THE BLUE DRESS

"You know, maybe we shouldn't," Ryan said, as Gabrielle entered the Pool House, "you're Caleb's girlfriend."

"Like he's going to care," she replied, dismissively, "he's only using me as arm-candy, to show me off." She came all the way in now, closing the door behind her.

"So you're what, going along for the ride(?)," her asked her pointedly, not liking the image she'd just created, on any level. Even if Caleb was using her, she should not be just using him...

This could be risky, he thought, accusing Gabrielle of using Kirsten's father just for his lifestyle and money, but he couldn't suppress his growing dislike of her despite her seemingly troubled past, which she had explained to him earlier. Her previous life as a teenage model in Japan had sounded rough, but that didn't excuse her being with Caleb when she was less than half his age. And, he was now suspicious of, and uncomfortable, with her interest in him.

"Do you have a better idea?," Gabrielle asked him pointedly, "I mean, you're living here with Kirsten's family, and you're clearly not from Newport?"

Ryan's dislike at her now headed towards disgust, even though he realised that his situation might just be similar to hers. In truth, she had a point – they'd both got lucky…

Unless…..

"How did you meet him?," he asked, suspicious.

"At a party in Tokyo," she explained, "I was asked to mingle with guests and:-"

"I can guess the rest," Ryan interrupted, joining his mental image up with what she'd told him earlier, and not liking the result. "I don't want to judge, but I think you'd better leave."

Guessing what he was thinking, and that he meant it, she gave him a look, but turned towards the door. Just before opening it, she faced him one last time, "be careful Ryan. Caleb is, well, not what you'd call a nice guy. He's arrogant, sly and judgemental, and that to him, you burned down a house of his will haunt you for a long time…"

With that, Gabrielle left. The door closed behind her.

Remembering Caleb's first words to him that morning, "you're the kid who burned down my house…," Ryan suspected she was right, but he'd have to deal with Caleb as he found him, and Sandy didn't like him much either, that was clear…

It was silent in the Pool House, except for the sounds of the party outside…

That should have been better than Gabrielle still being here, but it wasn't. Now, he had no distractions from what was really eating at him right now:

Marissa being here – with Luke.

'Why didn't I ask her…..?!'

When they'd spoken at the Pier this morning, her reaction had been like a punch in the stomach…..:

"I know. I'm going, Luke asked me this morning."

He hated that, but couldn't deny that it was his own fault. Luke was trying to get back together with Marissa, and he had beaten Ryan to it…

Now, Ryan was forced to watch Marissa here tonight, on the arm of a guy Ryan was sure had cheated on her, ever since the beach house party on his first night in Newport. Luke had slipped off with a girl, probably a college student, and Ryan had noticed, after he'd watched Marissa drive off with Luke only hours earlier. The thought of Luke betraying Marissa had been a big reason for punching him on the beach that night, and again in the Diner days later. How on earth could Luke treat her like that….?

On top of this, ever since they'd met at the end of the driveway on that first, fateful night in Newport, Ryan had felt something with Marissa. Something he'd never felt with a girl, not even Theresa. Theresa was one of his oldest friends, they'd played together as children, and it had gone further as they got older. But…

She was not Marissa…..

As his eyes began to well-up, Ryan moved across the Pool House and leaned against the wall, miserable. He couldn't help it, Marissa was all he could think about. Her huge, lively green eyes, cute, tooth-filled grin, sleek, dark-blonde hair and tall, slender figure. Her smooth skin, glowing with a tan, and her amazing sense of style. She could wear anything it seemed, and look gorgeous in it. Like tonight…

He almost ached at the image of Marissa, her glowing skin and loose, wavy hair stunningly matched with a bold, blue, white dotted dress; an image which now filled his mind… How did she do that?!

Light up a room just by being in it…...

In his life, which until now had mostly been about surviving, Ryan had never really thought about perfection. Life in Chino had been about survival, and not much else, his dad going to jail, his mom's drinking, her many, often abusive boyfriends, Trey… That life, he now began to realise, had almost nothing to yearn for, all he could do was try and survive… Anything which seemed perfect was just not to be seen, or had, so he'd never thought about perfection, there had been no point…

Until tonight when, less than an hour ago, he'd seen a vision of it….

Marissa Cooper…

Now, he had to watch her with Luke. And it was breaking his heart…

"This party rocks," Summer said as she and Marissa entered the Cohen's downstairs bathroom. They'd come in to adjust their make-up, and to talk in private.

"I can't believe David Manpearl's here!," Summer gushed, looking herself over.

"Who?," Marissa asked standing beside her while applying a fresh coat of lip gloss.

"He's Senior Vice President of the Wealth Management Division at McKenna. You know – the venture capitalist firm?" Oblivious to Marissa's 'huh' look, she gushed on, "he manages wealth! As a job!"

'Uh-huh!,' Marissa thought, nodding at her best friend, her sudden interest in Seth now making sense… He was her means to get to the wealthy tonight…

"I've been reading Forbes," Summer finished, glossing her own lips, "So I guess you chose Luke huh? Chino didn't stand a chance. I told you Luke was the one."

"No you didn't!," Marissa said, startled by Summer's abrupt change of subject.

"Well…, I meant to," Summer replied breezily, "you guys are all over each other. Did you…did it… happen?!"

"No," Marissa said quickly, feeling more uncomfortable with this topic, especially since Summer hadn't yet chosen who was right for her. How could she have given-up her virginity and not told her about it?

"Well, his willpower is amazing. The fact that you two haven't-"

"Summer!" Marissa begged, giving her friend a pointed look 'enough please!'

"Coop. What more do you want? He's beautiful. Sweet. Totally crazy about you. What are you waiting for?" Summer asked, ending her eager, rather full-on description of Luke's suitability for Marissa, at least as she saw it.

"I don't know," Marissa said, trying to sound sincere. But, in truth, she knew why she and Luke hadn't done 'it' yet… Even after all his eagerness, she still wasn't sure that Luke was 'the one.' And she couldn't give herself to anyone unless she knew he was right for her. And, despite being with him forever, she still didn't feel right in thinking that Luke was… She wanted, dreamed, that her first time would be special, that, by doing it with the right guy, it would be out of love…

Now, she had another possibility…

Ever since he'd shown-up in Newport…

"Well, you better figure it out," Summer stated, combing her dark hair with her fingers, "because he's not gonna be able to wait forever…" Letting that hang in the air, she headed back out into the party.

The trouble was, Summer had a point. Luke wasn't going to wait forever…

But was he the one?

Or, was it….., Ryan?

He'd only been in Newport a few weeks, but Ryan had…

It was hard to describe, and even now she couldn't pin it down, but he affected her in a way Luke never had. There was just something about him, he was just, different, with almost an old-soul quality.

Like he'd seen more in life than he'd wanted to…

And he had his secrets, like her. His own mom was a mess, she'd seen that at the Casino Night, and how hurt and embarrassed he was by the state she'd ended-up in, in front of everyone. But, she sensed, he didn't hate his mom for it.

From the Model Home, Marissa knew Ryan's life had been hard, and quite different to her own. Having a dad in jail… That thought scared her so much, but since Cotillion, and Holly's dad screaming "You're a thief!" at her own dad, she couldn't avoid thinking it. Growing-up in Newport, she'd had little idea of what life was like outside it, but even before Ryan's being here she'd come to realise that she was living in a bubble, with an easy life, almost cocooned from hardship.

And knowing that, she was feeling restless, and alone. And Summer, her best friend, couldn't see it.

But, she sensed, Ryan could. And knowing that, a part of her wanted to hold Ryan, and share his pain, after he'd listened to hers that night while Seth skated around the empty swimming pool. Luke just never seemed interested, like he didn't notice, or didn't have the depths to care.

But Ryan did… And she was drawn to them… That was part of the spark she felt around him…

And that, increasingly, was why she hadn't gone with Luke…

The tracks filled his ears, but he didn't hear them. His mind was too busy thinking about her. Marissa…

He'd met her within minutes of coming to Newport, and he'd felt a spark, but she had seemed too good for him, too far above his reach… And, despite what had seemed like two moments at the Fashion Show and at the Beach House, when they'd locked eyes as she stood at the end of the catwalk and over their drinks, she'd looked embarrassed and pitying when Seth blurted out that he was from Chino after Summer made a pass at him… Then, it had seemed all over after he turned her down at the Model Home…

Tears rose in his eyes again, and he urgently tried to blink them away, as he thought of that night….

Her coming to see him had been unexpected, and it had wrenched him. She'd looked so beautiful in the candlelight, her eyes sparkling in contrast to her dark tan, and she'd wanted to hang out, or even spend the night. He'd so wanted to, but he couldn't do it. He couldn't be with her one night and leave her for good the next, it was too painful… Her running off in tears had hurt even more…

But instead of leaving, he'd stayed in Newport, and when she'd found out a few days later, he'd so expected her to warn him off, or to ignore him. But she hadn't, she'd told him they could become friends instead…

And suddenly, he'd thought he might just have a chance, if he could only figure out how to take it. But what did he have to offer Marissa? He had no car or money. Luke had both…

Yet, he couldn't help thinking about it, she'd seemed to leave the door open, a little, but he just couldn't think of a way to approach it…

Then came Cotillion, and it looked like he had his chance. Feeling so weird and uncomfortable at going to such a lavish, fancy event, his nerve had failed him and he'd gone over to Marissa's house to try and bail-out. Then she'd opened the door in her beautiful white gown and his words had caught in his throat. The breath he could've said them with vanished completely when she'd asked him if he could tie the gown up…

He'd done it with nervous hands, his eyes captivated by her slender upper back, her shoulder blades clearly visible beneath her smooth, bare skin, its golden tan a stunning contrast to the gown's soft whiteness. Scented by her sweet perfume, his wish to touch it had been overwhelming, and when she'd asked him what he'd wanted to tell her about Cotillion, all he could say was:

"What time do you want me there?"

At that, her beautiful, golden face had lit-up with her huge toothy grin, and he'd helplessly surrendered. At dance practice, her attempts to show him how to waltz had been another tense moment. So close that their eyes had locked, they'd held one another's gaze for ages, or so it had seemed, until Luke had broken it… Anna, seeing right through it, had stated his predicament to his face:

"You're into her huh? Man, are you in trouble…"

His heart aching at the memory of that night, and not because of how Luke's punch to his gut had felt at Holly's party… Determined not to risk his new life with the Cohen's, he'd decided to avoid any chance of trouble by staying away from Cotillion, as had Sandy. Bonding together over Seth's Ninja videogame, they'd settled in for a quiet, drama-free night. Then, the front doorbell rang.

And, he'd found Marissa standing outside:

"Hey," he'd said in surprise, "you're not at Cotillion."

"Neither are you," she'd replied, looking intently at him. Then she'd asked if he hadn't gone because of his fight with Luke the previous night, or because of her. She was closer to the truth than she knew, but he couldn't admit that. So he'd asked "How come you didn't go?"

And she'd been cryptic, shrugging her bare shoulders, and not answering his question. So he'd been daring, and teased her with "So you think just staying home and hiding out is gonna make everything better?"

"Seems to be working for you," she'd replied quickly, turning it back on him. They shared a look, then she'd floored him with "I'll go if you go?"

Unable to avoid feeling that the door was opening wider for him, he'd gazed into her eyes, taking in her slender frame, clad in brown jeans and a red, backless halter top, and decided this was an offer he couldn't possibly refuse. So they'd gone to Cotillion, together…

The next part of the night had been surreal. They'd walked into the country club, Marissa leading the way, then, inevitably, there'd been another fight with Luke, which that time, had looked like the end of Marissa's relationship with him. He'd stood there, watching Marissa argue with her Mom, feeling guilty at causing their break-up despite suspecting Luke of betraying Marissa on his first night here. Fearing that she'd end-up debuting alone, the urge to step-in grew, then, with Anna's prodding, he'd seized the opportunity and offered himself as Marissa's White Knight. Julie had quickly dismissed his move, but his eyes had been on Marissa, who'd stood there with her long, bare arms angled back, hands on her hips watching this, before she'd grinned widely and accepting with "I'll go get dressed."

Later on, they'd faced each other, he, immaculate in his tux, awestruck again by how beautiful she looked, then they'd made their entrance into Newport Society… The last couple out, Marissa had led him gently onto the dance floor, then they'd waltzed slowly to the music, his nervousness at this showing but eased by her gentle teasing.

It had been a gorgeous moment, until the fight between Mr Fisher and Marissa's dad had shattered it. Ryan had stepped in, but the sight of Marissa crying beside her unconscious dad, then standing outside in the warm night air, her thin frame trembling with sobs, was as much as he could bear. And for the second time, she'd run away from him in tears…

Unknown to Ryan, he was not alone in remembering that night. So too, was Marissa, as she stood alone in the Cohen's bathroom. Her lips curled into a nervous smile as she thought back to Ryan zipping-up her dress. His warm hands, so close to her bare back, had sent tingles through her body, as had his breathless look when she'd asked him about Cotillion, making her grin widely when he'd asked her when she wanted him there. The tension between them at dance practice had scared, and thrilled her, and it had only grown when she'd found him hiding from Cotillion at the Cohen's.

Unable to stop, Marissa's smile widened into a grin, and she chuckled nervously at the memory of his face that night, clearly unnerved by her challenging him over avoiding Cotillion. Despite her nervousness at the memory, her eyes brightened at how it had felt walking into the Country Club with Ryan, then walking onto the dance floor with him in front of Newport. She'd felt strong, and rebellious, choosing Ryan over Luke in front of everyone, and fighting back at their perceptions of her, for the first time in her life. She'd loved it…

Her body shook at what had happened next, when her Dad's secret was brutally exposed, but it was also a relief, as she finally knew what was wrong. It had hurt her that it had happened in such a humiliating way, and she'd never forgotten Ryan's tenderness towards her afterwards, which was more obvious than Luke's…

Still leaning against the wall, Ryan couldn't help remembering the aftermath of Cotillion, especially the image of Marissa in the Crab Shack two days later. Her slender frame clad in a white tee-shirt, her bikini visible beneath it, her glowing, tanned face lighting-up when he'd nervously asked her if she wanted to hang-out. Yeah, she'd let him down gently, but she'd not rejected the idea for good. Later, at Seth's urging, he'd finally asked Marissa out, only for Seth – ironically – to ruin it, before persuading Marissa to give him another chance…

His eyes watered, from the memory of that chance. Marissa, stunning in a floral summer dress, her bare feet moving in the Cohen's pool. Her cheekiness, and loud, infectious laughter as she panicked when he playfully threatened to push her in, only to push him in herself seconds later! Both of them messing about in the pool, splashing around and teasing one another, then her shivering in her wet, clinging dress while he wrapped a towel around her slender frame. Their heads close together, her wet face grinning widely…

Their lips had come so close to touching… But they'd been interrupted, again, by Seth, which had led to Luke getting shot, and Marissa coming to see him at the hospital. Except she'd been there to see Luke, not him…

And now, seeing her here tonight, with Luke, it felt like it was all over. Any chance he might have had with Marissa had gone…

His eyes watered more as the heart-wrenching reality of that began to sink in. Struggling not to cry, Ryan stumbled over to the bed and almost fell onto it… He'd lost her.

And the deep, crushing truth of that broke his heart…

Her heart in conflict, she realised she had to choose.

Luke….

Or Ryan….

In front of the mirror, Marissa looked into her own eyes, struggling to decide. Her Mom, Summer and everyone else in Newport would tell her – Luke. They'd been together forever, since fifth-grade, his family was rich, and if she stayed with him, she would 'always be comfortable.'

But, what were they like together?

Comfortable? Familiar? And Luke was crazy about her…

But, she finally began to realise, that was a problem. He was crazy about her, but was she about him….?

She stared into her own eyes…

Until the truth hit her:

… …'no,'

And she began to realise why….

There was no spark between them.

She felt trapped, like she was playing a version of herself. A version that wasn't who she really was…

Ryan…

With him, it was different… He captivated her, because he was an outsider, from the world beyond her Newport bubble. Also, he had a tortured, haunted quality to him, like he was a boy struggling to be a man.

He had hidden depths… He'd proved that many times since he'd come here. He listened to her, he clearly cared for her, but he seemed shy about it. Touched by that, she wanted more…

But best of all, every time she saw Ryan, she felt a spark with him, and it made her do things she would never have done before. Also, he made her feel rebellious, and she liked that, a lot. She felt brave enough to be playful with him, brave enough to do things she wouldn't with Luke… She, Ryan and Seth at the Pier – that day she had felt like a normal girl, having fun with friends, messing about, feeling carefree…

Their date… Grilled cheese, then messing about in the Cohen's pool. And she couldn't resist pushing him in, just for fun! Locking eyes with him several times, their lips almost touching on the last time…

Marissa watched herself in the mirror, and her green eyes sparkled…

Now, she knew the answer…

Ryan lay on the bed, miserable, his mind filled with Marissa's beauty, his heart breaking again…

Hesitantly, Marissa touched the doorknob, then turned it. Gently stepping outside, she paused for a moment. Despite knowing what she had to do, she was nervous, especially if she ran into Summer…

Staying still, she listened intently, trying to hear Summer's voice, but she couldn't.

Making her move, she slipped back into the party, managing to avoid seeing many people she knew, but greeting those she did politely, but impatiently. She caught a glimpse of Luke, and stopped, hoping he wouldn't look round. He didn't, and moved off towards the entrance hall.

As he left, she watched him till he vanished from sight….., then, she turned away, heading for the Cohen's backyard…

Hurting deeply, and miserable, Ryan got up. He headed to the bathroom…

Watching nervously for Summer, Marissa slipped through the French Doors. Then, just before she stepped out of the shadows, she heard her Mom's voice.

'Oh no,' she thought, panicking. If she found out what she was doing, her Mom would not like it…

Quickly, she scanned the yard, and on the far side of it, saw her Mom talking to Seth's granddad. Her Dad was nearby, and she noticed that he, discretely, was watching the conversation. Suddenly she heard Summer's laugh, and soon spotted her, and Seth, talking to a guy near the grill. Or rather, Summer was talking and Seth watching with bored disinterest… She loved Summer, but at times, she could be so shallow…

Feeling nervous, she carefully moved out of the shadows and slipped towards the Pool House. Keeping her ears alert, she listened for her name being called out, but she hadn't been spotted. Then, she came close to the Pool House doors, and saw light behind the curtains.

'He must be here,' she thought, her mouth suddenly dry. Her heart raced, and she glanced behind her at the party. Her parents and Summer were still busy, and hadn't noticed her… Nor had anyone else…

She turned back to the door in front of her, and reached for the handle…

Looking at himself in the mirror, Ryan breathed deeply. Still his eyes watered. Turning on the faucet full blast, he splashed water on his face….

Trembling slightly, Marissa knocked softly. No response…

Fidgeting, she shifted her bag on her bare shoulder, then tried again.

Still, no response.

For a second, she thought of slipping away, then her heart drew her on…

Quietly, she opened the door and heard the bathroom faucet running. She slipped inside, and paused nervously. Seeing the comic book and iPod on the bed, she thought:

'He must be in here.'

She heard the faucet stop…

Ryan, his face dripping, grabbed a towel and tried to dry himself off. Then, he sensed someone else in the Pool House. Quickly rubbing his eyes, he tried to hide his distress, then moved to the bathroom door.

Hearing movement, Marissa looked towards the bathroom, and suddenly, there he was.

She froze, and stood there, watching him.

'It's her…'

Ryan stared at her, stunned. And suddenly self-conscious about his appearance, with wet hair and wet patches on his shirt…

"Hey," he said, not moving.

"Hey," she replied, quietly.

"I thought you were here with Luke (?)," he asked, his heart torn by the thought.

"I am….," she began. Ryan's heart broke, and he briefly looked away. "So what are you doing here, hiding from him (?)," he asked, determined not to give away his hurt to her.

"No," she said, "….. I'm not here with him now."

Caught off-guard, Ryan froze, his eyes still avoiding her.

Then what she could mean began to sink in…

She was here, her beauty lighting up the Pool House. And his heart tried to leap.

Marissa took a step towards him, and noticed his appearance, in particular his eyes, which were puffy, like he'd been… The thought hit her, was she responsible?

Quickly, that thought made her move closer, until she stood within reach of him. He didn't move, but , swallowing quickly. "You asked me to choose…," she said, and she saw him look away again, eyes moistening.

'Oh my God….:'

She was right…

Gently, she closed the gap to him and cautiously reached out, touching his cheek. At this, he managed to face her, and their eyes met, and locked…

Gently caressing his cheek, she saw the redness of his blue eyes and couldn't bear to see him so miserable, especially over her…

Her bare arm leading his eyes, he tried to smile, his heart now beating fast. Softly, she slid her hand behind his back, and he allowed it. Their breath mingling between them, she touched her glossed lips to his…

'She's chosen me…'

Ryan's heart leaped, then swelled. Quickly, he responded to her…

Her lips continued to touch his, then their spark ignited, furiously…

His lips joined hers, and she touched his with her tongue, asking for permission. At once, he gave it. Slipping her tongue through his lips, she began to explore his mouth. Quickly, he did the same and their kiss deepened…

Ryan trembled, then pressing gently against him, she slid her bare, slender arms around his neck and leaned into their kiss. Their spark burst into flame…

Their tongues searched each other's mouths, feasting on their tastes as if nothing else mattered.

Marissa's heart quickened, as she began to feel a raw, almost animal passion surge through her slender body. That, and the clear, heart wrenching signs that Ryan really cared for her, caused a warm, exciting glow to engulf her thin frame.

'Being with Luke is nothing like this…'

Reluctantly, they broke apart, almost gasping for air. Their eyes locked again, and a broad smile lit-up her wide glowing face. Then he knew for sure, and a huge wave of confidence surged through him…

His blue eyes brightened, making her green ones sparkle with desire, mischief and a certain, growing level of lust.

"I choose you," she told him breathlessly, "not Luke."

"Why (?)," he asked. "Because, you're different," she replied, "...and I like that."

She meant it, her huge green eyes, locked with his, proved that.

He felt a warm smile cross his face, Causing hers to fill with her gorgeous, huge toothy grin. Her thin body tingled as she let him slip his warm hands behind her, one slipping gently beneath her loose, wavy hair, the other gently caressing her bare, smooth upper back. Trembling slightly with desire and passion, she re-joined their kiss, slipping her tongue into his mouth once more. At the feeling of this, Ryan almost groaned, and they resumed their exploration of each other's tastes, completely oblivious to the party outside…

Later, they lay side-by-side on the bed, calming down after that raw, almost electric kiss. Ryan's heart, which had felt broken by her only a short-time earlier, now felt whole in a way he'd never imagined before. His body, alive with tension and a deep, almost soulful feeling, unlike any he'd known before, tingled as he turned to look at her.

At his look, she grinned nervously, her big green eyes sparkling with energy. They lay this way, looking into each other's eyes for what seemed like ages, then she moved herself over to him. Sliding her bare arm behind him, she gently eased him up until they both sat together, still gazing into each other's eyes. Leaning into him, she re-joined their lips, and a third, passionate kiss developed. Her grin returned as she felt his warm hand on her bare back, passing over her shoulder blade, before it reached her smooth, bare shoulder. Tingling, she deepened their kiss, her thin body alive with a longing she'd never felt with Luke.

Ryan was having a similar experience, his own body swelling with a desire that Theresa had never generated… And his heart was alive, with a hope that, if he could do it, he might just be able to have something great with Marissa. Now, that was all he wanted.

"You know," he breathed, as they reluctantly broke for air, "we could go back out to the party, if you want to?"

Marissa looked at him, trying to clear her head of thoughts she'd never had about Luke… Her bare arm around his neck, she gave him a gentle, teasing look. "We could, or we could stay here, and have our own party?"

His mouth drying out, he held her gaze and smiled confidently, by no means against that idea.

"Why not….," he replied, "there'll be other parties we can go to…"

Marissa's mind briefly filled with an image of her and Ryan, together, her leading him into a glitzy Newport event, their eyes frequently locking as a desire only they understood smouldered between them. And what would Newport think of her being with him…? Her rebellious streak stirring in her like never before, for the first time in her life she thought:

'I don't care…'

She giggled at this, and they gazed at one another, lost in the moment… Marissa with a guy she felt a real spark with, who made her feel daring, alive and who she now knew, really cared for her. Ryan with a girl whose heartbreakingly beautiful looks concealed a compelling, intriguing nature, with hidden depths and an effect on him no other girl he'd met could create. And he was loving all of that.

Both eager for more, they giggled together, then re-joined their lips, exploring each other, and forgetting all about the party going on outside. For they were both too busy enjoying the delight of having the person they had fallen hard for, finally in their arms…