TITLE: The Fall of Camelot
"What are you doing?" she demanded to know, heart bumping into her throat at the sight to greet her the moment she entered the pool house.
"Packing my things," he responded distantly, keeping his eyes from hers. He threw some of his belongings into a duffel bag; the very same duffel bag he walked into her life with.
His chuckle was without mirth, eyes sliding closed for a moment and voice soft as he told her, "Come on Kirsten, you know why. Don't do this."
"I should be saying the same thing to you, Ryan! Don't do this." She folded her arms across her chest, stance confrontational mostly out of fear. Was this actually happening?
"I have to. There's no way I can stay after..." He dipped his chin, "after what happened."
"This can work itself out!" She was scrambling. She knew her voice was borderline shrill, but she was out of ideas and she was surprised to find herself scared beyond belief that he might just be walking out of her life for good.
"No it can't! There is no way, after what I said, that we can just pretend like it never happened. You can't suddenly un-know something that you now know, or pretend it doesn't exist. It doesn't work like that."
She took a breath; he had a point. But she wasn't about to let him walk away from her. "We can fix this."
"I am fixing this. I'm leaving." He slung the bag over his shoulder and started for the door.
Her body twisted to follow him as he brushed past her, though she remained cemented in place. "Ryan, please... think about what you're doing." Her feet carried her toward him; she leaned on the door frame as he stood straddling the threshold - one foot in, one foot out.
"I already have." He turned to face her in the doorway, an apologetic frown on his lips. "I'm sorry, I just..." He looked down, reaching for her hand but stopping just millimeters away as if thinking twice, drawing it back to his side. He met her eyes again. "I think this will be best for everybody."
Then he left without another word, leaving Kirsten standing there blinking back tears as she whispered to herself, "Not for me."
Earlier that year was when things began to crumble. And Kirsten had known, after her return from Suriak, that it would take awhile for her and Sandy to get on an even keel; to regain their connection. But just at the time she was reaching out to re-establish that connection, Sandy was throwing himself further and further into his work.
In retrospect, she knew she never should have pressured him into taking the reins at the Newport Group. She saw now from the outside that that place did nothing but devour the life of its every employee. It had happened to her father... then to her. Sandy Cohen was just the latest victim.
She remembered the night she first noticed it.
"Something smells good in here!" Ryan greeted as he came in through the patio. "Hope that doesn't mean you're the one doing the cooking," and he threw her a wry smirk while snatching a cherry tomato off the bowl on the island.
Kirsten glared facetiously. "You're very funny." Then she turned back to her task. "Actually, I am cooking."
Ryan stopped in his tracks. "Do Sandy and Seth know? Are they out picking up pizza, is that why they're not here?"
She rolled her eyes. "Seth is upstairs and Sandy is on his way home from work."
"Mind if I take a peek at what you have there?"
She quirked an eyebrow. "Health inspection?"
He shrugged. "Maybe."
She chuckled and moved aside, pulling the lid off the sauté pan. "It's just breaded chicken with lemon and capers. No hazardous materials."
"Wow." He leaned back. "I'm impressed."
She grinned. "Thank you!" Then she shoved at his waist gently, shooing him to the other end of the island. "I just need you to make the salad and we should be good to go."
Seth bounded down the stairs, then, clapping his hands together eagerly. "Alright! Dinner disaster, let's do this."
While Ryan chuckled, throwing his friend a grin, Kirsten whipped her hand towel at him. "Oh hush, I promise it'll be good. We're just waiting on your father, so take a seat."
Kirsten watched as Ryan took the finished salad over to the table, placing it in the middle before pulling out his usual chair, next to Seth. She turned back to the stove, then, turning the burner off just as her cell phone began to vibrate in her pocket.
Spotting the number on the call screen, she flipped it open to greet her husband. "You are going to be so proud of me, Sandy. I cooked, and nothing started on fire."
"Hey, that's great, hun." Though his voice betrayed the congratulatory remark.
She frowned. "What's going on? You sound kinda... stressed."
"I am. I'm sorry, honey, but I completely forgot I had a meeting with the board of directors tonight to go over plans for development, and Matt can't cover for me."
Of course he couldn't. "Okay, well... do you want me to bring dinner to the office for you?"
"No that's okay, I think those big-wigs normally do the whole catered meeting thing. I'll be alright."
Disappointment weighed in her gut, though she kept it from her tone. "Okay! Well, I guess I'll see you when you get home."
Sandy had said a quick goodbye and then the line went dead. Quietly, slowly, she flipped her phone closed and slipped it back into her pocket, staring at the pan of freshly-cooked food... now a sudden waste.
"That Dad?" asked Seth.
Kirsten nodded, murmuring a soft, "Mm-hmm," that they likely couldn't hear from across the room. Carefully, she distributed a chicken breast onto only 3 plates, leaving the fourth in the pan. After sprinkling a few capers and a bit of their juices onto each plate, she brought them to the table and sat down, smiling tightly at Seth and avoiding gaze with Ryan.
"Let's eat, huh?"
"Well what about Dad?"
"Just eat, Seth," Ryan snipped quietly, and Kirsten could sense he already knew what was going on. He always did.
"I'm sensing some tension, here." Seth narrowed his eyes, gesturing around the table.
Gripping her fork and knife tightly in each hand, attempting to keep her voice level, Kirsten looked up and told him shortly, "Your father's not coming, he got held up at work."
"Oh." Seth looked at his plate briefly, pressing his lips together. Not a beat had gone by before he looked up and asked, "So does this mean I can go to Summer's?"
Ryan's fork clattered loudly to his plate as he gaped at his friend with an expression of, 'Really?'
Kirsten nodded, not in the mood to argue or deal with any more of Seth's questions. "Fine, Seth. That's fine."
The boy took his leave quickly, never one to deal well with tension, and Kirsten stared at her plate even after she'd heard the front door close in her son's wake.
Ryan was looking at her; she could tell, she always could... but she refused to meet his gaze.
"How many nights in a row now?" he asked quietly, so as not to rile her.
"Three," she replied, just as soft, and lifted her eyes to his.
His expression immediately fell to one of empathy and she shook it away instinctively. "Y'know what? You must have somewhere else you need to be, too. I'll just, um... I'll just clean this stuff up."
When she stood, reaching for his plate, he seized her hand, raising his eyes to hers once more. "I'm not going anywhere."
The four words were simple - clear cut but potent at the same time. They stared at each other a moment, his hand holding hers supportively. She swallowed hard. "You're not?"
He shook his head and attempted a smile. "No place I'd rather be."
So despite her sadness, Kirsten allowed herself to give Ryan a soft smile; and she sat down at the table still gripping his hand. After a moment she squeezed it and then released him, the two of them eating dinner in silence.
And though her heart was heavy, with concern not only for her marriage but for her husband, the presence of her dinner companion gave her some much-needed solace.
Kirsten idly considered whether or not that was the first moment she knew her marriage was on its last legs. It was so hard to tell; especially now, standing alone in the middle of the pool house with her entire life tumbling down around her. Ultimately, that wasn't the moment. It was just when she first saw the Newport Group doing its usual soul sucking.
And that was still early in the fall. Her return from Suriak had been late August. The Newport Group started to grab Sandy by the neck in September. And now in April, her marriage was in a state of utter demolition.
She had thought things were good near the end of fall. Or perhaps it was her imagination.
"How come we're doing a theme costume this year? This should be outlawed. No household should be held to a rigid theme like this."
Kirsten smirked. "You don't like your costume?" though she knew full-well he wouldn't like it.
Seth jingled the bells on his jester hat. "A royal court jester?" He tilted his head. "Come on, Mom."
Ryan chuckled, adjusting his fake suit of armor. "Well you /iarei the comic relief around here, Seth," he pointed out.
"Still. This has got to be some form of child abuse."
Kirsten finished examining her costume in the mirror - a simple, green medieval silk gown, long and flowing with gold piping, and a crown atop her head. "Well I don't mind my costume."
"Of course you don't," her son balked, "Because you get to be the queen!"
She and Ryan exchanged mirror-image raised-brow looks, each of them then glancing to Seth. Ryan took the lead, asking slowly, "Do... /iyoui want to be the queen, Seth?"
He glared. "No. But I would like a position higher in the royal court. I mean, come on dude. You get to be the knight in shining armor! Why can't I be the... the... royal ninja?"
Kirsten rolled her eyes. "Come on, we're going to be late."
Seth huffed and practically stomped out to the car, his hat and shoes jingling the entire way. She and Ryan laughed at his retreat before turning to each other. "You don't think he's really upset, do you?"
Ryan made a face, dismissing the thought with a shake of his head. "Nah. He just knows Summer will give him crap about his costume."
He quirked a brow at her then and dropped to one knee in a gallant bow, kissing her hand. "May I have the honor of escorting you to the car, my queen?"
Kirsten smiled. "Of course you may, Sir Ryan of Atwood."
He laughed, holding out his arm for her to take while she grasped her long gown with her other hand, the two of them heading for the car.
Sandy had met them there, decked out in his king costume, his voice booming over the crowd of party-goers as he spotted them. "Ah! My lady Kirsten doth appear! And at her hand, my first and most gallant knight, Sir Ryan of Atwood!"
"Oh boy," Ryan muttered under his breath, and Kirsten giggled. "He is way too into Halloween this year."
"Sandy," she murmured once they reached him, stealing a kiss from her husband. "Glad you were able to get out of work." For once, she added silently.
"Hey, I wouldn't miss this! It's the closest we get to being royalty."
"So you're the royal Cohens?" Ryan asked, grabbing a nearby glass of punch.
"Actually, I was going for a Camelot kind of theme when I came up with this."
Kirsten smiled, hanging on her husband's arm now. "So you're Arthur and I'm Guinevere?"
"Mm-hmm." Sandy sipped at his glass of wine.
"Guess that makes me Lancelot," Ryan commented, and excused himself when he spotted Summer and Seth beckoning his attention.
Kirsten smiled in his wake, her brain glimpsing over the small portion Ryan missed about Lancelot's infatuation with Guinevere, but let it go. He probably wasn't familiar with the tale. Instead, she focused on finally having time with her husband.
Yes, that had been one of the good times, the Halloween party on the pier. Sandy had been in fine form that evening, quite affectionate and attentive. So why did she remember sitting by herself looking out at the ocean?
Ah, yes. She had forgotten about Matt's sudden interjection later that evening.
"Sandy, there you are. I've been trying to call you." Matt rushed over to them, cell phone in hand.
Sandy gripped her hand as they stood to acknowledge him. "Yeah, sorry, I've had it turned off. I'm out with my wife tonight. And my son's around here somewhere..." He glanced around the crowd.
"Look, I wouldn't bug you unless it was important," Matt explained, and Kirsten had to try with all of her might not to roll her eyes.
"What's going on?"
"They're trying to low-ball us. The hospital guys."
"What?" Sandy's expression changed in an instant. "No. No, that's ridiculous. We agreed on-"
"I know what we agreed on, but they wanna change it."
Sandy huffed. "How much time do we have?"
"Not much. They wanna draft up a new proposal right now."
"I gotta talk to them." He turned to her, and Kirsten knew what was coming. She knew as soon as she saw Matt making his way through the crowd.
So an hour later with the party winding down, Kirsten took a seat on one of the benches at the end of the pier, overlooking the water with her crown occupying the seat beside her. The sounds from the party were far behind her, several yards, as she listened to the sound of the waves, along with a distant metallic clanking.
"Hey," the voice startled her and she looked up, half-wondering why she hadn't recognized the noise as Ryan's armor.
"Hey," she breathed, relieved at seeing him standing beside her suddenly, before turning to look at the water once more.
His armor shifted and soon he was on a knee beside her, bracing himself on the bench. She eyed his position and he smirked, shrugging one shoulder. "Can't exactly sit down in this stuff."
She felt his gaze on her even when she turned to look at the sea again, his ability to read her both a comfort and a concern. "You wanna talk about it?"
She shook her head. "No."
"You want me to leave you alone?"
"No." With a heavy sigh, Kirsten turned to face him, searching the eyes already busy searching hers back and forth.
Ryan's answering smile was slight, encouraging, and his voice was soft. "Then what do you want?"
Another sigh left her lips, shoulders slumping slightly. "I wanna go home, I guess."
He nodded, "Okay," and pressed a hand into the bench, pushing himself up. "Then we'll head home."
Kirsten took the proffered hand gently, allowing him to help her up. Still gripping her hand, he reached down momentarily and picked up her crown from where it lay on the bench, gently placing it atop her head. Then he dropped her hand only to hold out his arm, giving her a goofy smile. "Guinevere?"
She chuckled and took his arm, letting him lead her to the car as she murmured with a voice unheard above the crashing waves, "Lancelot."