Sandy Cohen sighs inaudibly as he turns his attention away from the road to examine the teenager slumped in the passenger seat beside him. Ryan has been staring out of the window ever since they pulled out of his house. His old house Sandy corrects himself. He hasn't spoken a single word. His shoulders are slumped in defeat and exhaustion but his expression is blank. Sandy shudders at the thought of the kind of parents who would cause enough damage for a sixteen year old to just- shut down like that. In his line of work it took quite a bit to horrify him but Ryan's expression when he walked into his home to find it abandoned had done it. Sandy knew that he had to take Ryan home- he would call child protective services and arrange for him to be placed in a slightly less crowded group home. He runs his hand over his face tiredly, it wasn't perfect but it was all he could do. He knew there wasn't a single thing he could say to make Ryan feel better so they drove to Newport in silence.
Ryan's head had rose in interest as they drove past mansion after mansion. When Sandy pulled into a driveway that he assumed to be his house Ryan's curiosity pulled him out of his silence.
"I didn't know public defender's made this much money?" The crude sentence comes out with a tough edge but Sandy dismisses it- the Kid must be feeling very vulnerable.
"I don't," He chuckles, "But my wife does."
Ryan reaches for the door handle and Sandy puts a hand on his arm to get his attention.
"I actually have to go talk to my wife. Wait in the car, okay?" He reaches out to pocket the keys but his hand waivers and he gives Ryan an appraising look.
"It's no fun if the keys are in the ignition", He quips with a ghost of a smile playing on his features. For a second Sandy catches a glimpse of an unguarded sixteen year old child. He chuckles and leaves the key in the ignition. It's insured anyway.
"You brought him home!" Kirsten exclaims after her husband sheepishly approaches her and explains the situation. She sounds more surprised than she should and she knows that she will cave eventually but the dynamic of their relationship demands that she make Sandy sweat a little before she does, otherwise their home will be packed to the rafters with juvenile delinquents.
"What about Seth?" she demands.
"Seth'll be fine. It'll be good for him to hang out with someone his own age" He cringes knowing he may have oversold it.
"And Ryan wants to hang out with some one like Seth?" Sandy cringes, like he always does when his wife bluntly points out that their son is not a normal teenager. Kirsten has always been more pragmatic than starry eyed idealist Sandy Cohen. Nowhere is this more obvious than in how they choose to deal with their son's disability. Kirsten knows that Seth isn't any less than anyone else chooses not to ignore the fact that a lot of people view him that way and that his limitations do put him at a physical disadvantage. Sandy Cohen was affirmed in his decision to change the world when it became clear that his son would struggle in it. He was ready and willing to take on any battles with or on behalf of his son but he also tended to assume, like many idealists, than everyone believed what he did. That made him trusting and then hurt him when people displayed their prejudice. Kirsten was, quite frankly sick to death of watching the cycle repeat. She wanted him to think about how this boy might react to Seth.
"Kirsten" He sighs shrugging his shoulders. Finally, she relents.
"He sleeps in the pool house. I'll get the linens and towels. You have to explain about Seth." She urges.
Sandy heads to the car and then down the drive-way looking for Ryan. He catches the tail end of his conversation with Marissa. He clumsily affirms the cousin from Boston story not as quick on the uptake as he usually is but it has been a long day. Marissa walks away and he reviews the house rules with Ryan as they turn to walk back to the house. He starts by removing the cigarette from Ryan's mouth.
"There will be no smoking in the house, understand?" Ryan simply nods.
"Also my son has cerebral palsy", Ryan looks non-pulsed and nods again "It's not a big deal but I figured I would give you fair warning" He finishes awkwardly turning to head to the house.
"What's his name?" Ryan asks falling in step with Sandy as they head up the driveway to the house.
"Seth". Sandy replies before filling Ryan in on the house rules. Ryan was expecting them to be a lot harsher. He could definitely spend a weekend under those conditions.
Once he is settled into the pool house and Ryan has thanked them for letting him stay Sandy and Kirsten head to bed. Ryan hits the shower and stands under the steamy stream for a long time trying to make sense of his day. He cannot think about what his life will be beyond this weekend. Sandy seems well meaning but Ryan knows better than to let himself relax. If he relaxed he would get comfortable and trust them and then he would get hurt. This resolve is what he is focused on when he finally drifts off to sleep.
Ryan wakes up with a start, unsure of where he is. When the events of the day before come flooding back he groans and sinks into the pillows before pushing himself up and heading to the bathroom. Once he has used the toilet he is not sure what to do with himself so he heads to the main house. He follows the sound of the television to the living room where he is faced with a teenage boy with brown curly hair and glasses eating a bowl of cereal while playing a video game. He is enthusiastically exclaiming something when Ryan walks in. He turns flushed from embarrassment.
"Hey" He offers as a greeting "You must be Ryan"
"Yup. You're Seth?" He nods at him.
"I am. Do you want to play?' He offers him the controller. Ryan notices the strange way he grips the controller and then sees the wheelchair by the couch. Seth follows his eyes and knows he has noticed the chair. Seth waits patiently holding out the controller. He is used to people reacting to his disability. The people worth knowing usually just need a moment to process before moving on. He hopes Ryan is one of them. It'll make this weekend a lot less awkward. Ryan's expression is impassive when he nods and grabs the controller from Seth who scoots over to make room for him on the couch. He moves awkwardly but quickly and resumes playing. In between their groans, exclamations and playful trash talk they don't say much but the silence is easy. Seth is big on chatting but even he recognizes that Ryan needs to be handled carefully so they keep the conversation light.
"Ryan, do you want some breakfast? I can make cereal and cereal. My Mum will be back in a bit and my dad is making some calls" Seth offers.
"I can get it" Ryan rushes to stand and heads to the Kitchen.
"Suit yourself, man" Seth mumbles transferring into his chair and following Ryan into the Kitchen. "It's the cabinet over the microwave" He moves over to the fridge to grab some milk putting it on the kitchen table and gesturing for Ryan to have a seat. Once he does Seth parks his chair across him on the table and puts the brakes on.
Kirsten walks in to find the boys silently reading comic books across from each other. She is concerned when she sees Seth in his chair.
"Seth are you feeling okay?" she asks knowing that though his ability to walk is limited he rarely starts off his day in the chair preferring instead to do as much as he could standing up and using the chair once he is exhausted.
Seth rolls his eyes at his Mum's tone. She acts like Ryan isn't even there. "Tonight is the fashion thing," He offers refusing to clarify in Ryan's presence.
She rolls her eyes back mockingly but accepts the explanation. Ryan watches this easy exchange in wonder. He hasn't been near a family this easy with each other in a long time. He wonders if his Mum had ever expressed concern in such a relaxed way. He snaps back at the sound of his name. He smiles embarrassed knowing he has missed a huge chunk of conversation.
"I'm sorry?" He asks.
"I was offering to show around Newport today. We have the whole day until we have to get back to change?" He phrases it like a question even if it isn't.
"Sounds good" He replies.
Forty five minutes later they were at a dock and Seth was excitedly leading the way. Ryan has to do move somewhere between a run and a walk to keep up with him and it looks a little bit like he is skipping. Seth looks back and picks up pace and before they know it they are racing down the dock and Ryan is laughing for the first time in a long time. The dock is sloped and Seth had a head start so he gets there before Ryan.
"Well, here she is" He declares when Ryan comes to a panting stop next to him. His smoking habit isn't really helping his athleticism but Seth seems totally unaffected by their race.
"A boat?" He eyes the vessel skeptically.
"Well you asked what we do here in Newport- sailing is right up there with golf, parties and judging. It's also the only one I enjoy" He explains.
"This is yours?" He asks watching Seth transfer on to the boat.
"Yes it is. Come aboard." He tosses Ryan a life jacket and Ryan climbs in. He watches Seth collapse the wheelchair easily and put it in its little compartment. He is a bustle of activity but pauses for a second.
"Could you grab that and hand it to me" He points up to a rope well out of his reach sitting down.
Ryan silently hands it to him but wonders how he sails usually.
"I usually bring a pair of crutches so I can get up but honestly my parents never let me on the boat alone. They are convinced I will drown." He answers.
Ryan raises his head surprised Seth answered a question he didn't even ask. Seth is pre-occupied tying a knot. Ryan has never really seen anyone tie a knot like that. Seth uses his left hand which is clearly less cooperative more to pin the rope down than grip it. His right hand does everything else.
"You can stand?" Ryan asks obviously surprised. He blurts it out before he can stop himself. He flushes scarlet obviously mortified by his outburst.
"I can stand and walk- kind of. It's not very pretty or fast so I use the chair a lot. You don't have to look so guilty. I'd rather you just asked instead of staring at me wondering all afternoon" He smiles frankly at Ryan before re-focusing on the task at hand. Once finished he claps his hands triumphantly and they set off.
Between the amazing view the fresh air and Seth's easy company and funny running commentary Ryan has an amazing afternoon. When they explode into the Cohen kitchen laughing and joking playfully Kirsten is shocked at the contrast between this happy young man and the sullen teen on her driveway last night. The second he notices Kirsten in the kitchen his guard is up again. Seth notes the change in atmosphere but cannot help but be glad that Ryan is comfortable dropping his guard around him after one afternoon. Seth, like his Father, loves to believe the best in people but has learnt not to take rejection seriously- some people cannot see beyond the chair and the quirky gait. Ryan got over his embarrassment over the question he asked really quickly. Seth appreciated the way he didn't make a big deal out of it but helped him with doors and stuff in a matter of fact way. Seth was more than ready to finally have a male friend, or any friend for that matter.
He smiles and rolls his eyes at Ryan when Kirsten shoos him out of the kitchen to get ready for the party.
She smiles at Ryan and if it is a little chilly it is because Kirsten isn't known for her warmth. You have to get to know her first to have access to her kindness and generous spirit.
"I left you some clothes for tonight on your bed. We'll leave in an hour. Do you need anything?" The tone was no non-sense but Ryan saw the kindness in her eyes.
"I'm good. Thanks Kirsten, for everything" His words are laden with meaning as he flashes to where he would be at that very moment without the Cohen's intervention. Definitely not heading to some fancy party.
Frustrated with attempts to do his tie Ryan takes it off and throws it on to the bed before looking at himself in the mirror. The suit is the most expensive thing he has ever worn. He feels like a fraud. Just then there is a knock on the door and Seth walks in. He is aided by forearm crutches and his legs drag behind sluggishly the drag on his left leg barely lifts. Now that he is standing up Ryan realizes that Seth is taller than he is.
"Looking good" he waggles his eyebrows mock suggestively "No tie?"
"Nope. It's a look." Ryan answers defensively and Seth can guess at what the problem is. He moves toward the bed and it takes what seems to Ryan to be an eternity.
"I think I could probably beat you if we had a re-match now" He jokes.
Seth seems surprised at his comment but he chuckles appreciatively.
"Was that a joke? I was worried they didn't have humor in Chino" He retorts.
Once on the bed Seth sits down and puts the crutches aside reaching for the tie.
"I am really good at this. My parents make me go to these things all the time," He sighs as he loops the tie around his neck and begins.
Ryan puts on the tie and the boys head to the living room where during a skating video game Seth tells Ryan about his passions- comic books, sailing, music and Summer Roberts. Ryan just nods along realizing why Seth named his boat summer breeze. Seth is comfortable taking the lead conversationally in fact it seems as though he has waited his whole life to hang out with a friend. Ryan likes Seth but he can tell that his sardonic humour and unusual passions would single him out as a loser at almost any school but add to that the crutches and the chair he would be willing to stake money on the fact that Seth didn't have many friends.
At the fashion show Ryan struggles through the dinner feeling anxious and out of place and terrified of using the wrong fork but as the show starts Marissa walks out on to the catwalk and catches his eye. Seth is watching him not really surprised that Ryan would lock on to the hottest girl in town his Dad had told him that he had found him chatting up Marissa as the cousin from Boston. Ryan caught him staring but he just raised a questioning eyebrow and jerked his head toward the stage and was rewarded by a visibly flustered Ryan. When Summer came on to stage to model Seth stopped making his sugar cube statue and tugged at Ryan's sleeve like an excite-able puppy.
"That's her. That's Summer".
After the show Summer Roberts came over to invite them to a party. Or rather she invited Ryan eyeing him suggestively while she did and then included Seth as an afterthought when prompted by Ryan. Ryan was ambivalent about spending his last night in Newport at a party but Seth convinced him that they needed to go. Now all he had to do was convince his parents.
Kirsten raised her eyebrow as she watched her Son approach. She could tell from his expression that he was going to ask for something.
"Hey Mum. Did I tell you how adorable that dress is? You look stunning, simply stunning," He opened clearly thinking his approach was genius.
"What do you want Seth?" His Father asks joining his Mother.
"To go to a party, at Holly's beach house," Seth asks abandoning subtlety.
"No," Kirsten's reply comes quickly. She turns to wave at her friend clearly considering the subject closed.
"Come on Dad. Summer is going to be there, she invited us. Ryan and I will be back by whatever time you decide just please let us go" He pleads shifting uncomfortably on his feet.
"You look exhausted Son," He comments.
"I'm fine. We'll get to the party and I'll sit down and I won't get up again until we leave. You guys are always telling me I need to hang out with kids my own age. Can I go to a party with a friend like a normal kid" He whines. Ryan sees Kirsten and Sandy's faces crumple and he knows that they are going to agree but he also sees the glint in the corner of Seth's eyes. He doesn't confront Seth about it until they are out of ear shot of his parents.
"You played them?" He asks incredulous.
To his credit Seth is shamefaced at being discovered but he shrugs and smiles sheepishly while Ryan chuckles. They climb into the car and Sandy drives them the short distance to Holly's house. Seth chatters incessantly in the back seat brainstorming ideas for his first conversation with Summer.
"Do you think I should tell her about the boat, about Tahiti?" He asks.
"I'd wait" Ryan replied at the same time Sandy exclaimed "No Seth!" from the front seat.
"Maybe just have a conversation first. Nice and easy, you don't want to scare her off," Ryan explains. Seth nods thoughtfully as Sandy nods his thanks after catching Ryan's eye in the rearview mirror.
"I'll be here to pick you up in two hours. Call me if anything happens. No questions I will come and pick you up" Sandy urges focusing on his son's face as he speaks.
"I promise Dad. See you in a bit. Come on Ryan," Seth urges as he makes his way to the door.
Ryan notices that Seth's legs are dragging a bit more than earlier in the evening. As Seth enters the door that Ryan is holding open he also notes how tired Seth looks and decides to keep an eye on him. However he spots Marissa across the room and she gives him a warm inviting smile. Seth rolls his eyes at him and nudges him in her direction.
"I'm going to do a lap to try and find Summer and find somewhere to sit down" He explains. Ryan nods and approaches Marissa noting guiltily what a wide berth people give Seth even at such a crowded party. A few of them are probably worried about getting in his way but it seems deeper, like they are afraid to touch him. Marissa smiles and hands him a drink. They talk easily about nothing smiling the smiles unique to conversations between girls and boys where every accidental brush sends a tingle of electricity and every smile and look is encoded with deeper meaning. He almost forgets about Seth until he glimpses a group of boys carrying something down the beach toward the ocean. It only takes him a second to recognize the limp body as Seth and he puts down his drink and dashes to the beach. He tackles one of the boys and they drop Seth into an undignified heap. Seth attempts to straighten himself out while Ryan takes on the group of boys. Punching wildly knowing the best chance he has is to scare them enough before they can recollect themselves enough to remember that four against one isn't exactly a fair fight. The boy he is punching pushes him off and runs away and Ryan breathes heavily relieved that his gamble paid off. He turns to Seth aware that he wouldn't want to be babied if the situation we're reversed.
"Are you okay?" Ryan's tone would be nonchalant if it wasn't for his heavy panting.
"Yeah. They threw my crutches in the ocean. Assholes," There isn't any venom in his voice, he sounds almost distracted looking anxiously at the house hoping no one saw.
Marissa had kept her distance from the scuffle but noted with disgust that her boyfriend Luke Ward was one of the guys who had picked up Seth. She was so over his shit. She approaches the boys.
"Are you okay?" It's a ridiculous question considering Ryan is sprawled on the beach breathing heavily and Seth looks mortified.
"We're excellent. Your boyfriend just wanted to see if a cripple could swim. I'm happy to help with Luke's scientific research" Seth spits his shock finally giving way to anger.
"I'm sorry. He's not my boyfriend anymore" She adds unnecessarily shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot unsure of how to help.
"Do you know a way we could get out of here without being spotted by anyone? My man here has a reputation to uphold" Ryan jokes standing up and approaching Seth.
"Er yeah. We could go round the back" Marissa answers.
"How are we going to do this?" He asks the brown haired boy surveying the situation.
"Um… Help me up and I could kind of lean on you?" He suggests.
Ryan nods and holds out his hands. It takes a few tries and Marissa has to turn away because something in her hurt tugs watching Seth struggle to find his balance on the sand. The only reason she's never had a conversation with Seth Cohen is she has no idea what to say to him. She just feels so bad for him. Spotting his glasses on the beach she rushes to give them to him. Noticing his hands are full with trying to balance gripping Ryan's shoulders and dragging his legs slowly up the beach meeting with resistance with the sand since he can't lift them that high, she perches them on his nose. He gives her a half smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes and nods his thanks. They make the walk to the driveway in silence and when they get there Seth is pale and his mouth is drawn into a hard line Ryan isn't sure if it's from pain or exhaustion. He sits down leaning heavily on Ryan as he does. His legs are splayed awkwardly and he runs his hands up and down his thighs.
"Pass your phone, I'll call your Dad," He demands quietly leaning into Seth's ear to talk to him.
"He'll be here in like ten minutes anyway. I can wait it out. I think Marissa wants to talk to you" He nods at the girl waiting awkwardly for the boys to finish their conversation.
Ryan approaches Marissa.
"How could you date that guy?" He asks bitterly.
"He's a jerk but I've known him for years. I had no idea.." She trails off uncertainly.
"Yeah well, you do now" It comes out more aggressive than Ryan intended.
"Look you're leaving at the end of the weekend. You do not get to come here and tell me how to live my life. None of this is my fault," She turns around to storm off but Ryan grabs her arm.
"You're right. Thanks for helping us. Can we give you a ride home?" He asks. Marissa is amazed at how quickly she shifts from furious to calm again but she simply nods her head. They head back down the driveway and sit next to Seth who looks ready to pass out.
Sandy pulls up the driveway and doesn't say a word about Ryan's bruises, Seth's missing crutches or obvious exhaustion or the fact that he is now driving Marissa Cooper home. The ride home is awkward but when the car jostles on a bump Ryan puts a steadying hand on Marissa's thigh and she flushes with pleasure so he keeps it there all the way home.
After quickly thanking Sandy for the ride Marissa scurries to her own front door. Left alone with the boys Sandy finally clears his throat to speak.
"What happened?" He demands.
"It was nothing Dad some guys just stole my crutches as a prank and hit Ryan when he tried to get them back" Seth lies so easily Ryan is sure things like this must happen to him more often than he cares to admit.
"Who did this Seth?" His voice is teetering on the brink of furious.
"It doesn't matter. I'm exhausted. We can talk more tomorrow," He turns to the house and Ryan steps forward to offer him an arm which he accepts wordlessly. He doesn't speak again until they are in his room and he exhaustedly approaches the bed.
"You really had my back man but you shouldn't have done that," He states.
"Why not?" He asks curiously.
"Because that kind of stuff happens to me. Never really as bad as picking me up and trying to drown me but if you punch everyone who has a problem with me your fists are going to get pretty tired during our friendship. Just fair warning." Seth mumbles as he undoes the laces on his shoes. He doesn't mention the risk Ryan runs of landing himself back in juvie.
"I saw him making out with a girl who wasn't Marissa, I had my own reasons" He answers easily.
"It was pretty great to see you punch Luke. That dude shaves his chest." He chuckles.
"Why didn't you shout for help when they jumped you?" Ryan asks.
"They wanted to scare me. I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction. I mean, I was scared but I can swim so…" He trails off.
Ryan isn't sure how to reply so he just nods impressed at Seth's balls.
"I'll see you tomorrow Ryan. Goodnight" Seth leans over and offers his fist. Ryan nods and bumps fists with him.
Ready for bed and about to drift off to sleep Ryan reflects on what a strange welcome to the OC he received although with the punching and drinking maybe it wasn't so different from home.