Author's Note: I kept writing and re-writing this chapter, and I'm still not sure how happy I am with it. Writing from Summer's perspective and then Marissa's was an interesting challenge. At any rate, I hope you enjoy.
After this, there will be one chapter left, I think, and that'll be a wrap on this story! Thanks so much to those of you who stuck with me in spite of long pauses, and to all who have read and reviewed. I deeply appreciate it.
Summer was having the worst day.
It was bad enough that she had to walk around knowing she had a crush on Seth frigging Cohen, possibly the biggest nerd in existence, not to mention a huge neurotic spaz. And then the added fact that Anna had gotten to him first? That he had chosen - was still choosing - Anna over her?
It was enough to induce a rage blackout.
Summer wasn't used to rejection. After her mom left, she'd made it a point not to be the kind of person who could be rejected. There was probably something to that, something deeper, but this wasn't therapy, and she wasn't trying to figure it out. She'd cultivated the life she wanted, and someone like Seth Cohen had no right to come in and try to run that with his stupid face and his stupid sarcastic comments and his stupid comic books, and -
Talking to him on the phone last night had just been so easy. And she couldn't remember the last time something had been easy, natural. The last time someone had made her feel like she could be smart.
Anyway, all that was bad enough, but when Coop hadn't even shown up to school today. Summer had other friends - although one of her closest had been Holly, who she'd of course had to cut out entirely in solidarity after that skank hooked up with Luke - but Marissa's absence had worried her all the way until lunch hour, when she could finally have some time to herself. Marissa answered the call, explaining about how she'd taken the day to help her dad at his new restaurant business, and how she couldn't believe Ryan had the nerve to be around her and just act like - like that, and then asking Summer if she'd explain what was going on to Oliver. And then, of course, getting angry when Summer said she hadn't said Oliver and she wasn't planning to look for him. He gives me the creeps, Coop, she'd said, and she'd been met by an exasperated sigh and, honestly, Summer, sometimes you're just as bad as Ryan.
The conversation had pretty much been over then.
This was how Marissa was, and Summer knew she shouldn't let it get to her. Marissa got caught up in things. It had never been a boy before, because until Ryan, Summer would have sworn that Marissa was going to marry Luke; that had been set in stone, like basically since third grade. But it was television shows and planning events for charity and taking on social chair responsibilities and drinking and doing drugs, things that sounded good to Marissa until they became burdens and she started thinking about what sounded better or more fun. Summer didn't let go of things so easily, which was why she still had lines memorized from The Golden Girls and why she camped out every Tuesday night in front of the television for the new episode of The Valley. And it was fine - it was all fine, but Summer didn't get the feeling that Oliver was the kind of person who would be okay with Marissa getting bored.
She was on her way out to the car when she saw him. Cohen. Leaning up against the side of the school building, his hands in his pocket, his eyes on the ground. Looking pathetic.
She hated that she made a beeline right for him. "Am I supposed to ask what you're doing, Cohen?"
Seth looked up at her and made a face. "Summer. Hi."
He'd been weird at first when they'd talked on the phone last night, still hung up over that whole guys and girls can't be friends, Cohen line she'd given him, but it had seemed like he'd evened out, first as they'd strategized about what to do about Oliver and Ryan, and then as he'd started talking about some dumb comic book thing. She'd curled her hand tighter around the phone and leaned back on her bed to stare at the ceiling as she listened, because his excitement was honestly contagious, like in a stupid way. She didn't really care about comics except that some of the costumes were cool, but Seth had all these thoughts about the characters and the plot lines and the little flourishes that made an artist's work distinct, which was what he talked about the most, and... she didn't know. He made her feel something she'd never really felt with a boy before.
So of course, she rolled her eyes at him. "Hi," She said. "So are you going to update me on the plan, or what?"
"Um," Seth stood up a little straighter, away from the wall. "Or what? I guess?"
Summer slapped his arm. "Cohen."
"Ow," He winced like it had hurt, even though she knew she hadn't hit him that hard. "You need to get your anger under control, Summer."
"There's really no update," Seth defended, rubbing the back of his neck. "I did what we talked about, I asked Anna about talking to her parents, and then she..." He trailed off, and then said more quietly: "Broke up with me."
They stared at each other.
Summer fought down the thrill that went through her at the thought and asked, a little mystified, "She broke up with you?"
"Yes," Seth said. "I mean, she said she'd still talk to her parents, but she's been avoiding me all day, so..."
"I haven't been avoiding you."
"Anna," Seth said, his tone abruptly changing to one of concern.
Anna had stepped up next to Summer. Summer was as reluctant as Seth to meet her eyes; Anna's sharp, intelligent gaze always seemed to look right through her. Summer knew friendship with Anna would never be a possibility, not only because of all of this awkward stuff with, again, unbelievably, Seth Cohen - but also because she didn't like being exposed like that. The closer people got to the real you, the more likely they were to leave.
Anna said, with some resignation: "There's just nothing else to say."
Summer shifted, taking half a step away. "Obviously this is between you guys, so I can go, if..."
"No," Anna said. "Stay. I'm sure you two have plenty to talk about." From anyone else, it would have sounded petty, but Summer couldn't hear any such note in Anna's voice. And Summer was good at detecting petty, having grown up here. "I just wanted to tell you that I talked to my mom about Oliver, like you asked. She said he's had problems in the past, but she didn't really go into it, just said she'd call his parents and see if they have someone who can check on him. She thinks there's someone at the apartment who has that as, like, a job?" Her nose wrinkled a little as she spoke, which Summer got. Her dad was gone a lot too, working long hours or at conferences, but he called her all the time, and she knew he checked with the step-monster about her, although who knew what she could even report. Sometimes Summer wasn't even sure her dad's wife knew when she was home. "Anyway. That's it. Phase One of your plan is done." Anna sighed. "Hopefully you can manage Phase Two without me."
"Thank you," Seth said, but then immediately he went on: "Anna, can we talk about what happened earlier?"
Summer looked away, down towards the parking lot, studying the form of a departing water polo player, wishing she really had already left. She'd been present for breakups before, but they weren't usually like this. Where, like, it really felt like people were getting hurt.
But Anna just said: "There's nothing more to say, Seth. We both know it." And then: "I hope you guys will be happy together. I really mean it." She reached out her hand and touched Seth's. "Bye."
And then Anna was gone, walking off down the steps to her car, and Summer turned back and looked at Seth. She didn't think she was happy exactly, or at least she probably shouldn't be - Seth looked miserable, like genuinely upset, and Anna had sounded miserable, and as someone who had just spent quite a bit of time miserable because of Seth Cohen, Summer got it and wasn't exactly wishing it on anyone.
But, when Seth looked at her, he looked a little less miserable.
"I gotta go, Cohen," Summer said quickly. She took a step back, and then asked, "But... call me later?"
He nodded. "I will."
Okay... maybe she was happy after all.
As soon as they got back to her dad's apartment, Marissa left. She was supposed to go straight to her mom's, but god. Not after the day she'd had. She'd deal with the consequences tomorrow.
Besides, Oliver wasn't answering his phone, even though he was for sure home from school by now. If he'd even stayed once he'd realized she wasn't there. She'd tried to call him during lags in their work at The Lighthouse, just to tell him how much what was happening sucked and to reassure him that she was going to ask her mom about their weekend trip and to see how his day was going, but he hadn't picked up once. She'd talked to Summer around noon, during her lunch period, but Summer was no help. I haven't seen him, Coop. And I'm not looking for him either, okay? He gives me the creeps.
It wasn't fair, but Summer didn't get it either. She drank because she was bored. She took drugs to see what it felt like. Summer was her best friend in the whole world, had been for years, but she didn't get it. And ever since Tijuana, she'd been drinking less and not doing drugs anymore. Like an after school special. Like with her sudden inexplicable crush on Seth Cohen, she'd also contracted his insufferable self-righteousness.
It wasn't really about Summer, though. It wasn't Summer's fault she didn't get it. It was easy to stop when it was just a game for you, something to pass the time until you decided to take life seriously.
No one except Oliver had ever understood how much Marissa needed to escape. That finding a way to escape was her taking her life seriously.
She drove straight to his apartment building. Up the elevator, to his door, and as she knocked, she called, "Oliver, it's me. Open up."
He didn't, but someone else did.
A security guard from downstairs. The name plate on his chest said Brooks.
Marissa's stomach lurched. "Where's Oliver?" She demanded, trying to see around him into the apartment.
"Miss, you need to leave," The security guard said.
"Is he okay?" All she could think about was the pills, and Oliver's sweaty hair and face as his body went through the anguish of recovery after his attempted suicide. After Ryan had made his accusations and then left, she'd curled up with him on the couch, comforting him when he cried. But she hadn't been there this time, had stood him up at school on a day when they were supposed to confirm plans for a trip. Her heart rate doubled. "I need to see him. It's Marissa."
The security guard glanced over his shoulder, as if debating with himself.
"Please," Marissa said desperately, aware she was very close to crying.
"Stay here," The security guard said. "I'll get Natalie for you."
"Natalie's here?" Marissa asked, stunned. The way Oliver had talked, she'd assumed... "Natalie Bishop?"
"Hold on, miss," The security guard said, and closed the door.
A minute later, it opened again and a woman about her mom's age stepped out. She was dressed in the uniform of the downstairs desk clerks, and she smiled when she saw Marissa, although her eyes looked sad. "I wondered if we'd see you. Thank you for coming to check on him. I'm Natalie."
"Natalie Bishop?" Marissa managed, not understanding.
"That's right," Her smile broadened a little. "Has Oliver mentioned me? I've known him his whole life, since he was just a little guy. I check on him for his parents."
Marissa just stared at her, trying to fight the creeping dread in the pit of her stomach, remembering all the nights she'd spent coaching Oliver through how to talk to his girlfriend and how to express how he really felt and the kinds of things girls liked in guy.
"Well," The woman went on after a minute. "I'm very sorry, Marissa, but I can't let you see Oliver right now."
"Is he okay?" Marissa asked, more subdued than before. The growing feeling that something was very wrong had just been almost catastrophically compounded with the thought that maybe, just maybe, Ryan hadn't been as off-base as she'd thought.
"He'll be fine," Natalie said. "I've spoken to his parents, and we're going to see to it that he gets the help he needs."
"In a hospital?" Marissa asked numbly, thinking about her mom's threat and Oliver's calm, tacit dismissal of her need for it as they sat together in the waiting area for the therapist. And their subsequent talks, long and painful, and how he'd painted his parents as distant and cold, like her mom, and how he said the hospital never helped, and she didn't know how to summon up the energy to protest on his behalf when she was staring at the evidence that he'd been lying to her all this time.
"Yes, but I understand the facility is very good," Natalie replied. She hesitated. "Marissa, it seems to me that you and Oliver were very close. I'm sorry to spring this on you, but I promise it's the help he needs." She looked over her shoulder, in the direction of the door, and then turned back to Marissa again. "When I came up to check on him today, I found him with a gun. My understanding is that he was planning to use it..." She trailed off, not finishing the sentence, but the meaningful look she gave Marissa said it all.
Marissa pulled up the mask and smiled around her threatening tears. "I hope he gets better," She said.
"Me too," Natalie replied. There was pity in her eyes.
And then everything shattered inside of her, and Marissa turned and fled.