1Title: Kirsten and the Secret

Rating/Warnings: Pretty tame.

Disclaimers: I own nothing in relation to the O.C.I am playing a bit with the time-line of Season three. Please overlook and forgive me for the discrepancies to canon

Summary: Kirsten is hiding something and the boys try to find out what. This was written for Brandywine's lj hiatus challenge. My sentence was "His pain was like a desert,"

Kirsten and the Secret

His pain was like a desert, long, hot and hard. His need for her made him ache. The memory of their last night of passion haunted his every moment. The thought of how their bodies entwined...

"Mom, we're home!"

Kirsten quickly shut the romance novel she was reading, shoving it under the couch pillows just as Seth and Ryan entered the room.

"Boys, what are you doing home so early? It's Saturday night. I wasn't expecting you for a few hours yet, not that I'm not glad to see you of course." She knew she was beginning to ramble, and yet she couldn't stop herself. On top of that, she kept tucking her hair behind her ears and twisting her wedding ring, all her telltale signs of nervousness.

"It's all Summer's fault."

Ryan gave Seth a look.

"Don't look at me like that, man. You know it's true. Mother, you have no idea of what I went through this evening. First, she left me waiting downstairs at her house for forty-five minutes while she decided what to wear. That means forty-five minutes of talking to Dr. Roberts, and you know how nervous that man makes me."

"Well maybe, if you would learn to shut up every once and a while, or curb the sarcasm."

"Dude, that is so not the point, and I didn't see you helping matters any. You were upstairs with Marissa. The two of you could have been helping me, but, oh no, it was smoochy time for Ryan and Marissa. Ouch!"

Seth's last sentence was cut short by Ryan hitting him in the arm.

"Mom, did you see that?"

"Yes, dear. Ryan, honey, please don't hit Seth, even when he deserves it. Seth, was that the extent of your horrible evening?"

"Please, I have not yet begun. So, we went to the diner and I just happened to mention that I didn't know what she spent so much time on, considering her shoes didn't match her outfit."

"I still say the bigger problem is you paying attention to see if your girlfriend's clothes match."

"Ryan, do not interrupt my tale of woe. As I was saying, her shoes didn't match and she just lost it. You know how I like to eat my food in a particular order, and with none of it touching. Well, she just reached over and pushed my burger into my chili cheese fries. They were co-mingled, Mother. It was anarchy! My meal and the night were completely ruined. I saw no point in continuing the farce that was supposed to be a date. I just had to leave."

"I can see how that would be stressful, sweetie." She shared a knowing look with Ryan.

"Thank you. I am glad to know that someone in this family sympathizes with my pain. So buddy, do you want to go to the pool house for a little Play Station?"

"That's a good idea, boys. Why don't the two of you head on out? I think I'll turn in early. See you in the morning. Good night." She gave each boy a kiss on the cheek before heading toward her bedroom.

X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Ryan stood at the pool house door staring into the kitchen.

"Ry, I have this set for two players and Captain Oats is not here, so get a move on."

Ryan stayed watching the house. "Did you think Kirsten acted funny when we got home tonight?"

"This is Mom we are talking about. She's not funny. I think that is part of the reason she is so happy you joined the family. You are even less funny than her."

"Not that kind of funny, moron. I mean strange, almost nervous. She was doing that thing with her wedding ring. She never does that unless something is up."

Seth was suddenly serious. "You're right. She was doing that. She did that earlier this week and I didn't think much about it. I came down early for breakfast and she was already up. I don't think she heard me at first, because she acted, I don't know, I guess you could say, out of sorts when she saw me. What are you trying to say?"

"I'm not sure. She's had a lot on her plate lately, me getting kicked out school, adjusting to life outside of rehab, her dad's death, Sandy running the Newport Group. I mean, that's a lot. Don't you think? I hope that things aren't overwhelming her."

"Do you think she started drinking?"

"I don't know. All I know is that I don't want things to get so far out of hand like they did last year. Maybe if I recognized the signs, I could have told Sandy, and we could have helped her sooner."

"How come you didn't?"

Ryan looked questioningly at Seth.

"It's just that you hardly ever mention Dawn, but when you do, it involves her drinking. How

come you didn't see it with Mom, if you already lived with one alcoholic mother?"

"I don't know. I ask myself that question all the time. I guess I was so wrapped up in Lindsey, and then Marissa and Trey, I just didn't pay enough attention. Kirsten was so different from Dawn when it came to the drinking. Mom didn't hide anything. She was very open. She didn't hide it in her coffee or juice. She just drank straight from the bottle. It was just different. I think the main reason was that it's Kirsten. Your mom's the strongest woman I ever met. I just never thought there was anything she couldn't handle."

"I know what you mean. She was like Wonder Woman. Oooh, I just got a visual of Summer during Chrismukkah a couple of years ago."

"Focus, Seth. We need to decide what to do about Kirsten."

"Well, we can't just storm in there and accuse her of drinking again just because she acted a little off one night. Do you think we should talk to Dad? Maybe he's noticed something too."

"No, we don't need to involve him yet. Besides, he's hardly ever around anymore. He's always at the Newport Group and like you said, what would we even tell him? That she acted a little funny one night? He would just say we were overreacting."

"We could spy on her. You know, with you here during the day with your tutor, you could check up on her, and I could do my shift at night."

"Trust me, if she wants to drink, the two of us checking up on her all the time won't stop her. She will still find a way to do it."

"I know, but if we pay more attention, maybe we will be able to tell if she's started drinking again, get proof."

"All right. I can't think of a better idea."

"Okay, so operation "The Kirsten Watch" begins tomorrow."

"Um, Seth, you're not going to go all comic super-spy on me are you?"

"Dude. You wound me. I can be totally stealth."

They sat playing their video games, with Seth still periodically bringing up Summer's treatment of him that evening. Suddenly, he turned toward Ryan. "Did you ever think it was strange? I mean, what are the odds that you would have two alcoholic mothers. Do you ever think about that?"

Ryan didn't respond. Seth thought that he had gone too far, and was ready to apologize when Ryan finally answered, "Every day."

The boys finished the evening in silence.

X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

They put their plan into action the next day. It was Sunday and things went smoothly. Even though Sandy was home the entire day, the boys still kept a close eye on Kirsten. They played video games inside instead of the pool house, ate all three meals together, and didn't go out with the girls at night. By the end of the day, both parents commented on how nice it was to spend the day together as a family.

On Monday, it was Ryan's job to periodically check on Kirsten. However, his tutor was a veritable drill sergeant that day. The only time he had to go in the house was at lunch, and Kirsten wasn't home. She had a meeting with Julie to discuss their dating service.

It was three o'clock by the time Miss Reed finally left, and Ryan immediately went in search of Kirsten. She was no where to be found. He knew that she hadn't left again, so that left only one place...her bedroom. He couldn't think of one good reason to knock on that door. The truth was the idea made him uncomfortable. He hardly ever went into their bedroom. In fact, the last time he was there was last Chrismukkah, and that was only to coax her out of the closet.

He could tell her he wasn't feeling well, but that would never work. He had been sick just a few times since coming to live with the Cohens. He had tried to hide his illness, not wanting to be a bother, but each time Kirsten would just appear with a thermometer and Tylenol, asking him what was the matter. After one of these times, he asked if she was psychic. She told him that all moms were when it came to their kids being sick. Ryan realized Dawn never had those feelings. He had been sick several times with a cold or flu, and Dawn had been too drunk to notice or maybe she just hadn't cared.

He could tell Kirsten that he needed help with his homework, but he would have felt stupid doing that. He wasn't a little kid and he had never needed help before. Besides, she might be the smartest woman he had ever met, but he doubted she had done any advanced calc in a while.

He was going to have to come up with something. He couldn't just stand outside her bedroom the rest of the afternoon. With no idea of what to do when she answered, he took a deep breath and knocked.

He noticed that she did appear a bit flustered when she opened the door, but it could have just as easily been from the surprise of him standing there.

"Ryan, what is it? Is everything okay?" Her concern made him feel guilty. He didn't mean to make her worry more. He wondered when things had changed between them. That

she would find it unusual that he would come to her without having something be wrong. He was about to apologize for disturbing her, and just forget the whole thing, when he changed his mind. That was what he would have done last year, and look how that turned out. He vowed that things were going to be different. He was going to make sure she didn't need help.

"No, everything's fine. It's three and Miss Reed just left. She really piled on the information today and I need a break. I was wondering if you wanted to go down to the pier and get something to eat, maybe some ice cream or something."

The look on her face made him feel even guiltier. She looked so genuinely pleased.

They were almost to the Range Rover when he asked, "So do you want to drive or shall I?"

"Wait a minute, Ryan. I've got a better idea." She went in the back of the garage and brought out a bike Ryan had never seen before. "I use to ride before I started yogalaties and pilates. It's a nice day and I thought we could both use the fresh air. I haven't seen you ride much lately."

"I guess I just got use to Seth and me always having the Range Rover while you were..." He paused, uncertain how to continue. Once she was home, no one had actually talked about her stay at Suriak. They knew she went to her AA meetings once a week, but they didn't talk about them. She just wasn't home those nights.

"You mean while I was in rehab. You can say the word. The three of you need to quit treating me like I'm going to break."

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Ryan."

"No, I mean about everything. I know how you didn't want me to begin with, but I do know that changed. However, I haven't exactly made your life any easier. I mean between Oliver, Theresa, Lindsey, and then I brought Trey in your lives. I know that you didn't want to come home because you didn't think you could handle it, and when you finally did come back, you got blind sided with everything that happened with the shooting and finally, me getting kicked out school couldn't have helped. I just want to say I'm sorry, for all the trouble I keep causing your family."

"Oh, sweetie. How long have you felt this way? Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, you are my family. You can ask anyone at Suriak how many kids I have, and they will tell you that I have two sons that I am very proud of, and how I wanted to get better for them. You might have been part of the reason I wasn't ready to come home, but not for the reason you think. I wanted to make sure that I was well, so that I would never disappoint you again."

She placed her hand on top of his and waited until he looked at her before continuing. "It's very important that you believe me. You do believe me, don't you?"

At that moment, his belief and trust in her words was the most important thing in the world. He finally answered by telling her that he did. He told her again and this time he promised. Because he didn't look away or at the ground, she knew it was the truth, and for now that was enough. They spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other better.

Sandy was gone that evening, working late again. The boys had decided that the evenings with Sandy absent might affect Kirsten the most. Seth decided it was his turn to watch over their mother. "So Mom, what are you doing tonight? Because, I was wondering if you would like a little lesson in video game ninja fighting?"

"Are you and Summer fighting again?"

"Why do you always think the worst of me? Can't a young man, who in a few short months will be venturing off to college, want to spend one of the last fleeting moments of his youth with the woman who gave him life?"

"I'm sorry I doubted your intentions, sweetie. I guess I am just wondering what I did to deserve to spend so much time with both my boys. You are playing too, aren't you Ryan?"

He had considered calling Marissa, but all thoughts disappeared with Kirsten's question.

X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

The week went on in much the same manner. The boys would stick around the house each evening. Sometimes, they asked the girls over and sometimes they didn't. The only difference in the routine was that it was now Kirsten who sought Ryan out after the tutor left for the day. He was pleased that Kirsten genuinely wanted to spend time with him, and the feeling was mutual. He had never felt this comfortable or close to her before, but he didn't forget that he had an ulterior motive to spending time with her.

By Saturday night neither Seth nor Ryan had noticed any unusual behavior in Kirsten. They decided that they had overreacted and made plans to go out that night with the girls.

They were home by nine. The fight that evening was started over the serious debate of licorice versus JuJu Fruits. Seth said that he couldn't eat anything that was his grandfather's nickname for Julie Cooper-Nichol. Summer had smacked him for making fun of Marissa's mom right in front of her, and the fight escalated from there.

They were relatively quiet when they entered the house, so much so that Kirsten didn't even hear them come in until they were almost in the family room. She rushed to shove her latest romance novel under the cushions again, but the boys only saw that she was trying to hide something.

"Boys, home again so soon? This is the first night you've been out all week." Once again she was twisting her rings. It didn't go unnoticed.

"Mom, what are you hiding under the cushions?"

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about. I'm not hiding anything." She twisted her rings all the more.

"Damn it, Mom! Just stop it. We know something is up with you. We've been watching you all week and the first time we leave you alone, you're hiding your booze under the seat cushions."

For a moment Kirsten didn't know what to say. She was shocked that they thought she was drinking again, but even more hurt that all the time they had spent together recently was so that they could keep an eye on her.

"Is that what this whole week was about? Well, don't I feel stupid. I honestly thought the two of you wanted to spend more time with me. Instead it was just because you didn't trust me enough to leave me alone? I expect an answer, boys. Seth? Ryan?"

Ryan was hesitant to speak. He was afraid of what Kirsten would say to him. Over the past week, they had talked about what was said during the intervention. She had apologized repeatedly for hurting him. He knew that she hadn't really meant the words. He knew that she hadn't really wanted to hurt him. He knew that she was truly sorry. He knew all of those things. However, he also knew that if she said them again, they would hurt so much more now. In just a week, their relationship had grown. He just didn't want to take the chance of her hurting him again, but he didn't have a choice.

"I'm sorry, Kirsten. It was just that first day. I've really enjoyed this past week together. Our afternoons are my favorite part of the day. Please don't be mad. You keep telling me that I'm a son to you. So shouldn't we, as your sons, be able to tell when something is wrong with you?

You being gone all summer was really hard on all of us. It was worth it if it helped you, but we don't want to lose you again if we can help it, for any length of time. You're the only mom we have."

"He's right, Mom. We just want to help if you need it. We need you and love you."

All of Kirsten's anger disappeared. She crossed the room and enveloped both in a fierce hug.

"I am so proud of you for doing this. It must have been so hard on both of you, but I promise you I have not started drinking again. I swear it."

"Then what have you been hiding?"

She went to the couch and pulled out the period piece romance.

"Mom, you've been reading romance novels?"

"Judy at Suriak got me hooked on the things. I hear smokers start eating when they quit. I guess I just needed something else that satisfied me."

"Okay, Mom, to quote Summer "EWWWWW."

Sandy arrived home just in time to hear Seth's remark. "Hey, guys, what's up? Honey, have you been crying? Boys, what have you done to make your mother cry?"

"Sandy, it's nothing like that. The boys just discovered my little guilty pleasure." She held up the book for him to see.

"A Knight of Passion. This what I have to thank for what happened the other night?"

"Well, technically that was "Ensign's Ecstasy", but you guessed it, sailor."

"Ensign, sailor, so that explains the uniform."

"STOP RIGHT THERE! I am very glad you two got over whatever marriage hurdles you had last year, but you are not to discuss that in front of me again. Do you understand? Good. I may never be able to look at the two of you again. Come on, Ryan; let's just hope a little Playstation will erase the memory of Dad's last comment from my scarred psyche."

The boys headed for the pool house. Before leaving, Ryan turned to face Kirsten. "You're not mad at me? We can still spend time together? I get it if you don't want to any more."

"You know, I've been thinking we never did go on that architecture tour. Be ready at three o'clock sharp Monday afternoon."

Ryan couldn't help but smile as he told her he wouldn't be late.

Sandy turned to his wife and picked up the book, noting the medieval looking models on the cover. He bowed gallantly and said, "Well, my lady, care to show me any new tricks that you've learned from this volume?"

Kirsten did her best curtsy and led her husband to the bedroom.

The End