I need you gone.’’
Ryan met Trey’s bewildered expression with a cold, blank look. He couldn’t feel. He didn’t dare, because deep down, just beyond the wall of ice he’d put up, was a black pit of rage and grief and hate and love. He waited out his brother. At last, Trey spoke, ducking his head away in defeat.
``Give me a ride to the bus depot?’’
``I’ll be in the car.’’
He couldn’t be here anymore. The smell of stale beer, cigarettes and some kind of dope was hitting him on every level of bad memory. Ryan sat in the car faking the patience he didn’t feel. He didn’t speak when Trey got in the car, nor through the drive to the bus depot. His brother’s silence was resentful and confused. He really didn’t feel like dealing with it. Trey bought a ticket to Las Vegas, sat with Ryan until the call came to board. Even then, he didn’t say anything. On the steps, he turned and raised his hand in a small wave. Ryan flashed back to that morning, by the pool house, Dawn walking out of his life for good. He returned the gesture with the same mix of relief and anger, bitterness and shame that had filled him then. The bus pulled out and away, taking his last connection to his old life with it.
He drove to Chino, trying to still the riot of emotions under his skin. He filled the tank and cruised through the old neighborhoods, comparing. He didn’t know what he was looking for and headed back to Newport, feeling as if he was teetering on the edge of something dangerous. When he returned home, even Seth was sleeping. His relief at avoiding a confrontation was short-lived. Hailey was waiting in the pool house, sitting on his bed.
``This family doesn’t have enough problems, you have to make them worry about you?’’
``You’re one to talk.’’
``We’re not talking about me, we’re talking about you. Where were you?’’
``Chino.’’ He suddenly wanted a drink, of all things. He almost laughed from the idiocy of it. They were sending Kirsten away for drinking and he wanted to get drunk. ``I’m tired, Hailey, can we do this tomorrow?’’
``Tomorrow is the intervention.’’ Her tone pissed him off for some reason. He rubbed a hand over his face, fighting his temper.
``I remember.’’ He snapped at her. Hailey stood up and crossed her arms.
``Okay, that’s enough.’’ She stepped closer to him. ``Ryan, what’s wrong with you?’’
``I’m tired.’’ He was, too. Not physically, no, tired inside. Tired of dealing with everything. Marissa. Kirsten. Trey. Seth and Summer. School. Jesse. Newpsies, for crying out loud. Two lives that wouldn’t, no matter how he tried, mesh together. He was tired of being the one everyone expected to roll with it, to not have a problem coping. Most of all, he was tired of hurting, the swirl of emotions so intense they were becoming physically painful. ``I’m sorry.’’
``It’s not your fault.’’ Why did everyone think that’s what he meant? ``She’ll be okay.’’ Hailey put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently, comfortingly.
``I’m not ….’’ Okay, so he was afraid Kirsten wouldn’t be back. What if she couldn’t make it? Worse, what if she came back and relapsed? What was it about the women in his life that made alcohol so attractive?
``I guess we’re all used to Kiki being strong and in control.’’ Hailey murmured. He saw confusion and pain in her eyes, felt a small tremor in her hand.
Ryan reached out and cupped her face, stepped in to press a kiss to her lips. He felt a jolt of shock, then she was kissing him back, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. He couldn’t begin to count the ways this was wrong, but he knew what this was. Comfort, on a level he was used to receiving it. Something simple and uncomplicated that made them feel good, if only for a little while. A desperate need to replace the pain with pleasure.
He deliberately pushed aside the knowledge of who was unbuckling his pants, whose bra was fluttering to the floor as they made their way to the bed. They tangled in each other, neither speaking ….neither stopping. He lowered himself into her, ignoring the nails digging into his back and the sharper pain of his own conscience. Tomorrow, she’d be Hailey and he’d be Ryan and this would be the biggest mistake of his life. Tonight they were two people in pain desperately seeking relief.
Ryan stared in disbelief at Seth. He couldn’t have just heard what he thought he’d heard. Trey had attacked Marissa. Marissa. He should’ve known. When Hailey’d left for her flight back to Tokyo, he’d been relieved. They were going to pretend it never happened, which was a tactic he was more than familiar with. For once, he was the one keeping a secret from Marissa. He’d just decided to try and explain things to her, even picked up the phone to call when Seth had come in. Their visitor had been Summer, not Oliver. Now….he wished it had been Oliver. Or Jesse. Or someone, anyone else with a problem he could deal with. This……
``Where is she?’’
``Marissa?’’ Seth seemed confused. ``Uhm, I guess she doesn’t want to see…’’
``I got that, Seth.’’ He lowered himself onto his bed, feeling ancient and fragile. His friend remained quiet, for a change, letting him process the information. He hated to tell him that this wasn’t something he felt he could process. Not today, maybe not ever. Add to it the guilt he felt over Hailey……he couldn’t meet the other boy’s gaze. ``Let Summer in here.’’
``Sure. There may be some risk of a rage blackout, though, are you…’’
``Right.’’ Seth left and returned with his girlfriend. Girlfriend. Ryan rubbed at his face. So much had happened so fast, he was fast approaching overload. He knew the pleasant numbness was shock, would soon be gone. He wanted to deal with this while he could still function. ``Okay, Summer’s here, I’m here. We’re here for you, buddy….’’
``It’s not you, Atwood.’’ Summer interrupted. ``She just needs a little space, to try and cope with…..’’
``She can have space.’’ Anger filled him, startling in it’s intensity. He had no right to feel angry at Marissa, she was the victim in all this. It was that thought that made him even angrier. When wasn’t she the victim? It was never her fault, was it? ``She can have all the space she wants. It’s over.’’
``What?’’ Summer looked like she was starting to get mad. Seth muttered something about `rage blackouts’ and got smacked on the arm. ``Your brother attacks your girlfriend and you break up with her? What kind of sick shit is that? Have you gone nuts? Are you retarded? Is this some kind of `bros before hos’ thing? What….’’
``Trey’s gone.’’ Summer shut her mouth with a snap. ``I put him on a bus out of town last night. If Marissa…..’’ He controlled the disdain in his voice with an effort. ``If she’d told me earlier…..if she’d told me herself……’’ That was what was killing him. She couldn’t face him, couldn’t talk to him at all. On one level, he understood that he was a reminder of what had to be a traumatic event. On another, it was starting to feel very familiar. Typical Marissa move, dodging responsibility. ``I can’t handle this. I can’t handle her. I’m done.’’
``Well, I’m not doing your dirty work for you. You want a break-up, you tell her yourself.’’ Summer challenged.
``Fine.’’ He stood, snatched his keys to the Range Rover off his nightstand. Summer’s face reflected her shock. Seth opened his mouth. ``Don’t start. Come along if you think I’m going to hurt her, but….’’’
``You’re breaking up with her, stupid, of course she’s going to be hurt.’’ Summer fumed.
He drove slowly over to the Nichol house, sorting through his emotions. On one hand, he didn’t want to give up. He didn’t want to be the one to surrender and say it was too hard. On the other, he didn’t want to go on like this, giving her everything he had to get nothing in return. Not even the smallest courtesy. Last night weighed heavy on his mind. It made for a good reason, she could dump him with a clear mind. He wouldn’t have to confront her about her manipulative attitude or her need to be the center of attention or her apparent inability to deal with any level of reality. He counted up the hearts she’d broken, not counting his. He had multiple points on that scorecard. He knew it was useless, though. He wouldn’t be using any of that against her. He only hoped he’d be able to stick to his guns if she decided to forgive him.
``Ryan.’’ She came into the study where he was waiting. Summer trailed after her, crossing her arms in a challenging fashion. ``Sum says you want to talk?’’
``Yeah.’’ She was so beautiful. She was his first girlfriend, the first girl he’d loved. Couldn’t he forgive her? She might be able to forgive him, so he could forgive her, couldn’t he?
``I’m sorry.’’ All thoughts of reconciliation fled out the window at her words. He bet no one else picked up on the insincerity of her apology. Maybe it was just him, the only one to see it, like he’d been the only one to see the danger in Oliver. Some sort of ability to read the fucked up. Her eyes were wet, tears started rolling artfully down her face. He felt that same cold distance overtake him that had gripped him at Trey’s. When she put her arms around him, he couldn’t help but stiffen, fists clenching. For the first time in his life, he wanted to hit a woman. He felt sick and desperate to be gone. ``Ryan, I’m sorry.’’
``No, you’re not.’’ Was that his voice? That calm, composed chill?
``What?’’ She pulled back, hands touching his shoulders. ``Ryan, I just….’’
``I’m tired of being your whipping boy.’’ He deliberately spoke as hurtfully as possible. ``I’m tired of picking up the pieces after you screw with my life. I’m tired…’’
``He attacked me!’’ Marissa yelled at him, dropping her hands to her sides in fists. ``He nearly raped me!’’ She showed him the bruises she’d been hiding. ``Ryan, he….’’
``What do you want me to do about it?’’ He looked at her coldly.
``You heard me.’’ He crossed his arms. ``I’m angry at Trey. I wish you didn’t have to go through this.’’ He glared at her when she stepped towards him. ``But I’m also angry at you, Marissa.’’
``You’ve got some nerve, Atwood.’’ Summer leapt to her friend’s defense.
``She couldn’t tell me herself? She couldn’t bring this up when we got back from Palm Springs? Or at any other time besides now?’’ Ryan shook his head, disgusted. He hadn’t wanted to do this, but the words were just spilling out of him. He hoped he’d be able to keep the identity of his partner in last night’s mistake to himself. ``No, she’s got to bring it up the day Mo….the day Kirsten goes to Suriak.’’
``She didn’t want to tell anyone!’’ Summer shouted. ``She was trying to help your brother!’’
``My brother is standing right there.’’ Ryan jabbed a finger at Seth. ``Trey’s an ex-con, a dangerous ex-con, that I told you over and over again to leave alone!’’
``And then you forgave him and said to give him a chance…’’
``No, you said to give him a chance. You pushed me to forgive him.’’
``You’re saying this is my fault?’’
``No, you’re just the cause.’’ Her face crinkled with confusion. ``Cause and effect, Marissa. A theory you might want to start applying to your life before anything else happens; because, I swear, I’m done rescuing you.’’
``You’re an ass!’’ Summer shouted.
``I think we all just need to calm down….’’ Seth finally spoke up, just as James and Julie Cooper came into the room.
``What is going on…..’’ Julie scowled at him. ``I might’ve known.’’
``Hey, kiddo.’’ Jimmie put an arm around his daughter. ``You okay?’’
``It’s just a fight, Dad.’’ Marissa turned tear-filled eyes to him. He knew he was supposed to apologize, supposed to beg forgiveness and grovel his way back into her good graces. Looks like it was time to play his hole card.
``I slept with someone.’’
``It wasn’t Theresa.’’ She just didn’t quit, did she? ``It was last night.’’
There was a familiar stinging sensation on his cheek, familiar tension in the air as the entire room froze, waiting to see what he’d do. He slowly turned his head back to face Marissa, who stood, face flaming, hand still hovering in the air.
``Okay, we all really need to calm down….’’ Seth sounded like he was going to hyperventilate.
``No, I deserved it.’’ Ryan thumbed his lip. He felt better, free-er. This, he knew how to deal with. ``Anyone else?’’
``God.’’ Julie snorted disgustedly. ``Keep your kinky little….’’
``Oh, come on, it’s not like you haven’t wanted to take a swing since the day I showed up.’’ He spread his hands wide, invitingly. ``Here’s your one shot, no strings, no retribution. You really gonna pass it up?’’
``You son of a bitch.’’ Julie hissed at him. They stood, eyes locked, until something flickered in her gaze.
``Only my birth mother.’’ Ryan quipped. She shook her head at him, too angry to speak. ``No takers?’ Jimmie was holding the now weeping Marissa, glaring at him confusedly. Seth was pale, looking from one person to another as if he could find an explanation written in their expressions. Summer stepped up and slapped the other side of his face. The sting was sharper, harder, he was actually knocked back a step.
``Ass.’’ Summer cursed him, voice shaking. Seth came up and put his arms around her. ``How could you do this to her? You love her!’’
``She doesn’t love me.’’ Marissa’s sobs echoed in the still air. ``Give Seth a ride home, would you?’’ Turning, he headed outside, trying to make it before… Seth’s voice halted his escape.
``Who?’’ No matter the charged atmosphere, he couldn’t ignore the only friend he hadn’t completely alienated.
``Who did you sleep with?’’ He met the wide, still slightly innocent eyes and couldn’t do it. He couldn’t destroy what was left of his family. Avoid, deflect; but don’t lie, he told himself.
``Does it matter?’’
To be continued ………