a The O.C. story
by dirty diana
Thanks and love to serial karma for the beta.
Ryan was a worrier. He'd always been that way, because somebody had to be. Someone had to worry about whether the dishes were clean, or whether the trash was on the curb on garbage day, or what was going to be on the table for dinner. And when he came home from school every day to find his mom drunk, and her latest boyfriend more drunk, then usually that someone was Ryan.
And now worrying was a habit, one that he couldn't shake. Even though now he lived in Newport, and dinner was generally ordered from the country club and served by the maid, he managed to find other things to worry about.
He worried about Marissa, even though she wasn't talking to him. He worried about Seth, especially now that Seth was high in the atmosphere above planet Summer. He worried that the Cohens were too nice for their own good, he worried that he was taking advantage of them.
But mostly he worried about having to go back to Chino.
"What if something happens, and you guys change your mind?" It had seemed like the most obvious question.
"Like what? You steal a car, burn down a house, beat up the captain of the water polo team? Those ships have sailed, my friend."
And then Sandy and Kirsten had both smiled reassuringly. Ryan had wanted to laugh. It was kind of cute. They seriously couldn't think of anything he could do that would make them want to kick him out.
But Ryan could.
He thought about it over breakfast, mostly, listening to Seth plan out his day with a mouth full of Cap'n Crunch. Seth talked fast, he thought fast, always leaving Ryan feeling breathless as he tried to keep up.
Seth wasn't like any of the guys he'd fucked back in Chino. Maybe that's what this was. Maybe that was the sensation that burned low in his belly, the thrill of something new. And maybe that's all it could be, an idea, an almost-taste.
Except now it seemed like his whole life was made up of Seth-moments. Seth at the kitchen counter, flipping through an issue of Fray, Seth in the living room, oblivious to everything except the hardest level of Vice City, Seth grinning on his skateboard, Seth always just that bit out of reach.
"So, dude," Seth came to the breathless end of his latest monologue, "what are you doing today?"
Ryan glanced up, glanced back down again. "Not much. Working." He wondered if Seth knew how distracting it was when he did things like that. It felt strange, having someone to care about what he had planned for the day, and it made him nervous. It was sweet, though. He was getting used to it, just like he was getting used to how Seth never stopped talking. Or how Seth's idea of personal space was different from most people's, how long legs were always kicking him under the table. Or how he reached across Ryan for the milk without even thinking about it, bring his mouth close, way too close. One more thing for Ryan to pretend that he hadn't noticed.
"See you this evening, then," Seth said, and picked up his bowl, placing it in the sink.
It was Tuesday, and the lunch shift was quiet. Ryan barely noticed when Summer sashayed into the restaurant, a tennis racket slung over her shoulder.
"Hey, um..." Summer paused, nose wrinkling.
"Ryan," he said.
"I knew that." She sounded mildly insulted.
No, you didn't, he thought flatly. He suspected that Summer couldn't hide what she was thinking, even if her life depended on it. And then he pushed that thought away, because it was something that she had it common with Seth.
"So, Ryan, can I get a diet Dr. Pepper?"
Already Summer was scowling, annoyed. "Like, today?"
Ryan didn't say anything to that, just reached for a glass and pressed the button on the fountain, watching the dark liquid rise in the glass, topped by a pale froth. As he picked up a straw, Summer's phone rang.
She pulled it out of her purse, a tiny silver thing that fit in the palm of her small hands. "Hello?"
Ryan ignored her for a bit, wiping down the far end of the bar. Soon Summer hung up her phone with a click.
"My instructor's running late," Summer said. Ryan couldn't quite tell if she was talking to him. "I guess I'm stuck here for another half hour." Her mouth, shiny with lip gloss, pursed in annoyance. She slid onto a barstool, and sipped her soda.
Ryan looked around the restaurant, nearly empty, then looked back at Summer. "Can I get you something else?" he asked finally.
She shook her head, but raised her eyebrows like she was thinking about it. "French fries? But you know, not too many."
Watching Summer eat fries was like watching Seth organise his comic book collection, which was done by publisher and then by title, and then had these weird subdivisions based on whether Seth had liked an issue or not, or who had inked it, and sequels to things were never quite where you thought they'd be. Summer divided her plate of French fries into two piles, drawing a line down the middle of the plate with her finger. Then she grabbed the bottle of ketchup and squeezed its contents onto the left half of the pile, then squeezed mayonnaise onto the right side, making a spiral like design on top of her food.
Obsession with weird details. That was something else they had in common, Ryan thought. And she couldn't be anywhere near as stupid as she pretended, and if she wasn't stupid then she was eventually going to notice that Seth was nearly the only person in this town who wasn't an idiot. Ryan thought that he could maybe deal with that, as long as she didn't break Seth's heart.
Ryan didn't think he'd be able to deal with that at all.
Summer looked up to find Ryan staring at her. "What?"
He shook his head. Nothing. "That's really gross."
"Whatever." She pushed the plate towards him. "You want one?"
Ryan came home, smelling like the beach air and French fries, and found Seth in the kitchen, drinking milk out of the carton. Kirsten would so kill him. "Dude. What's up?"
"Not much." Ryan sat down. "I saw Summer at the beach."
Seth's face split into a wide smile. "Seriously? Did she mention me?"
Ryan shrugged. "Um, well...not really. She was kind of busy."
Seth's face was expressionless for a moment. Then he nodded. "So. She's playing it cool. I can respect that. Because we both know it's only a matter of time before she gives into the irresistibleness that is me. Right?"
Ryan nodded uncomfortably, shifting on his feet. "Right." And he watched as Seth grabbed his skateboard from behind the door.
"I'm going out for a bit, before dinner. Want to come?"
"Sure," Ryan said.
Seth smiled, like he always did, like he was always genuinely afraid that Ryan would say no. "Cool."
"Cool," Ryan agreed, feeling that knot in his chest, the one that tightened whenever Seth smiled like that, then released again. Because Ryan was a worrier. He'd always been that way.