CHAPTER 1- THE ONSET
Ryan couldn't wait for the bell to ring to sound the start of the lunch hour. The day had started out alright. In fact it had been pretty typical. Sandy had been the first one up in order to catch some surf. Ryan woke next and started breakfast. He liked doing this. Sandy was always afraid he felt obligated and Seth was simply grateful not to get food poisoning from Kristen. The truth was it was sort of relaxing and it was one way he could give back to the family that was giving him so much. He'd been more tired than normal this morning so he'd kept things simple with scrambled eggs and English muffins. By the time he'd finished Kristen had joined the land of the living and entered the kitchen with a smile as she grabbed a cup of coffee. Ryan had dished them both some food and they had eaten in companionable silence. It wasn't till they were nearly done that Seth had joined them. He was always last and yet somehow he was also always sickeningly cheerful and chatty. The silence was over the minute he entered the kitchen and soon Kristen and Ryan were forcefully engaged in conversations ranging from comics to world peace.
Usually the boys rode their bikes to school but today Kristen offered to give them a ride since it looked like it might rain later. Neither boy had wanted to say no to a free ride. Upon their arrival at school they quickly met up with their friends- Luke, Marissa and Summer. The group had lounged around till first bell and then head off to their separate classes.
It was second period when Ryan first noticed something was off. Apart from the lingering sense of exhaustion that had plagued him all morning, he was suddenly experiencing random bouts of chills. Considering he was almost never cold, this sent off warning bells that maybe all was not right in his world. Still he prayed it was just the air conditioning since he really could not afford to get sick with midterms approaching fast. By third period, though, it was apparent it was not the air conditioning as a headache joined Ryan's list of complaints. Somehow he made it through and that brought him to his current predicament in English. Fourth period was about half way finished and Ryan was struggling to focus. He liked English and he even liked the book they were reading currently, but for the life of him just keeping his head up was becoming a momentous task. The headache that had started last period had escalated quickly and he now felt nauseous on top of everything else. He prayed he could last the next twenty minutes.
It was at this moment that Ryan felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Looking up he noticed his teacher, Mrs. Beck, at his side. Ryan had always liked Mrs. Beck. She was an older lady with twenty years of teaching experience. She knew her subject well and taught it with a passion that caused her students to want to learn. On top of this she seemed to genuinely care about them. Ryan had never once felt her judging him despite his notorious past experiences both in Chino and here.
"Ryan, why don't you take this pass and head on to the nurse. It's clear to me that you're not feeling well." Her gentle voice said quietly so as not to draw the attention of the rest of the class.
Now normally Ryan would have refused, but right about now he was afraid that if he didn't take her up on the offer he might be displaying his breakfast to the rest of the class and that was far more embarrassing than leaving early.
"Thanks." He said instead. Taking the pass he shakily got to his feet. His head spun when he stood and he had to reach out to grab the desk to keep his balance.
"Do you need me to send someone with you?" Mrs. Beck asked her concern even more noticeable now.
"No, I'm good just stood up to fast." Ryan replied though he was fairly certain she didn't believe him so before she could call him on it he made his way to the door. By the time Ryan reached the hall way he could feel a cold sweat pour out over his whole body and knew he needed to find a bathroom soon. Thankfully there was one a few doors down. As quickly as his failing body could manage he made his way there. Relief flooded over him when he realized upon pushing the door open that he had the room to himself. Letting his bag drop carelessly to the floor he pushed himself into the first available stall and let his body fall towards the toilet. His head had barely covered the bowl when his stomach forcefully started bringing up everything he had eaten for breakfast and what felt like dinner the night before too. After a few minutes of violent puking Ryan let his head rest on his arms. His whole body was shaking from the ordeal and though he wasn't sure how it was possible he felt even more exhausted. He sat there for an unknown amount of time before finally pushing himself up and managing to head to the sink to rinse his mouth and wash his hands. Next he grabbed his book bag which felt like it weighed a ton and slowly started making his way to the nurse's office.
Upon arriving at the nurse's office he noticed she wasn't behind the desk. Assuming she would be back soon and was probably helping someone else he let his body sink into one of the waiting chairs and allowed his eyes to drift shut. When she still hadn't come out after a few minutes, Ryan pulled his knees up to his chest in the chair and wrapped his arms around them in an attempt to ward of the chills that had come back with a vengeance. He laid his head on his knees and prayed for relief.
The sound of footsteps and laughter drew his attention a few minutes later though he didn't move from his huddled position.
"Well Sherry thanks for the coffee- looks like you have a patient though."
"Indeed, I better check him out. He looks pretty bad. I'll see you around tomorrow." The nurse said to her companion as she stepped back into the room. She recognized the boy immediately. He'd been to her office a few times due to fighting when he first arrived though the last few months had been relatively peaceful for him apart from the occasional soccer related injury.
"Ryan, what seems to be the problem? I'm sorry if you had to wait long I had just stepped out to the teacher break room with Mrs. Walker to get a coffee as usually the period before lunch is relatively quiet."
"It's fine. Wasn't long."
"It's not fine if you're sick so tell me what's going on you look miserable."
"Headache, stomach, chills, really tired."
This was one thing she loved about this boy, apart from his soulful blue eyes that seemed to hold the weight of the world, he didn't mince words. You always knew where you stood with Ryan and he told it to you straight and as quickly as possible. In truth it made her job easier though sometimes he downplayed his injuries so she knew to probe a little more.
"Have you been sick?"
"Once just before."
"Do I need to send anyone to clean things up?"
The blush that suddenly filled the blond boys face was a sharp contrast to the paleness of earlier. It looked like he regretted his choice to violently shake his head in the negative also giving her an indication of just how much pain he was in.
"Alright don't worry I just wanted to be sure. Why don't you let me get a temperature and then we'll give one of your guardians a call and get you home or to the doctor okay?"
The nurse followed up her statement with actions as she quickly inserted one of the electronic ear thermometers into Ryan's ear. After a few seconds it beeped and she frowned when she read it.
"Were you feeling badly before you left home?"
"Not really just tired. Started feeling bad in second period but it wasn't unbearable till just now."
"Well I'm not surprised you feel badly your temperature is 102.8. If I recall correctly you tend to run a little high when you are sick though."
"Well one things for sure. I am definitely sending you home. Who should I call?"
Ryan struggled to think for a moment, but for the life of him he couldn't remember what Sandy and Kristen had said over dinner last night about work schedules. Sensing his thoughts the nurse spoke up.
"How about I try Kristen first and if we don't get an answer I can call Sandy."
"Okay" Ryan whispered in agreement keeping his head as still as possible in an attempt to keep the percussion unit in his brain to a minimum.
The nurse waited a moment as the phone rang. Someone picked up on the third ring.
"Hello this is Kristen Cohen how may I help you?"
"Mrs. Cohen this is Nurse Anderson from Harbor. I'm calling about Ryan."
"Oh no what's wrong?"
"Well he came down to the office complaining of a headache and stomachache. He's running a fever of 102.8. Looks like it might be one of those flu bugs going around. Can you come pick him up?"
"Of course. Let him know I'll be there in ten minutes. I'll call his doctor to make him an appointment on the way too."
"Sounds good Mrs. Cohen we'll see you soon."
With that said the nurse hung up the phone and looked to Ryan.
"She's on her way. Would you like to lie down while you wait?"
Ryan thought that sounded good considering keeping his head up was becoming more and more of a chore. Right about that moment though his stomach gave another violent churn telling him of another location he probably needed to be in quickly. The nurse seemed to sense his predicament and grabbed a pink plastic container like the ones used in hospitals and handed it quickly to her patient. Ryan was grateful for her awareness as he was able to grab the container just in time. After an embarrassing few minutes of mostly dry retching Ryan's stomach seemed to have pity on him and stopped trying to turn itself inside out.
"You done?" the nurse asked gently rubbing circles on his back.
"I think so." He coughed out his voice hoarse from the recent abuse.
"Okay let me take that from you then."
"I'm sorry." Ryan said. He felt so ashamed. He couldn't remember the last time he'd thrown up in front of someone. It made him feel like a little kid.
"Ryan there is nothing to apologize for. You can't help being sick and I'm a nurse. If I can't handle a little bodily fluids, I'm in the wrong line of work. Here's a glass of water- sip and spit."
Ryan did as ordered grateful for a chance to rinse his mouth. Before the nurse could think of helping Ryan to lie down the distinctive sound of heels rung outside the door.
"Ryan?" Came the inquisitive voice of Kristen Cohen.
"Over here Mrs. Cohen." The nurse called out.
"Oh Ryan" Kristen said upon seeing the paleness of her foster son and the obvious evidence of recent sickness. "Let's get you out of here. Thank you Nurse Anderson for taking care of him."
"It was my pleasure. Let me have you sign him out here and then you two can go."
Kristen quickly filled out the needed paperwork and then grabbed Ryan's backpack and slung it over her shoulder. Next she offered a hand to the sick boy and gently pulled him to his feet. She kept hold of his elbow as she watched him tremble both from exhaustion and cold.
"Alright Ryan I got you. We'll take it slow. I'm parked right in front. You set the pace."
Slowly Ryan and Kristen made it out of Harbor and into her car. Kristen helped buckle in the sick boy to his dismay but the truth was he needed it as he couldn't seem to slow the trembling in his hands enough to manage the buckle anyway. After she got him settled she walked around to her side, got in and started the engine.
"Alright Ryan we are going to the doctor's office. They said they could fit you in."
"You don't have to go through all that trouble. I'm sure I could sleep it off at home." Ryan managed to get out between chattering teeth.
"Nonsense. You should know by now that's not how this family works. We pay medical insurance for a reason Ryan and you're included in that. We might as well put it to good use."
Sensing there was no way he could win this argument Ryan just closed his eyes and left himself in Kristen's hands. At least if he had to be sick he now had people who cared enough to look after him. This was really the first time he'd had anything more than a cold since moving in with the Cohen's. He'd dreaded this moment when his body would fail him and he'd have to be vulnerable to someone else's care. That had never gone well for him in the past. His mom was always to out of it to notice and her boyfriends just made it worse. His brother had tried but he was usually just a kid himself. The end results of serious illness had always meant some involvement with child protective services and a lot of grief. So far this time was starting out different though. Maybe for once things wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it would be okay to let his guard down and turn over the protection detail to his guardians until he felt better. Maybe this time somebody really would be there to take care of Ryan.