A/N: Okay, first of all, this was not the next one shot I had planned, and, perhaps more importantly, I had not intended to write another one shot this quickly, but, with two friends throwing ideas at me left and right, I get to thinking and then I can't stop, and, before I know it, voila; I have a new story to write. It's very frustrating, you two, so stop it! NOW:P LOL Anyway, thanks for being patient with me. Enjoy the piece. Charlynn
That Neighborly Feeling
The world surreal had been a part of her vocabulary for years. In fourth grade when she first learned what the word meant, she always used it to refer to her mother, claiming Julie Cooper was so surreal. In middle school the expression was upgraded and used in reference to her first real kiss. Looking back, the sixteen year old had to admit it was sad to consider your first bona fide kiss as surreal. Perhaps that should have been her first clue that her relationship with Luke was not the be all and end all of romance. And then finally there was her use of the statement six months before that very day when she had referred to her life in general as surreal because of its hollow, fake nature. Silently, she laughed at herself and her naïveté as she watched the empty coffin that was supposed to be representing the body of her dead boyfriend being lowered into his ground, the sun shining above the gathered funeral crowd serving as further proof that Southern California was a mockery of truth.
What was actually surreal was realizing you were in love with a person no longer alive the day after he disappeared from your life. One minute he was there smiling and kissing you, and the next he was a missing person, and the only thing you wanted more than the chance to tell him how you felt was to see him again alive. What was actually surreal was realizing that a person you knew for just a few short months and had changed your life and who you were as a person so much was never going to smile at you again, hold your hand, or cup your cheek as if you were the most precious thing in the world. What was actually surreal was realizing, if you wouldn't have done what he asked of you, your boyfriend might still be alive.
Sure, to an English teacher or a dictionary or even a thirteen year old girl, the word surreal meant strange, weird, odd, unreal, dreamlike, fantastic, and bizarre, but, to Marissa Cooper, a sixteen year old child with the broken heart of a woman, the word surreal meant living in a world without Ryan Atwood, and she just didn't know how to do it.
"So," her husband cleared his throat and ruffled his paper as he put the business page down to peer across the large expanse of their dining room table to where she sat pretending to eat her vegetarian omelet, "what do you have planned today?"
She smiled softly at him, and chewed the non-existent bite of breakfast in her mouth before replying, using the rouse to by herself time to think and to contemplate her life. Theodore – Teddy – Ashby was an up and coming investment baker, a six foot, two inch tall model of a man who not only fit her mother's ideal of the perfect son-in-law but also found a way to charm her rough around the edges, kid at heart father. He was everything a good American girl wanted for a husband, but Marissa found herself loving the idea of him and not the reality.
"Not much," she finally answered, reaching out to lift her crystal goblet of orange juice to take a small, dainty sip of the vitamin c enriched beverage. "I have my pilates class to go to this morning, some errands to run while I'm in town, but, before I go anywhere, I wanted to drop by to meet our new neighbor, introduce myself."
"That sounds great, dear."
She hated when he did that, called her by that term of endearment. It seemed so trite, so Middle America circa 1952 when the only thing a woman could want was for her husband to come home to her every night, for him to give her two wonderful children, a boy just like his father and a little girl to take after her mother, and a string of pearls to vacuum in, so disparaging. And, if nothing else, it hit just a little too close to home, for, when she looked at herself in the mirror every day what she found was a woman trapped in a life she didn't want with wide, innocent, doe like eyes, in essence, a deer caught in the headlights. The only difference was, instead of a car hurtling towards her at fifty miles per hour, she was facing her own mistakes and dashed illusions straight on.
"And you," Marissa returned politely, making small talk to inquire about her husband's plans for the day.
"Meetings, conference calls, and paperwork," he answered, shrugging indifferently. "You know, just the usual."
But that was just it – she didn't know. The last time she had felt as if she knew anything was ten years earlier when she left her boyfriend in his childhood hometown to solve his incarcerated brother's problems and drove home expecting to see him later that evening after he took a bus back to Newport. She had drove out of Chino knowing that Ryan was mad at her, knowing that she was mad at him, and knowing that, before the night was over, they would have a fight. But she had been wrong. Hours later when she went to pick him up at the bus depot, he never showed up, their fight never happened, and, a month later after the authorities and the Cohens had given up on finding him, the boy she had met at the end of the driveway was announced dead, his missing persons case was close, and she was left with the inability to ever know or understand or appreciate anything again.
"Well, I better get going," Teddy announced, pushing his chair back and standing up from the table. "I should be home around seven this evening, but, if I'm going to be any later," he promised her, "I'll call and let you know."
"I'll be here."
"You always are," her husband replied affectionately, bending down to kiss her softly on the lips before walking briskly out of the room and into the foyer where she had his suit jacket, briefcase, and keys waiting for him on the sideboard. If nothing else, Marissa Cooper Ashby was a good wife.
And Teddy was a good husband. He was kind, generous, loyal, supportive, charming, funny, and, most importantly, he loved her. He loved her for her shy and quiet nature. He loved her for her devotion to her family. He loved her for her traditional values, her conservative nature, and her absolute inability to say or do something mean or vindictive. He loved her for the shell of a human she had become, and it was no one's fault but her own.
Standing up from her seat, she carried their breakfast dishes to the kitchen, washed them quickly and efficiently before putting the china and silverware away, and then proceeded to go upstairs where she could change her clothes and make herself presentable to meet their new neighbor. As the proper suburban wife, she wore a knee length, loose fitting, cotton dress with a matching black cardigan buttoned up over top and demure, one inched heeled sandals. Her makeup was understated to the point where it was difficult to tell if she was even wearing any, and, as she ridiculed earlier, as was her customary habit, she wore her pearl necklace and earring set. The only other accessory she wore was her simple gold wedding band, for it was never removed from the third finger of her left hand. Even her long, blonde locks were tamed as they were pulled back and secured into a timeless French twist.
With her 'welcome to the neighborhood' gift, a bottle of white wine, she made her way down the cul-de-sac exactly thirty minutes after her husband had pulled out of the driveway. Walking at a leisurely pace, she waved at Mrs. Hodgeson as she picked up her paper from her front porch, she stopped briefly to share a word with Mr. and Mrs. Ruffing while they were going on their daily power-walk, and she agreed to meet the only single woman on their block, Rebecca Wright, for a coffee after pilates that morning to discuss a dinner party the author was throwing the next week. For Marissa, it was just another day in Connecticut.
She rang the doorbell just once as she stepped up to the new neighbor's house, keeping her finger on the button long enough to let the stranger know that she really did want them to open the door but short enough to assure them she wouldn't be offended if they didn't answer the door. It was just one of many skills she had acquired from her mother. She shouldn't have been worried though, because, after seconds, the entrance to the home was opened, she was welcomed to come inside, and, as her eyes lifted to gaze upon the man before her, she, for the first time in ten years, knew something again.
Immediately, Marissa threw herself in his arms, hugging him to her as tightly as her five month pregnant frame would allow. Holding Ryan Atwood in her arms, she knew her entire life was built upon a mistake. And the biggest surprise was, she didn't even care.
"So, boy or a girl?"
Ryan laughed at her bewildered tone, surprising her further by reaching out and placing his right palm directly on top of her baby belly. "Are you having a boy or a girl?"
They had been sitting quietly together on his back deck, the shade from the large oak trees surrounding his house keeping them cool in the late afternoon sun. After he finally convinced her to let him go, they had proceeded to eat breakfast together while they caught him (he hadn't eaten yet and, for some reason unknown to Marissa, a bowl of Cap'n Crunch with her old high school boyfriend sounded much more appetizing the gourmet meal she had prepared earlier that morning), then they remained at the kitchen bar together while he explained just how he managed to 'die' and come back to life, and, after eating lunch together, they had made their way out back to his porch swing, and there they still remained, his left arm tossed carelessly over her shoulders and her still delicate form tucked against his much stronger, more reassuring side. Until about an hour before, they had continued to talk, sharing with each other everything and anything they could think of about their lives since the last day they had seen each other, but, after a while, the serenity of the moment had lulled them both into a silence, and they had simply enjoyed being near one another. That was until Ryan had mentioned her pregnancy, the figurative taboo elephant in the room.
"I don't know," she finally answered, shrugging her shoulders. "I guess I really don't care. Knowing the sex of the baby will just make it real for me."
Not knowing how to take her response, the boy whom she had learned had grown up to become a criminal profiler with the FBI simply ignored her final statement and reworded his previous question. "Well, what do you want to have? And don't tell me you don't care as long as it's healthy. That's just a copout and you know it."
"Well, if you want honesty…I didn't want to have a baby in the first place, so, at this point, I really don't care what I have. This child was Teddy's idea, he wanted it, and now I'm going to be the one that has to take care of it."
At that, he frowned. "But, when I pictured what your life was like when you settled down and got married, I always saw you with kids, several in fact. I think you would be a wonderful mom."
"You're picturing me as Marissa Cooper, the girl you once knew ten years ago." Shaking her head sadly, she pressed, "I'm a different person now. I'm Mrs. Theodore Ashby, and the girl you once knew is gone."
"I don't think so," Ryan argued. Reaching out a hand, he found the pins she had used to put her hair up and took them down, allowing his fingers to run through her flowing locks. With his gaze fixed upon what his hand was doing, he continued to talk. "The Marissa I know is still there. You just have her buried so deep inside of you, she has a difficulty being heard or seen, but I'm not going to let her hide anymore. If nothing else before, you and I were friends first, and, I don't know about you, but I think I'd like to have my friend back."
"We were never just friends."
"Well then, maybe I want more." Letting his fingers slide down from her crown to her cheek and then further to cup her chin, the twenty-six year old tipped her face up towards his and bent his head down to lightly brush a tender kiss upon her lips. With the first whisper of an embrace, she didn't respond, with the second, he saw need and desire illuminate her sapphire irises, and, after the third, her eyelids fluttered shut, she moaned into his mouth, and then she proceeded to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him closer to her. They kissed slowly, languidly, leisurely as if they had all the time in the world, and it was better than either of them could remember their former kisses being, and, yet, at the same time, it felt as if nothing had changed between them. She was still the rebellious, lost, tragically beautiful girl who stole the breath away from the new bad boy in town with the heart of gold.
Breathless, the mom-to-be was the first one to pull away, but, by leaning her forehead against his, she maintained physical contact with him. "I couldn't ask for a better husband, you know, a better family, a better life." In a rush of words, Marissa started speaking, and she refused to stop until everything she needed to say was said. "Teddy would do anything for me. He's good to me, Ryan. He's patient, he's my friend, and he is going to be an amazing father to this child. When I was sick during my first trimester, he would work at home in the mornings so he could be there to hold my hair back or get me saltines to settle my stomach. Last year, I was trying to find this out of the way, hidden treasure of an antique store, and, instead of getting directions like he told me to do, I just went off on my own, assuming I would find it. Three hours later, I was hopelessly lost and scared, and, when I called him, he never yelled at me, he never told said 'I told you so', he just came and found me, took me home, and hugged me until I stopped crying. And, on our wedding night, when I was too upset and sad to sleep with my husband, he never asked why it was so hard for me to be with the man I had just promised to spend the rest of my life with. Instead, he made me laugh and we spent the night watching Nick at Night and eating room service."
"Obviously, you no longer have a problem sleeping with Ted," the profiler snapped, a bitter note entering his voice. Although she noticed it, Marissa chose to ignore it.
"And his family treats me like one of their own. His Dad is this giant of a man but he has the softest heart you can imagine. Once a month, he comes up from the city to see me, and we spend the day together doing father-daughter things, go-cart riding, fishing, even wood working, and the day I found out I was pregnant, I called my father-in-law first, because, if you want to know the real reason why I agreed to have a baby, it's because I wanted to give Teddy's Dad, Jack, a grandchild."
"Linda, my mother-in-law, she's the funniest woman I've ever met. The only time I enjoy going to a party is when she's there with me. Because of her position in society, she knows all the sordid secrets of anyone and everyone you should know in New York, and, when she notices that I'm bored at an art gallery opening or that I'm ready to fall asleep during a ladies' tea, she'll find me in a quiet corner and whisper to me all these extremely hilarious, personal secrets about the women who are her friends. She doesn't do it in a malicious way, and I'm the only one she tells, but, in her own way, she makes my life a little bit better."
"And then there's Abigail, Teddy's little sister. She's the sibling I always wanted Caitlyn to be. She's not competitive, she's not jealous, she looks up to me and allows me to give her advice, to help her pick out her prom dress, and we have sleepovers with just the two of us when Teddy goes on business trips, and we stay up late giving each other makeovers and giggling like teenagers again. It's wonderful, and, while I'm with her, it's like I'm a little girl again who's never been hurt or lost someone she loved, and, for a brief moment, I can forget the pain I've lived with for the past ten years."
Realizing there was a reason behind her sudden confession, Ryan urged her to continued, "and you said about your life, how you couldn't ask for a better one."
"Look at where I live," the pregnant woman spread her arms out to encompass their surroundings. "For many people, Connecticut is the closest thing a New Yorker can get to heaven. I live in a beautiful home, even though I don't have to work and choose not to, if I wanted to, Teddy would support me one hundred percent. My neighbors are friendly, I have my hobbies to keep my busy, and now I'm about to me a mother for the first time. What else could I even ask for?"
"I don't know," Ryan sighed, feigning uncertainty, "what about love? Never once while you were talking did I hear you say that you loved your husband."
"I do love Teddy," she argued.
"But you're not in love with him," her teenage boyfriend persisted.
Abruptly, Marissa stood up and smoothed down her clothes before re-pinning her hair. "I have to go. My husband is going to be home soon, and I need to start dinner."
Silently, he walked her back through the house until they reached the front door. She had it open and was about to leave before he slammed the door shut again and turned her around to face him. "Can I see you again?"
"Do you have to work tomorrow?"
"Unless they need me in the city, I do my work from home," he answered.
"Well then, I'll see you at one at my place for lunch. And, Ryan," she paused, smirking widely, "bring your swimming trunks." And with that and a quick, fleeting kiss, she was out the door and practically skipping home…to her husband.
"Do you want to hear something funny," Marissa asked him. They were lying in bed together under a mountain of goose down duvets, and the finger she was using to trace the sculpted lines of his chest and abdomen was driving him steadily to distraction.
Content and peaceful, he merely mumbled, "uh huh."
"Last night, after we got home from the dinner party, Teddy told me that he thought you were gay."
"What," Ryan blustered, making her giggle when he sat straight up out of bed and became wide awake. "Why would he think something like that?"
"Apparently, my husband seems to think you were staring at him all night, and, in his book, that meant that you were attracted to him."
"Your husband is a conceited ass," the FBI agent growled, settling back down in bed and pulling her back into his arms. "Did it ever occur to him that maybe I was mentally undressing his wife all night and imagining what it would be like to slide my hand underneath her dress and finger her while we were having dessert?"
"I think it's probably a very good thing that he didn't think that," she pointed out, rolling her eyes. "But I'm glad that you liked my dress."
"Are you kidding me, of course I did. It reminded me of the one you wore the night of that casino charity event in Newport after I had first arrived in town."
She blushed, pleased by his admission. "You remember that?"
"For ten years I had to get by on only a few weeks worth of memories about you. I don't think there's a single moment we spent together that I don't remember," Ryan confessed. "But that's not what I want to talk about."
"It's not," she teased, pouting.
"No, what I want to talk about is how you responded to Ted thinking I'm gay."
"Oh, that," the new mother dismissed, waving a hand impatiently in the air. "I simply told him that if by gay he meant fucking his wife's brains out every chance they got, then, yes, I could see where he was coming from."
"That's not what we're doing here," he growled, rolling over to pin her body underneath his.
Gently kissing her nose, he pulled back and asked, "will you please tell me what you really said?"
"I told him that it was none of our business what your sexuality was, that, even if you were gay, it did not change the fact that you were a good neighbor and that you were our friend. Teddy agreed and dropped the subject, but, personally, I think this is a wonderful development."
The profiler quirked an eyebrow at her. "You think it's a good thing that the whole community things I'm gay?"
"Not the whole community," Marissa clarified, "just my husband, because now we'll never have to worry about him questioning why we spend so much time together. You can be my cliché gay boyfriend. He'll think we go shopping together and get facials, when, all the while, we'll be here in bed together."
"You know," he suggested thoughtfully, "if you wanted more from our relationship, that's fine with me. We can go out and do things together. It might not be my ideal way of spending the day, but I'd go shopping with you; I'd sit and play with Nolan while you had your hair and nails done."
"Hey," the wife and mother reassured him, "you do things with us. You went with me to have my son's first pictures taken, you surprised me last week when you took us sled riding, and just yesterday the three of us went out to lunch together. Do you realize how long it's been since I had delicious, greasy diner food?" He rolled his eyes at her playful words, but, when she suddenly turned serious, he paid close attention to what she had to say. "You don't need to change anything. I'm happy, and I love you just the way you are."
"I love you, too," Ryan returned easily. Joining their hands together, he linked their fingers and lifted their arms over her head as he leaned down to kiss her thoroughly. Just as their embrace was gaining passion, a small, almost timid cry came from the baby monitor beside his bed. With one last meeting of their lips, he moved away from her, letting Marissa get off the bed, and watched appreciatively as she stood up and slipped on the navy blue, silk robe he kept for her in his bedroom.
"I'll be right back," she promised him, blowing a kiss towards where he was lying in bed.
Two minutes later, she reappeared, a baby in her arms. "Hey, big guy," he greeted the two and half month old, "did you have a good nap?" Lifting the infant from Marissa's arms, he settled him on his chest, allowing the baby to curl up contently. Nolan never fussed; instead, he simply stared up at Ryan and watched him. While Marissa's son had his father's dark hair and olive complexion, everything else about the little boy was from his mother. He had the deep, mysterious blue eyes, petite nose, and wide, pink lips. If he looked closely, the FBI agent could even see the light dusting of a few freckles over the baby's tiny nose, and, just as he had with the child's mother, those little marks made him fall instantly for the infant.
"I think he was lonely," his teenage girlfriend and current lover informed him on a whisper, "and jealous that we wasn't in here with us."
"I can't really blame the big guy," Ryan responded, smirking at the woman resting beside him. "I'm never happy either unless I'm with his Mama."
"Well, what would you say if I told you I had a plan to make sure we were with you almost everyday?"
"I'd say," he grinned widely, already knowing it would not be what he truly hoped for and that she was leaving her husband, something she refused to do, because she didn't want to hurt Teddy or his family, "tell me more."
"Teddy," Marissa spoke up, her voice startling loud in their silent bedroom, "I've been thinking lately, and I'm decided that I want to get a job."
"Part time or full time, dear?"
"Well, I guess that would depend upon the work and whether or not I could take Nolan with me," she answered. He was already feeding right into her hand.
Her husband put the contract he was reading down and regarded her with his full attention. "Tell me this, if you could have the perfect job, what would it be?"
"I'd like to work right here," she responded, "on the cul-de-sac, in someone's home. I could take the baby with me, and we'd have plenty of privacy for when it came time for me to feed him. I wouldn't have to interrupt his schedule, but, yet, at the same time, I'd feel useful and I'd get to spend my days with another adult."
"Let me think," Ted mused silently for several moments. "Doesn't Ryan work from home?"
"Most of the time, yes, unless he has to go into the city for a particular case," Marissa revealed. "Nolan and I spend quite a few of our afternoons with him. We have lunch there."
"Surely, he'd be able to benefit from an assistant, someone who could organize his files and be an extra pair of eyes for him when he's reading over character studies," her husband suggested. Picking up his contract, he started reviewing it again. "I'll talk to him tomorrow morning and see if we can't work something out. Don't worry, dear," he reassured her. "I'll take care of everything. Go to sleep now. Nolan will be up in a few hours for his midnight feeding, and you should sleep as much as you can before then."
And as their nightly ritual went, she leaned across their wide, king sized bed, kissed the father of her son goodnight on the cheek, and rolled over, her back towards him, and went to sleep with pictures of the man she was having an affair with flashing through her mind.
With her head in his lap, Marissa was spread across Ryan's couch reading case files. When she had planned to trick her husband into suggesting she work for her lover, she never thought that she would end up enjoying her job or that she would be good at it, but, in the past nine months that she had been helping the FBI agent, there had been numerous instances when she had made a connection or a discovery that he himself had overlooked. They were the perfect team, in and out of the bedroom.
Nolan was playing in his swing, laughing gleefully and blowing bubbles as he baby babbled away to himself, and, in her opinion, they were the picture of an ideal family. So what if it was slightly untraditional? So what if the father of her child had no idea she had been cheating on him for the past fifteen and half months? And so what if she was about to blow everything she had worked so hard for out of the water? Sitting there with the man she loved, her son who was the apple of her eye, and her secret growing by the second inside of her, Marissa just didn't care any longer.
"I have something I have to tell you," she interrupted the stillness around them by tossing her file aside and plucking his from his hands. Locking their gazes together, blue on blue, she smiled softly, reached for his right hand, and brought it down to rest on her stomach. "Ryan," she beamed up at him, practically glowing, "I want you to meet your daughter." When his brow wrinkled in confusion, she giggled before explaining, "I'm pregnant."
Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.
A/N2: Alright, so I know that there are MANY things I left unanswered, but that was done on purpose. I didn't want to weigh down this tale with explanations of the past when what really mattered was the present. Imagine what you want to fill in the missing portions of this story. As for the last two sentences, for those of you who do not recognize them, they are quotes from The Princess Bride. This was the prompt that was provided to me, and this one shot is what that prompt resulted in. Thanks again for reading!