Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters of The OC. They all belong to Josh Schwartz.
A/N: Sequel to "A Bitter Pill": Bob Stankey, head of the group home Ryan stayed at for six months, is ready to stand trial for second-degree murder due to depraved indifference in the death of a teenage boy in his care. Ryan is set to take the stand and testify against Stankey, facing the man who abused him.
This story is AU and takes place three months after "A Bitter Pill" ends. Ryan and Luke are friends and attending the public school while Seth is attending Harbor.
I'm taking some "liberties" with the time and understand that it would be more like a year or longer for any trial to begin. But, I didn't want to fast forward an entire year so, in this story, the legal justice system works at lightning speed. :-)
Ryan stares down at the black, five-sided figure. A pentagon. His vision begins to blur as the blackness draws him in. He feels it closing in on him, swallowing him up. The darkness... the eerie sense that something bad is going to happen. He blinks a few times and tries to shrug off the foreboding feeling. Then he hears a whistle blow, jarring him out of his trance. His vision begins to come back into focus. He sees black and white pentagons. A soccer ball.
What was the drill...
Ryan looks around at his teammates. They're all looking at him with their hands planted firmly on their hips, waiting for him to start. Ryan begins to dribble the ball, kicking it back and forth between his feet. He knows it's practice but he's forgotten if he should move to his left or pass the ball.
Something to the left... but what was the drill?
Ryan makes a quick decision and moves to his left. He's immediately greeted with a body slam as Luke Ward runs full force into him, sending both boys plummeting to the ground.
Then he hears the whistle blow... again.
"Atwood! Get over here! Right now!" the coach hollers angrily. "The rest of you take five. Get a drink. Do something! But don't go far."
"You okay, Ryan?" Luke asks, extending his hand to help his friend up off the ground.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Ryan replies, brushing the dirt and grass off his shorts as he accepts the assistance. He's a little shaken but knows he's not injured. A couple of bruises will appear on his rib cage by morning. Nothing he can't handle.
"You were supposed to pass the ball to me," Luke says, concerned by his friend's unexpected spaciness. "You sure you're alright?"
"Yeah," Ryan repeats with a small smile. "I'll live."
"Atwood! Over here... now!"
"You sure 'bout that?" Luke asks, raising his eyebrows as he watches his friend make his way over to the coach. Luke knows the coach will let Ryan live. At least he hopes so...
Ryan jogs gingerly over to his coach, John Plitzuweit, or Coach Plitz to the players. Ryan likes his coach. He's tough but fair and doesn't put up with anyone's bullshit. He's honest and hardworking. Coaching soccer after school and on weekends is volunteer work. His primary function at the school is teaching chemistry to teenagers. It's definitely a character building experience... for the teacher.
"Coach Plitz, I'm really sorry," Ryan says, speaking first before enduring a well-earned tongue lashing. "I don't know what happened. I forgot..."
"It's very clear you forgot the drill," the coach interrupts. "But I understand."
Ryan looks at his coach, slightly confused.
John Plitzuweit places his arm around his young player's shoulders and coaxes the boy to walk with him.
"I know the trial started today," the coach acknowledges.
Ryan hangs his head low and sighs. He knows everyone in the school is aware of the trial. How he wishes it was over...
"And I also know that you're scheduled to appear in court tomorrow..."
"Ryan... stop," John Plitzuweit says, placing his hands on the boy's shoulders. He turns Ryan to face him and looks the boy straight in his eyes.
"I'm excusing you from practice for the rest of the week."
Ryan looks up at his coach, a man in his mid-forties standing just a shy under six feet. He notes warm hazel eyes and a face that's tired but earnest, graced with medium brown hair speckled with a bit of gray that's already showing signs of male pattern baldness.
"You are clearly distracted..."
Ryan lowers his head and gazes down at his dirt-covered, grass-stained soccer shoes.
"And I don't blame you," the coach continues. "You're under a lot of stress right now. But being distracted... not concentrating... it can be dangerous. Someone can get hurt and it's my responsibility to keep my players safe." John looks directly at Ryan and adds, "And that includes you."
"Coach Plitz... I am really sorry..."
"Go home, Ryan," the coach instructs in a caring tone of voice. "Be with your family and get some rest. When the trial is over, come back to practice. I want you to be one-hundred percent for the opening game, both physically and mentally. I will not compromise your safety or anyone else's. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, coach," Ryan says in defeat. But he knows the man is right. He respects that.
Ryan grabs his gym bag off the bench and starts walking back to the school, looking forward to a hot shower to clear his mind.
"Hey, Ryan! Wait up!"
Ryan immediately stops and turns, watching his friend quickly jog up to him.
"What did Coach Plitz say?" Luke asks, wanting to know where his friend is going.
"I've been sidelined," Ryan replies. "Coach wants me to take the week off from practice." Ryan hesitates a moment, then adds, "You know, until the trial is over."
Luke looks down at the ground then back up towards his friend. "I'm sorry, Ryan... I know this... the trial... well... I know it's been hard on you," Luke says, "But the coach is right. You should take this week off."
Ryan offers a heartfelt smile, appreciating his friend's understanding.
Over the course of the summer, Ryan and Luke forged a friendship neither one of them ever expected. Ryan watched Luke change. And it was a good change. He was no longer the jerk he first met. Luke spent his summer doing community service; picking up garbage along the beaches and highways. When he wasn't sporting a bright orange vest and stabbing at litter with his two-pronged stake, he was working at his dad's car dealership.
Ryan appreciated the friendship. Besides, he and Luke shared some common interests; most notably their love of sports. Whereas Seth preferred to play sports via the Playstation, Luke preferred actually playing and competing. Ryan was happy to do both, though. After all, that's what friends do.
"It's almost a quarter after four," Luke states. "You're probably going to miss the late bus. I know Kirsten usually picks you up from practice, but I can give you a lift home if you want to wait for me."
"Sure, I can wait," Ryan replies, accepting the offer.
"Great! My truck's parked on the north end of the parking lot," Luke says. "I'll probably be another thirty or forty minutes."
"No problem. I've got some homework I can start on. I appreciate the lift," Ryan says as he takes his cell phone out of his bag and texts Kirsten, letting her know Luke will be driving him home.
Ryan walks back to the school and makes his way to the boy's locker room. Normally, the locker room is a bustling cacophony full of rowdy teenagers joking around and letting off steam amid the constant din of locker doors being slammed shut. But at this time of day, almost everyone has gone home. The locker room is eerily quiet.
Again, Ryan shrugs off a foreboding feeling. He's tired. His nerves are frazzled.
Ryan plops his gym bag down on the floor, opens the combination lock to his locker then tosses the opened lock into his gym bag. He doesn't feel the need to lock his stuff back up. There's no one around to steal anything.
Ryan slowly begins peeling off his sweaty clothes. A shower will feel good. He drapes a thin dingy, white towel around his waist and makes his way down a short dark corridor leading to the showers. He steps into a stall surrounded by white, mildew-stained tile, turns on the faucet and lets the refreshing water cascade over his head and shoulders and down his back. He dispenses some liquid soap into his hands and washes his face and body, then turns off the water.
Ryan grabs his towel off the hook and begins drying off. He immediately stops when he hears a sound... footsteps... a locker door opening and closing... the echo of more footsteps...
Maybe Luke got out of practice early...
Ryan wraps the towel around his waist and makes his way back down the dark corridor to the main dressing area. He looks around expecting to see someone, but no one is around. The locker room is empty and again, eerily quiet.
Ryan shrugs his shoulders.
I was probably just hearing things...
Ryan gets dressed and packs up his gym bag. Then he retrieves his book bag from his locker and starts making his way down the hallway to the exit.
Stepping outside, Ryan squints up at the late afternoon sun and breathes in the fresh air. He starts walking to the student parking lot and sees that only a few cars remain. He spots Luke's truck parked at the north end, just where he said it would be. Ryan makes his way over to the truck. He lowers the back and tosses his gym bag into the bed of the pickup truck. He then opens his book bag to retrieve his reading assignment. Ryan stops abruptly when he notices a plain manilla envelope lodged between two spiral notebooks.
Where did this come from...
Suddenly, a black van pulls up and stops behind Ryan. The side door flies open and two men jump out. Within seconds, they grab their prey and subdue him, placing a black hood over his head while dragging him into the van.
Ryan's entire body jolts as the side door of the van is slammed shut. He immediately begins to struggle against being restrained, but is jerked back. He again fights to free himself and again, he's forcibly held back. He tries to kick but his legs are held firmly in place.
Ryan gasps then tries to suck in some air. The air is stale... the black hood smelling musty with traces of stale smoke. Ryan feels his heart pounding out of his chest. He tries to cry out for help but he can't. His mouth is bone dry. His throat is clamped shut with fear.
He can't scream... he can't run... he can barely breathe...
Ryan stares into the blackness. He feels it closing in on him, swallowing him up. The darkness... the eerie sense that something bad is going to happen.
And then he realizes...
My nightmare has just begun...