Universe: A virtual "6th" season wherein "Modern Prometheus" was the finale of season 5 and ignores all events in the "real" season 5 finale and all of season 6, as well as the last movie. This season takes place 1997-1998
Summary: One-shot, plothole filler, season 1. Richie goes to Gary Correll's funeral and comes to a few realizations about his life. This is the follow-up to Into the Fold. You don't necessarily have to have read that first, but the ending will make more sense if you have.
Disclaimer: If I owned them why would I waste my time posting to fanfic sites? I'd be off making lots and lots of money! But since I'm not, I therefore don't, nor do I pretend to.
The service was small, but adequate. The Corrells weren't well off by any means, but they could still afford a decent burial for their oldest son. They hired out a Methodist church down the street from where they lived, complete with piano player and minister. Mr. Correll had been raised Catholic and Mrs. Correll was Jewish, but the family didn't attend services except on the major holidays of both religions. To be fair they chose the Methodist church because all the Correll children had gone to daycare there, so at least the minister knew something about the boy he was eulogizing.
Thankfully Gary was buried cleared of all charges; the thief, mastermind, and murdering sonofabitch Chu Lin took all the blame. The cause of death was listed as accidental—an overdose on those wacky Chinese herbs, and Chu Lin was to be charged with—among other things, murder in the third degree. Of course, Chu Lin was dead now, but that didn't change how the authorities viewed the case. Even Powell had apologized to the family for his erroneous suppositions.
Bastards, Richie thought.Just because Gary went to the grave free of sin, that didn't change the fact that he went to the grave.
And here Richie was, sitting in a Methodist pew and watching the mourners file down the aisle, through the receiving line, and out into the parking lot. Mrs. Correll was up there, and it seemed at last her tears had stopped for the moment. During the service she couldn't stop crying. She had held tight to Gary's sister Lynn, and she had just cried and cried throughout the entire service. Lynn, for her part, looked lost and confused, one arm draped about her mother and trying to offer some measure of comfort though at the same time, not knowing how because mothers were supposed to comfort daughters, not the other way around. She was barely fifteen years old, and she's had an older brother all her life. Now he's gone, and she hasn't quite processed what that means yet. It's still foreign and vague to her.
She'll worry about that later, when she's done giving solace to her mother.
Richie's eyes had drifted towards them whenever he lost focus of the minister, and every time he saw them like that he thought of Chu Lin and his insides burned in hatred.
Gary's father was also at the head of the receiving line. He hadn't cried during the service, though his eyes were red right now. He just sat in the pew, staring blankly ahead, barely taking notice of his surroundings. He didn't even say a word when Angie spoke her peace. He seemed defeated sitting there in the pew; tired and old, with quite possibly a few new gray hairs. He certainly wasn't the high-spirited goofball of a man Richie that remembered had taught him to shoot hoops and ride a bicycle.
Richie wondered if the aging plumber—seven years sober—had started drinking again. Richie thought of that, and of the blasted Kwanza Root or whatever the fuckhell it's called that started this whole mess, and he felt like hitting something.
Mr. Correll held Gary's little brother David by the hand. The poor boy had sat at the end of the pew next to his father, who didn't say anything to him the entire time, not even to answer the question of why mommy was crying so much. David seemed oddly stoic, as though he knew that this was grown-ups' business and it was his place to be quiet and well behaved until they said otherwise. Now the poor kid was being hugged by relatives he probably didn't even know he had, but he bore it all in stride—even the cheek-pinching, and was most likely waiting for his parents to dismiss him and his cousins so that they could go out back and play on the church playground and maybe just maybe they'll actually answer him when he asks when Gary's coming home.
Richie remembered how happy Gary was to finally have a little brother at last. Gary, who was now laying open-casket in the altar for his little brother to see and marvel at. Richie thought of these things and at last his rage turned into grief, and finally he cried his tears for Gary.
Oblivious to anything save his own grief, Richie was surprised when he felt someone wrap a supporting arm around his shoulders. He turned and saw that it was Angie. Her eyes were dry, as he had expected them to be. She didn't even break down once during her speech about what a wonderful person Gary was and how they were all so incredibly lucky and blessed to have had him as a friend. Her eyes were red and puffy though, and her voice had a hoarse quality to it and it hitched a few times when she got to the more personal account of her love for Gary. Yet she didn't cry at all today. Not once. She had spent her tears the night she got the phone call. She didn't have any left now.
Richie had seen when Angie had hugged Mrs. Correll. She was the first person to make it through the line to the grieving mother, and it was the first time he'd seen Mrs. Correll smile at all today. Richie had overheard Mrs. Correll repeatedly expressing her thanks to Angie for coming to the funeral, and for delivering such a wonderful eulogy. Richie had smiled slightly at that—Angie always did have a way with words, even when they were kids. She could talk herself out of any situation you could name, and she usually did.
When he heard the way Angie was talking to the Corrells, it was the first real hint he'd gotten to suggest that Angie and Gary weren't together when Gary died. They'd had an on again-off again relationship practically since puberty, and Richie had long since stopped keeping track. The last he'd heard, the couple had celebrated their (most recent) five month anniversary, but that was… Oh Christ, months ago! It wasn't until Gary died that Richie found out exactly how much he had missed since leaving the old neighborhood, and the surprises haven't stopped since.
Angie left her arm draped around Richie's shoulders as he silently cried. His shoulder's shook and she squeezed them in reassurance, occasionally stopping to rub soothing circles on his back. Crying silently was one of Richie's least talked about survival skills he'd picked up in various foster homes and it availed him now, allowing him the benefit of his grief not attracting any undesired attention. Grief was a very private thing; that's something else that he had learned.
When at last his grief had spent itself dry (though in actuality it was a lot quicker than it felt like to Richie), both he and Angie regained their feet to take their place among the other mourners. For the most part the crowd was comprised of Gary's family; his aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like. Some were young, some were adults, some had brought their wives and left the kids with sitters. A few of Gary's coworkers from the Save Mart had also shown up, every last one of them drunk in Gary's honor. Gary's so-called friends from the pool hall hadn't shown, and Richie was thankful for that.
The only other group of mourners was made up of Gary's friends from the neighborhood. They sat in the pew with Richie and Angie and not a single one of them was dry-eyed. Richie knew them all, though some better than others. He was glad that they were there.
"Come on," Angie said to Richie once they made it to the aisle. "Let's go see the Corrells."
Richie nodded and allowed himself to be led over to where the family was gathered. Most of the other mourners had left already. Those that would be going to the burial would rendezvous at the cemetery. Mrs. Correll was speaking to the minister and Mr. Correll was thanking those that were leaving for their attendance.
"Richie, Angie," he called to them, turning from one of his nephews. Angie went over and hugged him lightly. He seemed grateful for the contact.
"Mr. Correll, if there's anything you need…"
"I know, Angie," he answered. He sounded haggard. "Thank you."
"Oh, Angela…" Mrs. Correll came over and the two of them hugged. Richie felt awkwardly out of place. "Thank you so much, for everything you've done."
"Hi Angie!" David piped up from behind his mother's skirt. He had a genuine smile on his face that seemed very out of place in the innocent way that only children can accomplish.
"David!" Angie dropped to one knee and accepted an eager hug from the boy.
"Richard, so good to have you here, too," said Mrs. Correll, taking his attention away from Angie and David.
"How could I not come?" He replied for lack of something better to say.
"Richie." Mr. Correll then grabbed his attention. His face was solemn, serious, but distracted by something.
"Mr. Correll…" Richie didn't know what to say or how to act. He was never any good in these situations. Thankfully Mr. Correll interrupted him before the moment became awkward.
"I heard you helped to finger the Chinaman who drugged Gary. Thank you. Thank you for being such a good friend to him."
"I…" Words failed Richie as he tried to respond.
"Yes, Richard," Mrs. Correll agreed. "You've given him back to us, in a way…" And she was sniffling again. Mr. Correll put a supportive arm around his wife.
"The world knows what happened to our boy," he added, a touch of anger in his voice. "They know what—who, killed him. We have you to thank for that."
"They all know what a good boy he is," Mrs. Correll added. "Was," she corrected herself, looking to the floor. "What a good boy he was." She paused to gather herself before continuing: "When the police first told us what had happened… how it looked… what Gary had done… that boy was not my son. My son was a good boy, an honest, decent boy. Not some… some junkie!" And she was crying again.
"You brought out the truth," Mr. Correll added. "We get to bury our son today, not the young delinquent we saw on the news. We don't know how to thank you enough for that, Richie. For us, and for Gary."
"I'm just glad that…" Richie trailed off, and he half-shrugged. "Gary was no junkie," he declared, a bit more vehemently than originally intended. "I just got the cops to see that."
"Thank you," Mr. Correll reiterated. Then he took Richie squarely by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. "Thank you."
Richie smiled weakly and then nodded, but he couldn't meet the man's eyes.
"Richie!" David stopped his incessant babble about kindergarten to a feigningly interested Angie and ran over to Richie. He thrust his arms out and Richie bent down and picked him up. He balanced the boy against his hip.
"Hey Davey, how you doing?" The feigned cheerfulness in his voice rang hollow in his ears.
"Mommy says you gave us Gary back."
"Uh… I…" Richie stammered. "I helped to find the man that hurt him."
"Oh… You mean the man who hit his head and give him those booboos?"
"Uh, yeah. The man who gave Gary the booboos." Richie glanced askance, looking for help and finding none. "I helped people to see that he was a bad man so that Gary wouldn't be the one to get in trouble." Richie sincerely hoped that the six-year-old understood.
"Oh… So when are you gonna help Gary wake up?"
The funeral had been public, but the burial was private. Only family and close friends were in attendance at the public cemetery a mile uptown of the church.
The minister was there, saying some brief and finalized variant of what he said earlier.
No chairs were provided for the mourners. The Corrells and their close relations had to stand.
So did Richie, Angie, Larry, Jimmie, and Kyle. They were the only ones of Gary's friends to show up.
When the small ceremony ended and the dirt was being piled back into the gravesite more shaking hugs were given and strained platitudes spoken. The family said their final thank-yous and farewells and made their way back to their cars. Richie, Angie, Larry, Jimmie, and Kyle were urged by curt looks and heavy propriety on the part of the minister and groundskeepers to follow suit. Soon the five friends stood on the sidewalk in an awkward circle, none sure what they were supposed to do now.
"I can't believe it… I just… can't… believe it." That was Larry. He and Gary had been close.
"Man, I buried my grandmother last month," Jimmie added. "I shouldn't be going to the funerals of my friends.
"Speaking of friends," said Angie. "Has anyone heard from Nikki recently?"
"Not since… Damn, nearly a year ago," Larry answered.
"She was your girlfriend, Richie," Kyle pointed out.
"And that means what exactly?" Richie came right back.
Kyle shrugged. "If anyone would have heard from her…"
Silence descended on the heels of that comment. The five friends seemed at a complete and total loss as to what to say to each other—and for some of them that was an entirely new experience.
"It was a nice service," Larry said at last. "Angie, you had a good speech."
"Thanks," Angie said sincerely.
"Yeah," Richie agreed. "A little funny, a little mushy. Gary would have liked it."
Silence again. The friends were grasping at straws to keep conversation alive.
"I hope the bastard that did this rots in Hell," Jimmie declared at length, more fatalistic than vehement. He was too depressed to affect true anger right now.
"Oh, he will," said Kyle. "Didn't you hear? Angie and Richie made sure of that."
"Didn't you guys know? The rat-bastard that poisoned Gary got whacked by the dealer for stealing his junk," Kyle explained. "Word on the street is he followed Richie and Angie when they went looking."
"And what about that dealer?" Jimmie asked. "That was no normal street smack Gary ODed on."
"It was some kinda Chinese herb," Angie explained. "That bastard Chu Lin was trying to get those losers from the pool hall hooked on it, too."
"Man, those guys must be dumber than they look," Kyle observed. "They knew Gary died from that shit. Stuff like that makes a dealer's cred go down the shitter."
"What happened to the dealer?" Larry asked. Angie looked to Richie, and the others followed suit.
"He got away," Richie answered blandly.
"What do you mean?" Jimmie asked.
"I mean he escaped, jumped ship, flew the coup," Richie rattled off in growing agitation. "I mean he GOT AWAY!"
"Hey, hey!" Larry stepped forward, placing himself nearer to the center of their circle. He put a hand softly to Richie's chest, as though only to signify the spirit of restraining him. His other hand sort of snaked off in the other direction and fell a foot short of Jimmie. It was as though he was trying to defend both his friends from attacks that both sides only imagined. "No one blames you, Richie," he added, echoing what everyone thought that everyone else thought.
"Yeah," Jimmie added, somewhere between defensive and apologetic. "I just wanted to know what happened. I wasn't trying to accuse you of anything."
Richie took a few deep, calming breaths. He could still feel everyone's eyes upon him.
"Angie and I followed a tip that the bartender at the pool hall gave us," he explained at length. "We went to this warehouse and interrupted whatever Chu Lin was trying to do."
"Then Richie tried to give Chewy's prostate gland a new roommate in Gary's name," Angie continued. "Only he didn't get very far. The guy, like, knew some serious Kung Fu or something. He took Richie down pretty quick."
"And then Angie got herself cold-cocked trying to fight off Gary's so-called friends because she didn't run when I told her to," Richie added.
"Hey, I don't take orders," Angie shot right back. "Especially from you."
Everyone else just looked on in silence. It was the high emotions of the day that brought out the lovers' spat between their friends. This was another prime display of what Richie and Angie do instead of flirting.
"Anyway," Richie droned dismissively. "I'm on the ground getting the crap kicked out of me by this fuckin' pansy-ass Bruce Lee wannabe while Angie's down for the count. Then the next thing I knew, the dealer showed up, looking like some badass extra from a B list Kung Fu flick. He tells the bozos to scram, and they nearly piss their pants on the way out. Dude had a sword… a big one. Then he orders Chu Lin to back off, and the guy actually does! They bitch back and forth about the drug while I'm crawlin' over to Angie to be sure that she's ok."
"I was fine," Angie snapped.
"Yeah, you sure looked it, too."
Angie huffed and folded her arms. The others continued to look on, enraptured.
"Well before I knew it, those two were going at it, pirate-movie style—arguing in Chinese all the while—an' I take this as our clue to split. I mean, the way it looked, either the bastard who killed Gary would die, or the bastard that made the drug in the first place. Either way I didn't really care so long as one of them bought it. And I wanted to get us outta there before the cops showed up."
"Yeah and apparently Richie's boss got worried when he ditched work," Angie chimed in. "Must have figured that Richie'd gone after the punk-ass bastards that killed Gary cuz he went off himself looking in the Neighborhood, trying to find Richie. In some brilliant stroke of luck he must have driven by when Richie was dragging me across town, cuz the next thing I know I'm sitting in the back of the dude's T-bird with Richie and he's driving me home."
"As it turned out, the dealer whacked Chu Lin and then skipped town," Richie returned to the tale. "Mac called the cops to report what the hell was going on so that maybe they'd both be caught, but as usual whenever you actually want 'em they take their sweet-ass time." Grumbles and nods of assent from the crowd. "However, they found shitloads of drug evidence in the warehouse that tied Chu Lin to Gary's death. That plus our statements and whatever it was those waste-of-space friends said was enough to clear Gary's name and lay the blame solely on one, dead, Chu Lin."
Richie finished his tale to the stunned silence of his friends. He knew they bought it though; it was well-rehearsed. It was the same speech he'd given to the cops. It was still mostly true though. Only the bits about MacLeod showing up, kicking Chu Lin's ass and then condemning Kiem Sum were conveniently left out.
"Wow…" Kyle breathed at last. "And here we all thought that bigger and better things had made you forget about us. Let this be a lesson to bad-guys everywhere: don't fuck with the friends of Richie Ryan!"
And everyone but Richie laughed.
"I never forgot," Richie swore, quietly yet vehemently.
"Hey, relax bro," said Larry. "It's just a joke."
"Not very funny," Richie muttered.
"Yeah, well, neither was your moving out and not bothering to tell anyone," Jimmie chimed in. "We knew you weren't dead or in jail cuz that would have made the papers, but jeez man."
"Yeah," Kyle added. "Larry here told us that you landed that cushy job up in the heights, but then your apartment blew up and we didn't hear from you since. It was like you just sorta vanished, man."
"Gary knew," Richie said dejectedly.
"Figures," Angie replied bitterly. "Round about then he was spending all his free time in the pool hall to avoid seeing me." Then, quietly: "That's probably how he met Chu Lin in the first place."
"But still," Kyle continued, "you cudda told us that you were renting the spare room at your boss's place. I mean, shit! It ain't right that we only met up with you again today at the funeral."
"Especially to find out that you played a big part in clearing Gary's name," Jimmie added. "You know we always been straight with each other. Hell, you probably could have moved in with me! Space would have been tight, but…"
"Or me!" Kyle interjected. "The Munroes wouldn't have cared. They're soft touches like that."
"They'd have to be if they adopted you," Angie ribbed him playfully with an elbow. He shoved her playfully back.
"The point is," Jimmie continued. "You didn't have to move in with your boss like you had nowhere else to go. It kinda makes it look like you suddenly thought… I dunno, that we weren't good enough or something."
"Hey, come on," Larry interrupted. "You know it ain't like that. Not with Richie."
"I took the room cuz it was easier at the time," Richie finally spoke. "I'd been living with them anyway, after that knifing Romeo gave me got infected and I nearly died, and then again after my apartment blew up. I never saw any of you all those times I was in the hospital and then afterwards I only saw Gary. Where were all of you when Romeo was trying to kill me? If I thought I actually had friends to lean on, maybe you would have seen more of me." Richie meant every word of what he'd said, and felt no remorse in saying it.
Angie looked down at her shoes. She had been too busy avoiding Gary (who was avoiding her) that she didn't know about Richie's troubles until much after the fact.
Larry followed suit. He had been up in Seattle living with his grandparents for the duration of racing season. He only began to find out about recent events when his parents called to tell him that Gary died.
Jimmie shifted nervously on his feet. He had been too busy with summer school and working on his G.E.D. to notice much of anything.
Kyle turned away. He'd been stoned at the time. He was always stoned these days. Though after what happened to Gary… Who knows? Maybe he'd try and stay clean for a while.
In the lingering silence that followed, Richie didn't feel any better for his outburst. He felt the silence as a living, breathing thing that crept in between his friends and began to grow, driving them further apart.
"It ain't right…" Jimmie eventually bemoaned when he broke free of the silence. "It ain't none of it right."
"We shouldn't be hearing about each other's troubles this way," Larry added. "I mean, I didn't hear Gary was dead until my folks saw it in the paper and called me. I didn't know about Richie's troubles until a few days ago. I mean… Seattle isn't long distance. You should have called me."
"Or you should have called us," Kyle redirected.
"Whatever," Angie cut them both off. "Larry's right. We're supposed to be best friends and we ain't been. Not recently. I mean, shit! Just cuz we don't all go to the same high school anymore, that's no excuse for us not talking to each other for weeks and months."
"We should make a pact," said Jimmie. "Right here and now. We should all swear that shit like this is never gonna happen again."
"Yeah," Larry agreed. "We gotta start making time again, like we used to."
"I don't think any of us have the time anymore to hang out in pizza places playin' poker and swappin' comics," Kyle mused dejectedly.
"Well… not all the time," Jimmie countered. "But every once n' a while. I guess. If it's important enough."
"Hey now," Angie interjected angrily. "Don't go thinking that those of us who can't show up to your little powwow don't think it's important. Some of us work forty hours a week."
"I miss high school," Larry said suddenly. "I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but I actually miss high school."
"I don't," Richie negated bitterly. "I just miss Gary."
Either no one could respond to that, or no one wanted to.
"Well I've gotta get going," Jimmie said, breaking the lull in conversation. "I'm stuck watching Brian after mom goes to work."
"Me too," said Kyle. "I'm his ride."
"Yeah… and I probably should get going, too," Larry followed. "It's supposed to rain in Seattle tonight and I wanna get there before it starts."
"So long then."
"Yeah. See ya."
And Kyle merely waved.
That left Angie and Richie standing on the sidewalk by themselves, watching the retreating forms of their friends' backs.
"I guess you have to get going, too…" Richie said to Angie after a moment's pause.
"I have to be at work at six and mom wanted me to stop home first," Angie replied.
Richie nodded. "Ok. I guess I'll see you later then."
Angie smiled. "Sure Richie."
"And I mean it this time."
Angie's smile faded some and her eyes darted briefly away. "Sure, Richie."
A few more forced smiles and half-hearted waves and Richie was following her retreating form as she strolled down the street, never glancing back over her shoulder.
Richie stood alone on the sidewalk and sighed tiredly. Jimmie was right. They shouldn't have been burying a friend today. Gary was only nineteen!
When Richie checked his watch he saw that Mac wasn't going to be by to pick him up for another twenty minutes, so rather than wait around on the sidewalk watching cars drive by Richie headed back into the cemetery. He knew the perfect way to kill time.
A concrete slab, hastily and sloppily engraved. After nearly fourteen years, the concrete was starting to chip and the engraving was getting harder to read. Richie didn't need to read it, though. The words there were permanently burned upon his brain. His social worker had taken him here one day, to prove to him that Emily was really dead so that he would stop telling the other kids at the orphanage that she would be coming to get him as soon as she found out where he was and then boy would she be mad for what they did—
The only happy (relatively speaking) month he'd spent in that awful place. Then his social worker had taken him here and shown him that it was completely and totally impossible for Emily to take him home. Even then, he hadn't quite understood. After all, he'd had distinct memories of Emily saying to him that one day his daddy would come to his senses and return to them, but he hasn't yet. Daddy was gone, but that didn't mean that he was never coming back. Mommy had said so!
Then his caseworker, Marla, had shown him his mother's grave. At five years old, Richie still couldn't read the words so Marla had to read it for him. He traced his fingers along the engraving as she did so, and back then they were small enough for a perfect fit. Somehow, Richie had finally understood that his mother would never be coming back for him. That funny-looking concrete block told him so.
When he'd gone back to the orphanage, Richie no longer thought that anyone would be coming for him. After all, Emily was dead and it had been nearly a month. That daddy she kept saying that he had was gone for years. Richie clearly remembers thinking that he probably has a funny-looking concrete block all his own in that cemetery, and if only he could read then maybe he'd find it.
Richie learned to read at six and ran away from his first foster home at seven. He'd gone straight here, and he read the names on every single one of the gravestones. The only last name of Ryan he found was Emily's, and that's when he began to hope that his daddy was still out there somewhere and was coming for him. That gave him the strength to want to survive the system, because he had to last long enough for Mr. Ryan to find him.
It was nearly seven more years or an entire lifetime in the social services network before that last bit of hope was painfully purged from him. After that, Richie began visiting Emily a lot more often. She was the only family he had, or was ever going to have.
He hadn't been here in a few months, and was starting to feel guilty about it.
"Hi mom," he said to the gravestone. "I know it's been a while… I'm sorry… … … A lot's happened since I saw you last. I'm eighteen, for one thing. No more ward of the state. Free at last…
"I really should have come by sooner. I'm sorry, mom. It's just… life's been kinda crazy lately. I've had trouble with the law, trouble with a gang, trouble with friends… Heh, you name the type of trouble and I've probably found it these last few months. Or it's found me. Whatever…
"I had my own apartment for a while—did I tell you that? I'm not sure. Was the last time I visited you before or after that loser Marla stuck me with kicked the bucket? … … … …
"Well, when ol' beer gut had himself a coronary it turns out that Social Services really dropped the ball. My name got lost in the paperwork shuffle or something cuz no one from the state showed up at the apartment to claim me. So I spoke to the landlord—who's seriously missing a few screws I might add, and got my name transferred to the lease. Pretty smart, huh? … …
"You know, I never really appreciated how hard it is to make ends meet with just one source of income until I had to do it myself. People in the neighborhood were good about it, though. There were always kids to baby-sit or old people to do errands for or someone's clunker needing an oil change… I knew which cars not to steal the hubcaps off of and which pawn shops don't take fingerprints… I was doing alright for myself, mom. For once. I was even trying to make sure all my neighbors knew what a good kid I was so that I could use them for references when I applied for a job when I turned eighteen. I needed to wait 'til then cuz then my juvie record would be sealed and I'd actually be able to get a real job. Then I'd have been able to quit stealing… … … …
"I made a mistake mom. A really big one. Everything turned out okay in the end—better than okay. Everything's actually really great now… To make a long story short, one month I couldn't come up with enough cash to make ends meet so I had to find a big score to cover the rest. I chose this quaint little antique shop in the Heights. I figured, break in quietly after closing time, bypass their ancient alarm system, take whatever would fit in my backpack and high-tail it outta there. The job was cake! Only…" For the first time today, Richie laughed. He didn't even realize he had done so until he heard the alien sound. When he recognized it for what it was, he shook his head and laughed some more.
"Only I screwed up. Big time. … Let's just say that I picked the wrong store, on the wrong night, and got caught with the absolute wrongest piece of merchandize in my hands." Richie laughed again, the sound coming easier this time.
"I don't really know how to explain what happened next. Only that I got caught by the cops and brought down town. Man, I really thought that I was done for, but Mac—the antique dealer, when he went down to ID me he decided not to press charges... … … …
"Do you know how stupid your son is, mom? Cosmically. Fucking. STUPID. I was curious about an antique dealer who wouldn't charge the kid who tried to rob him… Stupid. Stupid. Stupid… Let's just say I saw something I wasn't supposed to see. Again… … … … … … … For the longest time I was afraid that Mac would kill me… … I didn't know him very well then.
"Well, fun and games aside, I still didn't have the cash to pay rent, so I was forced to borrow it… … I mentioned how stupid I am right? I borrowed from the worst loan shark I could find. Then when surprise-surprise I couldn't pay him back he tried to kill me… Nearly did, too… … … It was Mac that saved me.
"Long story short—heh. I already said that, didn't I. Sorry mom. It's just… there's a lot of catching up I need to do. It's important… … … Well anyway, Mac saved my life and offered me a job. I've been working in the antique store I tried to rob ever since. Strange, huh? Well, believe me. It gets stranger. A lot stranger.
"Remember the loan shark? Well he caught up with me again. Twice. And he tried to kill me both times. And Mac saved me again. Both times. I don't— …I don't entirely understand it mom, but Mac… He looks out for me. Always made sure that I took those damn pills the hospital gave me… … …
"The apartment blew up, mom. Well, the gas stove blew up, but it took most of my apartment with it. Mac and Tess—Tessa, Mac's girlfriend. They've been together for twelve years. Twelve years! I still can't get over it. Well, Mac and Tessa, they wanted to keep an eye on me anyway, since I broke my arm when the apartment blew up. They insisted that I move in with them, at least until I was back on my feet again… … … … … I've been back on my feet for a while now. They still haven't kicked me out…
"You'd like them, mom. I really think you would. Mac's real smart. He kinda reminds me of my old basketball coach—you remember? The one from the Boys and Girls club? He's a good boss. A bit overprotective, but then… well… I do kinda give him cause to worry, don't I." A blush crept into Richie's cheeks at the admission.
"Tess's great, too. I know you two would have gotten along. She's French—born in some lovely town I can't remember and even if I could I can't pronounce it right. But I've seen pictures and its real pretty… She's an artist. A good one. People pay big bucks for her sculptures… … … … She mothers me a bit. Sometimes. She's the oldest in her family… sisters. I think she thinks I'm the younger brother she never had.
"They're good people, mom. I don't… I'm not sure how to describe it. He's my boss, the Scottish antique dealer. She's his girlfriend, the gorgeous French artist. Then there's me, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks that they took pity on… … … Sometimes it feels like that, but others… … … …. You know, some days I can't help but wonder where they stashed the Real World camera and if in homes across the country kids are watching all of this on MTV.
"It's weird, mom. It really is. I really don't know how to describe it… I don't think I really want to, either. It works. That's all that matters, right? I have a good job and a nice place to stay and cool people to eat dinner with every night. I mean, sure its weird—oh boy you don't know how weird, but even still… … … I kinda like it. The way things have turned out. Right now, I don't think I'd trade this arrangement for anything… … … … … … …
"I saw Mr. Stubbs again. You remember him, don't you? The guy at the candy store? … … … … … The one who cashed your foster checks… … … … I don't care mom. At first I did, but then… … … I don't know in what garbage can DSS found me, but they gave me to you. And you named me Richard… … Richie… … … Ryan. Richie Ryan. Foster or not… you were my mother… … … And you still are. I guess… … I guess I just needed to tell you that… … …
"Your husband's name was Jack. That's another thing I've learned recently… … … Jack Ryan… Mr. Stubbs helped me to track him down. Or at least, give me the right clues… … … I thought I'd found him. After I moved in with Mac and Tess I went looking for him… Dunno what possessed me to do it… … … I didn't find him. Found a con man named Joe who though he could rob the antique store to cover his debts… … … … Mac saved the day again then, too.
"Joe wasn't such a bad guy, mom… Not really… … We sorta came to an understanding at the end… After he saved me from his debtors and then Mac showed up and saved us both." Richie laughed again, remembering what a fool he was. "He sent me a postcard from Tucson the other day. He's working at a gas station, leading a fully legit and gambling-free life… … … Good for him.
"Mr. Ryan's name is Jack. I know that now… I dunno, maybe one day I might run into him… … … Or maybe not… … … …I don't really have any plans to go looking for him any time soon."
Suddenly a car horn sounded and Richie looked up. He looked back across the cemetery to the street and saw the T-bird. Mac was idling patiently, waiting for him with the top down. Richie smiled despite himself when he turned back to Emily's grave.
"I don't need Jack Ryan, mom. I have you. I guess it took finding a fake to teach me that… … … And… Well I don't wanna jinx anything, but… I have a good job, a good place to live, and… and… … I like Mac and Tessa. I really do. As far as foster families go they would have been perfect… But I'm eighteen now. The state doesn't get to play around with this one. If… If I want it to work… … keep my job, not get my ass chucked onto the sidewalk… … … … It's all me now, mom. And I know I can make it work. Mac and Tess, they're pretty easy to please… … … And I want it to work, mom. After so long… … … … I want a family. I wanna be a part of Mac and Tessa's family."
The car horn sounded again. Richie looked back over to Mac and waved, signaling that he'd be right there.
"I gotta go, Mac's waiting… … … … You don't have to worry about me so much anymore, mom. I think… I think that, for the first time, things are really all right… I'm doing good, mom. Real good… … … I miss you, but… but I'm ok. Really." Richie smiled then, a broad, genuinely happy smile. "Look after Gary would you? He's new to the whole 'being dead' thing. I'll be back sooner next time, and with flowers! I promise!"
And with that Richie turned from Emily's grave and jogged back through the cemetery towards the stone fence that separated the dead from the outside world. He didn't say goodbye to Emily because he found it rather pointless to say goodbye to a dead person. Besides, Richie Ryan hates goodbyes. Only the people you care about say them, and then they're always permanent. Goodbyes equal pain, and Richie avoids pain just as strongly as he avoids saying goodbye.
His mind stopped the depressing analysis as soon as he vaulted the low stone wall and came to stand on the sidewalk outside the cemetery. He hit the pavement and jogged three paces to the T-bird. Then he vaulted himself into the passenger seat.
"How was it?" The highlander asked him.
"The services were good," Richie answered, his voice neutral. "The Corrells thanked me for clearing Gary's name."
MacLeod simply nodded, deciding not to say anything to that. Burying their son would have been hard enough without having to deal with the police on top of that. Of course, that's small consolation when you remember that, after it all, you're still burying your son.
"How are you holding up?" Duncan asked instead.
Richie bit his lip and looked back into the cemetery. "I'll live," he replied. True to form, his voice was tired but didn't betray any real emotion.
"If ever you want to talk…" Duncan offered awkwardly.
Richie turned to him and smiled faintly. "Thanks, Mac."
Duncan returned the smile.
"Come on," he said, turning the key in the ignition. "We've still got another hour before Tessa gets back from her meeting with the bicentennial committee."
Richie looked at his watch and grinned. It was still a bit early for dinner, but what the hell.
"I was thinking burgers."
Richie's eyes lit up. "Oh, well in that case how bout the steak house? We could get burgers and you could bring something less greasy home for Tessa."
Duncan half frowned. "She doesn't complain about greasy foods that much."
"Heh. Maybe not to you, but every time she catches me I get a lecture on my eating habits."
"Well maybe if you didn't eat greasy potato chips and greasy French fries all the time she wouldn't feel the need to lecture you on greasy burgers."
"Or maybe I should forgo the grease tonight and get ribs?"
"Oh sure like that's any better for you."
"It's less greasy!"
"The house barbecue sauce has more calories than their chocolate cake."
"So you're saying apple pie for dessert then?"
Duncan just rolled his eyes as he shifted into gear. Richie laughed merrily as they pulled away from the curb and Duncan had to smile himself. He'd accomplished what he set out to do, and that was to distract Richie from the fact that he'd just left Gary's funeral.
A few blocks later Duncan decided to turn on the radio. It was tuned to the classic rock station, but when he didn't recognize the song he moved to change it. He was surprised when Richie's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.
"Please," he asked in a quite voice. "Mac, can we just let this one play?"
Duncan blinked in confusion but returned his hand on the steering wheel. Richie seemed embarrassed for a moment, but then, ever so slightly, he smiled. Duncan watched out of the corner of his eye as Richie's smile turned into an abbreviated laugh. Then he closed his eyes and leaned back in the seat. Richie smiled again, his fingers strumming along to the easy rhythm. Mac simply shook his head and returned his attention to the road. Whatever the song was, Richie seemed to enjoy it enough, and that was good enough for him.
The T-bird drove through the streets of Seacouver with its top down. The passenger was calmly relaxing to the music as the warm September air danced about his body as they drove. The driver was focused on the road, easily navigating their way to one of the best non-fancy restaurants in Seacouver and finding the oddly calm and tranquil mood of his passenger strangely addicting. The passers-by were treated to snippets of Bookends Theme by Simon and Garfunkle.
Yeah, Richie thought to himself as the nicer part of Seacouver scrolled by. I think I wanna get used to this.