1Title: The Meeting
Rating/Warnings: This is very tame, just a little bit of the angst, of course.
Beta: Who took time away from her own writing to help me. waves
Disclaimers: I own nothing in relation to the O.C. Also, I know nothing about how the social service system works. I made everything up so that it would work the way I wanted it to in this fic. I am queen-all-mighty in my O.C. world.
Note: This is for the O.C. Advent challenge. The words needed to be included were melancholy, maelstrom, blue, curve, and whip.
Summary: Very early Season One, Ryan, Sandy, and Kirsten have their first meeting with the social worker after being granted guardianship of Ryan.
The mood in the hallway could only be described as melancholy.
Ryan, flanked by Sandy and Kirsten, sat outside the office of the Department of Child Services. It was their first meeting since the Cohens had been granted guardianship. He was hunched over, elbows resting on his knees, staring a hole in the faded blue carpet that lined the hall. Over and over, he clenched and unclenched his fists in nervous anticipation. Ryan didn't know why they had to have this stupid meeting anyway. If Mr. and Mrs. Cohen - no - Sandy and Kirsten, had already been approved to be his guardians, what was the point of it?
He couldn't get used to calling them by their first names, though Sandy was a little bit easier than Kirsten. There had been something about him. Despite Ryan's history with male authority figures, he trusted Sandy right from the start. He guessed that was why he had taken the chance in calling him after his mom had thrown him out. There were still times he was slightly uneasy around Sandy, but for the most part, their relationship was comfortable.
Mrs. Cohen – Kirsten – was a completely different story. He still had trouble even thinking of her as Kirsten. She just seemed so much more like a Mrs. Cohen. He didn't know if his reluctance to call her by her given name had anything to do with her initial reaction to him or not. She had made it very clear at first how much she didn't want him around, but things were different now. He knew she had changed her mind about him. She wasn't the sort of mother who would let someone stick around if she thought they would harm her family. As opposed to his own mother. There were times Ryan thought that having a good right hook was a prerequisite to dating Dawn. He could tell that Kirsten was starting to like him, at least a little bit. But she still made him on edge. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't completely relax around her. To solve the problem, he had simply avoided calling her anything. It just made things simpler.
"It's going to be okay, Ryan." Kirsten's voice startled him out of his thoughts.
"Yeah, sure," he said, not sounding even remotely convinced.
"Kirsten's telling the truth, kid. These meetings are just a formality. We didn't have any problems being granted guardianship. They just need to meet with us to make sure you're doing all right."
Ryan quickly stood. "Well, I'm doing just great. Never better. Can we go now?" He turned toward the exit, taking a step in the direction toward the way out.
"Sit down," Sandy said, in a tone that Ryan had already come to recognize. He knew better than to even think of disobeying him. Defeated, he sighed and resumed his position in the chair.
"I'm sorry. But if we have to have these meetings, why do they have to be here? Why can't they be at our house?"
Sandy and Kirsten exchanged smiles over the top of his head. It was both a relief and a joy to know Ryan already considered it his home.
"That's what all the other social workers did when I lived in Chino."
"Others? What others?" Kirsten didn't know Ryan had dealings with Child Services in the past. She looked to Sandy. He quickly turned his head, but not before she saw a flash of guilt cross his face. He obviously knew something about Ryan's history that she didn't.
Ryan silently cursed; he hadn't meant to let that slip. "Um, Trey was always in some sort of trouble. You know, drinking, fighting, sometimes drugs. He ran with a pretty rough crowd. Don't get me wrong, I caused problems for mom too. Sometimes, it was me they were checking on. I skipped school a lot in Chino, and you already know about the fighting." Seeing Kirsten's expression, he quickly added, "I didn't forget about not getting into any more trouble. I won't do that with here, with you guys. I'll go to school and I won't get in any more fights. I promise."
Kirsten smiled and patted his arm. "We know you won't. We know how hard you're trying." She remembered how scared he had looked after punching Mr. Fisher the night of the cotillion. But the fighting and the part about school wasn't the only the only basis behind Social Services' visits. She could tell he wasn't telling her the whole truth. She decided she needed to keep pushing the issue. "Is that all? Is that the only reasons they came to your mom's house?"
She gave him "the look". The one where Seth said she went from being Mom to turning into The Kirsten. It completely intimidated him. He wished he could lie to her. He wanted nothing more than to tell her that yes - that was the only reason Social Services ever felt the need to call. It had nothing to do with black eyes, busted lips, and broken bones. It would be so much better if he didn't tell the truth. That was what his mother had taught him a long time ago. "It's no one's business what goes on in this house," she had always said. But Kirsten kept looking at him, and he knew he had to tell her the truth. There was something about "The Kirsten," you just couldn't lie to her.
"No, it wasn't. There were some times that Mom's boyfriends got a little…um…rough with us. I would come to school banged up and the teachers would report it. It wasn't a big deal, nothing I couldn't handle. They didn't really need to get involved."
For one second, Kirsten wished she could take her question back. That way she wouldn't know what it had been like for Ryan with his mother. She could go on pretending that his life before them didn't exist. But she knew better. It would be easier for her if she didn't know the truth, but that wasn't what was best for Ryan. How could she properly care for this boy if she was blind to what he had lived through? They needed to tell him that it was a big deal. That Dawn's boyfriends had no right to ever lay a hand on him. He needed to know that she and Sandy would make sure it never happened again. But now was not the time or the place for that discussion. It would have to come later, when they were home, where he felt safe. For now, she would ask him no more questions. Instead, she put her hand over top of his; giving it a small squeeze. He smiled his gratitude in return.
"They're not going to talk about that, are they? I mean the stuff that's in my file."
Above all else, Ryan didn't want the Cohens to know what was in that file. He didn't want their pity, but he would have preferred it to the alternative. His greatest fear was the information contained in that thick manila folder would cause the Cohens to change their mind. Since his dad had been in prison, Dawn had fifteen different boyfriends; all but one was abusive. Ryan didn't want to believe all of them when they said he was a nothing but trouble, and they were only giving him what he deserved. But could over a dozen men really be wrong about him? What if they were right? Maybe it was only a matter of time before the Cohens found out that he really was nothing but a screw-up. What if when the Cohens saw how much of a hassle it would be to raise him, they would tell the social worker to find a group home for him? He didn't think he could take any more rejection right now.
"Listen, kid. I know you're nervous about a lot of things, but you don't need to be. Everything is going to be just fine."
"You can't promise that. You can't promise me the social worker won't walk out that door right now and tell you that after looking at my file, he doesn't think I belong with a real family."
As if on cue, the door opened. There stood a tall man, looking to be somewhere in his late forties. He had a bulge in his middle that so many men get at that age. It was emphasized by wearing a shirt that was at least a size too tight, causing the buttons to strain against the material. He had almost no hair, besides the six greasy strands that hugged the curve of his round, bald head.
"Hello, folks," he said, looking at Sandy and Kirsten. "I'm Mr. Sloan, the social worker assigned to Brian's case."
"Ryan," Kirsten corrected.
"Ryan, his name is Ryan. You called him Brian."
"Oh well. I have so many cases the kids and their names start to run together. You can't expect me to keep them straight."
"Actually, I can." Kirsten said, unimpressed by his excuse.
Mr. Sloan ignored the comment. "Why don't you all come in my office? Sorry there are only two chairs. I don't have enough room for any more. One of you will have to stand."
It wasn't entirely true. It was a small office, but there were boxes, stacks of papers, and folders everywhere. If the man had bothered to clean and organize, there would be more space for seating.
"I'll stand. It's okay," Ryan said, taking a step closer to the door.
Sandy saw the move. He knew Ryan well enough to know what he was thinking. "No, kid. That's all right. I'll stand. You sit next to Kirsten." He guided Ryan to the chair, and once he was seated, Sandy placed both hands on the boy's shoulders. He hoped the gesture would give Ryan some assurance, and keep him from running out the door at the first chance.
"Okay," Mr. Sloan started, flipping through a file. "If this is Ryan you must be the Co-hens."
"Cohens," Sandy interrupted.
Mr. Sloan looked up, obviously annoyed. "I'm sorry, what is it now?"
"You said Co-hens. It's Cohens; the H is all but silent."
"You people sure are particular about your names. Oh… I see here you're from Newport. Well, that explains why you're so persnickety."
Both Sandy and Kirsten bit their tongues. For Ryan's sake, they had to remain calm.
"If this is a bad time for you, if you're too busy, we can come back later." Sandy kept his tone even, forcing politeness.
"No, no. I told you before. I've got a ton of cases. Now is as good as time as any. Let's just get started." He started reading and frowned. "Well now, he has quite a record, doesn't he? Poor grades, truancy, fighting, and recently it states here that he stole a car and burned a house down. It seems he is always at the center of a maelstrom of trouble. Are you sure you want to go through with this? I realize the guardianship has been finalized, but no one would fault you if you changed your mind. I see where you already have a child of your own. You certainly don't need some kid that is obviously a troublemaker disrupting your lives."
Sandy anticipated that Ryan would try to run. He guessed right; he could feel Ryan trying to stand. Sandy tightened his grip and firmly kept him in place. However, in his attempt to control his own fury towards Mr. Sloan's callousness, he didn't realize how hard he was squeezing Ryan's shoulders.
"Sandy," Ryan whispered, and tried to shrug out of his grasp.
"Oh, sorry, kid." He loosened his hold, and started massaging Ryan's shoulders. He felt awful; Ryan had experienced too many adults manhandling him in his young life. He had just gotten so angry over Mr. Sloan's last statement. How dare that man deem Ryan a troublemaker after barely glancing at his file? The last thing Ryan needed was someone to add to his insecurities about his place in their home. He knew he needed to calm down before attempting to speak. He slowly counted to ten, but Kirsten started talking before he reached the number five.
"Mr. Sloan, I can assure you that my husband and I are aware that Ryan has had some difficulties in the past. But his past is just that…the past. We have absolutely no doubts into accepting him into our home. In the short time he has been with us, he has already become an important member of our family. In regards to the problems he may have had previously, we are positive that will no longer be the case with us. In our home, he will have the proper guidance and support of a family who loves him."
Ryan looked up relieved, and smiled at her. Suddenly, he thought it wouldn't be so hard to call her Kirsten after all.
Ryan's relief was short lived with Mr. Sloan's next question. "Really? You and your husband think you can whip this boy into shape?"
Noticing the way Ryan flinched; Mr. Sloan studied the boy carefully, and then returned his focus back to the case file. He flipped through a few more pages before pausing on a small stack of papers that had been clipped together. He took them apart and fanned them across the front of his desk, giving the Cohens a good look at them. Each sheet was a report, and stapled to the top right hand corner of every page was a picture of a very battered and bruised Ryan. "I guess I shouldn't have used that term, huh? It appears your mother had some pretty bad taste in men. Poor judgment must be heredity in your family."
This was exactly what Ryan had not wanted to happen. He hunched over farther in his chair, refusing to acknowledge Kirsten's horrified gasp, and the tension in Sandy hands, as he gripped Ryan's shoulders once again.
"This is what I was talking about earlier." He pushed the reports nearer to the edge of his desk. "A kid with this type of background needs special help. Studies show that children who are raised in violence are apt to be violent themselves. It is my opinion that Ryan needs a more structured environment than your home can offer. I'm sorry, but I am going to have to recommend that he be removed from your care and placed in a group home until we can find somewhere that is more suitable to fit his particular needs."
Ryan had heard enough. He jumped up, causing his chair to tip over and Sandy to stumble backwards. Without Sandy holding on to him, Ryan raced to the door, flinging it open. Luckily, Sandy quickly regained his balanced, and was able to catch Ryan before he made it into the hallway. He gripped the top of Ryan's arms firmly and began to speak, "Ryan, I need you to look at me, kid." Ryan refused. "Okay, well you need to at least listen to me. We are not going to accept this. You're not going anywhere. You need to trust me on this. Kirsten and I will fix it. I promise." Praying the words were true, he turned to give this guy a piece of his mind. He had reached his breaking point. He was going to tell this Mr. Sloan exactly where he could stick his studies and opinions.
He stopped when he saw Kirsten. She was absolutely livid. Sandy had been on the receiving end of that look a few times himself, and the memories still sent chills down his spine. He decided to step back and let Kirsten take the reigns. She could more than hold her own with the best of them. She was, after all, her father's daughter.
Kirsten knew the first thing she had to do was speak to Ryan. He looked terrified. His breathing was at a fast, frantic pace. It looked like he was going to be sick. "Sandy's right, Ryan. Everything is going to be just fine. You don't need to worry about a thing. Why don't you go wait in the hall?" Not trusting him to be alone, she added, "Sandy will go with you. I'll stay in here and handle this. I'll be out in a few minutes." He wasn't moving. She looked at Sandy and nodded toward the door.
"Come on, kid. As much fun as it would be for me to watch, you don't really need to hear this. Let's go wait in the hallway like Kirsten said." Ryan finally let himself be ushered out the door. Keeping one hand fixed on Ryan's shoulder, Sandy shut began to shut the door with the other. As the door closed, he could here Kirsten say, "You will call your supervisor right now." Sandy had to laugh to himself. If the guy hadn't been such a complete ass and scared the hell out of Ryan, he almost would have felt sorry for him.
Sandy guided Ryan to a chair and gently pushed him down into it, before taking a seat next to him. Ryan was still staring at the ground. The kid could write a book, thought Sandy. The Floors of America. He started to say something, but Ryan cut him off.
"Doesn't that bother you, the pictures, I mean?"
"Of course it bothers me. I can't stand the thought of any kid getting hurt like that, let alone you."
"That's not what I meant. What you saw in those pictures, don't you want to know what I did to deserve that? You've only known me for a few weeks. You can't possibly begin to understand how much trouble I am to have around."
"Who told you that…your mom…her boyfriends?"
"Both. Every single time one her boyfriends hit me, they would tell me I had asked for it. That I had it coming to me. There were a lot of boyfriends. They can't all have been wrong."
Sandy sighed, and rubbed his forehead. He had seen Ryan's file before, and he always knew this conversation would happen someday, but he was still unprepared. He searched for the right words to say. "Listen, Ryan, I don't know why, but some men need to make themselves feel important. And, unfortunately, sometimes the only way they can do it is by hurting someone smaller or weaker than them. That's not an excuse, and I can't explain it. But you need to believe me when I tell you they were wrong about you, kid. Every single one of them was wrong."
"What about my mom? Was she wrong too?"
"You're not a little kid. You know she had a problem with her drinking."
"How could you tell?" Ryan asked sarcastically.
"You have got to realize that she was only doing what she thought was best for you. She wanted you to have a better life than the one she could give you. That's why she left you with us."
"Yeah, giving someone away is a great way to say you care. Somehow, I must have missed that Hallmark commercial."
Sandy realized this conversation was not going well, so he tried a new approach.
"Do you think I'm a good father?"
"Being a good father, do you think I'm any good at it? I know I'm not your dad, and I get that you've only been with us a short while, but what do you think of my parenting skills?"
Ryan looked at him confused. "They're great. I mean you're great. Seth is really lucky to have a dad like you."
"Thank you. I hope someday you will include yourself in that last sentence. Okay, now that you've answered that you think I'm a good father…how about a husband? Do I seem like a pretty decent one?"
Ryan still couldn't tell where this was going. "I guess. I've never really been around anyone who was married and happy about it. I know my folks weren't."
"I'm going to take that as another yes. So, we've got that I'm a good husband and father. You know I would do anything in the world for my family, don't you? You know that they are the most important thing in my life. You believe me when I say all that, right?"
"Good. Now with that knowledge, do you think I would ever do anything that would hurt my family in any manner, shape, or form?"
"No, of course not."
"If that's the case…why would I risk harming Seth and Kirsten by exposing them to such a supposed troublemaker? That doesn't make any sense, does it?"
Sandy cut him off, "No, no buts. Either I love my family and I look out for them or I don't, and we've already established that I do. Therefore, you can't be such a bad kid. In fact, I think, and I know Kirsten agrees with me, that whether you want to believe it or not, you are pretty special and we are damn lucky to have you. And every time I have said family in the past five minutes, I have included you in that word. So get used to it kid, you're stuck with us."
Ryan still didn't look convinced, but he didn't look as distraught as he had a few minutes before. Sandy knew that all of Ryan's doubts and insecurities couldn't be fixed with one conversation. He only hoped that he had made a good start, and that he had least dented some of the protective walls that Ryan had built around himself.
"Come on. You know I'm right." Sandy nudged Ryan with his shoulder. "I'm a lawyer. We're always right. That's why I get paid the big bucks."
Ryan finally gave him a real smile. "You're a public defender. You don't get paid squat. You told me so yourself."
"Well then, I guess I can say I was smart enough to marry a beautiful, intelligent woman who gets paid the big bucks. Can't argue with that one, can you, kid?"
Shaking his head, Ryan let out a small laugh before saying, "No I guess not."
Just then the door opened and Kirsten stepped out. She looked at them both and said, "Mr. Sloan and I have come to the understanding that it is in everyone's best interest that we be assigned a new social worker. I have been personally guaranteed by the head of the department that we will find our new social worker to be more satisfactory. Her name is Mrs. Young and we meet with her next Friday…at our house."
"Thanks, Kirsten," Ryan said, feeling at ease enough with her now to use her name. "I really appreciate what you said earlier, and what you just did for me. I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't say it, but that guy was a jerk." He wanted to call Mr. Sloan a lot of other things, but he wasn't that comfortable around her yet, and probably never would be. She was after all, a mom.
"Don't apologize. Calling him a jerk is pretty accurate. I didn't do that much. I just told the truth. You are a part of this family, and I'm not about to let someone talk about you that way." She reached down and lovingly pushed the bangs out of Ryan's eyes. "Are you sure you're all right? That can't have been easy for you."
"I'm okay." Seeing her still look concerned, he added, "No really, between you taking care of that guy, and Sandy explaining some stuff, I'm fine now. Seriously, I'm okay. I promise."
She smiled warmly at him. "Of course you are." And in her head she added, "You're with us now."