He'd stayed alive by learning to blend in, by absorbing the scents and flavours of his environment and fitting himself to that environment.
He was still trying to absorb.
He let Seth's words wash over him while he internalized the streets and routes that Seth had grown up with. He only listened with half an ear while he let the taste of the salty ocean air soak into his tongue. He tuned in and out while he eyed the other people on the boardwalk, mimicking their confidence and uptight attitudes.
They'd gone past the bus station, so he knew how to get out of town if he had to. He'd always remember the flavour of fresh sea air. He had the walk down, chin up and forward, but never meet anyone's eyes.
He tuned back in to hear Seth talking about some girl. Seth had been talking about some girl since they met in the morning, other than when he was chewing.
"What is the chick's name?"
Easy enough to get a question in; just ignore the fact he was talking and talk louder.
"Marissa. The girl next door, the perfect girl, not a chick."
"Oh, long dirty blonde hair, no body to speak of? Yeah, I met her when your Dad was talking to your Mom. She seems…"
Seth was staring at him, stock still on the boardwalk. People had to swerve around him.
"You've been in town less than twenty four hours. How could you meet her already?"
"She was waiting for her boyfriend." A little extra stress on the word boyfriend. Ryan didn't like having attention drawn to him; a bit of punishment might get Seth back in motion.
Seth winced, but started walking. Ryan tried not to feel guilty. "Her hair is caramel coloured, not 'dirty blonde'. And her body is perfect – tall, willowy, modelesque."
They looked at each other. "I guess we don't have to worry about going for the same girl," Ryan offered.
"And may I say, I am relieved. You're like the only person who talks to me in this town, other than the ones I'm related to. I'd hate to have to steal a girl from you."
Ryan looked at their reflections in the window of the shop they were passing, and decided not to respond to that.
They walked in actual silence for a few minutes, finally reaching the diner Seth had been raving about before Marissa.
"You'll love it here, Ryan. The food is mediocre at best, but the girls come up here from the beach. Bikinis in every booth, my friend."
"No, Seth. Does she hang out here?"
Seth needed some instruction in playing it cool. He looked like a weathervane, snapping his head back and forth to avoid eye contact. "She might possibly come here every weekend. And sit in the booth in the back corner with her friends. Look! There's a booth open."
Naturally, it was the one next to Marissa's table.
"How'd you manage that?" Ryan muttered as they slid into the booth.
"I pay the waitress to keep the booth next to theirs empty until twelve thirty. Money talks in this town, Ryan," Seth whispered, sliding onto the bench facing the girls.
Seth's money must really talk in this town; the waitress took their order within two minutes. Two of the quietest minutes Ryan had spent with Seth. The poor kid seemed speechless when confronted with his dreamgirl.
It definitely wasn't silent though. The girls giggling and chattering would have drowned out anything they said anyway. It wasn't until Marissa and most of her entourage tottered off to the bathroom on their ridiculous shoes that it was quiet enough to talk. "So you do this every weekend? Hang out in the diner and watch? That seems a little…"
The voice came from the booth behind. Rich and throaty, there was no way it giggled in that annoying high pitched tone. Ryan turned slowly, visualizing what the owner of that voice must look like.
The reality was even better. Long dark curls falling down to ripe breasts. Dark flashing eyes filled with knowledge and full lips begging to be kissed. He couldn't wait to see the legs hidden under the table.
"Coop said she met the Cohen's cousin last night."
"Yeah, that's right Summer. My cousin, Ryan."
"I call bullshit. No way are you related to him. Who are you really, blondie? And don't give me the 'whoever you want me to be' line you tossed to Ris. I don't go in for movie lines."
Seth looked hurt. Ryan figured he could smooth that over later – for now, this girl was demanding all his attention. "Mr. Cohen's my lawyer. I got picked up joyriding with my brother in a stolen car. In Chino."
"At least it's not a line." Ryan tried the charming smile, the one he saved for Theresa's mother when she was making tostadas.
It seemed to work on rich hotties just as well as it did on motherly types. He'd have to remember to try it out on Kirsten when they got back to the house.
"Maybe you think I'm into danger and bad boys. Maybe you really are just another rich jock," but she smiled as she said it and turned a little more towards him.
"I'm Ryan. And I'm not rich." He reached his hand over the back of the seat.
"I'm Summer. And I don't date boys from Chino." She shook his hand. Hers was soft and smooth, tiny inside his but still strong.
"Lucky for me, today I'm from Newport."
He already knew she was interested, but he had to wait for her to admit it. It didn't take long, not even long enough for Seth to start talking.
"Look, we're going to a party tonight after the charity fashion show. You should come."
"I really, really should."
Summer and Ryan smiled at each other until the sound of the high-pitched giggling returning to the table distracted them. Summer slid out of the booth to join her girlfriends. Her legs were just as toned and tanned as he'd hoped.
"Oh, Ryan? Don't wear green tonight. I'm wearing red, and I'd hate to look like a Christmas ornament when I'm draped all over you."
Seth and Ryan watched the girls leave, Summer trailing a little behind the rest.
"Okay, you gotta teach me that."