The quaint Berkeley house was not as elaborate as Dawn Atwood had thought it would be. After all, these people had lived in a mansion on a hill, so it came as a surprise to see the little house that they had chosen to move to. Yet, it fit them somehow.
She ascended the steps and nervously knocked on the door. She was always nervous whenever she visited these people with whom her son lived. Nervous and a little sad, because she knew that her son regarded these people as his family, that he didn't consider her his mother anymore. No, he considered Kirsten Cohen his mother. Dawn knew she deserved this exclusion from her son's life; she was the one who had walked away. Still, it hurt.
Dawn had heard about the terrible earthquake that rocked Newport. She'd watched footage of it on the TV, and tried calling the Cohens, even though she knew that the phone lines wouldn't work. The moment she'd heard the words earthquake and Orange County in the same sentence, her only thought had been Ryan? She hadn't been able to stop worrying about him, and she kept trying to call the Cohens. After awhile, the only answer she received was a recorded message that monotonously informed her that Sorry, the number could not be reached.
And she had still continued to watch the news, fear running through her whenever another fatality was reported. She'd started to obsess over Ryan, wondering where he was and if he was alright. It got to the point where her boyfriend suggested therapy, and Dawn realized that she had been so distracted that she didn't even know if they had enough money for therapy. So she'd tried to focus on her job, her love life, anything to distract from the idea that her youngest son might be dead.
Out of the blue, the phone call came in. The Cohens, inviting her over for Chrismukkah. They assured her that all was well and gave her their new address.
Dawn wouldn't have missed that Chrismukkah for the world.
Now, as she knocked cautiously, she could hear voices filtering through the air. Happy voices. The door opened to reveal Seth. He looked exactly as she remembered. There was an awkward silence before he invited her in, then the two exchanged anxious smiles and Dawn stepped inside.
Nothing could have prepared her for the sight that met her eyes.
It was chaos. Pure, utter chaos. There was Ryan, unaware that she had arrived. He was twirling a little blonde girl around in the air, smiling at her musical giggle. It was a truly genuine smile, one that Dawn had rarely seen before. And there were Kirsten and Sandy, Seth and his girlfriend-- Dawn had seen her before but didn't remember her name. Julie and her daughter, and...a little boy? She'd never seen that boy before, she was sure of it. There was also another girl, who exchanged sly smiles with Ryan, who Ryan was clearly in love with. And everyone was trying to set the table and watch the ham and sort the presents and keep the two little kids away from the presents and the sharp silverware.
Ryan saw her, and he set the little girl down and strode over, pulling her into a hug. She hugged back, still in shock at his new life. His third life. He pulled away and grinned at her. "It's good to see you, Mom."
Kirsten was standing not too far off, fussing with the mashed potatoes, and was able to hear their conversation perfectly clear. At the moment Ryan called her "Mom", Dawn saw Kirsten pause. Something flashed in the other woman's eyes, but the emotion was gone so quickly that Dawn wasn't sure if she'd seen it at all.
Dinner was a noisy affair that took place in the backyard; the food was delicious and the conversation joking. Dawn learnt that the little girl was Sandy and Kirsten's daughter, and her name was Sophie. The little boy was indeed Julie's, but there was no mention of who the father was. Dawn was reintroduced to Seth's and Ryan's girlfriends, and she suddenly remembered that they'd been at the pre-graduation party at the Cohen's mansion. But hadn't Ryan been dating another girl then? Marissa?
She casually brought the subject up. "What happened to that Marissa girl?" The entire table froze, with the exception of the little kids. Ryan looked away, and everyone else stared down at their plates. Then Julie said softly, "Marissa died." Oops. Dawn stammered out an apology, and all was quiet until Summer said, "I'm going to get some more...uh, gravy for the potatoes." She left, and the conversation slowly started up again. Dawn decided to keep quiet for the rest of the meal.
After dinner was finished and the table was cleared, everyone was herded inside to open presents. Dawn felt even more embarrassed, as she hadn't thought to bring any presents for her son. She hadn't been sure exactly how Chrismukkah was celebrated.
"It's okay, Mom," Ryan assured her, his hand on her shoulder as he guided her to the Christmas tree. Again, Dawn noticed Kirsten tense. As everyone sat down and the gifts were handed out, Dawn watched the way Kirsten acted around Ryan. She was being very motherly to him, calling him "sweetie" and ruffling his hair and joking softly with him. That's when Dawn realized it. Kirsten felt threatened by her, by the fact that Ryan called her Mom. For a moment, Dawn was confused. Didn't Ryan call Kirsten Mom as well? She listened to Ryan talking with the Cohens. No, he called Kirsten and Sandy by their first names.
It surprised her– the fact that Kirsten thought Ryan regarded Dawn as his mother, while Dawn thought that Ryan considered Kirsten his mom. It also made her feel uncomfortable, so she hung back a little as the others went about opening the gifts. She watched the candles of the menorah flicker for awhile, but was interrupted by Ryan, holding out a present for her, a hopeful look spread across his face. Everyone was watching her– there was thickly veiled sadness in Kirsten's eyes– so Dawn took the present and opened it to find a beautiful satin dress, the pale pink fabric shimmering in the light. Sophie oohed, and everyone laughed. Taylor picked up the girl and placed her next to Dawn on the sofa, so Sophie could see the fabric better. Dawn watched the girl, wishing she had a daughter of her own.
Later that night, Dawn couldn't sleep. The Coopers had left, and everyone else was sleeping either in a guest bedroom or on a sofa. Dawn lay in bed, thinking about Ryan's new life, trying to figure out where exactly she fit into it.
She heard the muffled sound of the back door opening, then someone stepped out onto the back porch and softly shut the door behind them. Curious, Dawn crept out of her bed and into the living room, moving softly so as not to disturb the Seth and Summer, who were curled up together on sofa, which pulled out to make a bed. The Christmas tree lights cast a faint glow on the walls, and the menorah candles were burnt out.
She quietly opened the back door and snuck outside, not closing the door behind her. Kirsten looked over, startled by Dawn's sudden presence. The two women simply looked at each other for a moment, then Kirsten gave a curt nod of acknowledgment and Dawn walked over and stood next to the other woman. Kirsten looked, Dawn thought, like a heroine in a movie. Her skin and her hair both looked ghostly pale in the moonlight, and the shadows brought out the haunted sharpness of her cheekbones. Dawn stared, but Kirsten seemed not to notice.
They didn't speak, just stood there looking out at the stars, listening to faint sound of traffic that emanated perpetually from the highway. After what could have been ten minutes or could have been an hour, Kirsten suddenly turned and look Dawn straight in the eyes.
"Good night." Her voice was resigned, and she started for the door.
The other woman paused and looked back. Dawn murmured, "You took good care of him for me. Thank you." Kirsten smiled wanly, then disappeared into the house. Dawn stayed outside until the sun started to show over the horizon. She slipped inside and crawled into bed, though she wasn't tired. She lay in bed, awake, not getting up until she heard the footfalls of the others as they shuffled to the kitchen for breakfast.
After eating, Dawn insisted that she needed to get back to her job. A taxi was called, and Dawn hugged Ryan goodbye. Sandy, Seth, and Kirsten stood with him and watched her go, just as they had the last time she visited. Before she stepped into the taxi, Dawn turned and looked at them one last time. They were a picture perfect family, standing together in front of a perfect little house with a perfect green lawn. Kirsten caught her eye, and Dawn held up her hand in a little wave before climbing into the waiting taxi.
She wasn't worried about him anymore. It was more than the fact that she knew he was alive and well, but also because she knew that the Cohens wouldn't let anything happen to him. He was their son as well.