goes on holiday and comes home to find she's gained another son…"
Her eyes glistened as she pulled him tightly to her. He shut his eyes and buried his head in her shoulder.
She stroked his hair gently and whispered in his ear.
"I'm so sorry Ryan. I'm sorry for everything. I'm sorry we didn't sort things out properly before we left, I'm sorry we didn't make sure you'd be safe…" Her voice was choked with emotion.
Ryan mumbled into her shoulder. "You couldn't have known what would happen."
She sniffed loudly and sat up, grabbing his shoulders. She held him out in front of her, her eyes somber.
"I'm sorry for what my dad did to you Ryan…" she said quietly.
He shook his head. "It's over, forget it…"
"I still can't believe he could do that. My own father…"
Ryan locked his eyes to hers.
"Let down by your family? I get it," he smiled regretfully. "Remember, I've been there…"
And as they held each other's gaze, they both knew that even if she could never forgive her father for what he'd done to her family, she couldn't help loving him any more than he could help loving his mother.
Sandy and Seth stood watchful from the sidelines, each silently thanking Jesus and Moses for this moment.
Eventually Sandy moved towards the pair, slapping Ryan fondly on the back and bending down to kiss his wife.
"Come on you two, let's go home!"
And there it is folks. I hope it lived up to everyone's expectations in the end. It seems sadly that Kirsten will now never get that chance to forgive her father!
Thank you to everyone who reviewed either once, a few times, or every chapter. All your positive comments about the story helped me keep focused and finish a story that I never intended to be quite so long.
If you've been reading but haven't reviewed, please consider doing so, either here or at LiveJournal (mel39) or email. Thanks again to everybody!