THE THIRD RESPONSE
Disclaimer: Despite repeated groveling, Josh still won't give them to me. Not making money, just having fun.
Summary: Next in the Townwood Exit universe. Choosing the college to apply to is easy. Dealing with the old acquaintance that shows up is the hard part. RT, mention of other pairings. .
A/N: Hey-la, hey-la; Kaitlyn's back! (don't remember who requested that, but this one's for you)
''I'll get it!'' Her sister's voice was sharp and piercing; she could hear the strident edge right through the door. They must be fighting again, she sighed internally. Stepping back, Kaitlyn was glad she'd paid off the taxi already. Last thing she needed was to have some guy hanging around while her mother and sister went at each other like a couple of vindictive cats. She pasted a smile on her face; expression faltering when the door opened and she got a good look at Marissa. ''Kaitlyn? What are you doing here?''
''Tested out early for the semester.'' She dragged her luggage in by its trolley, staring at the older girl. Her sister's appearance brought one word to mind, she just couldn't think of it. ''Thought I'd come home for a change.''
The once-shining hair was dim and barely-combed, the eyes bloodshot and glazed, skin tanned but waxy-looking. Features that were once graceful, lines that used to be clean; looked drawn, and tight with some negative emotion. She was wearing a stylish outfit, that much was familiar, but her collar and hip bones were scarily pronounced. She looked for all the world like a stiff breeze would knock her over; shattering her on impact. Brittle. That's the word she'd been trying to bring to mind.
Marissa looked brittle.
''I would love to meet……… Kaitlyn!'' Julie switched mood mid-stride, her smile turning from fierce politeness to shining welcome. At least Mom's glad to see me, the girl thought wryly; spotting the unhappy set to her sister's face. ''Oh, honey; you should've called when your bus got in! I would've picked you up in the limo!'' The hug felt good, not as heavily perfumed as she was used to, either. She put her mother at arm's distance to get a good look (her sister's appearance having started her worrying) and smiled.
Whatever had befallen the eldest Cooper girl, it had obviously not touched their mother. Red hair was coiffed back in a stylish knot, the outfit and jewelry slightly more subdued than normal; but still worthy of runway status. Just the slightest touch of make-up on the older face told her that the woman's plans for the evening didn't include guests, or going out. Unlike her sister's, as was obvious from the other girl's next words.
''Tell me if my date shows up.'' A languid hand was flicked her way, the 'welcome home' coming off as more of an afterthought than a sincere sentiment.
''Jeez, mom.'' Kaitlyn whispered, shocked by the drastic change in her sister. When she'd gone back to school, mere weeks ago; the girl had been weepy and party-mad, but not this cold, not this heartless. ''She's really…….''
''I know, honey.'' Julie put an arm around her, motioning to the maid to have the luggage taken upstairs. Her mother sighed, squeezing her around the shoulders. ''I'm trying to get her into therapy, but…..'' The doorbell rang and she could see the impulse for foul language cross the older face.
''I can run the guy off.'' She offered, smiling confidently at the uncertain green eyes. She crossed her arms over her chest, letting the bell ring again. ''You can order us some food and we'll talk about the family crises. Maybe we can even get the drama queen to eat something.'' God knew the girl needed to start putting on the calories, she thought. Skin and bones wasn't a good luck unless you were a mummy..
''Oh, baby.'' This embrace was different from the other; less a clutch of maternal hope and more a grip of female conspiracy. ''Try not to make him cry, whoever he is.''
She reveled in the faith the woman had in her, a little dismayed to discover that her mother didn't even know who her sister was dating. It was worrisome, if predictable. When she wanted to piss the woman off, the other girl could flaunt a relationship with the best of them. When a secret would be more maddening, however; the sphinx was more likely to give it up than Marissa Cooper. Pulling the door open on the third ring, she gaped at the boy standing there.
Slamming the door shut in his face, she put her hands over her mouth, shaking her head in horror. Maybe she'd imagined it? It had been a long trip, an unsettling shock at the end of it. It was possible, just barely, that she was hallucinating in her stress. She yanked the door open again to make sure.
Nope. It was still him.
It was still Ryan Atwood.
''You stupid son of a bitch!'' She hissed, dragging the very surprised boy into the house by the sleeve of his dress shirt. A dress shirt! And nice pants, too! ''You complete and utter imbecile!''
He was dressed for a date, the idiot.
''Kaitlyn?'' He didn't seem to get why she'd be mad at him, so she swung a hand towards his head. With the practiced ease of someone who spent a lot of time with Summer Roberts, he blocked the blow; backing up a step to take him out of arm's reach. ''What are you doing here?''
''Witnessing the apocalypse!'' Since she couldn't smack him as he deserved, she planted her hands on her hips. ''Are you brain-damaged? Oh my God, that explains it! You took one too many shots in the cage and became a moron!'' Kaitlyn would've felt pity for him, if she wasn't so livid about his falling right back into her sister's manipulative clutches. To the detriment of them both, from what she could……Actually, he wasn't looking half bad. What was that all about?
''What's all the…….oh. Hello, Ryan.'' Her mother smiled at the boy that had once been declared to be the bane of the Cooper family. She spun on the older woman, aghast.
''Mom! You approve of this……..this……travesty?'' She had to find a way to break them up, fast. It wasn't good, for either of the two older teens; despite how …… together Ryan appeared. ''I thought you said you'd rather see him at the bottom of the ocean than back with Marissa!'' There was a snort from the boy behind her, Julie bursting into laughter as she turned to see what had amused him.
''We're still broken up.'' Ryan's eyes were dancing with mirth, he didn't seem to be able to meet her mother's gaze. Her brow furrowed with confusion, crossing her arms over her chest as she waited for the two of them to get control of themselves. It wasn't her fault that Mom's gossip had been sporadic lately. So she'd jumped to a wrong conclusion. What else was she supposed to think when he showed up on their doorstep? What else could be……….?
She hoped he wasn't doing her mother.
That would be all they needed, for him to complete the Luke Ward trifecta: beating up guys in a jealous fit, cheating on Marissa, then sleeping with Julie.
She'd move to Timbuktu; swear to God.
''Honey, Ryan's an intern at the Newport Group.'' The woman sighed, putting an arm around her with a small chuckle of affection. The support kept her from fainting with relief. ''He should have been off about an hour ago, though.'' That was said with a frown, and Kaitlyn raised her eyebrows at their visitor; waiting for an explanation.
Which is totally what she should've done in the first place, but ……..
''Matt had some proposals he wants you to look over.'' The boy held out a data disk for the older Cooper to take. ''I was on my way to the Roberts' when he called.'' Uh-oh. Roberts was Summer's last name. He couldn't possibly…….
No. That would just be too weird, even for Newport.
''I'm gonna have to talk to him about appropriate times to ask you to run errands.'' Julie sounded more irritated with this 'Matt' guy than worried about Ryan's date. Which only meant that she was right, and it wasn't Summer. Who else lived there, though; besides Doctor Roberts? Hadn't the step-monster (not that she thought Ryan was interested in pharmacy junkies, but still) moved out? ''This could've waited until Monday.''
''No big deal. It was on my way.'' Ryan didn't quite look at his watch, but the set of his muscles made it obvious he wanted to. Her mother smiled, running her eyes over his outfit teasingly. The boy fidgeted, glancing towards her and away. She joined the older Cooper in appraising him, making him squirm even more.
She was just starting to enjoy tormenting him when her mother dismissed him.
''Say 'hi' to Taylor for me.'' Her voice was taunting; she snickered as the older teen nodded his head politely at them both before bolting. Whoever this 'Taylor' was (did the name sound familiar?), he certainly seemed eager to get to her.
''Okay, Mom.'' She put her arm around the woman's waist, resting her head on the perfumed shoulder as the door shut after him. ''No more bits and pieces. I have to know everything, stat.''
''I thought you already knew everything, sweetie.''