The two sides of the dorm room looked like opposite ends of a personality spectrum. One side was filled with posters and tchotchkes, pictures of families and friends, CDs in piles, books and magazines stacked on top of any available surface. The bed was unmade and contained a multitude of partially visible dirty clothing items, mostly socks and t-shirts. The other side was almost pristine, practically as if no one really lived there. There were two photographs, one of a family standing outside: mother, father, two college boys, and a young blonde child, all smiling, everyone obviously happy. The other picture was of the blond young man from the previous picture holding a woman, and they stared at each other, not even aware of the camera. The bed was made, all clothing put away. It was almost as if the person living there had left for a vacation, taking all of his personal items with him – except for the pictures and the contraband cage in the corner containing a rabbit.
Ryan sat on his bed, head bent over books, as he focused on his math homework. It wasn’t unmanageable, but it was a lot of work, and he couldn’t afford to fall behind. His cell phone rang; blindly, he reached for it, his eyes still focused on the math problem in front him.
Ryan could barely hear Seth through the cacophony.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at a rally with Summer. We’re protesting at some sort of oil conglomerate or something.”
“It sounds like you’re really into it, man.”
“Oh, yeah, we’re living large.” The wry tone to Seth’s voice picked up clearly midst the noise. “So dude, I’m calling about Spring Break.”
“You and Summer are going to Florida to visit your grandmother?”
“Ryan, how many times do I have to tell you that she’s not a grandma; she’s the Nana. Yeah, we’re gonna hang out, play a little shuffleboard…”
“You’re going to get your old man on, huh?”
“You got it, although I have a feeling Summer’s going to make me go out to some hot spots. I don’t know if my back’ll be able to handle it.”
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine,” Ryan said, smiling. He put his pencil in the book to mark the place before he closed it, knowing he wasn’t going to get any work done while on the phone with Seth.
“So what’re your plans? Are you going to hook up with Taylor?”
Ryan paused a moment. Seth knew that Ryan hadn’t spoken to Taylor in months, but yet he still managed to get that question in and sound almost innocent. “You know Taylor and I haven’t talked in a while.”
“I find that really interesting, because Summer and Taylor haven’t spoken in a while either.”
That caught Ryan’s interest. “Really?”
“She said the last time they spoke, Taylor kind of blew her off, said she was busy but that she’d contact her later. She never got back to her.”
This poked at Ryan.
“So I was wondering if you were planning on taking an intercontinental trip, maybe to Paris, to see if she’s doing okay.”
Ryan sighed. He and Taylor had been through all of this when she’d returned to Paris after the earthquake. This time, he’d thought they’d figured out a way to continue their long distance relationship, filled with plenty of dirty international phone calls. But now that Taylor was blowing him off, he got that feeling, that one in his gut, the one that always accompanied him when people left him. It had happened so often, he was surprised he didn’t take it for granted. He supposed he’d been lulled into a false sense of security by joining the Cohen household. Or maybe he thought that since he was getting older that feeling of being deserted was going to leave him, but with Taylor, he hadn’t expected it, which made it hurt even worse.
Ryan was tired of being left, but he wasn’t going to beg. Ryan Atwood didn’t beg. If Taylor wanted to dump him and get married to some other crazy Frenchman who liked her peaches, well then let her go ahead. The last time he’d seen her at Christmas, everything had seemed fine, but evidently it hadn’t felt the same way to Taylor. If she wanted to desert him, just let her. He chose to ignore the nauseous feeling in his gut and said, “Evidently she is too busy in France to stay in touch with her friends here. We always knew she was flighty.” Ryan felt Seth’s disapproval and ignored that too.
“Yeah, but –”
“No buts, Seth. She knows where we are; she knows how to contact us. The fact that she’s chosen not to do it says it all.”
Seth sighed. “Yeah, but Summer –”
“Then Summer can call her or e-mail her. I’m done.”
“Ooookaaaay,” Seth said, drawing out the word into four syllables. “What are your plans for Spring Break?”
“I’m going to stay here, hang out with Sophie, give Kirsten and Sandy some alone time.”
“Wow,” Seth said sarcastically. “You choose to spend one of the most important rites of passage with a three year old girl instead of a bevy of hot coeds willing to pull off their tops for strands of beads.”
“That’s in New Orleans for Mardi Gras,” Ryan corrected.
“Exchange the tops for bathing suits and beads for alcohol, and it’s the same thing,” Seth insisted. “Come with us to Florida. You don’t have to hang out and watch me cream Sal at shuffleboard. You can go to the beach.”
“Remember how much fun we had in Florida the last time we went down there,” Ryan reminded him. “You ended up with whip cream in your nether regions.”
“Ahh, but it provided an extra evening snack, although I must say that my tongue got tired awfully quickly, and some of my positions, while they might have been fine had I been doing yoga, only made me cramp up,” Seth mused.
“And you don’t know how long it took to get all of it out of my nooks and crannies.”
“Don’t ever tell me that much again, man,” Ryan muttered.
He heard Seth chuckle, and he smiled a little despite himself.
“Just know that the offer’s open. You can come with Summer and me and hang out. It’ll be fun.”
“No, I’m good,” Ryan said and realized that he meant it. He enjoyed spending time with Sophie. She was a good kid. And he liked the brownstone. He never thought that he’d feel comfortable anywhere but at the pool house, but there was something about the house in Berkeley that felt like home, even though it wasn’t his handprints out on the front walk, even though he had no history there. There was a feel to the place he couldn’t deny. And being lucky enough to be a part of Sophie’s life as she grew up – he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed never having a younger sister. Just watching her as she learned and questioned things fascinated him. And he knew that going to the beach and seeing all the scantily clad women weren’t going to help him forget about Taylor – not that he needed to forget about her, he reminded himself. He just needed to focus on other things. She was the one who had chosen to get out of his life; he was going to leave her there.
Ryan heard Summer, he supposed, shouting Seth’s name in the background. “Dude, gotta go. Summer needs me. Talk to you later.”
“Later,” Ryan said and hung up. He opened up his book and stared at it, his eyes not focusing on anything on the page.
He missed Taylor. He didn’t like to admit it; normally, he wouldn’t. Sometimes, especially at night, he could feel her arms wrapped around him. He missed that. And then he got angry all over again. He took a deep breath and refocused on the page only to hear his roommate, Ben, walk in the room, a flurry of jerky movements and energy.
“Dude, the hottest girl just came up to me and asked me the time.”
Ryan stifled a smile and stared at Ben. “What’d you do?”
Ben looked at him like he was stupid. “I told her the time. I’m so in there!”
Ryan held back a chuckle, thinking not for the first time how he’d exchanged Seth for another Seth. Ben was almost exactly like Seth when they first met years ago. Ryan stifled a sigh at the thought that he might have to relive everything that he’d lived through with Seth during high school all over with Ben. He had survived it once; he supposed he could survive it again. Besides, he was older and wiser now. He didn’t punch nearly as many people as he used to – at least he hadn’t lately.
He returned his attention to the book, pencil gripped between his teeth, as Ben went on about the girl who’d asked him the time. Another good thing about living with Seth was that Ryan had long ago acquired the skill of tuning someone out while he studied. So he let Ben ramble on as he continued to cram for his test the next day. He pushed Taylor out of his mind once again and took particular care not to look at the picture of the two of them smiling into each other’s eyes. He knew he should put the picture away, and he would, eventually. There was plenty enough time for that later.