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Another month (in fact another year!) and another part of this story. Note: no, it's still not done. The holidays intruded and I'm sorry, but I just can't make it a simple, happy ending. If you'd like, though, stop reading four paragraphs before the end and you can consider the story completed.

Meanwhile, whether you're reading or not, happy New Year to all of you. Now go and celebrate!

Best Forgotten, Part 33

All the standard disclaimers apply.

Kirsten stood with her arms crossed tightly, fingers gripping her elbows as if her bones would shatter if she didn’t hold herself together. She pressed her back against the cold wall beside Ryan’s door. Shallow breaths caught in her throat, barely forcing air out and in and out again through her white-rimmed lips.

She couldn’t move. Kirsten wanted to. She wanted to find Lucy, the way she had mumbled she would when she stumbled out of Ryan’s room. Once in the hallway, though, Kirsten just stopped. She couldn’t make herself take another step, despite silent, insistent accusations.

“Ryan will want her . . . Said you would get her . . . Lucy deserves to be there . . . Least you can do for him . . .”

A sudden light flashed over the door puncturing Kirsten’s thoughts. She heard an alarm sound, the staccato stream of urgent Spanish coming from the intercom and as if in reply, muffled footsteps racing down the corridor. Instantly, her heart racing, Kirsten spun away from the wall and stared through the window into Ryan’s room.

Something was wrong.

In an endless, frozen moment between one breath and the next, she saw Seth, eyes wide and glazed with fear, scanning the monitors that surrounded the bed. They pulsed jagged lines of warning as Sandy, his back toward her, bent over Ryan, leaning close to him, whispering words that Kirsten couldn’t hear.

She could see all of that, even sense the urgency in Sandy’s voice and feel the strain of his muscles throb through her own veins.

But Kirsten couldn’t see Ryan at all.

And she realized the door had locked behind her. She could not get back in.

Frantic, she raised her hand to knock on the glass, but just as she did, several things happened at once. Inside Ryan’s room, the monitors quieted, and Sandy relaxed, sighing with relief. Kirsten saw him glance up, flashing a swift, reassuring smile at Seth even as he shifted on the bed. It was a small movement, just enough to give her a glimpse of Ryan, his face wan but awake and responsive, as Sandy, beaming, now, ruffled his hair.

Light and warmth, golden as a summer morning, spread through Kirsten. She exhaled, suddenly aware that she had been holding her breath. At the same time, though, she heard a clatter of equipment, the percussive sound of running feet, and realized that people were behind her, calling orders, heading for Ryan’s room.

Kirsten tore herself from the window. She wheeled around again, blocking the door. Lifting her chin, mustering every once of Nichol authority, stared down the medical team approaching her.

“Stop. You can’t go in there,” she said. Her tone was sharp and adamant, and she drew herself up, infusing her slight, thin body with steel. “Ryan is fine. My husband—his father—is with him. You’re not touching him again.”

The doctor in front replied in a forceful stream of Spanish, at once incomprehensible and easily understood. He glared, gesturing her away from the door, but Kirsten stood her ground.

“I told you no,” she repeated. Her eyes narrowed, glinting dangerously. “I don’t trust any of you to help him--”

“Mrs. Cohen? Kirsten? It is all right.”

Breaking off abruptly, Kirsten looked down the hallway. A wash of relief swept over her at the sound of the soft, firm voice, the sight of Lucy hurrying around a corner, three steps ahead of Felix.

“Oh, Lucy,” she gasped. She reached out both hands in welcome. “I’m so glad you’re back. Ryan is awake!”

“Ah, por último. Gracias, Dios,” Lucy murmured. Pausing for a moment, she crossed herself and touched her lips, a kiss sent to heaven. Then, her eyes glowing, mirroring Kirsten’s joy, she moved with calm assurance to stand beside her. For a few seconds, both women ignored the waiting trauma team. “That is most wonderful,” Lucy said. She clasped Kirsten’s hands, pressing them fervently as she glanced into Ryan’s room. In an instant, she took in the picture there: Seth, wreathed in smiles, his body almost vibrating with excitement as he tried to wedge himself onto the bed; Sandy, shirt and hair rumpled, crowding close on the other side, his gaze locked on Ryan’s face, radiating comfort and strength and assurance; and Ryan, still dazed and blinking in wonder, even as he nestled into the refuge of Sandy’s palm.

The image spoke to Lucy of promises fulfilled and family.

Yet, she thought, troubled, it is not a true reunion.

She squeezed Kirsten’s hand. “But you should not be out here,” she said quietly. “You should be with them—with Ryan, Kirsten.”

Kirsten glanced back through the window into the room. As she watched, Ryan’s eyes seemed to clear. They widened, wiping away the shadows, and he looked up at Sandy with child-like, utter trust.

Kirsten could almost hear Sandy’s tear-choked laugh in response. Unconsciously, her thumb moved with his, tracing the same small circles that Sandy was stroking on Ryan’s temples.

“Yes,” she agreed uncertainly.

Lucy followed her gaze. A tender smile curved her lips. “Go now,” she urged, reaching for the keypad. “Ryan will wonder if--”

Behind her, the doctor slapped the side of the crash cart. The sudden, metallic sound, shattered their private moment, and both Lucy and Kirsten turned around. Taking a step forward, the doctor gestured toward the door, spewing a furious torrent of Spanish. Kirsten stiffened, automatically starting to argue again, but Lucy signaled for her to wait. Her brow furrowing, she listened as the doctor spoke. Then she gave a brief, reluctant nod.

“Por supuesto. Tiene usted razón,” she sighed. Taking Kirsten’s hands, Lucy pressed them with mingled apology and insistence. “You must let him inside also,” she said. Kirsten pulled back, but Lucy added, low and sure. “You know this, Kirsten. A doctor must check Ryan. You wish to protect him, I understand. But after all he has been through, we must be sure . . .”

Lucy let the sentence hang and Kirsten’s lips crimped. Even so she shook her head. “No,” she said flatly. “Not these people, Lucy. I don’t want anyone who worked with Dr. Keller anywhere around Ryan. Think how he’d feel if he saw them. We can't do that to him. Please, Lucy. No. Tell them. They can’t go in.”

Lucy looked from the glowering faces of the trauma team to the anguished entreaty in Kirsten’s eyes. She hesitated just for moment before she nodded. “All right,” she agreed. Turning back to the waiting group, she told them in Spanish, “This is the patient’s mother. The emergency has passed—only look at the monitors; all of his vital signs are in an acceptable range—and Mrs. Cohen does not wish you to examine her son. You cannot do so without her permission. Call doctor—call Dr. Baldrich.” Over her shoulder Lucy reassured Kirsten. “I have asked for a doctor who has had nothing to do with this procedure. He does not work with Dr. Keller’s patients. We can trust him with Ryan, Kirsten.”

Kirsten bit her lip. She twisted her hands together, unconsciously spinning her rings, pushing the sharp edges of the stones into her skin. “You--” she pleaded. “Couldn’t you check on him, Lucy? Please. You’ve been his nurse all along and you know his condition, everything that’s been done to him. You can do that, can’t you?”

Inclining her head, Lucy studied Kirsten’s face, noting the panic still rampant in her eyes, the spots of hectic red on her pale cheeks. “Yes,” she agreed slowly. “I can do that, at least while we wait for the doctor to arrive.”

“Thank you, Lucy” Kirsten whispered. The words emerged heavy, layered with a dozen different levels of gratitude, and Kirsten repeated them, as if a single utterance could not bear their weight. “Thank you.”

Lucy replied with a slight, gentle smile. Then, turning around, she said something to the trauma team in a level, deliberate tone. When she finished, she waved them away, waiting until Felix had ushered them, still protesting, down the hall, before she continued.

“I will go to see Ryan now. But you will come inside with me, yes, Kirsten?”

Kirsten hesitated. “I don’t know . . .” she murmured. Her voice wavered in the air, thin and aching and wistful. She twisted her rings again. “Ryan will want you, Lucy.”

Lucy wrapped both her hands around Kirsten’s, stilling them. “But he will want and need you,” she said firmly. “You are his mother, Kirsten. I know his story. You are the mother who accepted him when his own walked away, the one who gave him a home. And Ryan will need you with him to know that he is safe. That is what is important now, is it not? What Ryan needs?”

What Ryan needs.

You are his mother.

What Ryan needs.

Kirsten heard the phrases echo, a reprimand and reminder and reassurance.

She took a deep breath. Bracing herself, repeating the words silently, she shook back her hair, squared her shoulders, and nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s what’s important . . . I’ll go in with you, Lucy.”

Lucy smiled again. Releasing Kirsten’s hand, she tapped in the room code on the keypad. Then she stood aside while the door slid open and gestured for Kirsten to walk in first.


Inside Ryan’s room, Sandy had started to edge off the bed when he became aware of Kirsten’s absence, but instantly he settled back again, his instinct to look for his wife dispelled by his need to stay with Ryan. Even so, he peered over his shoulder, struggling in vain to see out the window from his perch on the bed.

I should send Seth to find her, he thought, but in the next breath he dismissed the idea. Seth wouldn’t want to leave Ryan either.

Raking back his hair, Sandy mustered a reassuring smile. “Well, wherever she is, I’m sure she’ll be--” he began as he turned to face his sons. Then he broke off, alarmed, at the sight of Ryan’s tense, ashen face. All the anguish Sandy thought they had banished raged there again, clouding his eyes, catching in his ragged breath.

“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” Sandy asked. “There’s nothing to worry about, Ryan. Relax, okay? Kirsten will be right back.”

“Yeah,” Seth added. “And meanwhile you have us, right? The Cohen men?” He grinned encouragement, but Ryan shuddered restively. He twisted back and forth on the pillow, straining against Sandy’s calming grasp, and Seth glanced anxiously at his father before he continued. “You know, I never realized that we have the same initials,” he babbled, trying to relax Ryan, or at least ease the tension with unconcerned nonsense. “Seth and Sandy Cohen—it’s like the SC monogram club. Not that I ever wear anything monogrammed, because that? Is entirely too pretentious-slash-Newpsie. Well, no, I guess I did wear them that one time, if you count the initials Rosa sewed on my underwear when I went to summer camp, but that was when I was nine, dude. Besides, a monogram has three initials, right? And mine is SEC—don’t ask—but Dad’s--”

“Seth,” Sandy interjected sharply. He gestured at Ryan who was licking his lips, his mouth moving around small, incoherent sounds. His obvious distress silenced Seth, who stopped talking mid-syllable, sucking in his own lips as if to seal them shut. He sat still. Only his hand moved, gingerly patting the sheet over Ryan’s arm.

Across the bed, Sandy bent down to cup Ryan’s face again.

“What is it, kid?” he prompted. “Talk to me. Are you in pain? Should I call someone?”

Ryan’s eyes flashed desperate refusal. “Shouldn’t--” he swallowed, straining for words, finally gasping out, “be here.”

Exhausted, he sank back against the pillow.

Keeping one hand on his cheek, Sandy kneaded Ryan’s shoulder gently with the other. “I know you shouldn’t be here. Trust me, kid, we don’t want you here either. We’re going to take you home the moment we know it’s okay for you to travel.”

Ryan shook his head. “Not—me,” he gasped. “K—Kir--”

He choked on the word, too drained to finish, but his eyes pleaded with Sandy to understand.

“Kirsten?” Sandy frowned, his brows knitting together. “I’m not sure what you mean, Ryan. Are you worried because she’s not here? She’ll be right back, I promise.”

Ryan’s gaze darkened and he shook his head again, but Sandy had no chance to reply. Behind him, the door started to slide open. The soft sound startled all of them, and Sandy’s hand tightened on Ryan’s shoulder. Seth bobbed up, bounding off the bed and brandishing his chair in front of him like a four-pronged weapon.

In the next instant, though, his instinctive defense evaporated.

“Mom!” he exclaimed, letting the chair clatter to the floor. “There you are! Look—Sleeping Beauty is finally awake. Which, I realize, is a very minty thing to say and no kisses were involved, but--”

Kirsten smiled shakily. Somehow her quiet voice carried over her son’s excited prattle. “I know, Seth,” she said. She took a step closer to the bed, lifting one arm, stretching it toward Ryan. Then she lowered it again. Her fingers closed, digging into her palm. “Ryan, sweetie, it’s--I’m so happy to see you.”

She paused, but Ryan, his face shuttered, couldn’t seem to respond. He managed only a jerky nod, an almost inaudible, “Thanks.”

A gray veil drifted over Kirsten’s eyes. Still, they maintained their tender glow as she gestured behind her. “I—I found Lucy,” she said. “I thought—she should be here.”

At the sound of Lucy’s name, Ryan seemed to rouse. With an effort, he raised his head, pressing his palms into the mattress, trying to push himself higher on the bed. Sandy rushed to support his shoulders, holding Ryan up as he looked around, finally finding her at the doorway. “Lucy?” he whispered.

Lucy laughed fondly, a light, rippling sound that seemed to brighten the entire room. Hurrying to Ryan’s side, she leaned over to brush a kiss on his forehead. “I promised that I would return, did I not?” she said as, deft and gentle, she eased him back on the bed. “Only I did not say when, which is a good thing, since it took me so much longer than I would have wished.” She stroked his cheek, letting her hand linger. “Too long,” she added with a contrite sigh. “I am most sorry for that Ryan.”

A smile, faint and rusty, creased Ryan’s face. “No need . . . be sorry, Lucy. Kept . . . your promise. Called Sandy. Brought . . . him here.”

“Also me,” Seth chimed. “And Mom. Don’t forget us, dude. We came too.”

Lucy nodded, her eyes twinkling again. “Yes, that is right,” she agreed. With one finger she tapped Ryan’s nose, a gesture both playful and gently prompting. “Sandy and Seth and Kirsten—all of your family came for you Ryan.” Without turning, Lucy reached behind her. Gesturing for Kirsten to join them, she waited for her to take two last, diffident steps to Ryan’s bedside, and then slipped aside. “You see,” she said, silently urging Kirsten to take her place beside Ryan. “You are together now, as you should be.”

Kirsten glanced at Sandy. He nodded, his eyes glistening, and she took a deep breath. Then, slowly, tentatively, she moved closer and reached for Ryan. Her hand drifted, unfolding and fluttering like a wounded bird unsure how to land. At last, still hesitant, she touched Ryan’s forehead with her fingertips.

He started, then lay still, scarcely breathing, as she sat beside him. Shadows from his downcast lashes smudged his cheeks.

“It’s so good . . . to have you back, Ryan,” she whispered. “We missed you so much.”

Unconsciously she repeated the gestures she had seen Sandy make through the window. Just as he had done, she skimmed her palms down until she cupped Ryan’s face, and just as he had done, she paused there, soothing and quiet. Only Kirsten’s thumbs moved, tracing small, warm circles on Ryan’s temples.

He blinked up at her. At first, his brow puckered intently, and he seemed to search Kirsten’s face, his gaze asking with some unspoken question. Then, as if he could not bear to find the answer, Ryan sank back. He exhaled, a breath of air that released a smothered sob, and ended in a deep sigh. Closing his eyes, he shifted an inch closer to Kirsten, and for a few silent moments they stayed like that—Ryan nestled into her caress, Kirsten gazing down at him, her cheeks flushed pink with tenderness.

The slight curve of her lips mirrored his, twin smiles like shy slivers of sunlight.

Then Ryan’s eyes snapped open. In the instant that he saw her again, everything changed. Suddenly ashen, his chest heaving erratically, he stared up at Kirsten, wild as a trapped animal. The clear azure of his eyes grew mottled, becoming a muddy, bruised blue.

“No,” he choked, flinching. “Stop, please. Just—stop. Sorry. I’m sorry—Your father—I can’t—”

Throwing one arm up to shield his face, Ryan turned away. He shifted violently, the sheets twisting around him as he wrenched himself free from Kirsten’s grasp.

In the leaden silence that followed, her hand fell to the bed. It landed, limp and empty, in the hollow of Ryan’s pillow.

TBC. Again


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 1st, 2012 04:00 am (UTC)
Happy new year! Complete with Evil cliffhanger to start 2012!
Jan. 4th, 2012 01:21 pm (UTC)
Happy new year to you too! As for the cliffhanger--it's only a little, little evil, right?
Jan. 1st, 2012 10:26 am (UTC)
Firstly, all good wishes for 2012
secondly, it's a treat you are carrying this on, thank you, it pulls me right back into the OC verse
I very much liked Kirsten looking through the glass, the tangible seperation mirroring the mental one and especially that even so, Kirsten was protecting Ryan
loved Lucy, a real nurse treating the whole family's hurts
lovely picture of Kirsten and Ryan together, mirroring Sandy's gestures, making the link and this line is gorgeous, The slight curve of her lips mirrored his, twin smiles like shy slivers of sunlight.
and then the ending, don't know exactly what Ryan is thinking, but you've linked them here and as she is uncomfortable, it makes perfect sense that he is also
delighted that there is more story to tell:)
Jan. 4th, 2012 01:24 pm (UTC)
It's so sweet of you, as always, to quote your favorite lines, fred. Thank you. I'm also pleased that you're looking forward to still more of this story.

Have a wonderful new year!
Jan. 2nd, 2012 05:40 am (UTC)
*sigh* Now that you have Ryan in the protective custody of the Cohens, I honestly don't care if if you keep this going on indefinitely. I'm not sure what you have Ryan thinking, but if a verbal beating of Cal by Kirsten, in front of Ryan is what it takes to make him whole again, I'm all for that.
Jan. 4th, 2012 01:28 pm (UTC)
I don't know why this story won't just end itself, but every time I'm there, some character does something or says something that just spins it along. I blame the lingering effects from all those drugs Ryan was given. (No, honestly there is another reason for his reaction, I promise.)

So . . . 2012! I hope you have a wonderful year, chic.
Jan. 10th, 2012 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks - I am so bad at returning comments these days. And forget about the Christmas cards this year!
Jan. 3rd, 2012 08:05 am (UTC)
Comcastic is most definitely not living up to their hype, so we'll see if this one's a keeper. To save you from repetition and guarantee at least part of a comment, I'll be lazy (efficient and practical?) and say "see previous installment's comment" when it comes to how compromised Ryan would be physically, psychologically and emotionally after his prolonged ordeal, consistently harsh and dehumanizing treatment that was designed to strip him of his identity and confuse- at the least- his memories and sense of reality. Then there's the combination of isolation and drugs, with the emphasis on Dr. Killer's hellish cocktails that would all wreak havoc and turn Ryan's world upside down. His perceptions would be more than cloudy at this point, and it's not clear what he's been exposed to before Lucy had to make him "sick" to keep the monstrous procedure at bay. With all of that to consider and all the energy Ryan devoted to keeping a grasp on his reality while trying to convince someone else that it- and he- existed, he has to be beyond overwhelmed and tapped out. Spin someone enough times and directions become a blur. That's what makes the fleeting attempts at contact and determining what they mean so compelling, and fraught with ambiguity, whether it's with Sandy- conjured, or truly, finally there, or Kirsten. How much of the interaction with Kirsten triggers earlier, fractured memories of a detached distance, rejection, and cold, uncertain feelings? How much is associated with Caleb? How much is worry because of Caleb? The one certainty is the constant- Lucy. Lucy linchpin!

As for the protective, proprietary, determined stance from Kirsten- oh to have seen signs of it in canon. The mantra is on the money with the focus on what Ryan needs. You go, Lucy. How about a visa and a t-shirt that says: "Newport or bust?"

It's not only expressions that are "rusty" and crusty, straining more than muscles and visible features. There are more shadows and bruises than the ones that are skin deep and telling the most obvious parts of the story. Much more is hollow than a plain of Ryan's face or a part of his pillow. You've woven some wonderful, layered, nuanced imagery throughout. Nicely done! As I read, I can't help but think it's not only a certain nursery rhyme character who took a "great fall" and needs a whole lot of help being put "back together again."

Thanks for another year of updates and this update. Here's to a happy, healthy year to come!
Jan. 8th, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
A belated happy new year to you too, beach! I postponed so much school-related work until after the holidays that I postponed fun things like reading your comments. You always find so much in my stories--more insight and nuance than I deserve credit for, but it is so, so gratifying. It makes me want to start writing again this instant. Unfortunately, it's back into the classroom tomorrow so that means all I can write this evening are lesson plans. But I'll keep all these comments in mind when I return to this story next weekend. Meanwhile, as always, many, many thanks.
Jan. 9th, 2012 11:58 am (UTC)
Wow. I was feeling guilty that you'd put the time and effort into writing this, and far more than "phoning it in," when I lazily opted to my ref to the previous installment's comment. I'd gone back to take a look and didn't want to repeat myself, but didn't know how long Comcastic would allow access to type anything at all while I figured out the best course of action. I hoped you didn't think I was copping out, but there is continuity, something certain "paid to write for former and present TV series" don't seem to grasp or practice. Go figure! With that in mind, I certainly appreciate your kind words, although, to incorporate a Ryan perspective, I don't deem myself worthy. Besides, the sub-text and dimension is there with the nuance and layers, right down to the choice of modifiers. Maybe your less-aware hand didn't type word-for-word with your fully conscious one, but they're a united team nonetheless.

If you're heading back to the classroom tomorrow, then you've had fairly long break. Much-deserved! I'm sure that as much as you don't anticipate the paperwork and other less pleasant challenges, you'll be happy to see your peeps again.

Thanks again and all the best for month(s) and year ahead. ; )
Jan. 24th, 2012 11:29 am (UTC)
Ouch. Poor Kiki. Poor Ryan. Oh just poor the lot of them. :(
Jan. 31st, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
But it's the end of another month so . . . hope in sight?
Mar. 11th, 2012 03:53 am (UTC)
Kudos- much belated- on another enthralling, emotional chapter. Kirsten may initially be frozen into immobility, but there's no ice queen in the woman literally trying to hold herself together as events unfold behind the locked door. Thankfully the sight of Ryan, awake, is enough to steel her into protective mamabear. Kirsten's tentativeness and Ryan's --? -- guilt? at coming between her and her father....? [as always, when it's in no way his fault] may yet overcome those [gloriously poetic!] "shy slivers of sunlight"--

Lovely stuff, this. Those rare moments where he receives her gentle caress it seemed like time stopped- and a happy ending was in sight. But I hope you keep listening to these characters; I'm not ready for this to end.
Mar. 25th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, such lovely compliments about my writing. Thank you so much!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )