The Invitation – missing scene from "The Gamble"

Summary: After Dawn Atwood does the unthinkable, it's up to Kirsten to pick up the pieces… (I wrote this scene ages ago – although it's been done by fantastic writers, here's my take for anyone who's up for one more look.)

A/N: While working on Chapter 10 of Dear Ryan, I found this in my archives, and decided to post it for anyone who might be interested.

Disclaimer: I own nothing related to The OC – not the concept, the characters, the canon – nada, rein, zero, nil…

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Kirsten stood, paralyzed, staring towards the pool house. Dawn Atwood had just done the unthinkable. Again. Just maybe for the right reasons this time, but still. How in God's name could a mother simply abandon her son?

Exiting his life so simply, with only a wave of her hand?

Inconceivable.

Except that it had happened.

She'd watched as Dawn faced her son from a distance… had witnessed the painful sequence of confusion, recognition, and anguish that etched across Ryan's face, as what his mother was doing had slowly registered. As he had waved back so sadly.

She'd stared in stunned disbelief as the woman had actually turned her back and walked away, forsaking all responsibility for her child.

When the teenager had quietly retreated to the sanctuary of the pool house, she'd stood rooted, waiting for Dawn to come to her senses. Waiting for her to send the taxi away, and come back for Ryan.

She'd just heard the sound of a car door closing, and driving away…

Almost surreally, the sound of the engine faded slowly into the distance, leaving only an empty silence in its wake.

She held her breath, hoping for Ryan's sake that the taxi had left empty.

Knowing in her heart that Dawn was gone…

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Inhaling sharply, Kirsten squinted her eyes as the bright sunshine reflected off the pool, scattering flecks of light across the patio and against the surfaces of the Cohen home. She shook her head, struck by the dancing light. Thinking how wrong it appeared. Wondering how light could dance when all she felt was darkness.

She needed to go to Ryan, but she had no idea what to say, or what to do.

Dawn had just made so many assumptions. That Kirsten was a good mother. That Kirsten was prepared to offer a home to another woman's child. That Ryan would survive being abandoned yet again. That he would be better off with the Cohens.

Damn.

Just…

Damn.

She closed her eyes, took a long breath, and tried to think more clearly. What the hell was she going to do? What could she possible say to make this better? To help Ryan through this?

The one thing she was absolutely certain about, though, was that the teenager should not be alone for one more minute. She'd just have to figure it out when she faced him.

She crossed the short space to the poolhouse, and knocked lightly on the door. "Ryan?" she called softly. When there was no answer, she opened the door and repeated, "Ryan?"

He was sitting on the cushions where he had slept the night before, his arms wrapped tightly around his midriff, head down. When she entered the poolhouse, he raised his head briefly, his eyes meeting hers for the briefest instant before he turned his head, and drew in an unsteady breath. He unwrapped his arms, and swiped at his eyes, but not before Kirsten saw the tears glistening, threatening to spill.

Kirsten was surprised to see that the bed had been made, and that the sheets and blankets he had used were folded neatly. In the face of what had just happened, this kid had made the effort to clean up the space allotted to him.

God, she couldn't even think, and here he had already erased all evidence that anyone had slept in the pool house last night. He had stopped there, though. She took in the disheveled hair, the sweat pants, the wifebeater, and the bare feet…like he mattered less than the things he had bothered to straighten.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, looking up at her from underneath sandy blond bangs, before lowering his eyes to stare at the bed where his mother had only a couple of hours earlier been sleeping off her most recent binge.

Kirsten was not expecting an apology, even though she realized she should have. This kid seemed to routinely shoulder blame that rightfully belonged elsewhere.

Struggling to keep her voice steady, she responded, "You don't have anything to be sorry about, Ryan. You didn't do anything wrong."

He grimaced slightly at her assurances, and said hesitantly, "I mean about my mom. Last night … this morning. I … I should have stayed with her last night, and watched her. It's my fault. If I had stayed with her, I might have been able to stop her from drinking."

Damn that woman, anyway. She doesn't deserve him, Kirsten thought angrily, as she moved closer to the boy. She tried to reassure him, "You're just a kid, Ryan. It shouldn't be up to you to take care of your mother."

The blue eyes were unsettled when he raised his head to look at her. He started to speak, but hesitated. Stopped. Closed his eyes wearily, as though he did not have the strength or desire to respond.

Kirsten found herself searching for words to comfort the teen, but they would not come. She needed Sandy. Sandy had words. But there would be too much to explain, too much to fill in, and this kid needed someone now. Think, damn it.

He startled her out of her search. "Did she say why?" he asked huskily, glancing briefly up at her. He could not keep the pain out of his voice, or his eyes. Kirsten could only imagine how difficult it must have been for this boy to summon the courage to ask that question. To ask her that question.

Kirsten closed the space remaining between them, sitting next to the teenager. He did not move away, but did wrap his arms once again around his body. His head was lowered, as he waited for her response.

Kirsten put her hand on the teen's back, anticipating that the boy would flinch, or withdraw, as he had on those few occasions when she had touched him over the past days, but this time he was still. She gently rubbed his back, as she said soothingly, "Ryan, honey, your mom loves you. She wanted you to know that."

Ryan looked sideways at her, frowning. "She sure has a unique way of showing it," he said.

"Sometimes loving someone involves letting them go, even when it breaks your heart. Your mom believes that you deserve more than she can give you right now." Kirsten continued to lightly knead Ryan's back as she spoke. "She wanted to do something good for you, sweetie."

He glanced sideways at her, pupils narrowed in disbelief. His voice was thick and heavy with unguarded anger, as he responded, "And leaving me on my own … again … is gonna' be good for me how?

Kirsten want to shake Dawn almost as much as she wanted to hold Ryan. But she couldn't do either. She wasn't sure how to answer his question, because she wanted someone to answer it for her, too.

He rose abruptly and looked down at her. "I'm sorry," he said again, the anger now buried. He looked at her through that disheveled fringe. He grimaced, and raised his eyebrows in supplication. "I … I didn't mean to sound ungrateful." His eyes met hers as he drew in another deep breath. "I'll be ready to go," he said more softly "whenever you say."

Kirsten watched him, struggling with her wish to hug him fiercely, yet fearing that he would panic if she did. She almost missed his last sentence, but as it slowly registered, she looked up at him, puzzled. "Go?" she asked. "Go where?"

He hesitated, his face downcast. She had never seen him look so young. So alone.

At last he answered, "Back to juvie, I guess. Until my probation hearing." His voice sounded fearful, but resigned.

Kirsten shook her head. She couldn't bear to think of Ryan ever going back to that awful place. And if she were truly honest with herself, she hadn't liked the thought of him going away with Dawn, either.

Sandy was right. There was something about this kid. She straightened her shoulders, took a quick breath, and plunged ahead, suddenly very clear where she was going.

"Honey, your mom wanted you to stay with us. That's what she meant. She wasn't leaving you on your own this time, Ryan … she left you with us."

Kirsten watched as the boy closed his eyes, clearly embarrassed. "God, Mrs. Cohen, I'm so sorry. She had no right to ask you..."

Kirsten cut him off, saying "Actually, Ryan, I'm glad she did."

He stared at her, his head tilted. His face reflected his obvious confusion, as Kirsten stood up, crossed to where Ryan stood, and took his hands lightly in hers. "You'll stay with us now, okay?" she asked gently.

Looking at her, the teen said softly, "Thanks, but I know that … I mean, you've been clear all along that my being here … was only temporary… until you found my mom. And you did that. You did everything you could." He dropped his head, eyes staring at her slender hands on his. "It's okay… I understand."

Kirsten's heart lurched, as she recognized her earlier words, spoken before she had spent any time with this boy. Before she had any real sense of who he was.

Words that had coldly defined her world, leaving him outside its borders. But those words no longer reflected what she wanted, or how she felt.

She squeezed his hands, and entreated, "I'm asking you to trust me on this Ryan. Because what we'd like? What I would like? Is for you to stay here, with us."

She smiled at him, and cocked her head to one side, waiting for his response, her eyes gentle and warm. "What do you say?" she prompted when he stood silent.

His deep blue eyes searched her face, as he bit his lips. He looked away blinking, appearing to struggle with his thoughts.

"Ryan?" she prompted once again, her tone hopeful.

He turned back to her and smiled slightly… tentatively. Dropping his head and looking at her from underneath his bangs, he finally answered softly, "I'd like that, too."

Kirsten smiled happily, "Good. That's…that's really good, Ryan. Come on – let's go let the guys know." With a final encouraging squeeze of his hands, she turned and nodded her head at Ryan, indicating he should follow her to the house.

As she led the way across to the kitchen, her mind raced at the enormity of what she had just done. On her own. Without Sandy.

But her soul soared.

For the first time in years, she, Kirsten Nichol Cohen, had opened a small door to her heart.

And the kid behind her was stepping through…

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fin

A/N: Reviews greatly appreciated...