A.N.: Please do not fret; I'm not deleting this story, but I have edited it and cleaned up some of the chapters, making the story flow better, and changing a few things from canon that wouldn't work with an OC. Please, please review, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the new version. Thank you to Soapfan2006 and Dark-n-Twisty for your artwork, and to everyone who has reviewed, thank you.
Lilium Inter Spinas
She heard the chink of glass on glass and knew her mother was pouring herself another drink; she had taken two before leaving the house to collect Ryan from juvi. The television blared, some sports game A.J. had been watching since midday; the radio spewed an old rock song, and her mother started yelling. She peeked round the corner, spying Ryan standing just inside the front-door, which stood ajar.
"I can't do this any more, Ryan," her mother said tremulously, her arms trembling as she sloshed another drink into her glass. "I can't."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Ryan said repentantly, and he looked it. Ryan had never been arrested before; she and Ryan were the good kids on the block, the ones who rarely got into trouble, were liked and respected because they were good kids. Trey, he was the bad seed, the one they all anticipated would go the same way as their dad, locked in a six-by-nine cell for the rest of his life.
"I want you out of my house," Dawn shouted unsteadily. "I want you out!"
Lily strained to listen, and in the split-second Ryan stood spluttering in incredulous disbelief, she made a decision, dragging a worn duffel-bag from beneath her bed; she opened the top two drawers of the dresser she shared with Ryan and quickly and efficiently packed her clothes into the duffel, along with several books, her walkman, several CDs, her ancient plush-toy, Baby (her even more ancient doll) her small collection of jewellery, her box of photographs and the impressive wad of emergency cash she usually kept stuffed in a pair of rarely-used socks. She brought the battered old TARDIS lunch-box out of the back of the closet, filled with her childhood treasures, and stuffed her toothbrush, shampoo and a towel in the top of her backpack when she heard the crash of the coffee-table buckling beneath Ryan's weight as A.J.'s fist sent him flying into it, and the sound of her mother yelling about the destruction of her second-hand furniture and the abuse of her son.
There was one thing Lily paused over, gazing regretfully at the dimensions of the handmade, beautifully finished little dolls' house on top of the dresser. Amid Ryan's skateboards and other boyish stuff, the dolls' house looked contrastingly sweet. It was handmade, a little too big to carry on her bicycle but so precious to her, she regretted leaving it behind. She wrote a small note, hoping Dawn would see it; Will come back for this later.
She stole past A.J. as he stood in the doorway of the bedroom she and Ryan had shared since childhood, his hideously tattooed biceps bulging as he glared over Ryan, watching him shove clothes hastily into an overnight bag. His cheekbones already gleaming pink, Ryan's eyes were withdrawn and shuttered with the familiar post-traumatic expression Lily usually found reflected in the bathroom-mirror, and she set her second-hand bicycle down, set her TARDIS lunch-box in the basket on the front, jumped atop the bike, and pushed alongside Ryan out of the yard and down the street. They slowed after a few blocks and the fresh memory of A.J.'s most recent beating had passed them by, and Ryan coasted on his BMX, glancing at Lily.
"She didn't kick you out," he remarked quietly, staring at her as if wondering whether she wasn't a mirage or hologram, instead of the real deal. He was probably wondering why she had come with him. Lily shrugged, pedalling idly. She wasn't going to stay in a place where her brother wasn't. No matter where it was, she would go with him. She wouldn't stay in that house with her drunk mother and her physically abusive boyfriends.
Aside from college, or at least, more likely at this point, marriage, there were very few chances for Lily to get out of her mother's home. Ryan getting unceremoniously booted from their childhood home—that was an opportunity Lily would never have predicted, but she liked to think she was an opportunity-taker. Wherever Ryan was headed, Lily would be there with him.
By the time they reached the freeway, barely fifteen minutes from their neighbourhood, Lily couldn't help wondering…where were they going to end up? She had nearly a thousand dollars in savings in the bank, and five hundred in cash tucked in her duffel. That could get them some travel-money, rent for a little while…they could start over somewhere new, away from their mom, away from A.J., away from Chino. They stopped at the plaza by the edge of the freeway, and Ryan dug into his jeans pockets for coins to use one of the few dilapidated pay-phones located by the low cinderblock wall.
"Who're you…calling?" Lily asked quietly, leaning her bike against her legs as she sat down on the wall, her shoulders aching mildly from carrying the heavy duffel and her backpack. Ryan glanced at her and shrugged subtly, counting the coins in his palm, and dropped several into the coin-slot of the pay-phone nearest him. She dug into her shorts pocket and dragged out a dollar ninety-seven in change, more than enough for a few more phone-calls for Ryan to make.
While Ryan tried some of his friends, Lily listened to the responses, saw the answers in Ryan's expression rather than in the words of the people he was speaking to so easily; there wasn't room or money enough to spread for two houseguests. Lily was acceptant of that; their friends' families, like her own, were all struggling working-class and had trouble raising their own kids, let alone taking in someone else's.
But Ryan was getting angry. He was an angry kid, from all the beatings and emotional brutalising they had lived through; he was prone to getting into fights because of the short fuse their mom had given him, and while Lily listened to him asking his deadbeat friends whether they could crash on a couch for the night, playing musical-phones with everyone telling him to try someone else, he ended up throwing the phone at the receiver, the muscle ticking in his jaw, the telltale sign that he was getting ready to punch something, and he took out his frustrations on the phone-booth.
Lily averted her eyes, and pretended not to notice. When she was around violence, she did one of two things; was the victim of it, or tried to imagine she was in a place where her family was whole and happy, where she had never been beaten to within an inch of her life, or had to take care of her drunk mother when she got laid off again, where her first ever pay-cheque from the florist's hadn't gone to paying the bills because her mom's boyfriend had used all Dawn's pay-cheque on drugs and smokes.
She didn't know where she and Ryan were going to end up, but she knew anything had to be better than life with Dawn. She and Ryan had played the grown-ups for too long; Lily pulled in money by cooking meals for elderly neighbours, babysitting kids, and working three different jobs during the summer, and only two during school-time.
She was lucky it had been pay-day yesterday; she and Ryan had paused at the bank so Lily could pay in her three pay-cheques. That gave them a considerable amount of cash to play around with, if they needed it, and Lily began to suspect they would.
"Sorry," Ryan said softly, and she glanced up, fiddling with the last of her loose change. She flicked her eyes over him, in his grey hoodie, leather jacket and scuffed Doc Martens, with two red patches on his cheeks and an angry and upset scowl. He knew she didn't like violence. While he and Trey had learned to deal with the violence in their childhoods by lashing out at others when provoked, as the youngest, and with the sweetest disposition, Lily was the most traumatised by it.
"Lily…you should go home," Ryan said quietly. Lily glanced up, fixing her brother in the eye and holding his gaze.
"I'm n-not…going back th-there," Lily said softly, but with a fierceness that left no room for argument. A.J. hadn't been the worst of her mother's boyfriends, but he hadn't been the best of them either, and he hadn't been shy in beating the hell out of her when he'd had one too many, or he thought she'd been giving him a saucy glare. Ryan licked his lips thoughtfully and looked down at the ground. "What're we…gonna d-do?" she asked softly, not really asking it as a question, just…saying it. Ideas. They could get away—maybe stay the night in a cheap motel and…and plan their journey. Where did they want to go? Where did she want to go? Anywhere but Chino, that was where.
Ryan sighed heavily and shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, staring moodily at the pay-phone. He frowned, and drew a crumpled bit of white paper from his pocket. He glanced at it, glanced up at Lily, and she saw decisions being made in his dark-sapphire eyes before she could even ask what the paper was. Ryan was quiet, but his face was very expressive, at least to her, who knew him best.
Before she could ask what he was doing, he had the slip of paper clamped between his teeth and was approaching the pay-phone with his last quarter, punching in the number he read off the card. Lily sat up straighter, wondering and watching…
"Mr Cohen?" he said politely. "It's…Ryan Atwood… Yeah, uh… I'm sorry to call you, but… My mom kicked me out of the house. My sister, too… Okay… Okay… Okay." Lily frowned, confused, as Ryan told the Mr Cohen at the other end of the line where they were, and hung up.
"Who was that?" she asked interestedly, as Ryan tucked the card into the back pocket of his jeans. Ryan glanced at her.
"Public defender," he replied.
"Your…l-lawyer?" Lily asked, raising her eyebrows interestedly. Ryan nodded.
"He said if I needed anything," he said quietly. Lily stared at her brother. Ryan wasn't the kind to ever ask for help in anything; homework, a job, tuning up their mom's old car, getting into trouble at school, fights with school rivals, he always insisted, silently, on sorting his problems out himself.
"W-why did y-you c-call…him?" Lily asked mildly. Ryan glanced at her, and explanation read plainly in his eyes.
"We need help," he said simply. For himself, Ryan never asked for anything. But he would walk across the entire world to fetch a grain of sand if Lily asked for it. Lily asking for anything was rarer than Ryan asking for help.
And Lily was with her brother. He probably knew there was no convincing her to go back home, especially not when her most valiant protector had been removed from the situation. Only Ryan knew she had been waiting for her chance to get out of that house, get away from Dawn, from the alcohol and drugs and poverty… She could go somewhere, get a few jobs, take classes at night, do something with her life without having to take care of her mother and eldest brother, have them mooching off her pay-cheques for booze and smokes when they had an empty refrigerator and the electric company was threatening to turn everything off if the latest bill wasn't paid.
She would go somewhere, and she and Ryan could share a tiny place, but it would be theirs, and it would be clean, tidy. She wouldn't keep alcohol in the house and at Christmas and Thanksgiving, she and Ryan would share the time together, just the two of them, being kind to each other, no crying, no drink, no policemen hauling another of their mother's boyfriends off to the precinct overnight for another domestic-violence alert from Mrs Diaz next-door.
"What can…he d-do?" Lily wondered aloud, of Ryan's public defender.
How could Mr Cohen help them, two homeless teenagers without a high-school diploma between them—yet. Lily had been on the Principal's List last year and the year before, had straight A's and was in line to graduate first in their class. It didn't say much about their school if Lily was the best, but she was proud of her grades, proud of her attendance rate, the fact that she had never gotten into trouble.
"I don't know," Ryan said quietly. "Something, I guess. He is a lawyer."
"Maybe he c-could…" Lily sighed, glancing away from Ryan, watching the cars rush past. Of the few television episodes she had managed to catch in recent months, one had dealt with a teenager becoming emancipated from his divorcing parents. And with everything Dawn had put her kids through, the fact that Lily had been paying for her entire family, the mortgage, the bills, the health-insurance and SMOG testing on the car, gas and bail, groceries was more than enough to prove to a judge that she was able to take care of herself financially.
"Maybe what?" Ryan asked, scuffing his boot against the cinderblock wall.
"I've j-just b-been…thinking, l-lately," Lily said softly, glancing up at Ryan, squinting in the sun. She hadn't told anybody, not even Ryan, but she had been thinking about leaving home. She didn't want to have to wait until she was eighteen; that was so far away. She wasn't yet even sixteen. She had been doing a little research—as much as she could around her three fulltime jobs; but she could definitely qualify for emancipation, was over fourteen and could support herself.
But she'd been afraid. Afraid of abandoning Ryan the way everybody else in their life had abandoned them. Ryan had come to expect it, that if he screwed up, people would give up on him. She shook her head, sighing, and dug into her duffel-bag, bringing out a much-loved deck of cards. They were so worn they felt like silk against her fingers, and, sitting on the cinderblock wall by the road, playing Go Fish, while they waited for…something.
While it was loud with the traffic passing by on the freeway, and her bottom was numb from sitting on the concrete wall, it was warm, and she was with Ryan, so whatever was going to happen, well, they'd be in it together, the way they had since they were five years old and moved from Fresno when their father had been arrested for armed robbery. She wasn't worried, really, because whatever was coming in their lives had to be better than what they had endured.
When Go Fish got old, Lily stretched her legs and repacked her cards in her duffel-bag, and she saw Ryan straighten up, watching something intensely. She followed his gaze, and saw a gleaming black Jaguar drawing closer, indicating to turn into the roadside plaza.
It was a beautiful car, one of the new models—if Trey's car magazines told her right. Tinted rear windows, sleek and powerful built, the engine a low, delicious growl. Lily would have made love to that car if it was possible.
The side window rolled down as the car drew in, slowing down to a stop right in front of them, and a tanned man with very dark hair, thick eyebrows and a genial mouth appeared, taking off a pair of sunglasses. He appeared to be wearing a suit, and the top button was undone, the tie loosened, and Lily…well, she didn't know if she liked him immediately, but there was something about him that made her think she liked the look of him. It was his mouth, she thought. There was something about his mouth that was…kind. Mean men had hard mouths, she had noticed. But his had fine lines at the corners, as if he spent a good deal of time smiling.
"I told you," he said, his eyes on Ryan. "You could do worse."
A.N.: Please review. I know not much has changed from my original first-chapter, but the changes occur in the next few so the story flows better and makes more sense!