CHAPTER 1- SHORT OF BREATH

Soccer practice was going well so far for Ryan. Now that he and Luke had worked out their differences soccer was one of his favorite parts of the day. He loved to run as it was one of the few moments in life when he could get the thoughts in his head to shut up for a little while. It also gave him a sense of control- he was in charge of changing speed and direction moving the ball where he wanted it to go. The rest of his life may be in chaos half the time but on the soccer field Ryan was in his element.

The only downside to practice today was the weather. It was horribly humid and not a bit of breeze in sight. The kind of weather one of his mom's short term boyfriends from Louisiana used to complain about. It was making him and the other boys weary and it seemed in general no one was playing quite as well as normal. In fact Ryan was finding it a bit harder than normal to catch his breath and for once he was actually grateful when a whistle from his coach signaled the end of practice.

"Alright gentlemen bring it in. It seems like that's the most I can get out of you'll today. Good job hit the showers and remember practice again tomorrow and the game on Saturday."

Soon after the dismissal the gang headed towards the locker room. Ryan stayed put for a moment still trying to slow his breathing down- finding it slightly disconcerting that he was having such a hard time. When he was younger he had some trouble with asthma but that had been ages ago in another lifetime- one filled with smoke and dirty living conditions. Ryan hadn't smoked in months now thanks to Kristen's hard stance against it. He was grateful for her stance too- smoking was just one more expensive habit and tie to his past that he was really better of leaving behind anyway.

"You coming man?" A voice to his left asked. Looking up Ryan noticed Luke was waiting on him.

"Yeah... Just catching my breath." Ryan managed to wheeze out between a few dry coughs.

"Really cause you look like a wheezing grandpa right now." Luke commented with sarcasm and perhaps a hint of concern.

"Funny." Ryan snapped back taking a step towards Luke. Unknowingly his right hand came up to rub his chest as he walked towards him.

"All kidding aside Ryan you look a little rough what's up?"

"Nothing just the weather- maybe I pushed it a bit too hard."

"Yeah maybe you were kicking the ball something fierce today- what did Marissa do this time?"

"What makes you think it's Marissa?" Ryan asked back with a glare his voice sounding a bit stronger now and his breathing a bit slower.

"Hey don't shoot your killer look this way- we're teenagers nine times out of ten it's a girl problem."

"Yeah I guess" Ryan conceded "it's just she wants me to go to another party. You'd think she'd have figured out by now me and social gatherings don't mix."

"Yeah well good luck on convincing her of that this is the O.C. parties are our way of life."

"Strange customs you'll have I think I was better off in Chino where drinking and brawling were the social norms."

"Hah and miss out on all this drama- never."

Together the two boys headed into the showers laughing all the way. Ryan was glad he was no longer fighting with Luke- it was nice to have a friend who liked sports as much as him. Seth was a great brother but sporty he was not.

It didn't take long for the boys to shower and soon they were in Luke's car heading towards the Cohen's. When they arrived Ryan jumped out grabbing his book bag and waving thanks to Luke for the ride.

"Catch you tomorrow."

"Sounds good don't get your ears talked off by Cohen."

"Hey I resemble that remark." Seth said suddenly appearing at the front door.

"Yep- see you guys." And with that Luke sped out of the driveway.

"Have a good practice?" Seth asked.

"Yeah- hot but good."

"No kidding we must be having some record heat day or something- I'm hot just thinking about running and I didn't have to do it. By the way you feeling okay you look a little pale?"

"Yeah no big deal just tired."

"Cool well you have good timing dinners ready."

Ryan gave Seth a frightened look at that fearing what Kristen might have attempted.

"Hey don't look so scared its take out- Chinese. Dad intervened before the Kristen could attempt to produce something edible."

Soon the boys had made their way to the kitchen grabbed a take-out container and seated themselves at the table.

"Hello boys. How was practice Ryan?" Sandy inquired.

"Pretty good. Just drills for the game Saturday…" A sudden coughing fit stopped Ryan from continuing his explanation. When it didn't stop right away Kristen stood up and grabbed a glass of water handing it over to Ryan. He drank it quickly and cleared his throat. "Thanks… must have breathed in wrong or something."

"Or something..." Sandy replied watching Ryan closely. He vaguely remembered reading something about asthma in his file at one point.

"It's cool Sandy. I'm just tired its hot out today." Sandy nodded noticing Ryan had indeed caught his breath back but he figured he'd keep a close eye on him all the same. A quick glance at Kristen let him know she was on the same page.

"What no one's gonna ask me how my day was?" Seth suddenly chimed in. Good old Seth one could always count on him for a diversion.

"Of course Son and how was your fascinating day – any news on Summer?"

"As if…" Ryan said softly.

"Hey bro no doubting my progress. It's destiny she'll come around. I'm taking it slow."

"Seth, taking it slow implies actually doing something. I'm pretty sure dreaming up plans doesn't count." Sandy said with a grin.

"All right boys leave Seth alone I'm sure he'll make his move in his own time." Kristen spoke up.

"Yeah thanks mom for supporting me unlike these two." Seth said with a dramatic flair.

The rest of dinner passed in easy chatter and soon trash was thrown out and dishes put away. Ryan grabbed his book bag and headed towards the pool house intent on starting his homework. He'd gotten through about half of it when a sudden wave of exhaustion hit him. He coughed again briefly and once more rubbed his chest. Thinking another shower might help wake him up some and relax his lungs he headed towards the bathroom. Unfortunately the shower seemed to have the opposite effect this time and soon he found himself even more tired. Figuring he'd just finish his homework in the morning he set his alarm for an hour earlier and laid down.

Unfortunately despite his exhaustion sleep just didn't seem to come. Laying down seemed to irate his dry throat and tired lungs and he found himself coughing and tossing and turning. After a while he shrugged of his covers and moved to the love seat in the room hoping a change of position might ease the tightness in his chest. It seemed to work and by 11pm Ryan had drifted into sleep in the chair.

It was 2am when Ryan next awoke but this time it wasn't just tossing and turning. The feeling that he was suffocating caught him off guard and he struggled to sit up. He was wheezing heavily and it felt like a rock had been dropped on his chest. Ryan suddenly wished for the inhalers of his youth, but to no avail. He needed help. He stretched his hand out towards the lampstand where his cell was. Finding it he managed to flip it open and send a text to Seth. Now all he could do was wait.