1Title: Exact Words
Rating/Warning: just a couple of swear words
Disclaimer: I own nothing in regards to The O.C.
Summary: Set early Seaon One. Ryan and the adult Cohens have problems over normal teenage issues.
For the purposes of this story it is still mid-summer. This is not a major plot point, but the boys will not be in school. There is no Psyco Donnie, Marissa & Luke drama, and Anna did not go on her sailing trip for the summer. For those of you not familiar with the early seventies tv show "The Brady Bunch" the title is a play on one of the episodes.

Exact Words

Ryan Atwood was bored.
He had been living with the Cohens for a few weeks now, and they were the most uneventful weeks of his life. Not that uneventful was all bad, especially given the events that led up to him living with them. He was very grateful the Cohens had agreed to take him in, and didn't want to complain about the recent lack of excitement. After all, here in Newport, the power was never shut off, the phone bill was always paid on time, and no drug deals were transacted in your living room. Most important, he didn't have to worry about one of his mom's drunk boyfriends beating the crap out of him just because he happened to be breathing too loudly. All in all, his new life was a huge improvement. But he was still bored.

Ryan had not been the wildest kid in Chino, not by a long shot, but he wasn't exactly a saint either. There had always been a party to go to on the weekend, or he had his buddies to hang out with. Sure, none of them could be bothered when his mom had kicked him out and he needed a place to stay. However, looking back, he couldn't blame them, not really. It wasn't as if he could have ever offered them a place to crash.

Sometimes, he thought about calling one of his old friends, but always decided against it. He couldn't very well have them come here. They would fit less into the Newport scene than he did. To go back to Chino would bring a new set of problems. He didn't want to risk seeing any of Trey's enemies or his mom's old boyfriends. There was also the problem of how to get to Chino. Riding his bike or taking the bus wasn't an option. The night would be more than half over by the time he ever got there. He would have to borrow the Cohens' car, and their vehicles wouldn't last fifteen minutes on the streets of Chino after dark. But the truth be told, the main reason that he didn't keep in touch with anyone was that he wanted to keep his old life separate from his new life. If he was to truly grasp the chance the Cohens were giving him, he needed to leave Chino and the people there behind.

Ryan knew there were parties all the time in Newport. He'd found that much out the first weekend. He also knew that he wouldn't be welcome at any of them. He was still that kid from Chino that burns down houses. And as far as girls went, there had been a flirtation with that Marissa girl from next door. In the end, it had turned out she was using him to get back at her cheating boyfriend. He really wished he had figured that out sooner, before the whole model home disaster. She definitely hadn't been worth burning down a house for.

Then there was Seth, and well, Seth was Seth. Ryan liked Seth. He really did. He might even go so far as to say that he was his best friend... if guys actually talked like that. But you couldn't exactly take Seth out to a party. That fact had been proven within the hour of that first party, when Seth had managed to get both of their asses kicked by the water polo team. Not to mention, Seth had been spending more and more time with Anna. Anna was cool and all, but her and Seth were way too involved with the comic book thing for his taste. Besides, he could tell Anna really liked Seth and Ryan wanted to give them some time alone. Unfortunately, Seth was still so hung up on Summer he didn't even notice Anna's many obvious hints and advances. Seth could be completely clueless sometimes.

Ryan sighed as he got ready for work that Saturday morning. He figured that he would be home by eight. Not that he cared...he had to keep reminding himself. It was just sad that the most exciting thing he had to look forward to all weekend was a new copy of "Legion."

It had been a long busy day at the restaurant, but Ryan didn't mind the hard work. It gave him something to do and the tips were good. He really hated feeling so dependent on the Cohens. They told him that the money wasn't an issue, but he still felt like a charity case, and that was something that made him uncomfortable.

He was wiping down the last table before going home, when Ty, another waiter, came up to him. Most of the other waiters at the restaurant lived in Newport, but on the numbered streets. Ryan had never bothered to tell anyone that he lived on "McMansion Lane." He just wanted to fit in somewhere.

"Hey, Ryan. Got anything going on tonight?"

Ryan was a little surprised by the question. Ty, along with the rest of the other waiters, had been friendly, but they had never taken that outside of working hours.

"Me? Nothing much. Why?"

"My friend's parents are out of town, and we've decided to have a party tonight. He doesn't know it yet, though. We were wondering if you want might want to come."

Ryan wasn't sure what to do about the Cohens. They had never set any rules about going out or mentioned anything about a curfew. Of course, it hadn't exactly come up. He wasn't used to dealing with parents who actually cared about what he was doing. He considered calling them, but he really wanted to go out. They might say no and he didn't want to risk it. He had been with them long enough to figure out that they were different from his mom and her boyfriends. If they got mad at him for not calling and going out, it wouldn't turn physical. Anyway, he couldn't see why it would be a problem. It was just a party on a Saturday night. He decided that there couldn't be any harm in it, and told Ty that he just needed to grab his keys.

Ryan tried to be very quiet when he entered the Cohens' that night. He had made sure to be home by midnight. Never having a curfew, he figured that would be a safe bet. Dawn would have had to be home and conscious to enforce one, and that just never happened. He remembered other kids talking about 12 o'clock curfews and although it seemed early, he thought he'd better be safe than sorry. He had enough of the sorry. It may have been a short night, but he had still had a really good time. Besides, there was no one waiting up for him, so they must not have been angry that he was out late.

The next morning he wasn't so sure about his decision the night before. After all, he didn't have the best track record with the Cohens. In the short time he had known them, he had been arrested, burnt down a house, got arrested again, and then add a few fights inbetween the arrests. Maybe the Cohens thought he couldn't be trusted. He hadn't given them much reason to believe that he could be responsible. But he told himself that getting a job showed some responsibility. At least it couldn't hurt. It was, however, with some trepidation that he walked into the kitchen the next morning to face all three Cohens.

"Dude? Where were you last night? Anna left at 11:30 and you weren't home yet and I really needed to talk to you. I thought the Crab Shack closed at seven."

Ryan really wished he could find some type of pill that would make Seth not talk so much.

"Did you go out last night, Ryan?" Kirsten asked. Her tone was casual and she didn't appear upset by the news.

Ryan started speaking much more quickly than was normal for him. "Yeah. Was that okay? I know I didn't call, but I didn't know if I was supposed to or not. It was just with a few guys at work."

"Of course it's okay, kid." Sandy patted Ryan on the back as he poured himself a second cup of coffee. "We're glad that you have made some friends. Especially since Romeo here," he motioned towards Seth, "has company almost every night."

"Hold on there Dad. Romeo? I don't know what you mean. Anna and I are just enjoying each other's company while discussing the many merits of graphic novels."

Ryan was relieved that the Cohens weren't mad at him. They hadn't even mentioned anything about a curfew, let alone not going out again. He ate his breakfast and half-heartedly listened to Seth ramble on about comics, Anna, and the perfection that was Summer Roberts. Ryan smiled and thought again that Seth was completely clueless when it came to women.

The Cohens had been supportive of Ryan getting a job with the conditions that he work no more than twenty hours a week, and would quit when school started. They wanted Ryan to enjoy the summer and secretly hoped it would give him the chance to act more like the kid he was supposed to be. Therefore, it was Wednesday before Ryan worked again.

He walked in the back entrance to the restaurant to find Ty and a couple of other waiters who were at the party Saturday night.

"Hey, man. You were so lucky you didn't have to work on Sunday. I was still wasted, and barely survived my shift. So, you got any plans for tonight?"

This time Ryan didn't think twice before agreeing to go out.

That night Ryan was pleased to discover that some things were the same no matter where you lived. They had managed to find a small bar, albeit a dive, that was willing to overlook their age, for a fee, of course. Hanging out at a bar was something Ryan was definitely accustomed to. He found himself having a better time than Saturday night.

It was during a game of quarters that he first bothered to look at his watch–it was one-thirty. There was no way he would be able to make it back to the Cohens before two. He bummed a ride back to the restaurant and biked home as fast as he could. He was relieved to see that once again, all the lights were off in the main house. Ryan took the long way to the pool house, not daring to risk going through the main house and waking anyone. He made it to the pool house undetected. As he changed for bed, he thought the only thing he needed to do was get up early and warn Seth not to mention that he had been late again. If the Cohens questioned him, he knew he wouldn't be able to lie, and tell them he was home by midnight. They hadn't seemed to care before, but there was no sense taking any chances.

As the Atwood luck would have it, he overslept. However, as soon as he entered the kitchen, he knew he didn't have anything to worry about. Seth was engrossed in the new comics that had been released the day before, and Sandy and Kirsten were busy with their usual good natured bickering. It seemed that Kirsten's father was going to be out of town for business for over a month, and Sandy was a little too happy with that news. Ryan opened the cabinet containing the cereal, thinking that his new life was getting better and better.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks Ryan continued to hang out with his new friends whenever he worked. If he wasn't scheduled to work he stayed at home, with the Cohens and more often than not, Anna. He liked this new arrangement. After all, he didn't need to go out every night. He was just glad to know he had other options. However, when he went out, he stayed out as late as he wanted, and didn't give a thought to the time. Since the Cohens didn't seem to mind his late evenings, he saw no reason to cut them short.

One particular late night, as he crawled into bed, he thought about how much he loved the pool house. He smiled and remembered his best friend Eddie back in Chino. The guy would be completely jealous of this set-up. Eddie had to share a room with two younger brothers that were always willing to narc on him whenever they got the chance. With the pool house, Ryan could come and go as he pleased. He didn't even have to try and be quiet and sneak around. Plus, the place was nicer than anywhere he had ever lived in his entire life. The Cohens may have been the best thing that had ever happened to him, but the pool house was a nice bonus.

Kirsten had to work exceptionally late that same evening. With the fire at the model home, she had countless hours of extra work and stress. She made a point to never mention that at home. She didn't want Ryan to overhear. He would just feel guilty and apologize, again. It had been an accident, and more importantly, no one had gotten hurt in the fire. She shuddered to think of what could have happened to Ryan if Luke hadn't gone back for him.

It was these thoughts of Ryan that caused her to look fondly towards the pool house. She couldn't help but notice that the lights were still on and was immediately concerned. She glanced at her watch. It was late, very late. She knew that he worked today and that he sometimes went out with some friends afterwards. But he was usually home before now. Wasn't he? She was about to wake up Sandy when she saw Ryan come into view. He didn't even glance at the main house as he entered the pool house. Once she determined that he was fine, and had just stayed out late, she became upset. It was entirely too late for Ryan to be out. She could tell by the way he had approached the pool house that he wasn't trying to sneak in without notice. He had obviously come home this late before and not been caught. She made a mental note to talk to Sandy in the morning about Ryan's late nights.

As they were getting dressed for the work the next day, she broached the subject

"Honey, do you know how late Ryan gets home when he goes out with his new friends?" She didn't bother to wait for a response. "I was working late last night and I saw him come home. Sandy, it was two-thirty in the morning. I have the feeling that he's been coming in this late for a while."

Sandy let out a long slow whistle. "Why do you think this isn't the first time?"

"I remember at that age, I was always sneaking in late after a date with Jimmy. Trust me Sandy, Ryan wasn't trying to be stealth last night."

"That was more than I needed to know about you and Jimmy in the old days. I had no idea that he was staying out that late. He shouldn't be. He's made friends, and that's a good thing, but we need to set up some rules."

"We should have paid more attention and said something when he first started going out. It just never occurred to me, since Seth is such a homebody. Even now, Anna's always coming here. So he's still not going out."

"Don't worry honey, I'll talk to him right now," Sandy said as he kissed his wife on the cheek.

"Thank you."

As Sandy walked towards the pool house, he was surprised that he was slightly nervous about talking to Ryan. It shouldn't be that big of a deal. Lecturing kids about staying out late was something every parent had to deal with. Kirsten had been right though, it was something neither one of them had much experience in. Come to think about it, until helping Ryan run away, the only thing discipline problems they ever had with Seth was too much tv and making inappropriate comments.

Sandy knocked lightly on the pool house door before entering and discovering Ryan still fast asleep. "I guess the late hours are catching up to you kid," he thought. He watched Ryan sleep for just a moment. His hair was tousled, and he was burrowed under the covers. It made him look even younger than fifteen. Sandy was hesitant to wake Ryan. To say that Ryan could be easily startled was a vast understatement. It was just another clue to his past that the Cohens didn't like to think about.

Ryan must have sensed that he was being watched because he slowly opened his eyes. Seeing Sandy, he sat up in bed wondering what was wrong. It wasn't like Sandy to make such early morning visits. Whatever the reason, it couldn't be anything good, judging by the look on his guardian's face.

"Am I in trouble?" Ryan decided to cut straight to the chase.

"No, kid...well, not exactly. I need to talk to you about the hours you've been keeping."


Sandy couldn't help but notice the boy's guilty expression. He continued, "Kirsten was working late last night and saw you coming home. We haven't exactly set any guidelines for that sort of thing, have we?"

Ryan shook his head no. He figured silence was the best defense. Besides, Sandy didn't really seem angry with him. A little on edge, but definitely not mad. Maybe, he wasn't in that much trouble.

"Okay then, so you'll thinking about coming home earlier, right?"

"Yeah, sure thing, Sandy."

Sandy left the pool house with a comment about seeing him at breakfast. He was pleased that the conversation went well.

Ryan was thinking the same thing. He couldn't believe how easy that was. Sandy hadn't set a curfew. For that matter, he didn't even really tell him he had to come home earlier- just think about it. No problem, Ryan could do that. He would do exactly what Sandy asked, and think about coming home earlier. He wouldn't do it, but he would certainly think about it.

The next morning, Ryan woke up with a splitting headache and a killer hang-over. He looked around, trying to figure out exactly whose floor he had passed out on. Then he remembered. This time it had been Ty's folks that were gone for the weekend. As a general rule, Ryan didn't like to drink as much as he had the night before. He knew the tendency to drink to excess ran in his family, and was determined not to end up like them. Last night had been an exception to the rule.

Yesterday at work had been tough. He gotten stuck waiting on a large table of water polo players and their parents. He endured the adults' questions about if he was that charity case the Cohens took in. However, he could barely stomach all the remarks and demands of the jocks. They ran him ragged all the while making snide comments about him, his mom, Chino, you name it. He knew not to expect a tip from any of them, but he hadn't expected them to complain to his manager about his unfriendly attitude. He had never wanted to punch someone or something so bad in his entire life. He had needed blow off some steam and calm down. He had jumped at the opportunity to go out that night.

He groaned and tried to roll over enough to check the time. What he saw made him groan all the louder. Depending on how you looked at it, it was either very, very late or very, very early. Ryan knew if he didn't get moving in a hurry, the Cohens would be up before he even got home. There was no way he could sneak in the pool house if they were all in the kitchen having breakfast. He tried to ignore the pounding in his head, while he got up to go find his bike.

It was an unusually hot morning and the hangover was just making everything feel worse. He biked faster to try to make some time. He was so hot and tired, and his head hurt so much. And since when was getting to the house such a steep climb? Now that he had made it home, it couldn't hurt to rest a bit; just for a minute

Kirsten was awakened by the phone ringing.

"Hello," she answered groggily.

"Yes, Kirsten, this is Julie. I just need to tell you that I realize that you are doing a good deed taking in that boy..."

"His name is Ryan and why are you calling me at," Kirsten looked at the alarm clock. "Julie! It is only six-thirty in the morning and it's Saturday!"

"I am aware of the time and the day, Kirsten. As I was saying, even though charity can be a good thing, we have certain standards here and they are just not being kept."

"Julie, would you please get on with it? What are you talking about?"

"I am talking about that boy, Ryan, being passed out at the end of your driveway."

"What? Are you sure?" Kirsten couldn't believe it. She had thought Sandy had talked to him.

"Positive. He is lying there like some drunken, homeless vagrant. It's disgraceful. Out of respect for our friendship and the kindness of my heart, I am willing to overlook it, this one time. But I am telling you if it happens again I will be forced to call the police. Kaitlin is entirely too young to be exposed to such things."

"Thank you, Julie. Sandy and I will make sure it never happens again," Kirsten promised as she hung up the phone.

She was livid. Sandy had left early that morning to go surfing. He could get pretty focused when the waves were good, but certainly he would have noticed Ryan lying in the middle of the street. That meant Ryan had gotten home after Sandy left. Thinking about what time that must have been only made her angrier. She threw on her robe and headed to the front door. She took a small detour to the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of water out of the fridge.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ryan sputtered as he received an unexpected cold shower. Seeing Kirsten loom over him, he knew he was in trouble, big trouble and swearing at her couldn't have helped. "Kirsten, I'm sorry. I didn't know it was you."

She didn't acknowledge his apology. "Pool house! Now!"

Ryan had never seen Kirsten this angry; not even when Seth passed out after the fashion show. He grabbed his bike and went up the hill as fast as he could, with Kirsten following closely behind.

"Get your things together," she ordered.

Ryan's heart sank and his stomach twisted in knots. He should have known that the comfort and security he had allowed himself to feel could never last. Every time anything good ever happened in his life, something would come along and screw it up. No, he corrected, he would screw it up. He had promised no more trouble and he had blown it all, to hang out with some guys from work. The words of his mother's many abusive boyfriends came back to haunt him; he was getting just what he deserved.

He didn't dare look directly at her when he asked, "Are you kicking me out?"

"Oh no, you don't. That puppy dog look is not working on me today. I said get your stuff together. You're moving into the guest room now. The pool house was a privilege and your recent behavior proves you don't deserve it."

Any relief that he felt over not getting kicked out was short-lived when they heard Sandy pull in the driveway.

"You have fifteen minutes to get your stuff together and meet us in the kitchen. This discussion is far from over. And for your sake," she looked him directly in the eye, "you better not be one second late. Am I making myself clear?"

Ryan barely got out his stuttered "yes ma'am" before Kirsten was out the door and heading to the kitchen and Sandy.

Sandy was just beginning to make the morning's coffee when he heard the pool house door slam and saw Kirsten come storming towards the house. He was curious and slightly concerned at what Ryan could have done to make her that mad. He also couldn't help but be a little relieved that The Kirsten's wrath wasn't directed at him this time. He had just gotten out of the doghouse after making one too many remarks about her father.

"What's up, honey?"

"I thought you talked to Ryan about keeping such late hours. Because if you did, he didn't listen. He just got home."

"Are you sure?" Sandy didn't want to believe that Ryan would deliberately disobey him.

"Sandy, Julie called and was more than happy to tell me that he was passed out at the end of our driveway."

Sandy almost spit his coffee across the kitchen. He couldn't help it. The thought of Julie Cooper finding Ryan in that condition was simply too funny. He could just imagine the look on her face.

"This is NOT funny. She threatened to call the police if it happened again."

"His probation," Sandy said more to himself than to Kirsten. The severity of the situation sunk in. "Where is he now?"

"He's packing."

Sandy was literally speechless. He knew she was mad, but he had no idea. He thought Kirsten was really starting to care for Ryan. What could the kid possibly have done to deserve this? He only hoped she would calm down enough for him to persuade her to change her mind.

Seeing his expression Kirsten let out an exasperated sigh. "Oh for crying out loud, not you too…. I'm not kicking him out. He is moving into the guest bedroom, permanently."

Sandy was actually happy to hear that. He had never wanted the kid out there by himself in the first place.

"I know the pool house was my idea to begin with, but it wasn't a good decision once we decided Ryan was staying. He is a fifteen year old kid, who has obviously had no parental guidance or supervision. The seclusion of the pool house is simply more responsibility than he's ready for."

A small cough alerted them to Ryan's arrival. Kirsten checked the time, it had been exactly fifteen minutes since she left the pool house. He stood in the patio doors still dripping from his impromptu shower that morning. All his possessions had been hurriedly shoved into a spare pillowcase. Kirsten's heart gave a little tug. Ryan had been a part of her family for over two months and he could still fit everything he owned into one pillowcase. He didn't even have a proper duffel bag. Kirsten vowed to fix that, but for now she needed to focus back on the problem at hand.

This time it was Sandy's turn to lecture Ryan. "What exactly do you have to say for yourself, young man?"

Ryan was a little shocked at Sandy's reaction. He knew Kirsten was mad, okay more than mad, but he had figured on Sandy blowing it off. Especially after their talk the other day. Between Sandy's stern tone and the infamous "young man" phrase, Ryan knew he had figured wrong.

"Do you have any idea how much trouble you could have gotten in to with this little stunt? Julie Cooper almost called the police."

"I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." He should have guessed Julie Cooper was to blame for him getting caught. She had been gunning for him ever since he had dared speak to her beloved Marissa. He was reminded again of how glad he wasn't dating her daughter. Bitch.

"Excuse me?" He was startled by Kirsten's voice, he hadn't realized he had said that out loud.

"Um, sorry about the language."

"You should be sorry about a lot of things. I'm going to let that last slide, because well, we are talking about Julie Cooper. As for the late hours you've been keeping, I thought we discussed that."

Ryan was ready for that comment.

"You never exactly told me I couldn't stay out late. You just said to think about coming home earlier." The excuse sounded even lamer now that he had said it out loud. Sandy jumped on it immediately.

"Don't even pull that one on me, Greg Brady. You knew damn well what I meant. You just chose to twist it to your convenience. You're grounded for two weeks."

"Technically, I did come home early. It was six in the morning. That seems pretty early to me."

"Smart ass Seth-like talk just earned you another two weeks. You won't be leaving this house without permission. When your grounding is over, you will have a strict curfew. You are to be home at eleven on weekends and nine during the week, and when I say home your butt better be in this house, not at the end of the driveway. Is that exact enough for you?"

Ryan had never been grounded in his life. The last thing Dawn or her boyfriends ever wanted was for him to be home more. First he lost his pool house, then they grounded him for a month, but now, they expected him to be home when it was practically still daylight. What would be the purpose of even going out at all?

He didn't want to be ungrateful. He really did appreciate all that they had done for him. But he was used to much more freedom. He stayed out later than eleven when he WAS eleven, when Trey first let him hang out with the older guys. For that matter, he was out later than that when his mom dragged him and Trey to the bars when she wanted to go out, and couldn't leave them home alone. Ryan didn't think he would be able to follow these new rules.

"I understand about the drinking. I'll be more careful next time." He almost shivered from the icy glares he received from that comment. "What I meant to say, is that I will never take another drink until I am of the proper legal age. But I don't see what the big deal is about staying out late. My mom never cared what time I came home."

"Yes, and it was those fine parenting skills that led you to stealing a car, ending up in Juvie, and getting kicked out of the house."

Ryan literally winced at Sandy's words. The memory was still too raw. Ashamed, he put his head down, refusing to look at either Cohen.

Sandy realized that he had gone a little too far. He hadn't meant to bring up his mother's leaving him behind. "I'm sorry, kid. I shouldn't have said that. It's just that with the threat of the police, and your probation, and child services constantly hovering over us, I got scared. We don't want to lose you."

Ryan just nodded his head, he was still staring at the floor.

Kirsten noted Sandy's change in approach. She had also decided that Ryan had received enough tough love for one day.

"Ryan," she said, much more gently than she had all morning. "We realize you haven't had this kind of supervision in the past, but things are different here. You are part of this family now, and we worry about you. We don't like the thought of not knowing where our son is. Sandy and I set these rules because we love you and want to keep you safe. Okay?"

She couldn't believe that she actually said that. She remembered her own mother had used some of those same words when she was a teenager. She also remembered how stupid she had thought they had sounded at the time. She hoped they had a stronger effect on Ryan than they had on her.

Ryan had never felt so rotten in his life. He had betrayed the Cohens' trust and by doing so had disappointed them. And yet, instead of drunken threats and violence, they stood there talking about love and family. He knew he would probably never deserve them, but he vowed to try harder.

"I get it and I really am sorry. I won't do it again, I promise."

Kirsten heard the sincerity in his voice and noticed the moisture in his eyes. Her heart ached at the thought of how few times in his life he must have heard words of affection.

"All right, sweetie. Why don't you go up to your new room and change clothes, you're dripping all over the floor. Later we need to discuss how we can change the room and make it yours, especially, since you are about to spend a lot of time in there."

Sandy couldn't help but add, "I don't know about you kid, but I think picking out paint samples and bedspreads are the worst punishment yet."

Ryan nodded and gave them a small smile before heading upstairs.

Sandy gave his wife a kiss. "I think this time we got through to him."

"I think we did too, honey, in more ways than one."

Ryan had barely reached the top of the stairs when he saw Seth. It was obvious he had been eavesdropping the whole time.

"Man, that totally sucked."

"Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"What do you mean? You just got yelled at by both parents, grounded for the rest of the summer, and worst of all, you got the pool house taken away from you. Now you're stuck in the house with 'rents who will majorly cramp your style. What doesn't suck about all that?"

"Your mom just called me her son"

The End