The sun shone down harshly on the dusty construction site, creating a dull lens through which the workers saw the outside world.
Ryan sighed as he dropped a concrete slab onto a pile of various
pieces, and watch as the dust rose from it.
As much as he tried to blame the dust and dirt from the construction on the grey atmosphere, he knew that even if the place was clean it would still be grey. That was just the way Chino was – it always seemed dull and colourless. Even more so since his return from Newport.
Ryan had always despised Chino and imagined escaping it, and now that he had escaped and been dragged back in it was more depressing than ever. The only way he could survive the grim surroundings was through his memories of Newport – sunny and filled with vibrant colours. And of course all the people there – the Cohen's, Summer, and especially Marissa. Hell Ryan even missed Caleb and Julie. Whenever Chino got too depressing for him, Ryan would retreat into his memories where even when things weren't perfect, they somehow were.
A voice interrupted his thoughts.
Ryan looked up to see his supervisor Leo.
"Atwood what are you doing? I'm not paying you to daydream." Leo tried to sound angry, but ended up sounding tired. Everyone in Chino sounded tired. Their voices weren't like the energetic ones in Newport.
Not that he'd heard their voices lately. Ryan hadn't spoken to anyone from Newport since he came to Chino – it was too hard for him.
"Sorry man, it won't happen again." Ryan apologized. He had to stay on Leo's good side – he couldn't afford to lose this job. Especially with Theresa not working.
"Kid, I like you. I think you have prospects, and I don't want to fire you. But you have to keep your mind on the job."
Ryan almost laughed at the thought. He had no prospects as long as he was in Chino. He'd thrown away all his chances when he left Newport. And how was he supposed to keep his mind on the job with all the memories of what he'd left behind?
"I'll try, honestly." Ryan knew he sounded desperate, but the truth is that he was. He really needed this job.
"Ok kid, I'll tell you what. I want you to go home now, get some rest. But tomorrow you better be here with your mind on the job, or…" Leo trailed off. He looked honestly sorry about what he was suggesting, but Ryan knew he was just doing his job.
"Thanks man. I appreciate it." Ryan took off his hard hat and walked out of the site, giving Leo a slight wave.
He started walking home. But then, with a sigh, he realized that he wasn't going home. He might never go home again, because home was Newport, not Theresa's tiny house. In Newport he'd had his own room – well a pool house. Theresa's house was about the size of the Cohen's pool house, and he had to share a room with Theresa. He'd offered to sleep on the couch, but Theresa said he needed a bed after a hard day's work.
Ryan looked at his watch as he walked along. It was 4:30 – Theresa wouldn't be expecting him home for another hour. He considered going somewhere for a little while, but decided he was too tired. He kept walking, and his thoughts turned to Theresa. His best friend since he was little. But lately he wasn't feeling the same connection with her.
Ever since living with the Cohen's nothing was the same in Chino. He almost wished he'd never been to Newport – life was so much easier when he knew nothing other than Chino. When he wasn't aware of the wonderful life he could have outside Chino.
But no, he couldn't wish that he'd never been to Newport. Because if he hadn't, he would never have met Sandy, Kirsten, Seth, and Marissa. He would never have experienced the type of love he and Marissa shared. The type of love he'd thrown away to take care of Theresa, who he had only platonic feelings for.
Ryan realized that he was standing in front of Theresa's house. He dug through his pocket and found the key, then quietly let himself in, thinking she might be sleeping. Ryan crept into the bedroom he shared with her, planning on going to the bathroom to wash the filth off his hands. He slowly opened the door and tiptoed in.
As he closed it he accidentally let it go a little too hard, and it made a loud sound. He heard a gasp and turned around to see Theresa standing at her dresser holding a hairbrush.
"Hey." he said to her, trying to sound cheerful.
Theresa just looked at him with wide eyes.
Ryan looked back at her, and suddenly it hit him. When he had left in the morning, Theresa's stomach had been gently rounded, as any five-month pregnant woman's would be. But now, as she stood there in only a camisole and sweat pants, her stomach was totally flat.
"What's going on Theresa?" Ryan asked, not sure if he really wanted to know the truth.
"Ryan, what are you doing home so early?" Theresa asked, purposefully avoiding his question.
"Theresa I asked you what the hell is going on?" Ryan tried to control his anger, but it was hard.
Theresa tried to feign ignorance, but realized Ryan wasn't going to buy it.
"Ryan, I wanted to tell you, I really did, but…" she trailed off.
"Theresa are you pregnant, or not?" Ryan was almost yelling.
She just looked at him.
"Tell me damn it!" Now he was yelling.
Theresa looked at him a few seconds longer, then shook her head.
Ryan was shocked. He wanted to yell and scream, to throw things, to break something and hear the crash it would create. Instead he heard his voice, soundly oddly calm, yet it didn't feel like it was coming from him.
"Were you ever pregnant?"
"Yes!" she nodded her head with her eyes wide.
"I … I lost the baby. About two weeks after you came."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Theresa was silent again.
"Answer me Theresa. The least you can do is answer my question." Ryan clenched his fists.
"I knew if I told you then you'd go back to Newport – back to her. And I couldn't bear the thought of losing you again. I know it was wrong, but I needed you to see that you don't belong there, you belong in Chino. With me." Theresa said this quietly, with a few tears falling down her checks.
Ryan's rage returned full force. He couldn't believe it – he had spent weeks in total misery in this awful place, when he could have been in Newport happily playing video games with Seth, listening to Sandy and Kirsten's playful banter, and spending time with Marissa. His Marissa. Without a word he stormed over to his side of the room and began angrily throwing his few belonging into his backpack.
"Ryan don't go. Please Ryan you can't leave me. Please." Theresa followed him around the room. She placed her hand on his arm. "Ryan please stay."
Ryan shook off her hand and looked her straight in the eye.
Theresa gasped as she saw the anger and hatred reflected in his eyes.
"Theresa, there is no way I'm staying here with you. You made my life hell for over three months. I gave up everything for you. I can't believe you would do this to me. I never want to see or hear from you again."
By this point Ryan was at the door. He wrenched it open, grabbed his bag and stepped through it. Theresa tried to grab his arm again, but he quickly ran down the steps, down the driveway, and all the way to the bus stop without looking back.
Soon Ryan was sitting on a bus, watching out the window as the cold, harsh, grey world of Chino transformed into the warm, sunny, vibrant Newport Beach that he loved. For the first time in weeks, he felt himself smile. Even though he was still angry at Theresa – more than angry – there wasn't even a word for how he was feeling – he was just glad to be going home. Back to the Cohen's, the pool house, Harbour High, the cliques, the parties, and best of all, back to Marissa.
A few hours later, he arrived in Newport. He got off the bus and breathed in deeply, taking in the warm salty air. Then he slung his backpack onto his shoulders and set out walking quickly. His feet directed him without his thinking, and he found himself at Marissa's palace. He had to admit it – it was a gorgeous house. Easily double the size of the Cohen's house, which was not small by any standards.
As he walked up to the door, he was imagining what would happen when he and Marissa came face to face. He imagined her running to him and throwing her airs around him, and he would pull her close, breath in her scent, and hold her promising never to leave her. Maybe he would even give her some long, meaningful speech. Ryan laughed a little at the thought – he knew that there was no chance of him giving a mushy speech. As much as he loved Marissa, he wasn't the type to express his love through words.
Ryan shook his head to clear away the daydreams, and raised his hand to ring the bell. Suddenly he heard laughter. Not just any laughter – it was Marissa. It sounded like the most beautiful sound Ryan had ever heard. He laughed to himself again, thinking how corny his thoughts sounded. No one would ever know that the tough Ryan Atwood had a soft side. A soft side reserved only for Marissa.
The laughter sounded again, and Ryan followed it to the back yard. He gasped as his view landed on a huge aqua coloured pool, surrounded by bright flowers, and a fountain off to the side.
Then his gaze landed on Marissa and it took his breath away. She was standing by the pool, looking more gorgeous than he remembered. She was tanned, her hair seemed longer and blonder, and she was wearing a red bikini, which fit perfectly. She also looked like she was talking to someone.
Ryan took a step further, and just as he did, someone wrapped their arm around Marissa's waist and pulled her to them. Ryan watched for a second and realized it was a guy – a tall, tanned, and very fit guy. And he was kissing Marissa. And even worse, Marissa was kissing him back.
Ryan knew he should leave, but he was frozen on the spot. He watched the two make out, their bodies pressed against each other. He felt as if his whole world was falling apart. He knew that he had left Marissa and not spoken with her since, but he'd thought their bond was strong enough to overcome that. Had he expected her to wait for him? He knew that would be unfair. But still, he'd thought she's wait at least until they found out whose baby it was. The baby. Ryan remembered the events from earlier at Theresa's. There was no baby. Now he had no baby, and no Marissa. He'd lost everything.
Suddenly Marissa's giggle broke him out of his stupor. He saw that the two had broken apart, and now the guy was pretending as if he was going to throw Marissa into the pool. Ryan felt a twang in his heart as he remembered his first date with Marissa. Before he let himself get caught up in memories of a time that was obviously done, judging from Marissa and her new … boyfriend? Friend she made out with? Fling? He had no idea. But he did know that he should get out of there – fast.
He turned to run away, but as he did he knocked over a flowerpot. He ignored it and took off running, back to the street, and then all the way to the Cohen's. He stopped there, and considered going in. He knew Sandy and Kirsten would accept him back. But he couldn't do it – he couldn't go back to his Newport life if Marissa had moved on. Who knew what else had changed while he was gone.
Ryan stood for an extra moment looking at the house, remembering. Then he turned away and continued running down the street. He ran to the bus stop, and then hopped onto the first bus that came by. As he handed some cash to the driver, he asked:
"Where is this bus headed?"
The bus driver looked at him, obviously curious about the young man who was sweating heavily from running, and had gotten onto a bus without any idea where it was going.
"It's headed for Chino." the driver said in an even tone, watching Ryan's face for some expression.
Ryan kept his face expressionless, thanked the driver, and headed to the back of the bus. He sat down and allowed himself to process what was happening. He was headed back to Chino. Trey had been right that night when they'd spoken before trying to steal the car. You never could escape Chino. Dreams didn't come true. Ryan had been kidding himself thinking he could be free. He would never get out of Chino. It was his destiny.
Back in Newport Marissa had heard the flowerpot fall. She turned at the sound of it, and caught a glimpse of Ryan. She was frozen for a second, and then ran to the spot. But he wasn't there, and there was no sign he ever had been, besides the fallen flowerpot.
DJ, the guy she'd been kissing, came up and said "it must have been a cat or something." He then put his arms around her waist and pulled her to him, giving her a kiss, before he wandered back to the pool.
Marissa tried to let herself get caught up in his embrace, but her thoughts were on Ryan. God she missed him – so badly she was imagining him there. She still couldn't understand how he could just leave her and never call or anything. Maybe he hadn't really loved her. Maybe it was Theresa he truly loved, and she had just been a temporary replacement. Marissa felt tears coming on, and blinked rapidly to avoid them.
She hated this feeling – the overwhelming sadness and longing for Ryan. All she wanted was for him to come and wrap his arms around her – to make her feel safe. Ryan's arms were the only place she'd ever felt truly safe. She wanted to hate him, for what he'd done to her, to them, but she couldn't. She loved him too much. Marissa felt a lone tear break past her eyelashes and fall down her check. Why did it still hurt so badly? When would the pain go away?
Then she thought of a solution.
"DJ, can you get me a drink?"
"Sure babe, what do you want?"
"Anything, as long as it's strong."
Marissa knew she shouldn't be drinking, but it was the only way she could cope with the pain – by numbing it with alcohol. She watched DJ as he went over to the little cooler he'd brought. She knew that she shouldn't be dating him, but she was so lonely. And it's not like he was in it for a serious relationship – she'd heard rumours about him, she knew he was quite the player.
But that's what she needed – a light relationship, no strings attached. And he didn't pressure her for sex as much as the other guys she'd briefly dated did – when she said no DJ just went along to one of his other girlfriends.
DJ brought over a drink for her, and Marissa gulped it down, waiting for it to take effect. Waiting for the pain to go away.
Seth sat in his room, holding Captain Oats and staring out the window. Earlier he'd thought he saw Ryan, standing outside, looking up at the house. But he must have imagined it, because when he looked again there was no one there.
Seth wondered how Ryan was doing in Chino. Sure he was still mad at him, but they were brothers. And at this point Seth wanted Ryan to come back more than anything. He knew if Ryan came back that day, he would instantly forgive him. But Ryan wasn't coming back. Not today, maybe not ever.
And now Seth had no one. No Ryan, and no Summer either.
He had thought his relationship with Summer could last, but apparently it wasn't as strong as he'd thought. Just like his relationship with Ryan hadn't been enough to keep Ryan in Newport. Seth felt like he'd failed everyone.
Even his parents. Seth knew he'd hurt them incredibly when he ran away instead of sharing his pain with them. And even though he'd called them frequently, it wasn't enough. They just didn't understand that Newport wasn't home anymore – not since Ryan left.
When Sandy had come and forced him to come home, Seth had struggled at first, but then came willingly when he realized that his parents needed him. He'd decided to try to mend whatever damage he'd caused in their relationship. And to salvage his relationship with Summer, which he thought would be easy.
However Summer didn't feel the same way. She refused to take him back.
Seth replayed the scene in his head for the thousandth time that day.
"What do you want from me Cohen?" Summer asked looking pained.
"I just want you Summer. That's all I've ever wanted." Seth had poured his heart out to her.
But it wasn't enough for Summer.
"Cohen, I can't do this. I can't pretend that this never happened. You left me – you didn't have enough faith to confide in me – instead you ran off leaving me with a letter. You left me alone for two months with just a letter. I can't be with someone who doesn't trust me. It's over."
Summer had said those awful words, the words that reverberated in Seth's head a million times over as she ran away crying. The words that had broken his heart.
Seth felt anger build up inside him – anger at Ryan, his parents, Summer, all of Newport, and especially at himself. He stood up and threw Captain Oats across the room in rage. Then he ran over, picked him up and set him on the bedside table. And Seth Cohen lay down on his bed and cried.
Summer wasn't feeling any better than Seth or Marissa. The truth was as much as she had believed that breaking up with Cohen was the right thing, it still hurt. It hurt like hell. She hadn't talked to Seth since that day. And Marissa was always busy with DJ, her latest fling, or just too drunk to talk.
Summer realized how pathetic she sounded, and decided to do something about it. She got up off her bed, changed into a bikini and sarong, brushed her hair, and put on some makeup. Even if she felt like crap, she wasn't going to waste her life away.
So what, Cohen was gone. She would deal. She'd survived without Cohen for the first 16 years of her life, and sure as hell could go the rest of her life without him. All she had to do was block off that part of her heart – the part she hadn't known existed until she fell in love with Seth. But she would close it off – never would another boy hurt her like Seth did.
Summer checked herself out in the mirror. She raised her chin a little and gave herself a slight nod. Summer Roberts, the prettiest, most Valley Girl b!tch in Newport Beach was back. She turned to leave the room. As she did, a picture caught her eye – it was of her and Seth at some Newport party. She dropped it in the trash as she left the room, and as she did that closed herself off to all her feelings for Seth.