The golden shimmer of the lights from the house was just enough to illuminate the first half of the yard. The rest laid in darkness, under a blanket of a murky night sky with the moon hiding behind voluminous clouds. Ryan didn't need light to know his way. He could walk the few steps from the pool house to the doors with his eyes closed, he wouldn't miss a single step.
A soft ocean breeze made the palm trees gently sway, a low rustling noise in the otherwise quiet night. Ryan had gotten so used to hearing the waves at night that it was only a mere soft background noise by now, a welcomed comfort when he couldn't sleep.
The lights in the living room bathed the scene on the couch in a warm, inviting glow. Sandy was sitting in the middle, his right arm around Kirsten's shoulder who was already wearing her nightgown.
His left hand laid on the backrest behind Seth's head, who was in the middle of explaining something judging from his frantic hand movements.
Ryan felt his heart beat faster, a feeling he had started to experience more and more, over the years of living here. An affection so great he was afraid his heart would melt away.
"I found the DVD." He exclaimed upon entering, waving the movie around.
"It was in the drawer of my nightstand. Why did you put it there, anyway?"
Seth shrugged, "Dunno. Probably a long time ago."
"Want me to put it in?"
Ryan kneeled down in front of the TV and put the DVD in. He turned around to the couch. For a second he hesitated, unsure of where to sit. The nervousness was gone as fast as it had come as Sandy lifted his arms and Seth scooting to the side. "There's always room for you."
Ryan smiled, settling down between Sandy and Seth. The words meant more to him than he would have ever admitted out loud and from the way, Sandy was gently rubbing his shoulder blades for a second, he definitely knew that too.
"I have never seen the movie," Kirsten said, sipping on her glass of water.
"You'll love it, mom." Seth rubbed his hands together, "You'll all love it."
Ryan exhaled slowly, leaning his head against the couch, relaxing into the soft cushions, fully ready to dive into a fictional world for an hour and a half.
Around the end, he looked away from the screen, in one of the rare moments where Seth wasn't commenting on the events happening in the movie. His gaze wandered over to Kirsten who was desperately trying to stay awake. Action movies weren't her thing, but once a month Seth got to pick the movie for family night so she couldn't object. Her head was slowly sinking onto Sandy's shoulder who began stroking her back.
For a second Sandy's and Ryan's gaze met and he immediately looked away, suddenly shy to have witnessed that moment as if it hadn't happened a thousand times before.
A little after 11 pm the credits rolled, prompting Kirsten to yawn and pretending to have been awake the entire time. "It was good." she simply said, giving Seth a wink who just nodded, fully aware of that routine.
Ryan stayed seated, he closed his eyes for a second, trying to imprint that image into his brain. The four of them on the couch, casually discussing the movie like every Friday. He wished he could freeze that moment, have it filed away in a binder with happy memories that he could flip through when his mind wandered to dark places from his past.
"Good night, boys." Kirsten gave them a wave and made her way to the bedroom, stifling another yawn.
"Night, dad. Night, Ryan." Seth shuffled away too, leaving only Sandy and Ryan in the living room.
Sandy got up to put the glasses in the dishwasher. When he came back, he sat down on the armrest of the couch.
"Are you okay?"
Ryan drew little circles on the cushion next to him. He sucked on his bottom lip and bowed his head slightly, deep in thought. He greatly appreciated Sandy asking him, taking the pressure of himself to start the conversation.
"I don't think I want to get to used to this."
"Used to what?"
Ryan avoided looking Sandy into the eyes, his gaze focused on the cushion underneath his fingertips.
"I don't want to get tired of this. Of movie nights. Of-" he stopped and shook his head. "Nevermind."
Sandy got up and sat down next to him. He put his hand on the backrest again, a gesture that made Ryan feel safe. Something he would have never felt three years ago.
"Are you afraid of becoming used to the routine?"
"Of family nights, you mean?"
He rubbed his hands together, letting out a deep breath. " I don't want to get so used to this that I don't find it special anymore. I want it to stay special."
"I see. Did tonight feel special? Did you feel comfortable?" Sandy asked, his voice was calm. His focus entirely on Ryan.
"Yeah. But it feels..." he was searching for the right word, "normal, I guess? And it's a good feeling in a way, but it also isn't."
"Because you're afraid it will become less special."
Ryan slowly nodded.
"You know," Sandy said slowly, choosing his words with care, "there's nothing wrong about getting used to a routine. Finding a rhythm." he spread his arms, gesturing around the living room, "However, I am still not tired of coming home to this house, home to my family. Some things stay special for a long time and perhaps even forever. Both scenarios are good and beneficial in their own way."
Ryan looked down, opening his mouth, not quite ready to ask the question. Sandy looked outside, hoping to signal Ryan that he was allowed to take his time.
"Will you...will you get tired of me?"
Sandy's face fell, he hadn't expected such a question. He carefully put a hand on Ryan's shoulder, squeezing it. "Not in a hundred years." He made eye contact with him, giving him a soft smile, "you're family. You're my son."
Ryan's face lit up at the last words.
"You know what I like most about coming home from the office? I park my car and I can't wait to enter a house filled with my two boys and my beautiful wife. Not a single day has passed since you became family that I don't feel proud at the sight of you sitting at that kitchen table. As if you have always been here. I look over at the pool house and think, oh that's Ryan's room. I will never get tired of having you here. Neither will Kirsten or Seth."
He emphasized the last words, hoping to bring his point across.
Ryan was silent for a few minutes.
"I like coming home here too," Ryan spoke slowly, his eyes focused on the dark tv screen. "I guess I will never quite get used to it. Which is a good thing." he gave Sandy a hesitant smile.
A sudden noise from the kitchen made them both jump.
"Damnit, they're hot."
"Dad! Ryan!" Seth stuck his head around the corner, his wild hair indicating he had already been in bed. "What secrets am I missing?"
"We were just talking about how some things always stay special."
"Sounds too philosophical for me this late at night. Do you guys want a bagel too?"
Two minutes later they were all sitting around the kitchen island, devouring the schmeared bagels. "Those are excellent, son." Sandy pointed out.
"I learned from the best. Schmearing bagels is an art."
"What are you guys doing up so late?"
They all turned around to find Kirsten staring at them.
"Are those bagels?"
Seth nodded, "Yep. There's one left for you."
"I guess we were all hungry." Kirsten sat down between Seth and Ryan, ruffling their hair before taking the bagel.
"I could get used to late-night bagels," she said and Ryan smiled, catching Sandy winking at him.
"I hope not, honey," Sandy said, putting another load of bagels in the toaster.
"Some things have to stay special."