Giving Thanks

OCFFThanksgivingChallenge: Stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Of all the ways Ryan Atwood had imagined his first Thanksgiving with the Cohens going, spending his entire day stuck in the hospital was definitely not what he had pictured. In his mind, he had secretly been hoping for the traditional Walton holiday, however cliché the thought might have been. He wanted to stuff himself with good food while he sat around the dining room table with the people who meant the most to him. He wanted to argue over the wishbone with Seth, debate the football games with Sandy, and help Kirsten clean up the kitchen. He wanted to laugh, smile, and, in general, enjoy the first holiday he had ever spent with a real, loving family.

Instead, he ended up with hives, a swollen tongue, and a television that had every channel but the one showing the four o'clock, time-honored Dallas Cowboys football game. Apparently, you could take the kid out of Chino, but you could never quite remove the Chino luck from the kid.

The doctors had just left the room, he had finally convinced his adopted family to go home for the evening in an attempt to salvage the rest of their day, but there was still one person who remained in the room. She had been in there the entire time, hovering in a corner, practically hiding. Whether the young woman had been attempting to conceal herself from his visage or the doctors', he wasn't sure, but he was curious as to why she was there and why she would not leave his room. Plus, he hoped that she had understood the medical jargon the physicians had bandied about, because he sure as hell hadn't. So, in an attempt to gain her attention, he turned the TV off, cleared his throat, and, when neither of those actions worked the way he hoped they would, he started to fidget in his bed, tossing and turning to the point where, if he wasn't careful, he was going to pull out his IV.

"You know, if the rash itches that much, I could ask the doctors to give you another shot of cortisone."

Her voice was soft, gentle, soothing, but what Ryan liked the most about it was the hint of mischief he heard in it. Smiling, he let his eyes wander over the young woman, observing her. With her back turned towards him, she never noticed his perusal.

She was tall… well, for a guy who was only five foot, ten, she was extremely tall, nearly matching his height. With lightly tanned skin and blonde hair, she seemed to be the epitome of a California girl, but the sixteen year old had a feeling there was more to the volunteer standing before him than what met the eye. After all, surely anyone who would give up their holiday to help others had more substance than the stereotypical beach bunny.

Clearing his throat and managing to speak around his still slightly enlarged tongue, Ryan responded, "no, that's okay. Thanks, but I'm fine." Avoiding her direction, he stared at the wall in front of him while he admitted, "I was actually trying to get you to talk to me."

"Why?" Instantly worried, the young woman turned around, her flawless brow puckered in concern. "Is something wrong? Do you need me to…"

When she started to move towards the door, he sat up, putting his hands out in front of him in the universal sign to stop. She did immediately. "Please, don't go," he asked of her, motioning towards the seat beside his bed that Kirsten had just vacated. "I was just… well, it's Thanksgiving," he explained, feeling an inevitable blush stealing up to the tips of his ears and cursing his own body at the same time for betraying him. "I'm bored, I can't find the game on the TV, and I have no idea what's going on."

"Apparently, you're allergic to rosemary. They figured out that it was in the stuffing that you ate."

"But I only had one bite," Ryan argued, surprised by her comment.

"Then you must be really allergic to it." Shrugging, the blonde continued. "It's just weird that you managed to never eat rosemary before today."

"My Mom… my real Mom wasn't much for family dinners," he found himself explaining. Surprised by his own honesty but, for some reason, feeling absolutely no impulse to stop talking to the young woman, he pressed on. "We ate mainly frozen foods that could be cooked in the microwave. This was my first real Thanksgiving."

"Eh, they're not all that they're cracked up to be. Besides," she reasoned, "why should a family only sit down together one day out of the entire year to show their thanks for the all the good things in their life? Families should eat together every night, and it shouldn't take a day on the calendar to remind us to be appreciative."

"Is that why you're here?"

Her petite, button of a nose, covered with tiny, softly hued freckles, wrinkled with confusion. "What do you mean?"

"Is that why you're here volunteering at the hospital," Ryan expanded upon his question.

"Well, I volunteer a lot," the young woman shared, standing up to make her way out of his room. Pausing at the door, she turned back to look at him. "But this year my parents are getting divorced, and, instead of having to choose between them, I figured I'd come here and spend my day with people who really want talk to me for me and not because having me with them would one up someone else in a custody case." Shaking her head to dispel her darker thoughts, she smiled. "You're going to be here for a while, right?"

"I'm not getting released until tomorrow morning. Why?"

"I don't know," the blonde answered, shrugging her shoulders. "I just thought I might stop by later before I go home… that is, if you don't mind."

"No," he quickly reassured her. "I'd like that."

"Good." With her small smile turning into a full-fledged grin, the candy striper continued, "it's a date then," only to blush and start to protest in an adorably flustered manner. "I mean, of course it's not a date. We just met, and I don't even know you're name."

"It's Ryan."

She ignored him, either not having heard his comment or too embarrassed to realize what he had just told her. "And you're a patient who almost died after eating just one bite of stuffing."

"Now you're just rubbing it in."

"And I'm a volunteer here at the hospital. I can't… I mean… we can't…" Clamping her mouth shut, she pivoted around, opened the door, and waved towards his general direction. "Bye."

And, with that, she disappeared from his room, leaving Ryan already missing her company.

& & &

It was several hours later, he was still bored and hungry, and, to make matters worse, he had finally managed to find ESPN only to realize that both teams he would have been rooting for had he been able to watch the football games that afternoon, had lost. Plus, the cute blonde from before had still not returned to his room. He could tell by looking outside that it was almost dark, so surely she had already gone home for the evening, leaving Ryan with nothing to look forward to. Wide awake on either the adrenaline from surviving a near death experience earlier that day or because he was used to his adopted brother's weird sleeping hours during holiday breaks from school, whatever the reason, he knew he would be up for many hours to come.

Aimlessly, he had made his way through the television channels, but all he had been able to find were repeat movies which even he had seen at least a dozen times or cheesy reality shows, and his life was real enough; he didn't need to watch someone else's. There were no books to read and no video games to play. Hell, he couldn't even find any paper in the table beside his bed to draw on. If he was in Chino, he'd resort to counting the cracks in the walls and ceiling or listening to the noises of the outside world as they filtered in through the less than perfectly insulated windows, but he wasn't in Chino, and, in Newport Beach, the hospitals were four star hotels compared to the medical facilities he was used to. So, left only with his ennui, Ryan had simply nothing left to do but brood. Luckily, he did that well.

"Knock, knock," a voice greeted him from outside his door, making him sit up a little straighter in bed and look a little less dark and threatening. "Sorry I'm so late, but I figured I'd go home first before I came back to see you," the young woman from before continued as she pushed her way into his room. "I really hate my volunteer uniform, and hospital food sucks."

"I don't know," Ryan teased her, smirking. "I kind of liked that striped dress you had on before."

"Well, that's too bad, because I'm much more a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl," she returned, coming to sit beside his bed. "So, how are you feeling?"

"Better."

"A man of many words, I see." Laughing softly, she shook her head in amusement before changing the subject. "Well, even though you won't tell me yourself, I'm figuring that right now you're about one disappointed thought away from total and complete monotony. So, to cure what ails you, I brought along some entertainment with me."

Finding himself suddenly daring, the patient wiggled his brows towards the blonde girl to his right, making her glare playfully. "Now, that sounds promising."

"This is a wholesome day, which means you and I are going to have some wholesome fun. First of all, tell me, which do you prefer: sweet potato casserole or pumpkin pie?"

"You didn't?"

"I did," she contradicted his words, giggling in the process. Reaching into the bag she had carried in with her, the volunteer revealed two Tupperware containers full of food. "I knew I'd never be able to sneak in a whole Thanksgiving meal, but the guards don't pay me much mind because I'm here almost everyday, and, if you can't have the whole dinner, at least you can have dessert, right? So," she prompted him, gently shaking each bowl, "pick your poison."

"That's really not funny."

"It's kind of funny."

The smile on his face discredited Ryan's previous statement. "I have a better idea," he told her. "Why don't we share them?"

She narrowed her gaze, eyeing him carefully while shaking her head yes. "You just read my mind."

"So, what else is in that bag of fun of yours," he asked, trying to snoop into the tote, but she avoided his movements while still managing to open their containers of food.

"I brought my portable DVD player and some movies. I know there are tons of movies on TV this evening, but they never play good ones. Besides," the blonde added, "for some reason, I'm always in the mood to watch Christmas movies on Thanksgiving anyway. That said, I brought us Eight Crazy Nights, which, granted, is about Hanukkah, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Miracle on 34th Street just because I think Dylan McDermott is kind of cute."

Now, that, he did not like. "Yeah," Ryan stated lightheartedly, "let's not watch that one."

She simply stuck her tongue out at him, overlooking his wishes. Silently, they worked together to arrange the small meal she had brought for them, but, once they were situated and the portable DVD player was out and ready for the first movie to be put in, the sixteen year old realized they would both not be able to see the small screen if she remained in the chair and he remained in the bed… which he really was supposed to do.

"This isn't going to work."

"What's not going to work," she questioned him.

"This," Ryan motioned between them, "our sitting arrangement. You're going to have to sit up here with me."

"I'm not getting in that bed."

"Well, I can't get out of it," he argued. When she still wouldn't budge, he thought quietly for a moment before pressing. "Look, I'm the patient, and you're the volunteer. That means it's your job to do everything in your power to make sure that I'm comfortable and happy, and what would make me happy is you sitting up here on this bed with me."

Protesting, the blonde sputtered, "but we don't even know each other."

"Ryan Atwood," he told her, holding out his hand for her to shake. "And you are?"

"Marissa Cooper."

"Well, Marissa Cooper, I think you're wrong; I do think we know each other." Ticking his point off on his fingers, the patient explained. "You're one of the only people on this entire planet who knows that I'm allergic to rosemary, you know that I'm no longer living with by biological family, you know that I like football, and you've seen me in my hospital gown… which means you've practically seen me naked." He had to stifle a laugh at her rapidly turning pink cheeks. "Now, as for how well I know you, I know that you like dessert, that your parents are going through a divorce right now, that you volunteer here at this hospital, and that you're attracted to dark haired guys."

Avoiding his gaze, she admitted, "not always," while the blush only seemed to deepen to the color of scarlet. "But I get what you're saying. We're not strangers."

"No, we're not," Ryan agreed with her. "We're friends… maybe even more than friends." When she lifted her head in confusion, he clarified, "you know, that whole practically naked part again."

"Of course." With that, she stood up and climbed up onto the bed, avoiding eye contact. Although it took them several minutes to get comfortable, eventually they settled down together, his right arm wrapped around her shoulders while she leaned into him. "Here," Marissa offered, handing him the movies, "your choice. Which one do you want to watch first?"

"Eight Crazy Nights," he decided, putting in the DVD. "I should probably brush up on my Hanukkah knowledge, seeing as though Sandy and Seth are both Jewish."

"Wise choice," she complimented him.

As they settled down together to watch the movie, Ryan found himself wondering out loud, "so how long can you stay?"

"I slipped the night nurse a twenty," the young woman beside him replied. "I can stay for as long as you want me to."

Although he didn't say anything, in that moment, Ryan knew exactly what he was thankful for that Thanksgiving, his first with the Cohen family. He was thankful for Marissa Cooper… and the fact that the catering service Kirsten had hired had used rosemary in their stuffing. Maybe his Chino luck was changing after all.