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Marissa is walking down the corridor with her head down pretending that she cannot hear every single horrible comment someone makes about her.
"She looks pretty good for a dead girl" A junior she has never spoken to comments.
At least she thinks I look good she thinks ruefully as she opens up her locker.
"Hey" Ryan greets her.
"Hey", She smiles genuinely for the first time that day. She had been wearing a fake smile to reassure her Dad that she is okay, a grin while Summer complained about Seth Cohen which had faded while she was walking to her locker. She is so glad to see Ryan.
They grin stupidly at each other for a little while.
"I might get out of my meeting a little early today. Maybe we can hang out?" She suggests.
"Actually I have soccer practice" Ryan admits apologetically.
"Soccer?" Marissa clarifies looking pleased at the prospect.
"Yeah. I'm trying out. Someone told me it might be a good idea to get involved" He smiles.
"That someone sounds smart" Marissa notes coyly.
"Oh yeah. And humble" He jokes.
"We both get out at five so I'll meet you out front after?" She asks.
"Sure" Ryan agrees easily.
"Hey Summer!" Seth greets her enthusiastically as he approaches her locker.
"Cohen" She greets him coolly quickly scanning the hallways to make sure no one is watching.
"I was wondering if you wanted to hang out after school?" Seth asks.
"Sure. I'll meet you at your place, okay?" She answers quickly before scurrying off to her first class.
Seth decides to focus on the fact that she agreed.
Seth's next class is study hall and although he is can get away with being a little later to classes he hurries because he needs to get a spot at the end of one of the long desks.
"Seth!" Anna greets him brightly waving him over to where she is sitting.
"Anna!" He smiles genuinely happy to see her.
She leans in for a hug and Seth reciprocates.
"How was Tahiti?" He asks excitedly. Anna was late coming back to school because she had left to sail to Tahiti right after Cotillion. They hadn't spoken since.
"It was so great. I took an embarrassing number of photos. Do you want to come over after school and see them?" She asks.
"I'd love to but I am actually hanging out with Summer after school. Tomorrow?" He suggests.
"Sure" Anna fights to keep the disappointment off her face "And you are coming with me next time, right?"
"Definitely. I'm getting the baclofen pump this weekend" Seth says.
"That's great" a pause "You won't miss any school right? You are the only person I know in Newport."
"I'll miss a few days but you can come see me in the hospital or at home" Seth laughs.
"Cool" Anna laughs nervously kicking herself for being so obvious.
Summer knows what Seth was asking when he asked if they could hang out. Yesterday she was sure that she wanted to 'hang out' with Cohen. After spending a little time consulting with Dr. Google she wasn't so sure. I mean, it wasn't going to be like the movies or like she had imagined it. A few weeks ago Seth couldn't even push himself in his wheelchair. All the websites she had visited had said that every case was different and that she should talk to her partner about what would work for them and be willing to experiment. Could they have made it sound any less romantic?
Phil. The name shoots into her mind unbidden. She could ask Phil. The teacher calls on someone and after making sure it isn't her name that was called. Summer goes back to scheming. She could skip her afternoon classes. What is there to learn about the Ming Dynasty anyway? That opium was gnarly? Summer already knew that. This visit with Phil was going to be way more educational.
Sometimes her enthusiasm for projects can blind her to painful realities. Like traffic. She makes it to the hospital late and rushes through the corridors looking for Phil. Luckily he isn't in the middle of a session. Even more luckily, most of the hospital staff, including Phil have a soft spot for Summer. Her cheerful presence at the hospital is always welcome.
"Hey Summer! What are you doing here? You don't have a shift today, do you?" He asks stopping himself from adding that Seth doesn't have a session today either.
"No but I was hoping to talk to you, Phil" Summer smiles sweetly.
Phil is instantly suspicious.
"What's up?" he asks wearily.
"It's about um sex like with a person with a physical disability and an able bodied person. Say, for example someone with Cerebral Palsy" Summer finishes lamely.
Phil stares at her in disbelief for a few moments.
"It's for a school project" She adds optimistically.
"Look" Phil says after a moment of rubbing his temples tiredly "I already spoke to Seth about this and you should talk to Seth about this. I'm not trained for this and you two should be able to figure it out without any help. You may also want to be able to have a conversation with each other before jumping in the sack. Just a thought" Phil finishes.
"Will he need any special equipment like a harness or a pump?" Summer asks.
"Goodbye Summer" Phil says with finality and heads for the break room.
Summer stands there, stunned for a few moments until her phone vibrates in her pocket. It's a text from Seth. He couldn't wait any longer and had gotten a ride with Anna. Shit.
Ryan is pleasantly surprised by how good it feels to play a sport again. Luke Ward is on the team but he can ignore that. The hour of soccer practice passes quickly. He showers quickly after practice since he doesn't want to keep Marissa waiting for too long. His hair is still wet as he makes his way to the student council room. He impatiently flicks his damp bangs away from his forehead as he opens the door. He involuntarily takes a step back when he spots Marissa with Luke. Ryan cannot help but always assume the worst despite his recent run of good luck. Marissa is meant to be with someone like Luke and not someone like him. This makes more sense he thinks ruefully as he hitches up his backpack and turns to leave. Despite his best efforts not to; he looks back.
"I saw Marissa and Luke together" Ryan says after a few minutes of hanging out silently in Seth's room.
Seth is lying on his bed and looks at Ryan with a raised eyebrow. He knew it was something. Ryan had gotten home from school and had been more monosyllabic than usual but had still wanted to hang around Seth. He could tell that Ryan was building up to tell him something big.
"Making out?" Seth asks.
"More like making up" Ryan mumbles distractedly realizing that Seth's speech is strained. He looks at his friend properly for the first time since getting home.
He takes in Seth's awkward position. Seth's arm and legs moving to their own unique rhythm is something he has gotten used to.
"Do you need a painkiller?" Ryan asks Seth. He asks it matter-of-factly without a trace of pity.
"Nah. I have to wait until after dinner if I am going to get any sleep. So Marissa and Luke were just talking?" Seth asks quickly shifting the focus away from his problem.
"It kind of looked like more than that. Luke was crying." Ryan says. Seth can tell that he cannot bring himself to hope that it was just a conversation.
"Luke was crying?" Seth takes a moment to enjoy this information "You should ask her about it. It probably wasn't a big deal" Seth shrugs.
Ryan nods. They sit in comfortable silence for a little, listening to Bright Eyes. Ryan is pretty amazed that he can recognize Bright Eyes. Seth's mission to educate him might actually be paying off.
"So did you hang out with Summer today?" Ryan asks suddenly remembering that today was supposed to be a big day for Seth.
"She blew me off. Just as well. Maybe tomorrow?" Seth says.
"Maybe after the surgery? I did some research and I really don't think that is going to happen to you" Ryan cannot make eye contact with Seth as he says this.
"You did some research? On my…..?" Seth confirms.
Ryan cannot even bring himself to nod.
"Thanks for the concern dude. I appreciate it but we should probably make a deal not to….er….research stuff like that for each other" Seth says his body convulsing with mirth.
"Deal" Ryan agrees laughing along with Seth.
"Hey! Where were you yesterday?" Marissa greets Ryan as he approaches her locker. The first bell has just gone and she only has five more minutes to get to her next class.
"Sorry. What did you do?" His tone is terse and his smile does not reach his eyes.
"After waiting for you? I left" Marissa explains pointedly.
"I'm going to be late for class. Why don't I come see you at soccer practice today?" Marissa suggests.
Ryan isn't paying attention when he nods. His chest tightens with betrayal. He can't believe Marissa just lied to him. His thoughts begin to spiral- she is just like his Dad, just like Trey and just like his Mom. As much as the quiet voice in the back of his head reminds him that things are different his thoughts are much, much louder.
"Cohen!" Summer interrupts his conversation with Anna at his lunch table.
"Hi Summer! You remember Anna, right?" Seth re-introduces them politely gesturing to them with his strap on eating utensil. Anna seems totally unfazed by eating with Seth at school. Summer is instantly jealous and angry at herself. She takes it out on Anna.
"Pittsburgh, right?" Summer's voice is dripping with disdain.
"Good to see you again, Summer" Anna replies.
"Where were you yesterday? Anna drives the tiniest car ever. I had to fold myself in half" Seth teases Anna gently.
She pokes him in the ribs in response.
"Paul Frank sale. I figured it was more important that World History. We're just doing the Ming Dynasty. What was I supposed to learn? That opium is gnarly?"
"Right. Because there is no lesson in that" Anna says.
"Are you making fun of me.. I can't even tell" Summer deadpans.
"Most of the time you do my job for me" Anna replies brightly.
"Again, not tracking" Summer spins to face Cohen "Cohen can I talk to you in private?"
Summer cannot help but smirk a little at Anna's irritated face. Cohen moves to follow her but smiles apologetically at Anna as he goes.
"I'll see you in class?" He offers as he leaves.
Anna smiles a little smile in response.
"Cohen tonight is your lucky night" Summer declares as soon as they are in private. Seth prefers to think of it as private as opposed to as far away from anyone who Summer might know.
"Someone confirmed that the Watchmen movie will stick rigorously to the source material?" Seth offered.
"My Dad and Stepmum are away trying to re-kindle the flames of their misguided romance. So I'm home alone. Can you come over?" She asks.
"I don't think.." Seth begins.
"I promise Cohen" Summer says sitting on his lap and purring seductively into his ear "This will be worth your while"
"What" Seth clears his throat "What time?" He asks.
Ryan skipped lunch to do some reading. He hasn't spoken to anyone since Marissa lied to him. He is gearing up for soccer practice. The expression on his face is grim so everyone is giving him a wide berth. Coach blows the whistle and announces tackle drills. Ryan lines up and sees that Marissa has come to watch practice. She smiles and waves at him. He ignores her. He notices that as Luke comes in they have a brief conversation. Luke joins the team and lines up next to Ryan.
Coach blows the whistle. Luke starts with the ball and takes off. Ryan starts after him. All Ryan sees is red. All he feels is the burn of the grass as he slides and the satisfying crunch that his boot makes against Luke's ankle. He is hauled off to the coach's office but he doesn't care. They can kick him off the team. They can kick him out of school. He is obstinately silent and unapologetic.
Until Sandy arrives.
Sandy listens to the coach. He accepts the reprimand and assures him that Ryan will be punished. They ask Ryan to step outside and he does. Sandy doesn't speak to him the whole way home. The car ride takes an eternity.
"Sit down" Sandy instructs him when he tries to make a clean break for the pool house.
Ryan sits down.
"Listen to me Ryan. Every day you are going to run into snot nosed privileged kids and you are going to want to hit them. I understand but you need to figure out another way. Because forget school- we are always one mistake away from someone taking you away from us" He finishes with feeling.
"I'm sorry, Sandy" And he is. He wishes he could explain how the weight of everything builds up in him sometimes until he has to lash out. How, in that moment, it wasn't about Luke and Marissa but about so much more. That it is the 'more' that he has no idea how to deal with.
"We are all here for you, Ryan. Nothing is going to change that" Sandy assures him.
Ryan nods. He believes that.
"I was looking forward to coming to one of your games. Coach says that you are talented and Seth was never one for organized sports." Sandy approaches him and squeezes his shoulder.
"What was that about?" Seth asks as he approaches Ryan.
Ryan automatically switches from the breakfast bar at the kitchen counter where he had been sitting to the kitchen table so he can be at eye level with Seth. Seth parks at his usual spot.
Ryan tells him.
"Wow. Marissa saw?" Seth asks.
"Yikes. You should apologize" Seth suggests.
"No man let that crybaby drown in his tears. Also, we are done with your thing and moving on to my thing"
"What's your thing?" Ryan asks.
"I need to sneak out of the house to have relations with Summer."
"Oh. Go for it."
"Let me re-phrase. I need your help to sneak out of the house to have relations with Summer."
"Okay. What do we tell your parents?" Ryan asks.
"Sleepover?" Seth suggests.
"You don't have any other friends."
Ryan responds with a look.
"Fair enough. Late night movie?"
Ryan mulls it over. "On a school night?"
Seth is stumped.
"We'll just have to sneak out then" Seth says grimly.
Three hours later Ryan is waiting two houses down in the van for Seth. Seth wheels down the drive dressed all in black and pausing to look surreptitiously over his shoulder.
"All black. Seriously?" Ryan asks.
"It's slimming and I was trying to be stealth" Seth explains as he waits for the ramp to the van to be lowered.
"So no one would be able to identify you?" Ryan asks.
"Exactly" Seth agrees.
"Among the millions of teenage boys in wheelchairs on this street" Ryan teases.
When he drops Seth off he declines Summer's offer for him to wait inside. He heads into the van to do his homework and wait for Seth.
Summer is nervous as she lets Seth in. She notices Seth shifting uncomfortably in his chair and is concerned.
"Are you okay?" She asks.
"Yeah just nervous" Seth answers shyly. He looks up at her like she is the most beautiful thing in the world. When he looks at her like that Summer feels so…..treasured. This night is already beyond what she had dreamed. She could not have dreamed feeling so special.
"Come upstairs" She says pulling his hand and leading him to the stairs.
"Um….Summer I didn't bring any.." Then Seth spots the stair lift at the bottom of the stairs.
"I rented it" Summer explains.
Seth doesn't trust himself to speak but he is incredibly moved that Summer would do something like this for him. He quickly straps himself in grateful that his right hand is co-operating.
Once they are in her bedroom he tries not to be self-conscious as he transfers on to her bed. When Summer pulls off her shirt his heart speeds up so much he has to take a deep breath. And after the shock comes an urge to touch her skin and to feel its hit against his skin that is so strong that reaching out feels like giving in to gravity. So he lets gravity take over.
It flashes past in a tumble of limbs and breathing and he is still trying to collect his thoughts as he wheels back to the van. Ryan doesn't ask him for details. Ryan doesn't ask him anything really. He just smiles at him as he lowers the ramp and they drive wordlessly back to the house.
Seth isn't sure what he was expecting. He was not expecting that.
Summer has never been more confused in her life. I mean, she really liked Seth. She trusted him. She felt safe with him and precious. The moments right before the main event when they had just been kissing on her bed both of them shirtless had been amazing but the main event had been so incredibly….awkward. Limbs everywhere. Sharp pointy bits. And it had really hurt. What was all the fuss about? The strangest thing was she was fairly confident that it did not actually have anything to do with Seth's disability. In fact, she had been so distracted by the awkward pointy what-do-i-do-with-my-hands of it all that she totally forgot about Seth's CP. Which she guessed was a good thing. She leans back on her pillow grunting with frustration. What the hell was that!