Collapsing into his tired, worn, and ultimately comfortable brown leather chair, Sandy Cohen picked up the file on the top of his ever expanding mountain of paperwork, a mountain that was dangerously starting to buckle under its own weight and lean slightly towards the floor. He loved being a lawyer, a public defender, helping young kids get a second chance and championing the underdog, but paperwork was the bane of his existence. Despite the fact that he would be cooped up inside of his small office all afternoon working on the numerous court documents he had to prepare, he was still smiling widely; after all, even though there were pages upon pages of destroyed trees awaiting his perusal and signature, it was a glorious day.
It had started early that morning when his alarm went off on the local news station, their six am surfing report bringing an ecstatic, childlike enthusiasm into his 44 year old body, for the waves were high, the water temperature brisk, and the beach was calling his name. After riding the breakers for several hours, he had returned home to be greeted with both good news, Seth and Summer had decided to move out of the poolhouse and into an apartment, and a frisky wife who was looking to celebrate in the best possible way: a party meant only for two. And, as he sat there at his desk, albeit slightly late but definitely energetic enough to make up for the lost time, he realized the day, up to that point, had been practically perfect. With the soft, soulful strains of Solomon Burke filling his rather dusty office, the sun's rays cascading through the window to land warmly on his suit jacket clad back, and the perfectly smeared bagel in his hand as he occasionally brought to his mouth to take a bite, completely oblivious to the cream cheese that was sticking to the corners of his mouth, even paperwork didn't seem that daunting. Yes, life was good for Sandy Cohen, and he had a feeling it was going to be a wonderful day with absolutely no surprises. He should have known better.
Not even ten minutes later, his secretary buzzed him, uttering ten words he had always hoped he would never hear.
"Mr. Cohen," the middle aged, office proficient spoke clearly through the phone, "there's a Julie Cooper here to see you."
If asked later, he would have sworn the birds outside his window literally stopped chirping as soon as the haunting sentence assaulted his senses. It was safe to say surprised didn't even begin to describe his state of shock, so he just sat there, dumbfounded, not saying a word, his breakfast still perched right before his face.
"Uh…Mr. Cohen," his secretary prodded him again, but when he didn't say anything, she just continued. "Sandy! Should I show Mrs. Cooper in?"
"Okay….yeah….I mean, yes, please show her in." And before he could brace himself, she was there, red hair flaming, collagen injected lips pursing, eyes smirking in amusement. "What can I do for you, Julie? You do know that I don't handle private cases, so unless the authority of Orange County appointed me as your public defender, I really don't see why you're here."
"Don't flatter yourself," she snapped in response, settling down in the chair across from him despite never receiving an offer to do so. "I'd never come to you for legal help. This is not a professional call."
"That's what I was afraid of," he sighed, "because if it's not professional, that means it's personal, and I have to tell you that scares the pants off me."
"Well you without pants scares me, so we're even," she countered. "I guess that puts us on an even playing field." He had to give her the credit; she could banter with the best of them. Nodding his head in an accepting manner, he indicated for her to continue. "I'm here to discuss our children," she revealed looking him straight in the eye. "I'm here to discuss my daughter, Marissa, and your son, Ryan."
"Is something wrong?"
"That depends upon how you look at it," Julie stated, her comportment and tone doing nothing to dispel Sandy's worries. "If you call being unwilling to admit their true feelings for each other as something being wrong in their relationship, then the answer is yes."
Shaking his head in slight frustration, he settled back into his seat, reclining so his arms were resting behind his head. "So, you've noticed that, too?"
"I think it's pretty obvious to anyone who observes them together that they're head over heals in love, but my stubborn daughter who has also been afraid of admitting her feelings since she was a child, something she gets from me, still claims that Ryan's merely her friend."
"A friend she spends all her free time with, a friend she sleeps with…"
"Don't forget to add a friend who's there to comfort her when she's upset and vice versa," Julie interrupted. Smiling smugly to herself when she noticed his heavy eyebrows quirk, she continued. "I don't know what happened, but last week I went to see her after I found out she had been in a car accident, and I found them wrapped securely in each other arms, tear stains on both of their faces. It was obvious she doesn't need me to take care of her anymore, because she had your son to do that now."
"I don't know what you want me to tell you, Julie," he spread his hands in defeat, "Ryan's just as stubborn and afraid of his emotions as Marissa is, especially when they're as deep as his appear to be for your daughter. I don't know how much the other Newpsies have informed you of, but he comes from a broken family with a lot of issues, and some of those issues still effect him despite the fact he's been with us for seven years. It's been obvious to me since the morning after we found them together at the community center that they had feelings for each other, and those suspicions were just confirmed last week when they showed up at the house together to hear Seth and Summer announce their news that they had gotten married. However, me telling him how he feels for her is just going to make him deny it even more."
"It seems our children are even more alike than we thought, because Marissa would do the same exact thing if I told her she was in love with Ryan. Oh, and, for what it's worth," she added graciously, "congratulations on your other son's marriage. Summer's an….interesting woman. He'll never be bored."
Laughing, Sandy responded, "then they're perfect for each other, because Seth definitely has a strange set of quirks himself." Leaning forward to rest his elbows on his desk, he observed her closely. "But I'm sure you didn't come down here to catch up and share domestic news, especially since my offices are located in a zip code your car has never seen before, so why don't we cut to the chase. The Julie Cooper I remember always had something up her sleeve, and I would bet just about anything that you have a plan to get our obstinate and tenaciously willful kids together officially."
"I do," she smiled smugly, relishing her reveal. "All we have to do is play by their rules. If they like to make bets, amuse themselves with games, and live their lives through tricks, we'll just have to be one step ahead of them and a few points higher on the IQ scale to beat them at their own sport. Are you in?"
"What exactly do you have in mind?"
Taking that for a yes, she stood up, slid her designer purse upon her shoulder and moved her way towards the door. "I'll be in touch when everything is in place. Thanks for your time, Sandy." Seeing her reach for the doorknob, he went to take his first easy breath since his secretary had interrupted his work with the announcement that Julie Cooper was there to see him, but she stopped, turned back around to face him, an amused smirk on her face, and his sigh of relief caught in his throat and nearly choked him. "Oh, and by the way," she motioned towards the corner of her own mouth, "you have a little something on your face."
And, just like that, she was gone, fleeing from his office as quickly as she had appeared, only the overwhelming scent of her expensive, feminine perfume lingering in the air letting him know that her visit had not been a carbohydrate induced hallucination. Sneaking his tongue out to quickly clear his face of the remnants of his late morning snack, he went back to work, making his way through his daunting pile of paperwork as his mind continued to wonder what Julie Cooper was up to, his hand went back to moving his bagel back and forth to his mouth, and the birds started singing again.
"Painting," Ryan asked in a disgusted tone. "We're spending the day painting?" Marissa only nodded her head quickly, a wide smile on her face, as she wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned against him. "You didn't warn me to wear old clothes. I don't want to get this shirt splattered with red paint."
"Then take it off," she whispered in a husky tone, letting her lips gently glide across the warm, tanned flesh of his neck.
"Are you going to paint topless as well?"
"Yeah right," Marissa exclaimed, pushing herself away from him and moving towards the supplies and picking up a brush. "If I take my shirt off, you'll just stare at me or, in all likelihood, try to seduce me, and I really want to finish this today."
"You're damn right I'd try to seduce you; that was the whole reason I called you to see if I could come over in the first place, and you know that. I openly admit that I lost our bet," he conceded. Holding up his hands in surrender, he moved to stand in front of her, his hands sneaking about her hips to cup her jean clad derrière in his strong and very capable palms. "Three days ago we made a wager to see who could go the longest without calling the other looking for sex…"
"A booty call," she interrupted him. It was how they described their relationship: a friendship with numerous booty calls.
"Call it what you want," he granted, "but the deal was that the loser would have to fulfill any sexual fantasy that the winner might have. Painting is not sexual."
"It's sexual if you do it naked and I get to watch," Marissa argued, widening her eyes in innocence. "And just imagine what it will be like when the room is finished. Red means passion, and you and me in my bed, in my crimson, intense bedroom, that'll be hot."
Begging to differ, Ryan pointed out, "it would be hot is we forgot about this whole, ridiculous painting idea and you let me take you right here, right now on the floor."
"Been there; done that…on many floors, but we've never done it on the floor of a red room before, and, as soon as my room's painted, we'll have to re-experience every part of it, the bed, the floor, my closet, the walls, my dresser, the chaise, and any other surface we haven't tried yet."
"Ugh, now you're just teasing me," he complained, dropping his head to moan into her chest.
"I know, and it's fun," she giggled, making him suffer in silence because she just kept talking. "And I'm going to keep torturing you until you're finished painting. No sex, no foreplay, you can't even kiss me until every spot of my walls is smothered with fiery flames of bright scarlet. Now, Sherman Williams," Marissa instructed, breaking free of Ryan's arms and handing him her paint brush, "color me red."
It was a month after Aron's death, and, despite the fact that they were practically inseparable, they both refused to admit what the other meant to them. She had gone to both the calling hours and funeral with him, her soothing caresses and soft words of comfort holding him together in the wake of his guilt and grief over losing his young friend, and, by becoming a permanent fixture in his life, she helped him to forget his pain and to move on. Somehow or other, they would end up together at one of their apartments every night, commuting back and forth between Newport and Chino so often they both felt as if they could drive the winding Southern California roads in their sleep. When they were with each other, it was playtime, whether she was surprising him by beating him at his favorite Playstation games, they were wrestling over the remote at night, Ryan always giving in and letting her watch her soaps while he pretended to hate them, or he was strumming her body so smoothly, she would hum and purr with satisfaction and pleasure. Those who saw them considered them as either a cute couple they could admire from afar or a disgustingly happy twosome who made those less gracious green with jealousy and purple with rage, but, no matter what reactions they garnered, neither Ryan or Marissa ever noticed, for they were always too lost in each other…lost in their friendship and booty calls.
Two hours into their painting, the sharp chime of her cell which was charging in her office interrupted Marissa's moody complaints against Ryan who was chuckling at her reactions to his penchant for putting more paint on her than the walls, his actions all in hopes of making her take off her clothes. Up until that point, he had failed, but he couldn't help but smirk at her figure as she walked out the doorway to answer her phone, for he had literally branded her with his hand prints, one covering each of her jean pockets with a red imprint of his grip. It was a sight, a physical expression that she was his, that he could get used to, but the ringing of his own mobile drug him from his thoughts before he could consider the relevance of his reaction to seeing the stamped representation of their exclusive relationship.
"So that was my Mom," Marissa revealed as she stepped back into her bedroom. "She said that she needs my help, and, normally I wouldn't leave, but this sounds serious, so…"
"Hey, don't worry about it," he dismissed her anxiety over leaving in the middle of their plans. "Sandy actually just called me, too, and he's gotten himself into quite the scrape, so I need to go bail him out."
"Then we'll meet up back here when we're both done," she realized, smiling at him. "Oh, wait here. I'll be right back." Ryan listened as her bare feet padded down the wooden floors of the hallway and into the kitchen, and he had to admire her enthusiasm when he heard her running back to him just as quickly. "Okay, so I don't know what you'll think of this, but I've been thinking that, because you spend so much time here, you should really have a way to get in and out on your own. Here," she instructed him, pushing something hidden inside her closed fingers into his outstretched hand. It was cool, metal, and thin; it was a key.
Swallowing thickly, he looked up at her, raising his free hand to cup her face. Leaning their foreheads together, he whispered, "thank you," before pulling back and placing a delicate kiss on her lips. "Come on," he said softly, "I'll walk you to your car."
Without a second thought, they left together, both called out to help their parents, Marissa still clad in her paint stained clothes and Ryan with nothing but his jeans and a wife beater on, and both totally unsuspecting of the trick being played upon them.
She had just set foot on the elevator, and, as she waited for the thick, metal doors to close so she could make her way to her truly one of a kind mother, her foot was tapping nervously and she continued to distract herself by playing with her badly in need of a manicure cuticles.
"Hold that elevator!"
Marissa knew that voice; it was one she heard continually in her dreams and in reality, but, before her distracted mind could place it, her hand reached out as if on instinct and stopped the doors from closing, allowing the man who had called out, the man she had not seen but recognized despite her lack of visual identification, to get on with her.
"Thanks," the oblivious man stated without bothering to look at her. He was preoccupied, rummaging through his wallet as he looked for something which was obviously important to him. Now though, she could see his body, and, even though it was only his back, there was no way she wouldn't recognize its lean, muscular frame. She had spent many evenings running her nails down that naked back, digging into its flesh whenever he pushed her over the edge of reason while they were having sex and gave her the most intense orgasms of her life. That back was her back to recollect.
"Oh my god," she exclaimed, her apprehension fading to be replaced by a white hot streak of anger. "You followed me!"
"Marissa," he responded turning around to stare at her in a bewildered manner. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing. I can't believe you followed me! I told you that I had to help out my mother, and, here you are, trailing me like a jealous boyfriend who doesn't believe his girlfriend is telling him the truth, and we're not even dating!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he yelled back at her, frustrated with her venom and not understanding where it was coming from. "I told you, Sandy called me and needed my help. He told me to meet him here. If your Mom told you to come here as well, it's either a really weird coincidence or something suspicious is going on."
"You don't think….I mean, what the hell could they be up to," Marissa questioned, Ryan's sigh of relief that her animosity had vanished as quickly as it had appeared to be replaced by confusion going undetected by the suddenly puzzled woman.
"I don't know," he sighed, surprising her when he took her hand in his, "but something is going on, and we're going to figure it out." As the elevator doors opened, announced first by a soft peal of a bell, they moved from the small confines together as one. "Were you told to meet your Mom in room 421?"
"Yes, and I take it Sandy said for you to go to the same place?" The slight roll of his eyes and his accompanying smirk was all that she needed to answer her question. "I just can't imagine my Mom going to your Dad for help on anything. I mean, Sandy Cohen and Julie Cooper working together on something? I would have predicted a blizzard to hit LA before I would have expected this unholy alliance."
"The scariest part of this is that the only thing they have in common is….us."
Squeezing his hand tighter, Marissa waited for Ryan to open the door to the judge's chamber for them, her pointed, enraged words escaping her clenched lips before she even became acclimated with her surroundings, and she never noticed the third party standing in the room with the two guilty parents. "What the hell is this about," she demanded of her mother to answer. "You call me and tell me that you've been arrested for assaulting a police officer, and that I have to come downtown to bail you out, and then, when I get here, I find out that Ryan got a phone call from Sandy, too, and that we were both to meet the two of you secretly. I want some answers, now!"
"As do I," Ryan agreed with her statement, turning his cold, irritated glare onto his adoptive father. "Was Julie your co-counsel or your client when you were placed in contempt of court today, because, otherwise, I really don't understand what's going on here unless you lied to me?"
While the two young adults continued to glower at their deceptive parents, neither of them noticed an elderly gentleman stepping forward with an amused smile on his face. Without any ado, he simply asked, "are you ready to get married," silencing Ryan and Marissa's heated words and washing the looks of outrage off of their faces. Sandy and Julie continued to smirk, the judge waited for a response, and Ryan and Marissa simply turned to each other, eyes wide with surprise, and stared at each other for several long, tension filled moments. Finally, he broke the silence of the room."
"It'll never happened," Ryan decreed, eyeing the woman standing before him in old, paint splattered clothing, "because Marissa would never get married looking like this."
"What's wrong with the way I look," she shot out at him, her annoyance quickly reappearing at his smug attitude. He had her so incensed that she never noticed the laughter entering his eyes.
"Nothing's wrong with the way you look; I like it when you're messy, when you have those tight, faded jeans on that hug quite nicely to your shapely…backside, when you wear low cut t-shirts to taunt me into submission, when you let your hair go free and wild….life after sex hair…" He paused briefly, blushing when the sounds of Julie snorting in frustration and Sandy chuckling out of delight made him realize they weren't alone. "However, no matter how much I enjoy you looking this way, it still doesn't change the fact that you would never get married without the whole nine yards, the designer dress, the long veil, the overwhelming flowers, or the gaudy rings."
"Yeah, because I'm really that obsessed with my image," Marissa retorted sarcastically, rolling her eyes at Ryan.
"Fine," he conceded, "but even if you would get married without the whole ridiculous Newport wedding production, you would never say 'I do' without a prenup. You're too smart of a business woman to risk it."
"If I was with a man I trusted enough, a man who I believed I could spend the rest of my life with," she countered indignantly, "then a prenup would be the last thing I would need to get married. But don't pull this whole sanctimonious act on me! Like you would ever marry someone with money! Your stance on wealth is well known, and I think we all know what I'm worth financially."
"I wouldn't let the fact that a woman had money when I didn't stand in my way of marrying her if I wanted to be with her." His response was quiet but confident, and, as his eyes bore into hers, eyes that seemed to reach into her very soul, eyes that seemed to know her better than she knew herself, Marissa's breath caught in her throat for a moment before she could continue talking again.
"Yeah,…but you would never want your kids raised in Newport, and I would never let them be raised in Chino." She knew her argument was weak and that her resolve was faltering, but somehow she didn't care.
"After what happened with Aron," Ryan whispered to her, his gaze never straying to the other people in the room as they watched on with interest and confusion, "I wouldn't raise a child in Chino either."
"So," she started unsure of what else to say, "now what?"
"Well, I'd say we have two options," he answered her, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "We could either leave here, letting a good opportunity to slip through our fingers and go back to painting, or you could take the risk, throw caution to the wind, and marry me."
"Is that a dare?"
Offering her a wide smile, he said, "why yes it is, and, if I know you as well as I think I do, you can never turn down a dare. So, what's it going to be? Are you leaving here single with your friend or are you leaving here married with your husband?"
Their entire suite was a wall of glass, French doors that could be opened to let in the clean, refreshing, delightful breeze that floated across the private, sultry, foreign island. It carried the warmth of the Caribbean sunshine, the aroma of the tropical flowers that surrounded their private bungalow, and the tangy essence of the ocean, and, as it fluttered the sheer curtains that separated the two blissfully happy newlyweds from the wild, untamed habitat of their surroundings, it caressed their slightly balmy skin as they prepared for bed the first night of their honeymoon. He was lounged carelessly against the doorway, his eyes never straying from his wife's luxurious form as she stepped out of the garden tub and, without any hesitance or embarrassment about being nude in front of him, walked to the vanity they shared to carefully apply her lotion before going to bed. Unable to take not having her in his arms, he moved to stand behind her, taking the bottle of cream from her hands and doing the honors of smoothing its rich, soothing, fragrant contents himself while he whispered seductively into her ear.
"Do you know when I first realized I was falling for you?" She merely shook her head no, too caught up in the moment to do anything else. "The instant you told me your name while we were lying in that fountain that first night we met was the moment you took possession of a piece of my heart, and you haven't let go since, instead, capturing the whole thing for yourself."
Curious, she asked, "why didn't you say anything?"
"For several reasons," Ryan revealed, taking his time to explain. "For one, you seemed completely disinterested, and there was no way I was going to put myself out there only to have you stomp all over my heart. Then there was also the fact that we were graduating from college, and I thought I'd never see you again. Plus, that wasn't who I was; I was Ryan Atwood, the guy from Chino who slept with any girl he wanted and never got attached, and then, finally, once we did meet up again, it was just too damn fun playing games with you to admit what I felt."
Giggling, she agreed with him. "Boy, do those reasons sound familiar. Welcome to the inner working of my neurosis."
"What about you," he pushed, wanting her to reveal the same confession. "When did you realize you were falling for me?"
"The night of the charity event you hosted for the center," she revealed, her face breaking out in a warm, happy smile as the memories overcame her for a moment. "As soon as I saw that fountain, something that you had obviously had included for me, I knew I was falling…and that I didn't want anything or anyone to catch me." They stood there in silence for a moment, his strong, protective arms wrapped around her lithe, vulnerable body, the lotion forgotten, just savoring the fact that they were finally together as more than just friends or lovers. They were a couple, a newly married couple. "There's just one thing left for us to do," Marissa interrupted the quiet of their room.
"And what's that?"
"We have to say 'I love you,' so," she slowed down her words, turning around in his embrace to look him in the eyes, a playful glint lighting up her deep, sapphire irises, "I dare you to say it first."
Surprising her, Ryan started laughing at the game she was playing. Obviously marriage was not going to stop them from teasing and tricking the other into doing things. "What do I get out of it?"
"Hm…," she pondered, tilting her head to the side to think. Before he could protest, she pulled out of his arms and moved to her makeup bag which was resting on the counter. Taking something out, she turned around to show him what she was holding. It was her packet of birth control. Holding it over the garbage, her intentions obvious, she waited for him to respond.
"I love you," he stated without any hesitation. His voice oozed sincerity, and, as he wrapped his arms around her once again, taking her lips in an endless, decadent, commitment filled kiss, he heard the sound of the little pink case hitting the bottom of the metal trashcan. With that, he picked her up, grinning in satisfaction as he felt her legs encircle his waist and heard a deep, husky moan escape from her otherwise occupied lips. They moved together as one to the bed, Ryan laying her down in the center and stepping back to gaze at her for a moment before joining her. She, Marissa Cooper Atwood, was his wife, the future mother to his children, his to seduce for the rest of his life. Blanketing her body with his own, the last thing he heard before he fell into a deep, intense abyss of pleasure were the four most important words anyone had ever uttered to him in his life.
"I love you, too." And they had come from her lips.