1. [bad company]
Ryan's got this weird memory of his old man standing at the side of his bed, crying.
In it, he's maybe five or six years old, and it has to have been right after Christmas, because he's bundled up in new Pooh pajamas that are fuzzy on the inside and zip up the front, lying there with the covers tucked tight around his chest. Light from the streetlamp outside filters in through the shade; a few years later the city cuts down that post, and his dad says that nightlights are for sissies.
His dad's standing there looking tall and bulky, and his face is slack, mouth downturned, eyebrows scrunched, eyes a pair of dark circles hollowed out in his face. Ryan's heart thumps triple time. His dad's mumbling something, and Ryan flinches when his dad sits down too hard on the bed. He feels extra sweaty and hot, wishing he could throw back the blankets but not wanting to move. He looks down at the Pooh on his chest and then back at his dad, who's put his face in his hands and he's saying, "Sorry, sorry, 'm so sorry."
2. [straight shooter]
On Ryan's second-grade report card, Sister Mary Eunice writes that he is "bright" and "conscientious," and Tessie goes on and on about it at Sunday dinner until his dad says he'll get the damn paper framed if that's what it'll take to get the roast on the table. Aunt Cathy laughs brightly and Cyril laughs with her, and after they eat, Ryan's uncle slips him a dollar.
Later that night, his dad says that if Ryan's so conscientious, he should run out to the garage and get another six-pack from the icebox.
In school, Father Ainmire says that God is watching and it's his duty to be the best he can be in God's image. So Ryan tells the truth when James glues Sister Cadence's papers together, when Ian trips Rosemary in the lunch line, and when Liam socks the new kid in the gut hard enough to make him puke.
Around his dad it's not worth it to tell the truth. That's not exactly what conscientious means, but the charge of mouthing off usually comes with the punishment of the belt; Ryan bites his lip and goes to get the beer.
3. [run with the pack]
Telling the truth gets Ryan jacked up at his new school. Four fifth-graders corner him on the playground and two of them hold his arms back while one straddles his stomach and punches him in the face. The fourth kid's named John and he lives on Ryan's block. He watches the whole time, sneering, and finally he calls a stop, then kneels down and says, "Your dad's a rotten drunk, and your mom's a filthy whore."
Writhing, trying to surge up on his elbows, Ryan bucks and kicks, but the boys only laugh. As they're turning to leave, John comes back to kick Ryan in the nuts.
The recess bell rings and Ryan stares up at the cloudy sky. Slowly, he uncurls his body, swallowing back the vomit rising in his throat, chanting you're okay, you're okay in his head until he can believe it.
He doesn't realize he's crying until Miss Callehan's kneeling over him with a hanky in her hand, daubing gently around his eyes.
"Does it hurt?" she asks.
No, feels great, he wants to say, but her worry is real.
He's a smart kid. He learned the lesson. Ryan lies to her, says they held something over his eyes, says he doesn't know who it was, and Miss C believes him.
4. [burnin' sky]
"I got it!" Ryan hollers, sliding down the hallway in his socks, thudding into the far wall and pushing off toward the kitchen, where the phone's ringing twice, then a pause, then twice more.
He's out of breath when he answers. "'Lo?"
There's a pause, which happens sometimes, so he repeats himself, impatient. "Hell-o."
"Ryan?" It's a woman's voice, prickling up Ryan's spine. She sounds faraway, and sad. He clutches the phone tight, staring out the window at the sun setting in an orange sky. "Is that you?"
"Yeah," he croaks.
"Baby," she says, and Ryan hangs up the receiver, smashing it into the cradle. His heart's racing, and his knees wobble, and he wants to hit something.
From behind him, Cyril asks, "Whozat?"
Ryan forces himself to shrug as he turns around. "Dunno, wrong number prob'ly," he says. "Some sicko, breathin' heavy."
Cyril pulls a face. "You're grody."
"Grody like a fox," Ryan says, lunging forward, wiggling his fingers with intent and Cyril responds on cue, shrieking with laughter, spinning around and pounding down the hallway, the phone call forgotten.
5. [desolation angels]
Cyril's having some stupid nightmare, again, the same one he's been having for weeks. He wakes up crying and won't stop until Ma comes in, wipes off his snot and tears, brings him a glass of water, and then rocks him back to sleep, humming softly the whole time.
Ryan watches all of it because Cyril's sobs wake him up too.
Tonight, after Cyril's asleep again, his stuffed bear tucked close to his chin, Ma comes over to Ryan's bed, leaning down and kissing his forehead.
"It wouldn't kill you to comfort him, Ryan," she says, hiding a yawn behind her hand. She leaves before he can work out an answer. Mostly he's indignant. Cyril's the crybaby, not him! Why's it his problem?
Ryan's already gotten into three fights at school to protect Cyril, who acts so dreamy sometimes, lost in his own head, and if that's what being a big brother is about, then Cyril and Ma can shove it.
He gazes longingly at Cyril's teddy, remembering his own Pooh bear. His Dad had said Ryan was too old for Pooh, and Ryan smiles, feeling a mean thrill inside, thinking of the day when Dad'll say the same thing to Cyril.
6. [rough diamonds]
"We're running away," Ryan says, pulling his duffel out of the closet.
Cyril looks up from where he's reclining on the bed, studying, one elbow propped on his ratty, thread-bare childhood teddy. "Why?"
"Why?" Ryan echoes. "Because this place sucks!"
"Yeah," Cyril agrees. He doesn't move. "Where we gonna go? Aunt Brenda's?"
Ryan snorts. "That's missing the whole fucking point, man."
"Fine," Cyril says, sitting up and running a hand through his hair. "Where, then?"
Shrugging into a sleeveless denim vest, Ryan thinks for a moment. He settles on, "Anywhere but here," and saying the words decisively helps cement the idea in his head.
He looks down at the bag and then shoves it away. "I got money, we'll buy new stuff. Can walk up to the interstate, then hitch from there."
"Okay," Cyril says. "Or..."
"Or what?" Ryan snaps, rounding on Cyril, primed for a fight.
Cyril shuts his textbook with a decisive thump, then looks up at Ryan and grins. "Or we could borrow a car."
7. [fame and fortune]
Like Ryan's supposed to know that he can get charged as an adult for grand theft auto. The damn thing had been just sitting there, doors unlocked, keys tucked in the visor, begging to get taken out for a spin. It was only a little Mazda RX-7 anyway, not like a Maserati or some shit.
Cyril's still considered a minor, so he gets to go home to Tessie and Carolyn and their increasingly bad-tempered father while Ryan gets to go to lockup, then court, and then juvenile detention.
For the next couple of years he's in and out; he drops out of high school at sixteen because fuck that. His dad doesn't give a shit, too busy sucking on his bottle, and now that his Ma and baby sister are gone, there's no one else to pretend to be good for.
Anyway he's making serious bank doing little favors here and there for some people. Soon as Cyril wants, Ryan'll bring him in too. There's even a girl he likes, kind of, a real cutie named Caitlin. She's in Cyril's year at school, and she's got long blonde hair, and Ryan thinks it's sweet that she tries to get him to come to church with her every Sunday. Deluded, but sweet. No one can be that prim and proper for real, so she's obviously playing hard to get. Not like he needs to wait around for her, 'cause there are plenty of girls hot for him. Just – he likes the way she looks at him with wide, soft eyes and Ryan gets the urge to do something crazy like run away with her and never come back.
He hits a party solo. Making himself comfy on the couch, he's drawing out thick rails of coke on the glass-topped coffee table when a girl sits down close, real close, and runs her hand up his thigh. He glances at her, recognizing her from around – Sharon or Sheila – and then she grabs the straw from his hand and snorts half a line.
"Hey!" Ryan snaps, and, no shit, she grabs his dick through his jeans and squeezes while she finishes the rest of the line. Ryan's mouth falls open and he can't seem to close it.
"Now you," she says, making it sound like an order, and Ryan's dick gets hard; she smiles, lets him stare for a few seconds, and then says, louder, "Now you."
Pushy bitch. "Okay," Ryan grates out.
The rest of the night is a blur of energized fucking and licking cocaine off Shannon's tits and getting a blowjob that defines the cliché of Hoovers everywhere. When Ryan thinks maybe he wants to crash, she gets them both dressed and they fall into a booth at the diner down the street from his pad, sitting on the same side of the table, crushed together and laughing.
Shannon makes him feel like a rock star, like he can do anything he wants and like he deserves it just for being alive.
8. [dangerous age]
The after school special that Tessie'd badgered them into doing airs again and Ryan records it off the TV. He takes the phone off the hook and collapses onto the couch. Cyril comes out of his room holding a fat blunt, and Ryan digs his Zippo out of his pocket.
They watch the recording through a haze of smoke.
"We look so young," Cyril says.
"Young and stupid," Ryan laughs. "Eldridge's still a slimy bastard."
"The slimiest," Cyril agrees. "You took some heat for this, didn't you?"
"Yeah, man," Ryan says. He sucks on the blunt, loving the scratch of the burning cigar paper on the back of his throat. "Nothin' I couldn't handle."
Ryan's first order of business had been to change the name of the gang, because they covered a lot more than just 112th Street now. They'd expanded, recruited, and fuck if there wasn't something goddamn beautiful about having that many people at his beck and call. Cyril teaches the ones with potential how to fight. Ryan's second lieutenant teaches everyone how to follow orders, handing out positive rewards and all that behavioral shit. Hell, they've gotten so strong lately that the Bridget Street gang's attracted the attention of one of the bigger Italian enclaves, and already, Ryan's plotting something perfect for those greasy dirtbags, something newsworthy.
The funny thing is that there's no Bridget Street anywhere around. It's Carolyn's middle name, making it feel even more like the family business.
9. [holy water]
Cyril goes through a mid-life crisis at age twenty-two, tries to quit the gang, wants to enroll in community college, and tells Ryan he's becoming a Buddhist.
Ryan can't remember ever being so absolutely friggin' speechless and he stares at Cyril, who stares back, defiant. Finally, he asks, "A Buddhist?"
Cyril laughs and Ryan laughs too, relieved, and then Cyril shakes his head. "Okay, not a Buddhist, but I'm serious about the break. I don't know if this –" he gestures between them – "is what's for me. I think I want to study architecture."
Cyril's always seen the world in planes and levels, lines and grids and textures.
"Blood in, blood out," Ryan says, grim now. "Wait a little while, see where we're at then."
But Cyril shakes his head again and says, "A break, Ryan. Not forever."
"Don't," Ryan says, and he hates that he has to fucking warn his own brother, because there'll be consequences and Cyril's not gonna like them.
"It'll be okay, bro," Cyril says, and he unfolds himself from the park bench, stretching his arms up over his head.
It's pathetic how easy it is to squash a dream. Ryan calls in a couple of chits, one of them belonging to a guy whose wife is on the admissions committee of the local junior college.
After reading the rejection letter, Cyril flushes, anger sparking in his eyes. He throws the first punch and Ryan lets him land it, but after that he gives back, finally wrestling Cyril into a sleeper hold and applying pressure until Cyril topples over.
"I'm never gonna forgive you," Cyril mumbles into the carpet. "Hate you."
Ryan sighs, presses a quick kiss to the back of Cyril's head. "I know, kiddo. I know."
10. [here comes trouble]
Used to be that Ryan would do anything for Shannon. Used to be that all he could think about was her smile, her laugh, the way her body felt under his, the way she'd pull funny faces at him while he was on the phone, all that romantic stuff. 'Course he loves her, he married her, didn't he?
Lately, though, lately he's been looking around, seeing what else is out there, and truth be told, there's a lot of anything and everything he wants.
He respects Shannon for putting up with his shit, that's for sure. The girls he's screwing on the side are just there. They're easy: they don't wanna know where he's going or ask stupid questions about stuff they know he can't fucking well talk about. They don't screech at him unless they're coming all over his dick. They never want to talk about the future.
What future? Ryan's future's full of turf wars with the Italians and keeping his gang's business out of the reach of the law. So excuse the fuck outta him for wanting to forget about that for a while, preferably dick-deep in some nameless little slut.
Maybe if he had a kid with Shannon he'd feel differently, but he doubts it. It'd be cool to have a son, a miniature Ryan O'Reily, but right now between the cops and the wops, there's no time. Even if they could.
11. [company of strangers]
The day after his birthday, Ryan crashes his car into a wall. It's possible that he's still drunk from the two previous nights of celebration.
Someone calls an ambulance. One of the EMTs is a woman, a girl, practically, with a cloud of dark red hair frizzing out around her headband and she looks so familiar that Ryan calls her Carolyn by mistake. He might also say something about mermaids.
She laughs good-naturedly and shoves a needle in his arm.
When he resurfaces, he's in a private room with a window. He can't have been out for more than a few hours but there's already bouquets on the side table and a shiny balloon attached to the footboard. There's a cartoon shamrock on it.
Ryan watches through half-lidded eyes when the doctor comes in, and he's trailed by two nurses, Cyril, and Shannon, who looks a lot less panicked than Ryan expected. It should probably bother him that he's only sort of listening, letting the doctor's words wash over him and roll away, but it's hard to conjure up worry. Shannon's nodding along, shooting him reassuring little smiles and Cyril's standing right beside her, where he's supposed to be, and Ryan has to shut his eyes quick against the prickle of welling tears.
For the next few days, they're both so damn capable that Ryan floats along on an agreeable cloud of pride. He's like a stranger looking in, watching them without the layers of himself, if that makes sense, which it doesn't, but he's high as a kite and can't bring himself to care. Maybe it's that they're the strangers, showing parts of themselves that he's never seen before, or maybe just hadn't noticed.
12. [stories told & untold]
Ryan's fucking sick of fucking hospitals. Looking around the waiting room, he catches Shannon's eye and jerks his head at the door. She nods, her expression resigned. Ryan doesn't care. He has to get the fuck out of here.
It's chilly outside, the air damp with unshed rain, and the sun a watery version of itself.
Pulling his coat closed, Ryan stuffs his hands in the pockets and starts walking.
Bitter thoughts clog in his mind, the fight with Cyril after Ryan had barred him from college, the shouted accusations between them, how Cyril had sworn that Ryan didn't need him around.
"Wrong, you're so wrong," Ryan mumbles.
There'd been a girl that Cyril liked, one he thought maybe he'd make a life with, and she'd been taking up too much of Cyril's time, taking him away from the gang. Ryan had made sure that she'd seen proof of indiscretion, of Cyril wrapped up with a couple of hookers from a bachelor party that had taken place years earlier. He omitted that detail in the anonymous letter.
Ryan's always felt guilty for leaving Cyril alone with their dad after Tessie died. It had only been until Ryan made a name for himself, rose to the top like separated cream, but Cyril'd come out of that house mean and it didn't take a genius to add up those numbers.
Cyril had wanted to go to college, he'd wanted to be with that hippie-dippie girl, he'd wanted to make a name for himself, and Ryan had done nothing but keep him in chains.
Someone bumps up against him in the street, and Ryan lashes out, shoving the guy away. "Get your fuckin' hands offa me! Asshole!"
The guy's got dark hair and there's a smug little grin playing around his mouth; Ryan wants to kick the shit out of him and he forces his feet to keep walking, not to look back.
Ryan knocks gently on the door to Cyril's hospital room, and then eases it open.
Cyril's sitting up in bed, gazing out the window, and he turns when Ryan comes in, grinning widely. "Ryan!"
Jesus, please, please please please. Please.
Words stick in Ryan's throat. "Hey, kiddo," he tries out, holding his breath for Cyril's response.
And then Cyril's face crumples, his expression going from joyous to confused, and he shakes his head like he's trying to rattle something loose.
Turning on his heel, Ryan strides out of the room, letting the door bang shut behind him, cutting off something that sounds suspiciously like a wail, and he can't think about it. He has to get out.
There's a quart of Jack under the front seat of his car and a couple of grams in the glove box, and they're the keys to his release.