US Against Them
Ryan Atwood picked his way carefully through the debris littering the front yard. His sister, Emily, was leaned up against the house smoking a cigarette.
"Hey, Ry," she said taking one last drag and flicking the cigarette into the yard.
"Hey, Em. Where you been?" he asked. The last time he saw her was the afternoon before he and their brother, Trey, got arrested for stealing a car. It had only been three days, but it seemed much longer.
She shrugged, "Around." She wasn't about to tell him she'd been crashing at the Fountain Street house.
Ryan saw the black and blue ring under her eye with matching bruise on her cheek and frowned.
"Ran into his fist a couple times," she answered.
It must have happened the night he was arrested. Their mother had left him in jail overnight and Emily hadn't been home the next night when he got kicked out.
Ryan glanced at the front door which stood half open.
"It's empty, Ry," she informed him.
"What do you mean empty?" he asked, alarmed.
"I mean she finally did it. Cleared out, no notice, no forwarding address. Gone."
Ryan pushed the door open fully and walked room to room unable to comprehend how his mom could just ditch them like this. He then spied the note on the kitchen counter. Like that made it alright just because she left a note.
By this time, Sandy Cohen had made his way to the house and was standing in the doorway. He was a little taken aback when he saw Emily. She was obviously Ryan's sister. She was basically a female version of Ryan. Same dirty blond hair and ice blue eyes. He also noted she had the same black eye and hardened look on her face. It saddened him. How could someone do this to their children?
"C'mon, Ryan, you guys are coming home with me," he said.
Emily grabbed her backpack and said, "I got a place to stay. I'm good."
"I'm sorry, did I give the impression that you had a choice?" Sandy was smiling as he said this, but he was serious.
"Nah. It's cool. One homeless Atwood is more than enough for anyone. See ya, Ry," she said and started toward the street.
Sandy put a hand on her arm to stop her. Her instant reaction was to jerk away. She looked at her brother, not sure about this man. He seemed OK, but why would he take in two homeless teenagers, one of whom he met in juvenile detention?
"It's alright, Em," Ryan assured her.
She looked from Ryan to Sandy, warily, then shrugged and said, "Whatever."
"I'm Sandy Cohen, by the way," Sandy introduced himself as they walked to his car, "I'm your brother's lawyer."
"Are you two twins?" he asked. They looked so much alike and were definitely close in age, if not.
"Thirteen months apart. Irish twins," Ryan answered for Emily.
"I bet you get asked that all the time. You look so much alike," he was making small talk trying to make Emily comfortable.
"Yeah," was all Ryan replied with. He wished he was in the back seat with Em. He knew she was still mad at him. He had a feeling the fight with AJ had been about him and it made him angry that he hadn't been there to protect her.
Emily leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes. Fountain Street was not a very restful place to spend the night and Ryan would kill her if he knew that's where she'd been crashing. She was still mad at him for getting arrested. She had figured out Trey was trouble by the time she was three. The two of them had never gotten along. Why did Ryan let him get in his head? Emily drifted off and remained asleep for the entire journey.
"Em?" Ryan said and gently shook her by the shoulder.
She sat up with a wince, confusion and alarm in her eyes.
"Geez, you were really out. Not much sleep last night?" he asked. He had a feeling he knew where she'd been hanging out, but now was not the time for that conversation. It's not like either of them had a whole lot of options some nights.
"I guess. Hey, where are we?" she asked.
"The Cohen's. Newport Beach. Check this out," he pulled her out of the car so she could see the house.
"Is this where you were last night?" She was in awe of it's size.
"Yeah. You missed the view on the drive here. Wait til you see the ocean!" Ryan couldn't wait to show her. He knew she loved the water.
"Where's Mr. Cohen?"
"Inside. His wife is pretty cool, but I don't know what she's gonna say to two of us staying here," he said with a frown.
"What's his deal? I wouldn't take us in. Especially now that you're a felon," she couldn't help throwing in that little dig. She was still upset with him.
"I guess he feels sorry for us," Ryan shrugged.
"Yeah, well I don't need any pity," she said and headed down the drive with her bag.
"Where are you going?" Ryan walked after her.
"To have a smoke and figure out what I'm gonna do after I get kicked out of here, too," she said with annoyance. In Chino she had places she could go. Not safe places necessarily, but places. She knew how to handle herself. She had no idea what to expect here. Plus, she figured child services would be called at some point and she was not going back to foster care.
"Just give it a chance, Em," Ryan said. He had felt the same way last night.
"When child services get here, we'll end up separated and put in some group home. We're better off in Chino on our own," she told him bluntly.
Ryan put his arm around her. Emily had already spent time in the foster care system when his mom decided that three was just too many.
"It beats Fountain Street," he said. The look she gave him confirmed his suspicions.
Before she could respond, they saw Sandy Cohen making his way down the drive.
"Emily, come meet the rest of the family. Ryan, the pool house is still set up for you."
Sandy put a hand on each of their shoulders and steered them toward the house.
"Emily, this is my lovely wife, Kirsten, and our son, Seth," Sandy began the introductions, "Lovely wife and son, this is Emily."
"Are you and Ryan twins?" Seth wanted to know.
"Irish twins," she replied.
"Thirteen months apart. I am obviously the better looking one, though," she smiled at him.
"Oh, a funny Atwood. Interesting," he said smiling back at her.
"Emily, please ignore my son," Kirsten said, "Let me show you the guest room. There are towels and a toothbrush for you in the bathroom."
Emily followed Kirsten up the stairs of their massive home. She was suddenly embarrassed by the black eye and bruise on her cheek. These things had never bothered her much before other than that they hurt. She realized how grubby she really was from three days without a shower and sleeping on the floor of the local party house.
"You two really do favor each other quite a bit," Kirsten remarked. Right down to the black eyes, she thought sadly.
"It's the matching bruises," Emily attempted to joke. She knew what Mrs. Cohen was thinking. They got the same looks at school from teachers all the time.
"It's OK, Mrs. Cohen," Emily said quietly, "Ryan and I are used to it."
Kirsten turned toward Emily and looking directly in her eyes said, "Emily, it is certainly not OK. Don't you ever think that it is."
Emily didn't know how to respond to that. She knew that Mrs. Cohen was right, but at the same time, it's just kind of how it is sometimes. She wouldn't understand.
"Why don't you get a shower and I'll see if I can find something to put on that," she said guiding her toward the guest room with it's ensuite bathroom.
"Thank you, Mrs. Cohen,"
"Call me Kirsten and it's my pleasure," she assured Emily.
Emily stripped off the filthy tshirt and jeans she'd been wearing for the past three days. She took a good look at herself in the full length mirror. She took in the large purple bruise on her ribs where AJ had kicked her after she fell from the first hit. She wondered absently if any had been cracked. It hurt like hell if she breathed too deeply.
The hot water felt so good streaming down her back, but stung when it hit her face. The shampoo and shower gel Kirsten had provided smelled so good she didn't want to get out. She finally figured she'd been in long enough and reluctantly turned off the tap. As she was toweling her hair dry, it occurred to her that she hadn't brought her bag upstairs. The clothes she had stuffed inside weren't exactly clean, but they were certainly better that what she had just taken off. Damn, she thought. She didn't want to put her grimy clothes back on.
Emily wrapped the towel around herself and poked her head out into the bedroom not sure what to do. On the bed lay jeans, a shirt, and even underwear and a bra. Kirsten had left a note on top.
My sister left these behind. I hope they fit. Leave your clothes outside the door and Rosa will wash them for you.
Everything fit just fine and for the first time in months, Emily felt some of her anxiety lift. She opened the bedroom door and went downstairs to find her brother and to thank the Cohens again.
She wandered into the kitchen and was greeted by Sandy Cohen.
"Hey, Emily, you want something to drink?" he asked. He already had the refrigerator door open and was pulling out some kind of flavored water for himself.
"Sure," she said astounded by the array of choices. She wasn't old enough to consume any of the beverages in their refrigerator in Chino.
"Try this," he said and handed her some kind of citrus green tea drink.
"Thanks," she said opening it and taking a huge swallow. It was really good. She realized she hadn't eaten anything in over twenty four hours. She gulped it down.
Sandy sensed she must be starving. "Did you have a chance to get lunch? I didn't have much myself. I was just about to make a sandwich. Can I get you one?" He figured if she was anything like Ryan she wouldn't want to feel like she was putting him out.
"Yeah, that would be great, Mr. Cohen," she said gratefully.
"Call me Sandy. Mr. Cohen is so formal," he smiled at her.
Sandy pulled out the sandwich ingredients and got to work. He didn't know what she liked, but she didn't comment so he just went with what they had on hand.
Emily had taken a seat on one of the barstools next to the breakfast bar. Sandy stood leaning against the kitchen counter as they ate.
"This is really good." She was trying not to wolf it down, but she was really hungry.
Sandy nodded in agreement. She was more talkative than Ryan he noted. That wasn't saying much, however.
She finished up and Sandy put her plate in the sink.
"Why don't we see what the boys are up to?" he said and led her to the living room where they were playing some kind of video game involving lots of shooting and blood spatter.
"Hey, Emily, you wanna play? You're brother kind of sucks," Seth said.
"I doubt I'm much better," she said.
"That's OK, I like to win," he grinned and threw her a controller.
As it turned out, she picked it up pretty quickly and soon it was game over.
"So you're funny and good at video games. You're like the anti-Ryan," he observed.
In truth, it was not just their looks that were similar. She and Ryan were alike in a lot of ways not all of them good.
"Wanna go, Ry?" she asked.
"Why not? It won't be the first time you've kicked my ass," They had been known to get into once in a while. When they were younger and more evenly matched, she often got the upper hand.
Seth raised an eyebrow at that and handed over the controller. Emily beat him soundly within minutes. He really did kind of suck.
"What else do you guys do around here for fun?" she asked.
"You wanna hit the pool?" Seth asked.
"I don't have a suit," Emily answered.
"No, prob. MOOOOOMMMMM!" Seth yelled.
"Em needs a bathing suit. We want to swim," he said as his mother entered the room obviously annoyed at her son.
Ryan could tell Emily was embarrassed and for some reason the whole thing struck him as funny. His laugh drew a death glare from both Kirsten and Emily. Geez, girls are scary! He thought and immediately stopped laughing.
"Sorry, not funny," he said still smirking.
"I'm sure I've got something that will do, Emily," she said and motioned for her to follow.
Kirsten took Emily upstairs to retrieve a box of things left behind by her sister. There were actually several suits to choose from. The only problem was they were all two pieces.
"Kirsten, please. Mrs. Cohen makes me feel old!"
"Kirsten, I can't wear a two piece."
Kirsten looked at her and said, "Honey, if I looked like you, I'd wear nothing but bikinis all day long!"
Emily didn't know what to do. She didn't want Ryan to see the huge bruise over her ribs. He would just get angry and then feel guilty even though there wasn't anything he could have done. She had actually heard him laugh today. She didn't want to ruin his mood.
"It's not that," she said. She hesitated, then added "I don't want Ryan to see this." She lifted her shirt to reveal the bruised ribs underneath.
Kirsten let out a small gasp. "You need to have that looked at."
"No!" Emily said more forcefully than she had intended. "It's fine. I don't think there's any broken ribs. It doesn't even hurt that much." That was a lie. It had been three days and it still hurt if she breathed too deeply or moved wrong.
"Emily, telling your brother is up to you, but you're going to the doctor," Kirsten said firmly.
"Kirsten, please, I'm fine. Really. I shouldn't have told you," Emily pleaded.
Kirsten softened at this. She didn't want Emily to think she was angry with her. She was just so angry that anyone would allow this to happen to their child and the mama bear in her was coming out.
"Emily, I'm glad you told me. I'll make an excuse to the boys, but you're going to be seen by a doctor like it or not. I'm the mom. That's how it works," she smiled at her.
Ryan looked at his sister suspiciously. Kirsten had informed them that she and Emily were heading out to do some shopping so they would have to entertain themselves without her presence. He saw the look on her face and he knew something was up. She was only a slightly better liar than he was and he was terrible. What was she keeping from him?
Emily hated doctors. Ryan used to tease her that she would rather bleed in the street than see a doctor. He wasn't too far off base. They were both frequent flyers in the ER. And that's just the stuff they bothered to get seen for. Mostly they just sucked it up like Emily was trying to do before Kirsten dragged her here.
She had had more parental concern in the last few hours than she had probably had in her whole life and she wasn't sure how she felt about it. On one hand, it was kind of nice to be taken care of by an adult. On the other hand, she was sitting in a paper gown in yet another ER awaiting an X-ray. She sighed and grimaced with pain.
Kirsten saw her flinch. "We'll be done here soon," she assured her. She had offered to stay in the room with Emily, but left the choice up to her. Emily was surprised to hear herself ask Kirsten to stay.
The doctor finally made it back into the room with the x-ray film.
"Well, you've definitely got some cracked ribs in there, young lady."
"Can I go now? There's nothing you can do for it anyway." She hadn't meant to sound so rude, but this was hardly the first time she'd gotten this news.
"I can see that you are not a first timer when it comes to broken ribs," He knew this from the x-ray, but could have surmised it from her attitude just as easily. Just because this was Newport Beach didn't mean he didn't see cases of abuse.
"Go ahead and get dressed. I'll give you something now and get you a prescription for some pain meds. Then we can get you discharged. Sound good?"
"Yes, thank you," she said relieved.
"Mrs. Cohen, let's go out in the hall and I'll get you the paperwork," he addressed Kirsten.
Emily got herself dressed and waited for them to return.
As they walked toward the exit Kirsten asked, "Do you want me to pull the car around?"
"No, I'm fine," Emily just wanted to get out of there.
They walked the short distance in silence. Emily slid into her seat and Kirsten noticed that she winced once again as she pulled the seatbelt over her.
"The pharmacy is on the way home. Let's fill this and get you home," she said.
"Thanks, Kirsten. I'm sorry I gave you a hard time. I hate doctors," she apologized.
"You and me both. Seth was almost born at home because I stalled so long going to the hospital," she laughed.
Emily let out a chuckle and winced.
Kirsten looked at her with concern and told her, "Emily please don't lie to me again."
Emily gave her a confused look.
"It's ok to admit it hurts," she said.
"Good. Now how are we going to explain coming home with no shopping bags?"
"Ryan already knows something's up. I guess I'll just tell him," Emily said with a frown.
"You two are really close, huh?"
"Yeah," Emily found she was feeling very sleepy. It must have been from whatever they gave her at the hospital.
Kirsten noticed her eyes getting heavy. "I'm going to get you home."
Emily nodded and closed her eyes.
They soon arrived at the house. Emily wasn't quite asleep and opened her eyes as soon as she felt the car come to a stop.
When they walked in, Seth immediately noticed the lack of shopping bags.
"It's a miracle! My mother went shopping and returned with nary a bag!" he exclaimed.
Kirsten shook her head at him.
Emily looked at Ryan nervously. She really didn't want to tell him.
"Hey, Seth, why don't we give Ryan and Emily some time alone," Kirsten suggested and hearded her son out of the room.
When they were finally alone, Ryan looked at her and said, "What's up, Em? You may as well just tell me."
"Ryan, you have to promise me you'll keep it together. There's nothing you can do about it and it's over. Understand?"
Ryan could already feel himself getting angry. He had a pretty good idea what it might be.
"I can't promise that, Em."
"Then forget it." She turned to go upstairs. She really wanted to lie down.
"Ok, Em," he said with a resigned sigh. "I'll do my best. That's all I can promise."
She nodded then raised her shirt so he could see the bruise.
She saw him clench and unclench his jaw. "Broken?" he asked angrily.
She nodded. He put his arms around her in a gentle hug. He was afraid of hurting her more.
"I'm OK, Ry. It's not like it's my first one," she tried to reassure her brother.
"Emily, I'm so sorry," he said, the guilt apparent in his voice.
"Ryan, don't. I'm fine. I can handle it," she hated it when he got like this. If he'd been there, AJ would've just beaten the crap out of both of them. As it was, he got Ryan the next day anyway.
"How'd Kirsten get you to go to a doctor?" He was curious. She wouldn't have bothered to go in Chino. Not even for him.
"She didn't give me a choice," Emily admitted.
"And that worked? It never works for me," he said.
"You always give me a choice," she teased, "I choose to do the opposite."
"Like Fountain Street?" he asked clearly not happy that she'd been there.
"Don't start, Ryan," she warned.
"I don't want you there. Period."
"I needed a little help to get through the night, ok?"
"No, Em, it's not ok! None of it is ok!" He was shouting now.
"Ryan, calm down. They'll hear you. It's not like I'm some junkie shooting up in the bathroom there. I needed a place to crash and a couple of painkillers, alright?"
"A couple shots of tequila and I smoked a little weed. No big deal." She needed the shots to dull the pain so she could inhale.
"It's a big deal to me," he said some of his anger receding as it dawned on him why she was seeking out something for pain.
"Yeah, well you were a little busy stealing cars with Trey, weren't you?" It was a low blow, but if he wanted to get all self righteous about a little weed then she was going to give as good as she got.
They stared at each other, anger flashing in identical sets of eyes. Neither was willing to back down. Emily felt a sudden wave of dizziness and she grabbed Ryan's arm to steady herself.
Ryan's anger immediately turned to concern as he guided Emily onto the couch.
"I'm fine, Ry," she protested.
"Yeah, I see that," he responded with a frown.
"Are we done fighting now?" she asked.
"For now," he smiled at her. Their fights were intense, but never lasted long.
"Do you think it'd be ok if we walked down to the beach?"
"Are you up for that?" Ryan wasn't too convinced she was alright.
"Oh, yeah, I am now. The Vicodin is definitely kicking in," she grinned at him.
He sighed and shook his head. She liked to joke about that kind of stuff, but he really did worry about her. He wasn't going to let her end up like their mother.
"C'mon, Dr. House, let's go," he led her out of the house down to the beach.
They walked along the beach in silence for a while. Emily was tired, but the Vicodin had dulled the pain somewhat.
"You ready to go back?" Ryan asked. He could see she was tired.
Without thinking she answered, "Not really, but I guess we can't stay here."
Ryan gave her a quizzical look.
"Ry, they're gonna call child services Monday. What then? We need to bail."
"That's not what I meant," he said.
"Whatever. I'm not waiting around for that. As soon as I get my scrip, I'm gone," she said firmly.
"Why do you need the scrip," he asked suspiciously.
"To sell. I can get ten bucks a pill," she informed him.
"Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth?" He was angry with her again.
"It's a means to an end. Not a lot of legit jobs when you're fifteen," she answered defiantly.
"Emily, these are good people. They're trying to help us," he tried to reason with her.
"Ry, our own mother doesn't give a shit about us! Why should they? You can come or not, but I am not going into foster care again," she stormed off angry at Ryan, her mother, the world. Angry tears threatened to spill and she didn't want him to see her cry. One thing you learned pretty quick in Chino
was not to cry in front of anyone.
She stumbled in the loose sand and the sharp pain in her ribs brought her to her knees. Ryan sank down next to her and pulled her to him.
"It's ok, Em," he said softly, "I'm not mad."
"Well, I am!" she sobbed. "Why did you have to steal that stupid car? Huh?"
"I'm sorry, Emily," he didn't know what else to say.
"Yeah, well sorry don't mean shit does it?" she spat at him.
"No, I guess it doesn't. Just don't hate me, Em," he pleaded.
Emily looked at her brother. He looked so defeated. He looked like she felt.
"Ryan, I could never hate you. I'm not even all that mad at you anymore. I don't know what I am," she confessed.
Ryan took in the full picture of his baby sister. She was too thin, bruised up, and exhausted. It was his fault and he needed to make it up to her.
"Well, I know what I am," he said and grinned, "Hungry! C'mon, you know they're gonna have something good tonight."
"Do you ever think beyond your stomach?" she grinned back at him, "You're gonna have to help me up ." He got her to smile. Score.
Ryan put his arm around her shoulder as they made their way back to the Cohen's house. They would figure it out. It had always been Ryan and Emily against the world. And they wouldn't go down without a fight.