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So here's the thing: this past month included three graduations, one wedding, six performances of the festival featuring my students' plays and poetry, one slam poetry competition (I was judging), and one prom (I was chaperoning. Oh, and two storms that cut off our power for hours.

In other words, I didn't get much writing done. But I know it's the end of the month, so rather than miss my deadline, I give you about half a chapter. (The school year ends next week, though, so I should have more time after that to end this story, finally!

Oh, and all disclaimers still apply. We'll call this

Best Forgotten, Part 17

The blackout lasted barely longer than four or five blinks. For those few seconds, though, everyone froze.

Outside the annex of the clinic, Grady had been tapping out a cigarette while Caleb idly fingered his phone. He had ignored its constant vibration during his heated discussions inside with Dr. Keller. All that had mattered was persuading the man to proceed immediately with the operation. In the quiet of the parking lot, though, Cal became aware that the persistent, annoying buzzing against his thigh had stopped abruptly. For some reason, that alarmed him. He had pulled his phone from his pocket, scrolling through the long list of missed calls. “Kiki,” he noted with mild concern. “She’s called a dozen times . . . Of course she knows I’m waiting for news about an operation. She probably just wants to check in with me. She’s been on edge ever since that boy disappeared.”

He paused for a moment, his brow furrowing. An image of Kirsten, unbidden and unwelcome, flashed through his mind. That first night when Caleb had offered Grady’s services to help the “find” Ryan, she had walked him to the door as he prepared to leave. At the doorway, Kirsten had caught his hand unexpectedly and pulled him close. Her voice had been low and fervent. “Thank you so much, Dad,” she had said gratefully. Lifting her face, she had kissed Caleb’s cheek, and he felt her lips tremble against his skin. Then, although she still clung to his hand, Kirsten seemed to forget her father for a moment. She had looked past him, gazing into the starless night sky. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “I just can’t believe Ryan would leave us,” she whispered. “Not now. Not like this, when we’re just becoming a real family.” The last words trickled off, thin as rainwater, and Kirsten shook her head. Rousing herself again, she squeezed Caleb’s hand, and her lips curved into a tremulous smile. “It means a lot to me that you’re helping us, Dad. Especially knowing how you feel about Ryan . . . it’s so good to know I can always count on you.”

The click of Grady’s lighter snapped Caleb back into the present. Even so, the trust in Kirsten’s voice lingered, haunting him. He frowned at the slim phone, watching it spark silver in the light, then tapped its display window thoughtfully. Grady’s eyebrows rose in a silent question.

“I supposed I should call her back,” Caleb explained. “I’m sure it’s nothing. If there were any problem with the project, I would have heard from the office. But I don’t want Kiki to worry, so--”

He broke off in mid-sentence and his chin jerked up. Staring past the swirl of Grady’s cigarette smoke he scowled at the clinic’s windows, gone suddenly dark. “What the hell just happened?” he muttered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the main building, the Cohens and Charlie jolted to a stop too, almost skidding into the power-locked glass doors. They glanced at each other. Shock and momentary dismay shadowed their eyes before they widened with slow comprehension. Half a dozen emotions—excitement, impatience, relief, hope, residual fear and anxiety—chased each other across their faces.

“She did it,” Seth breathed. His voice mounting giddily, he vibrated in place, his joy enveloping Seth and Sandy like a rapturous hug. “Mom, Dad, I think Lucy did it! She did it Charlie!” Seth’s laughter welcomed her into his embrace too. “She said she was going to cut the power and she did! Oh, I am so going to name my first kid after her. Lucy whatever-her-last-name-is Cohen! Even if it’s a boy! I’m sure Summer won’t mind—This means Lucy stopped the operation, right Dad? So now we can bust Ryan out of this place and take him home, right?”

Sandy didn’t answer right away. Out of nowhere, he found himself recalling the night Kirsten had gotten Ryan released from juvie. Despite the urgency of the moment, despite the sound of his son’s excited babble, he lost himself in the memory.

Sandy had been stunned to find Ryan there when he arrived home from work that day. He had been excited too, thinking that Seth’s pleas must have won Kirsten over, that she had reconsidered and would allow Ryan to stay with them. She wouldn’t, not then; she insisted that they had to find Dawn instead. Reluctantly, Sandy had agreed to look for the woman, but when he and Kirsten went to bed their goodnight kiss had felt strained and dutiful. Slipping away quickly, Kirsten had settled on her side, turning her back to him like a rebuke.

The tension only eased out of her body when she drifted to sleep.

Sandy had remained wide-awake beside her. Frustrated and miserable, he folded his hands behind his head, staring at the bedroom ceiling until finally, just past two a.m., he gave up all pretense of rest. Careful not to disturb Kirsten, he had slipped out of their room. He paused for a moment outside Seth’s door before, sighing heavily, he padded down to the dim, moonlight-streaked kitchen.

Echoes of their earlier argument lingered in every corner of the room—Sandy’s own voice protesting, “He doesn’t want to find her,” Kirsten countering “He’s a child! He doesn’t know what he wants!” and then Ryan, saying tonelessly, “I guess I won’t unpack then.”

His words sounded empty of all hope.

Sandy had shaken his head to dispel the ghosts. Yanking open the refrigerator door, he took out the milk and poured himself a glass, but then he left it on the counter. He simply stood, the drink forgotten, raking one hand through his pillow-rumpled hair and staring sightlessly at the floor. A long, audible breath escaped him as Sandy shook his head again.

“Know what, kid?” he murmured into the darkness. “I don’t want to find your mom either. Dawn doesn’t deserve to be found.”

Lifting his head, he gazed out the window toward the pool house. Its shades were drawn, keeping its secrets, and Sandy’s eyes drifted across the patio. A shape moved in the moonlight and he stiffened, eyes narrowed. He watched for a moment as the shadow settled by the pool. Then, quickly and quietly, Sandy poured another glass of milk, put a few of Rosa’s cinnamon-walnut cookies on a plate and, balancing everything on a tray, strode across the patio.

“Hey, Ryan,” he called softly. “Nice night to be out. Mind if I join you?”

Ryan, sitting on the edge of the pool, jerked around, startled. The water rippled as he started to scramble to his feet. Sandy put a hand on his shoulder, calming him, easing him down again.

“No, no, it’s all right, kid. Don’t get up,” he said. His voice was low, comforting, and warm as the night air. “I couldn’t sleep either. So I came down for a midnight snack—figured I’d get a few of Rosa’s cookies before Seth eats them all. Want one?”

Smiling reassurance, he held out the tray. Ryan’s face had settled into an expression Sandy had begun to recognize—shuttered and wary, waiting for some clear signal to react—but he accepted a cookie and a glass of milk.

“Thanks,” he said hoarsely. “Thank you.”

“Hey, Rosa’s the one we should thank.” Wagging his eyebrows, Sandy sat next to Ryan. He rolled the legs of his pajamas up to his knees. “I do this sometimes,” he confided, as he dangled his legs in the water. “Come out here to clear my mind after a rough day. It’s soothing, you know—the quiet, the moonlight, the smell of the ocean. If we’re lucky we even get stars . . . Not tonight though.”

Ryan nodded. He bit his lip, his eyes fixed on the silver-tipped water. Without looking up, he said softly, “I didn’t mean to cause problems between you and Mrs. Cohen.”

“What? What are you talking about, kid? You didn’t.”

“Yeah, I did,” Ryan insisted. “She doesn’t want me here. I mean, I don’t blame her, and I’m really grateful that she sprang me from juvie today, but now--” he shrugged, and Sandy saw him unconsciously crush the edge of his cookie. A small shower of crumbs dusted his bare legs. “It’s not gonna work with my mom, even if you can find her. Guess I’m gonna wind up in a foster home after all.” One corner of his mouth quirked, and Ryan glanced sideways at Sandy. “Don’t worry,” he added. “I won’t run away this time.”

Sandy’s throat grew suspiciously tight. He coughed, trying to clear it and summon a light tone. “Good to know,” he replied. “But it doesn’t have to turn out--”

He broke off, abruptly interrupted by Seth, who came loping across the patio. His untied robe billowed behind him and he was calling reproachfully, “Hey, no fair! You guys decide to have a pool party and you don’t include me—Never mind. I’ll assume my invitation got lost in the mail, along with all those Newpsie party invites I never got.” Plopping down beside them, Seth plunged his feet into the pool, spraying water everywhere. He beamed at Ryan and Sandy. “So. This is cool!” he declared. “Seth-Ryan time plus one, the after-midnight edition. We can talk about manly things like Ryan’s super-stud magnetism and how I—hey, you’ve got cookies! And milk! Aw, look at that. You’re such a ‘50s-TV-show kind of father, Dad.”

Seth started to snatch a glass, but Sandy batted his hand away. “That’s mine, son. You want a drink, go get one of your own. This is a self-service party.”

Bundling his robe around him, Seth clambered back to his feet. “Fine,” he grumbled as he stomped back to the kitchen. “But I’m getting my own cookies too. And I’m not sharing.”

Sandy watched his son disappear. Then he turned back to Ryan, who had dipped one hand in the water, and was sketching a languid figure eight. An infinity of ripples followed the movement.

“Self-service?” Ryan asked. A faint smile tugged the corners of his mouth. “Really, Sandy? You brought me my drink.”

Sandy touched a warning finger to his lips. “Shhh,” he teased. “Don’t tell Seth.” Then his voice changed, turning low and grave. “But Ryan, listen, what you said about Kirsten--”

“No, Sandy, it’s okay. I get it,” Ryan said. “This is her home. And Seth is her son. She’s worried about him with me here.”

Sandy glanced up toward his bedroom. Somehow he wasn’t surprised to see Kirsten standing in the window, silhouetted by the thin light of their nightstand lamp. In the dark and the distance, he couldn’t read his wife’s expression, but Sandy thought he could sense her feelings anyway.

“That’s part of it,” he admitted slowly. “But I think she’s worried about herself too. Kirsten is very . . . reserved. It’s hard for her to let people into her life.” Reaching over, Sandy cupped Ryan’s shoulder, squeezing it gently. “But listen to me, kid. No matter what happens with your mom . . . ” Ryan flinched, and Sandy tightened his grip. “No matter what happens,” he repeated firmly, “I’m going to make sure you’re okay. I promise you, Ryan. Trust me.”

In the lobby of the clinic, Seth plucked Sandy’s sleeve, ending his father’s seconds-long reverie. “Right, Dad?” he demanded. “Us? Ryan? Home soon?”

Sandy nodded curtly. His eyes bored through the window, fixed on Caleb’s distant figure. “Yes, son,” he replied. He leaned forward, willing the electric doors to open, ready to bolt the moment that they did. “We’ll all be home soon. Trust me.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Across the parking lot, in the annex of the clinic, the operating room had been humming with carefully rehearsed activity, its choreography underscored by the doleful strains of Mahler’s music. Dr. Keller stood, poised and prepared, just behind Ryan. In a clipped, quiet voice, he fired off a barrage of reminders and questions, rechecking every bit of data.

His gaze never wavered from the spot at the base of Ryan’s skull where he would make his first, critical incision.

At last the doctor took a deep breath. He closed his eyes, opened them again, and wordlessly signaled that he was ready to begin. The surgical team surrounded Ryan, taking their positions as somber music surged in the background.

Then, in mid-note, the sound suddenly stopped. At the same moment, every bright, vital monitor went dark, every life-affirming display went dark, and the lights went out, plunging the windowless space into complete, instant night. The blackout halted Dr. Keller as his hand hovered, scalpel gripped securely, a scant half-inch from Ryan’s head. The darkness vibrated with shocked silence, broken only by a whisper of fabric as one of the nurses stepped away from the table. “Don’t move!” the doctor hissed. “Nobody move an inch, do you understand me?--Damn it!” Unconsciously he echoed Caleb. “What the hell just happened here?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Only Ryan, the focal point of the blackout, failed to respond to it. The shock, the sudden cessation of light and sound, never touched him. Nothing changed in what remained of his world. Weightless and unaware, he continued to float on a wave of anesthesia, beyond pain, beyond panic, beyond any kind of comprehension at all.

And when the lights flashed back on seconds later, only Ryan didn’t spring into action.

TBC

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
May. 31st, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
No fair!!!! Need to know what happens next, I just can´t believe you are making us wait for another month! Can´t yu make an exception and update sooner? Since you said it yourself: it was only half the chapter? Pretty pretty please!!!!
chazper
Jun. 1st, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
Aw, you're making me feel guilty. But "sooner" depends on how soon I recover from the total collapse I plan after school ends next week. So . . . maybe?
beachtree
Jun. 1st, 2011 01:13 am (UTC)
With a schedule like that, it's a wonder you made your self-imposed deadline, and early at that. Prom chaperone, too?

As for the latest in the epic of the psychological and physical Ryan torture, you're really playing with time and timing. What macabre music for a true "operating theater" in the gothic and twisted sense, but then Dr. Killer is up there with other narcissistic monsters, war criminals and dictators (what a series for the next USPS collectibles) with his personality and taste.

It shows where my mind is that I'm wondering if poor Ryan has had his head buzzed close to bare yet on top of the most horrific indignities and invasion. If he's lucky, he'll only be a zombie for about a month. If he's less lucky, he'll make a pet rock appear to be animated. As for the interruption, at least any loss of power in that environment that ceased the functioning of all medical machinery would mean resetting all mechanical components and trying to stabilize a new flow of anesthetics from square one. What's the fun in making a vegetable out of a vegetable or a corpse? But will it be enough of a window to allow those slo-mo Cohens to FINALLY burst on the scene. But Social Services might arrive first at this point. Maybe? Sandy's "trust me" is beginning to sound almost as ominous as it is haunting and hollow. Should he fail Ryan this time, the Jewish guilt will be off the charts.

Thanks for making the time to suspend time. ; ) Good luck with your end of year dash to the finish line.
chazper
Jun. 1st, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
Hee. I debated about including a note about Ryan's head being shaved--even googled a few sites to try to find out whether that's always necessary. (Did you know neurosurgery can be done with entry through the nasal cavity?) Anyway, I left out the detail because I couldn't decide what I should do (full bald? partial? go with the whole AU-nothing-to-do-with-real-life nature of this story and let Ryan keep all his hair?)

Maybe by the next installment I'll have made up my mind.

P.S. Chaperoning prom is fun if you enjoy a good teen fashion show; the kids are always so gorgeous and are on their best behavior. At least I was spared the cut-loose after-prom!
beachtree
Jun. 2nd, 2011 12:38 am (UTC)
So my mind doesn't wander into quite as strange territory as I thought... feared, or not too often. Maybe! I did know abou the nasal cavity, but so not Dr. Killer's style, not for his "Planet of the Apes" foray. I'm sure he was such a charming, normal, popular child. But I digress... With all of Ryan's litany of problems, hair would be the least on that dirty laundry list, but any semblance of normalcy and dignity is a huge blessing. Even his best possible outcome gives new meaning to "bleak." Oh, if he could have seen into the looking glas of the in finity pool that night...

Glad you enjoyed the fashionistas, but missed the aftermath. : ) Good luck on the homestretch of school daze.
fredsmith518
Jun. 1st, 2011 08:00 am (UTC)
very much liked the backwards look, that period is so interesting re the family dynamics shifting and changing

very much liked your prose, the extended description...the ater theme running underneath, very elegant.

the last words trickled off, thin as rainwater...

one hand in the water, and was sketching a languid figure eight. An infinity ripples followed the movement.


I'm reading early in the morning, so I think I'm more awake to such than usual!


chazper
Jun. 1st, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC)
fred, you're so sweet to compliment my prose here! After all this time with the story, I've been afraid that the writing has become--well, thin as rainwater itself. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it, even though you are too generous with your praise.
fredsmith518
Jun. 2nd, 2011 07:41 am (UTC)
not at all on the 'too generous' more like usually too late to notice, which is a shame because it means I was losing a level of your work that I value and that maks your 'voice' truly yours, nods, smiles
60schic
Jun. 2nd, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
*sigh*

1/2 a chapter from you is always better than none at all. Perhaps you don't want this to end either?

I know exactly what you mean about collapse being near. I need desperately to regroup next week.
chazper
Jun. 8th, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
Psst--don't tell. I'm writing this at school. It's our last day with the students and this is my planning period. I should be grading last minute assignments but I needed a break. The excitement of the kids is exhausting! Let me join you in the regrouping process . . .

As for not wanting this to end . . . I both do (it's gone on so long!) but you're also right that I don't. Once it's done, I just have a final chapter of "Blood Ties" that I've pledged (myself) to write and then . . . my O.C. writing life is over. It does make me sad. And whatever will I do to unwind if there's not a Ryan story that I have to finish?
60schic
Jun. 8th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
Without any new Ryan exposure for plot ideas, there doesn't seem to be any more reason to write. : ( It's sad that this phase of my/our life is over, and once you're done, there are precious little fics of any sort of quality out there to read.
marsalka
Jun. 3rd, 2011 03:34 am (UTC)
I understand all about crazy busy! So glad you continue to post, even half chapters are appreciated... Now the evil cliffhangers you seem to be addicted to, that is another matter, not sure I appreciate those! ;)
chazper
Jun. 8th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
The cliffhangers will be ending soon. Of course the question remains whether or not we fall over . . . :)
mel39
Jul. 12th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
In desperation I printed this off as I just dont seem to be able to find time to sit at the computer these days, at least not long enough. I loved this chappie, with the flashback especially. Very evocative of season 1. Now of course I am worried about the poor boy stuck under General anaesthetic!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )