Ryan didn't have to do it, any of it. He didn't have to hold her hair back when she vomited or carry her to bed when she passed out. He didn't have to draw the curtains or place aspirin on the bedside table to help curb her hangover in the morning. He didn't have to clean the vodka off the walls when she erupted in a spontaneous rage or wash the urine out of her sheets when she didn't realize that she needed to get up in the night. He didn't have to lie to Sandy, who had moved out of the house a month ago. He didn't have to make up excuses for Seth, who was trying his best to pretend that he didn't notice what was going on. He didn't have to shrug off her co-workers, who called to find out why she hadn't come to work for a couple of days in a row. He didn't have to. He chose to.
Because that's what good sons do. Because that's what his mother had told him when he put her to bed after a good bender. Because those were the only moments when she actually told him that she was proud of him. Because he couldn't change her, he could only make her own decisions more comfortable. Because he didn't know any better. Because he'd never had a mom who wasn't an alcoholic.
"Ryan?" Kirsten's tired voice invaded his thoughts as he tried to read. The summer was getting longer by the day, the tension mounting in the house all the time. He looked up and she nodded toward the main house. "Dinner's ready." And she retreated without meeting his eye.
She never looked at him, certainly never thanked him for all he did for her. She didn't know how many times he had stopped Seth from finding her passed out in the living room or by the pool. She didn't know how many times he had cleaned up the messes she didn't know she'd made. She didn't know, and Ryan didn't need to tell her. He didn't care if she ever returned the favors. He didn't do it for the praise anymore. He did it because if he didn't, who would?
Dinner was long and uncomfortable, as had become the custom since Sandy left. There was little-to-no conversation, and sometimes Ryan wondered why they bothered to eat together at all. Even Seth had grown uncharacteristically silent in the wake of his parents' separation. There was nothing left to say - they were at an impasse. Kirsten refused to admit that she had a problem, and Sandy refused to come home until she did. And the boys were left to balance the delicate line between them.
"So, Seth," Kirsten cleared her throat, her voice devoid of any warmth. "Are you and Summer doing anything this weekend?"
Seth averted his eyes to his plate and shook his head. "No. Dad's taking me to LA this weekend. I told you that already."
Her voice stretched thinner as she blinked and then spoke again. "And what about you, Ryan? Are you going to LA?"
"Ah, no," he answered, looking toward her to find her staring at the centerpiece and carefully chewing the bite of lettuce in her mouth. "I think Marissa and I are gonna hang around, watch some movies. Take it easy." He wanted to add that he had to keep an eye on her, but bit his tongue. Her eyes said she understood his motives anyway.
"Are you guys coming with us tonight? The Bait Shop? Summer's been begging to go all week - I guess there's some Eruo-rock thing goin' on?" Seth asked, his eyes penetrating his friend's gaze, begging for an escape from the pseudo-conversation with his mom. It was clear that he was done with her as she lifted her wine glass to her lips again.
With a nod, Ryan took another bite of his dinner and tried on his best smile. He knew he couldn't hang around all the time, keeping an eye on her without raising a plethora of unanswerable questions. They weren't his answers to give, his secrets to spill. And until she gave the "go ahead," he would keep them all to himself. He didn't have to. But he would.