Chapter Seven: Everything
Older brother, restless soul, lie down
Lie for a while with your ear against the earth
And you'll hear your sister sleep talking, say
"Your hair is long but not long enough to reach home to me
But your beard someday might be"
Ryan waited for her at the beach. He wanted to be close enough to the yacht club that he could get there quickly if she needed him, yet far from Veronica's wrath. She'd never liked him and there was something in her eyes, something that said to him that she could snap at any moment. He wanted to be alive to see his daughter's birth.
His toes in the sand, body damped by sweat from his run, Taylor watched him from afar and managed a small smile. Her mom may have been disappointed in her choice of partner, but if anyone had to have gotten her pregnant she was glad it was Ryan; thanked God it wasn't Henri. She imagined Ryan had spent more time on the beach in his few years in Newport than she had in her whole life. The beach was where people with friends hung out in high school, not outcasts like her. Sure, she'd spent her share of time at the pier, the yacht club, many places beach adjacent, but hanging out alone with her toes in the sand had been something she had avoided like the plague. She looked down at her belly; she supposed she'd never be alone again.
Ryan noticed her walking tentatively towards him. He wanted to smile at her. She looked so beautiful. Since she had started to show she'd worn nothing but dresses, all flowy, all complimenting her curves in the best possible way. Her breasts a more defining feature than ever, his fantasies became more explicit than he ever thought possible. The eighties montage that had run in his head eight odds months ago now seemed like child's play. Walking toward him, he could picture the most casual of their touches turning erotic. Her hands slowly sliding down to clench his butt during a hug, his sliding inward and upward to cup her breasts. He could see their lips touch; see them engaging in PDA that would warrant stares from the most liberal of beachgoers. He saw all this and their swift disappearance, him leading her off to the old lifeguard stand, the two of them coming together in an arena in which Taylor was queen and in a way they'd recently perfected.
He knew this would have to remain fantasy, knew he shouldn't crack a smile, shouldn't seem overeager about anything. This moment wasn't about the perfect weather, Taylor's curves, the waves crashing so idyllically in the background. It was about Taylor's awful mother, who knew how to do little more than belittle and berate. He wasn't expecting her to be excited or aroused, he was expecting her to breakdown in his arms, to let her hormones overtake her. Off the look in her eyes, he began to prepare his It's-Going-To-Be-Okay speech.
"Hey." He greeted as she made it to him.
"Hi." She replied, her voice filled with less sadness than he expected and far more surprise. They stood in silence for a minute.
"So…" Ryan began, pushing some hair out of her eyes. "How was lunch?"
"It was…" At a loss for words, Taylor just nodded rapidly. After a few moments contemplation she managed, "She bought me a car."
"My mom bought me a car. Just came in with keys and a title. I don't know what happened. I spent all of lunch waiting for her to tell me she had an inoperable brain tumor. Hell, at the end, I half expected her to tell me she wasn't my mom at all but a Suliban giving me a little happiness before the Cabal destroyed the Earth. Sure, she spent half the meal going on and on about how I threw away all my potential and that after the way I was with that Korean prom date of mine she wasn't really surprised to find out I was pregnant, just thought I'd have the sense to let someone with money knock me up. And, I was expecting that, but also so much more. She did her little rant and that was it, said that despite it all, we were going to make the most of the situation. Her grandchild wasn't going to be a "felon" like it's father. So, she bought me a car and gave me access to some of my trust fund." Taylor sighed. "Basically, the world ended and any minute now a big voice is going to welcome us to the afterlife."
"She bought you a car?"
Taylor nodded. "Uh-huh. A Prius – she said she was going to buy me a beamer for my twenty-first birthday, but that this car was better suited for someone who wasn't going to sustain their wealth."
"Yup," Taylor smirked. "All that alarm and I have what might have been the nicest lunch I've ever had with my mother."
"That's because you're mother is crazy."
"Oh yeah. Totally insane, but still." Taylor chuckled. "I can't even explain it. I thought she was going to disown me. I kind of wanted her to disown me, but now. Now…" She pulled Ryan into a kiss.
"Now?" Ryan gulped.
"Now anything's possible. Pigs could fly." Ryan watched as her smile expanded, until she was beaming. She pulled him closer and whispered in his ear. "Want to go drive somewhere secluded and have sex in my new car? Might be the last time we can do something like that for a long time."
"Well if that's the case," He put an arm around her and led her toward the parking lot. As they looked for her new car, he turned to her and finally allowed himself to smile. He was going to get his afternoon delight after all, and more than that he was going get it from a woman who, in their short time together, had made him happier than he previously realized possible. She was the right crazy, the right spontaneous, the right everything. A year ago the thought of him and Taylor Townsend would have made him laugh out loud, but right now things were finally falling into place, things were finally all right.
And she'll wake up in a cold sweat on the floor
Next to a family portrait drawn when you were four
And beside a jar of two-cent coins that are no good no more
She'll lay it aside
April 28, 2009
I used to have this dream. When I was younger, thirteen, fourteen, I had this dream that the good things in my life would come out of the tragedy. I'd watch these soap operas with these crazy storylines and it always seemed that when everything was as bad as it could possibly be, that's when the characters would find love. Obviously, it was soap opera love and people's lovers changed on a monthly basis, but something resonated with me. Maybe because I thought I had this tragic life, you know, of course I was going to get a Prince Charming. So I'd imagine avalanches and floods, earthquakes and shark attacks – sometimes, I'd even go the simple route; I'd imagine my own life.
My parents divorced when I was in the second grade and as little a relationship I have with my father now, I still remember him positively. I remember the time he took me to Sea World just the two of us. I remember him going to play golf at the club and taking me along as his "caddy". I never think about much more than those moments. Frankly, there isn't that much to remember. Not anything happy anyway. It's either this or me listening through the wall at him and my mother screaming. The point is I build in my head this world that was so ideal until I was seven. My parents' divorce becomes a tragedy, my dad getting remarried becomes a tragedy, the lack of parental involvement in my childhood years becomes a tragedy, so on and so forth. And yeah, a lot of it was awful. A lot of my adolescent years were horrible, but they weren't tragic. This now, this is the great tragedy of my life.
Three years ago, I projected the image of a knight in shining armor on Ryan. He was going to save me from my marriage. He was going to save me from the slimy Henri. It was going to be the two of us against the world and it was, for a while. The problem is, I didn't need a knight then. I could have figured my way out of the situation without him. I am resourceful enough, but I wanted to be rescued. I was tired of being lonely.
The movies always go a particular way though, don't they? I mean Cinderella, Snow White, all those little Disney princesses, they get their one rescue. They ride off into the sunset and that's it. No looking back. Ryan and I rode off into that sunset, but we did the unthinkable. We looked back. We thought that being together we were escaping all those problems in our lives – Marissa, Veronica, Volchok, Henri, Trey, and my dad Mark were all just going to stay in the past. We were going toward this blissful future, but we never thought tragedy would catch up to us. I thought I needed an escape then, but I didn't. I need it know. I need Ryan to look me in the eye; I need us to ride off towards something new. You know? It certainly won't be better, but it will be different. I need us to do the horribly clichéd and make lemons into lemonade, but I am starting to think we missed our chance.
We're great in the good times; we're terrible in the bad. Maybe that's our truth. Maybe I just have to accept that and move on. I don't want to, but I am running out of ideas. One of us should be the bigger person and yet, neither of us is. I am not saying I can't be held accountable for that, but maybe I'm just idealizing the good times – like that trip to Sea World. Maybe it's better this way, maybe neither of us is ready to deal with the other because we know in are hearts we shouldn't.
No. I don't really think that, but I am starting to think that I should. I am starting to think that there is just something I'm not realizing.
I do know that one of my co-workers asked me out on a date and as much as I adore Ryan and as much as I've imagined us in wedded bliss, I think I have to say yes. I think that if I don't say yes, I'm going to stay in the same trap. I am going to keep thinking of us as the Ryan and Taylor of old, not the Ryan and Taylor that we could be.
It'll be a test, an expedition into the new world and its many possibilities. How it could be.
And you'll find somebody you can blame
And you'll follow the creek that runs out into the sea
And you'll find the peace of the Lord.
He took a seat across from her at a little café on Fourth Street. Months ago, it had been his and Taylor's favorite place for take out. Every Sunday morning, he'd come pick up brunch on the way back from his run. They'd lay a blanket on the floor in the living room and watch Aurelia toddle around as they ate. When these memories played in his head, they seemed fake – like some sixties television show he'd seen when he was younger. They played out too perfect to be real, but they were. Sometimes he wished they weren't.
"Long time." He greeted.
"Yeah." She smirked. "Certainly long before the facial hair."
He allowed himself to smile. "How've you been?"
"Good. Really good. Just busy, too busy. God. I cannot believe it's almost been three years. I know we didn't end things on the best of terms and I'm really sorry about what I said…"
"Don't be." Ryan interrupted. "You were right."
"Regardless, it's not like I should have pretended you didn't exist. I mean, I heard about Marissa, you know, and I didn't call. I should have called. I should have kept some line of communication. I mean Christ; it's been three years. Daniel's five. Can you believe it?"
"No." Ryan managed. He knew he shouldn't have come here. As much as he'd wanted to see Theresa, she had Daniel. She had a life like the one he pined for. He couldn't exactly ban her from talking about her son; her surely happy, well-adjusted son and he didn't know how to bring up his dead daughter in conversation. What was he supposed to say? 'Hey speaking of kids, my daughter died right about three months ago'. They were strangers now and as much as he wished they weren't he couldn't ignore it. He hadn't thought this through. He just wanted interaction with someone different. Someone who didn't start the conversation with 'I'm sorry.'
"I'm really sorry about Marissa too, I cannot believe that happened. Not for the life of me."
"It's okay." Ryan said, immediately regretting his choice of words. "I mean it's not okay. What happened, it's not okay, but I'm used to it now. She's almost been dead now as long as I knew her. Sometimes it feels like a dream, you know? Another life."
"I can imagine. I mean, just based on you and I. For a long time, we were each other's everything and now."
"Yeah, now." He nodded.
"So, how've you been?"
His heart sank. He should have been expecting that, but he wasn't. When he played this meal out in his head they managed to only talk about her. He sighed. "You know, I'd rather hear about you for now." He needed coffee; he needed it five minutes ago. "Are you still with that guy from work?"
Theresa had to think about his question for a minute. Who exactly was he talking about? Three years was longer than she had realized before. Watching Daniel grow up everything seemed to happen so fast, but she realized now that that was just a mirage. "Oh! Him. No. We broke up, not longer after I last saw you. Wasn't quite as mature as I had thought he was. It's just Daniel and I right now, which is great. I have some photos actually, if you want to see." She didn't wait for a reply; her hand went right for her phone.
"This is us at Disneyland, he rode everything but the Dumbo ride. I tried and tried, but for some reason, he was scared of that damn elephant. Um. This was at Christmas. Mom came to us, we've been living in Pasadena for a while now, it's crazy. We never thought we were going to leave Chino, but look at us." Ryan felt the tears well in his eyes. He was grateful that she didn't actually look up with those last few words. "This is him with the Easter bunny." She laughed. "He loves the Easter bunny, but is terrified of Santa. Won't go near him."
Theresa glanced at the next photo on her phone and laughed at its contents. "This was…" she began, looking up at Ryan and noticing the change in his demeanor. "Ryan, are you okay?"
"Yeah. It's just." He was at a loss for the right words. "It's nothing."
Theresa stared at him with concern until their waitress made her way over. "Can I get you all something to drink for starters?"
"I'll have an orange juice."
"And you?" With this, the waitress turned to Ryan. It was Chloe, Ryan knew her by name. They'd seen each other practically every Sunday for over a year. The times he, Taylor, and Aurelia had come in together, she'd treated them like family and he had always tipped her a little over twenty percent. "Oh my, Ryan." He could tell she wanted to hug him. "It's been a while. You stopped coming and I wasn't expecting you to come back after everything that happened. Too many memories, I figured." Her smile turned into a frown. He'd never seen her frown before, never seen her anything other than chipper. "I don't even know what to say. I am so sorry for you and Taylor. I know you probably hear this all the time, but if there is anything I can do, just let me know. I cannot imagine what you're going through, and again, you probably hear this all the time and you're probably sick of hearing it, but I am just so sorry."
Ryan nodded. "It's, you know, it's…" He shrugged. He wasn't doing as good a job controlling the tears as he had hoped. "Thanks Chloe."
"Yeah. Coffee black?" She asked.
"Coffee black." He repeated.
Theresa's concerned look was back. "Ryan, are you okay? What was that about? What happened?"
"I shouldn't have come. I mean, I wanted to come, but I shouldn't have. I thought you knew. I mean, I half thought that was why you wanted to meet. To give your condolences and what have you. I should of known better. How would you have known?"
"Known what?" Theresa put her hand on his in support.
"You remember Taylor Townsend?"
She thought this over for a minute. "That weird girl from the prom?"
"Yeah." He chuckled slightly, "That weird girl from the prom." He sighed. "Well, a little while after Marissa died we stared dating. It's a really long story, but we just clicked and being with her was always this great adventure. And after we'd been dating a few months she found out she was pregnant and we just sort of trudged on and everything worked out wonderfully. We had this beautiful baby girl, Aurelia." Ryan pulled a photo from his wallet. "And you know, everything was just all we could have hoped and then in January, we were coming home from visiting my mother in Reno and some guy ran a red light and rammed right into our car." He grabbed the photo back from Theresa. "She died."
"Ryan," Theresa said, her voice filled with more sympathy than he could handle.
"And while I want to catch up, it's all just really fresh. It's all too much. And even more than just Aurelia, Taylor was the one, I think. If soul mates and all that existed, I think Taylor was mine and after Aurelia died, everything just kind of fell apart. She took a job in France and I didn't stop her. So, sitting here listening to you talk about Daniel should be fine, but it's really not. I just can't handle it right now. I am glad you're happy. I just wish I was too."
"Ryan, if I had known, I wouldn't have talked about him." Theresa smiled. "Let's just start again. I guess, we don't really know each other anymore, but you seem lonely, so we're going to make the most of this. Okay? We're going to catch up, but I am not going to tell you about Daniel or Pasadena or my job. For now, let's just talk about Aurelia. Not the fact that she's dead. Not the fact that Taylor's gone, just about what she was like. I think the hardest thing when people die is the fear that one day it'll be like they never existed, so let's keep her memory alive." Theresa squeezed his hand. "Tell me everything."
He was hesitant at first, but after a moment, he began. "She was born on August 6th 2007 at five fifteen in the morning. For a while, I thought I was going to miss her birth and that I'd never be able to forgive myself, but I was there. Five pounds. Four ounces. I was there."
He looked at Theresa and sighed in relief, he felt more at home than he had in a while.
Older father, weary soul, you'll drive
Back to the home you made on the mountainside
With that ugly, terrible thing
Those papers for divorce
And a lonely ring
Ryan wasn't used to Berkeley yet. There was something different about the air. It was crisper, cleaner. Where June in Newport had been hot, and Chino had been hotter, the weather in Berkeley was strangely cool, inviting and foreign at the same time.
He looked over at Taylor, snuggled in a blanket far thicker than he'd ever expected to see in the summer. The air streaming through the window, Ryan realized they'd have to invest in jackets for every season. Another expense to add to his ever-expanding list.
"What about that place on Channing?" Taylor asked.
"That apartment on Channing. It had the cute little breakfast nook."
"It was a little dark. Wasn't it?"
"We could lighten it up."
"A little expensive."
"Is that it?" Taylor sighed. "We have money, so that shouldn't be the defining characteristic of any of these places. That money in my trust fund will go a long way."
"Yeah, but we don't want to go through that. That money should be for when we need it. We shouldn't just dish it out."
"Ryan, what we have access to is only a quarter of what there is."
"Look Taylor, I get it. We have money, a little bit of a leg to stand on, which is great. But I was raised very traditionally, you don't live on more than you can afford. I want us to be able to take care of ourselves."
Taylor looked him squarely in the eye. "Translation: You're the man and you want to take care of everything yourself."
"No!" Taylor stared at him. "Maybe."
"Well, newsflash Ryan Atwood. We're having a kid and kids are expensive, so I would much rather the two of us work hard and make money, all the while knowing that we can give our daughter the best possible life, than fret over a few hundred dollars in the monthly rent. Everything is expensive here. Without that money we'd be struggling too much, this is about making this the best possible life we can. So we'll dip our fingers into the trust fund sparingly, but we'll dip them in. I mean, what do you expect us to do, live here?"
"No, but I am starting to think Kirsten wants us to stay."
"Seth and Summer went to Europe. Kirsten is nostalgic, one minute she's going to have this new baby, next thing she's not and we are. The worst thing we can do is stay here. It's just a reminder of what she's lost. She doesn't need that. She doesn't need to be in such close quarters to it all. It's just not fair; besides, I wouldn't be comfortable with it. We're adults. We have to be adults." Taylor nestled in toward him. "I'm sorry that you won't get that dorm living experience, but this is our life now. You'll just have to live vicariously though Seth."
"What an unlikely turn of events." He smirked.
"We can keep looking. Obviously the sooner the better." She said pointing to her belly, "But we can keep looking. There's always Oakland."
"What about that place on Dwight, the little Victorian. A lot of room, comparatively, not a terrifying price. A little further from campus, but not unmanageable."
"Windows." Taylor joked.
"Windows." Ryan repeated.
"Yeah. That was a nice place. Nice enough neighborhood. More house than apartment." She smiled at him. "That could be our home."
Ryan let his hand rest on Taylor's abdomen and felt the life move inside her. She was right. They were adults and they had to act like it. Their child was going to have so much more than either of them had had. She was going to know a love that Ryan had only recently learned existed, a love he couldn't yet describe. She deserved more than a room in the Cohen's house, she deserved a home and if they needed to dig into Taylor's money for that to happen, so be it. He could suck up his pride. Traditional wasn't always better, he of all people knew that. "We'll call them in the morning"
"And then we'll buy a couch and a bed and we're all set." She chuckled patting him on the chest.
"Don't forget a crib."
Taylor shook her head. "Couldn't if I wanted to."
Grandfather, gentle soul, you'll fly
Over your life once more before you die
Since our grandma passed away
You've waited for forever and a day
Just to die
And someday soon
You will die
May 1, 2009
We kissed. Twelve hours of talking about Aurelia, life with children, life with lovers, Pasadena, Berkeley, third grade, Chino and then we kissed. I walked into that café not sure how on Earth I was going to deal with Theresa given the varied realities of our lives and somewhere between the omelet and the check, I felt at home. I felt like I could talk to her about anything. So we made a day of it, I showed her Berkeley, Oakland, and the Golden Gate Bridge and before you know it, the sun is setting and her lips are firmly implanting themselves on mine.
It's weird. Theresa was my first kiss and there we were almost ten years later and after years apart falling right back in line. Her mom always thought it was going to be the two of us. She used to joke about us being made for each other and sometimes when I was in Newport I'd wonder if that wasn't the case. I'd wonder why I was so infatuated with Marissa, when there was this great girl back in Chino just waiting for me. That was all just a fantasy though. She didn't wait for me. She got engaged to Eddie. She got pregnant and then we tried that whole shotgun relationship, but I always thought it didn't work because we were so young and both ruining each other's lives, shots at happiness. So, when I was lonely Theresa slowly became this woman of myth, somewhere out there, just out of my reach, maybe Miss Right.
How was the kiss? Well, her lips were as soft and as supple as ever. They were just as I remembered them and standing next to her, it seemed like maybe we could work, but I didn't feel it. I was still in the shadow of everything that happened. Beyond the façade of the day, I was as dead inside as ever.
As much as I wanted it to nothing changed between those hours of eight and eight. So I took her back to her hotel and then Monday I drove her to the airport. She kissed me goodbye on the cheek. We promised to keep in touch this time. We promised it wouldn't be another three years, but that was it. As quickly as Theresa Diaz came back she was gone and it was just me and my thoughts again.
It's funny though, looking back on that day with Theresa I realized something. Taylor is the one. She's the one I want. The one I need and that whole day all I did was project her onto Theresa. We kissed because we did what I was supposed to do. I wasn't supposed to cut Taylor off. I was supposed to be present. I was supposed to talk. We were supposed to deal with death together. We were supposed to become stronger given everything but I wasn't willing to work for stronger, I let her go.
I realize that now. She didn't leave me I pushed her away. I let her go. She's not the deserter it's me. But what am I supposed to do about it? Am I supposed to fly to France? Break out into song? Write her another damn poem?
I thought after the Henri incident, she was mine. I wasn't going to let her go again. I wasn't going to get scared again. Then Aurelia died and I wasn't scared, I was terrified. How can you live your life knowing that anything can happen? Our bubble was nice, now its gone, now she's gone and Taylor? She was the one right thing. Maybe its time to face facts, maybe she doesn't even want me back. Maybe somewhere between the funeral and her flight to France I showed my true colors and maybe she's as scared to come back, as I am that she'll never want me back.
It was the only woman you ever loved
That got burnt by the sun too often when she was young
And the cancer spread and it ran into her body and her blood
And there's nothing you can do about it now
She was wrong. Thirty minutes into her date with Benjamin she realized he was too pretentious. An hour in his over pronunciation of English words went from charming to grating. At an hour and thirty minutes they started to argue about Flaubert. By hour two she realized he was Henri the Second. She couldn't get away fast enough.
She wasn't that insecure young girl anymore. She didn't need to be told how smart she was. She knew she was smart. She didn't need to be told how pretty she was. For, as much as she fought with herself about it, she knew that too. She needed real conversation. She needed her perfect opposite. She needed Ryan.
Her exploration into the new world had revealed that maybe she didn't need a knight anymore. Maybe she just needed the right guy; maybe their failures could become perfections. Maybe they could complete each other. Maybe she just needed to stop over thinking things. One of these days, she was going to have to let the past become the past. The beautiful nursery in their house would have to be the past. Aurelia would have to be the past. Her and Ryan would have to start anew and she knew it now. She knew that was what she wanted. She just wasn't sure she could accept it yet.
The pictures on the fireplace, the blankets they used for Sunday morning brunch, the couch from where she heard Aurelia say her first word, from where she watched her take her first steps. It was all surely still there and she knew that if those walls could talk they'd give her an earful. Letting the past become the past sounded good in theory, but in reality it was terrifying. They couldn't just sell everything. Their past couldn't just be something they ignored; it had to become something they could deal with, something they could move passed together. They had to accept that nothing would ever be that good, that close to perfect again, but that things could still be good. Life could still go on.
She fell into her apartment door after she let herself in. She was glad the evening was over. She looked at her phone, one missed call. She dialed for voicemail and listened to Ryan's voice as it said:
"Saturday, February 3rd 2007, that's the day that I realized I loved you. You went to that psychiatrist to stop being obsessed with me and then just ended up stalking me in that groundhog costume. Remember? I remember that Friday I wanted you more than I had ever wanted anyone, more than that week after you pretended to be my sleep therapist. You were something out of legend but as much as I wanted you, I still didn't understand you. As different as you had become to me in those months, there was still something off about you. Something I wasn't sure I'd ever get, but I just decided to ignore it and that night we joked about pretending to stalk each other and by midnight we were in the spider web position from the Kamasutra.
"I don't know what happened, but somewhere between midnight and six am everything clicked. I realized that that eccentricity wasn't a wall. That eccentricity was you. You were the oddest girl I had ever known, but also the most exciting, the most fascinating, the most fun. I suddenly felt sorry for everyone in high school who refused to get to know you, for all those people who thought you were another Type A goody-two-shoes. You weren't Tracy Flick; you were everything Tracy Flick wished she could be. In that moment, you were everything. You still are everything and maybe we need this. Maybe we need this time apart, but the second you're ready to come home, I am here. As hard as it will be, we can start again."
She broke into tears as she slid to the floor. This message was what she had needed three months ago. This was the knight in his armor. This was the passage to the new world. She played it over and over again, only to realize she wasn't ready for the future just yet.
It wasn't him after all. He was the bigger person. She was the coward. He was open and willing to start anew and she was still stuck in the past.
Song: Blood by The Middle East
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