Authors Note: So I understand that some people are a bit critical of how harsh Kirstens attitude towards Ryan is in the early episodes. But I understand what its like to have preconceived ideas and attitudes about things then have a change of heart when you see it in front of you. I just wanted to explore that a bit more here, as she starts to become more compassionate and socially aware like Sandy. Also, I thought I'd put in a a bit of missing dialogue about Ryan coming to live with them as I feel like in the episodes a lot of assumptions are made. I think Sandy and Kirsten would have had to have a conversation at some point for Kirsten to know that Sandy wanted Ryan to live with them. I hope its not too waffle-y in the middle and that I've managed to keep everyone on character. I would love reviews and feedback. Enjoy!
The drive home from juvie was a quiet one. Reality was catching up with Kirsten and the realisation of what had just happened was starting to sink in. She still wasn't sure how she had managed to get Ryan home with her. Some officious guard had kept telling her that Ryan was only allowed to leave with a parent or guardian, too lazy to even look up from the newspaper he was reading. She had lost her cool, slamming her hand on his desk and had vehemently told the guard that Ryan had been staying at her house and would be for the foreseeable future. The guard had finally looked up from his newspaper and must have detected the glint of steely danger in her eyes as he had immediately began fumbling around, all fingers as he handed her a sheaf of papers. Kirsten hadn't even read them, didn't know what she was signing. She just wanted Ryan out of there. And an hour later he was in the back of her range rover, looking sheepish and dishevelled. An angry red bruise blossoming on the side of his cheek, and a suspicious four-pronged puncture mark on his neck that could only have been caused by one thing. Kirsten didn't even want to think about that.
They pulled up in the driveway and Kirsten led them through the house to the kitchen in silence.
"Seth, why don't you go and get your play station started up?" Kirsten suggested, giving away no emotion.
"But mom, Dad said no video games, remember?" Seth replied.
"Seth, do you want to play it or not?" Kirsten rolled her eyes despairingly.
"Yes. Right, gotcha," Seth caught on.
"Don't worry, I'll deal with your father when he gets home," Kirsten shot him a small smile.
Once Seth had left the room she turned to Ryan. She noticed he was hanging back, his shoulders hunched, his body language closed. He wouldn't look her, his head was bowed and his eyes fixed on the floor.
"Ryan…" Kirsten started.
"I'm sorry … for what happened back there…" he pleaded.
He still wouldn't look at her, and she was sure she could see his hand trembling slightly. He stood there shooting glances in her direction, like he was waiting on the axe to fall. Then she realised he was, this must have been what it was like when he had gone back to his moms house the first time. And she had thrown him out, told him to leave without a second thought. Kirsten felt a heaviness in her stomach as she realised So did I. I asked him to leave too.
"Ryan, its ok, I'm not angry about that. I was just going to ask you if you're hurt? Do you need to go to the emergency room?" she asked gently, her motherly instinct taking over. She didn't think she'd ever forget the sight of Ryan being held down on the floor being beaten by someone twice his size, and it was definitely something she never wanted to see again.
"Oh no, I'm fine. Honestly," Ryan mumbled warily.
"Are you sure? At least let me get you some ice for that bruise on your face," she replied, heading over to the freezer.
Ryan nodded his assent so she sat him down at the breakfast bar and handed him a bag of ice wrapped in a tea towel, which he took from her and pressed against his face.
"I could have a look at your neck too?" Kirsten suggested, seeing the top of the angry purple mark poking out from the neckline of his hoodie.
"Oh no, its fine, thanks," Ryan relied awkwardly, subconsciously pulling his hoodie up to cover it.
"Ok, if you're sure. Have you had anything to eat today?" she asked. From the unmistakeable fork mark on his neck she already knew the answer to that.
"Uhhm no, not yet," Ryan admitted shyly.
"Ok, well why don't you go and play games with Seth and I'll put something together for the two of you. Do you like grilled cheese?"
"Uhmm yeah, that would be great. Thanks." He finally looked up and gave her the briefest of smiles before shuffling off to the den.
With the boys fed and settled in front of the play station, Kirsten returned to the kitchen to ponder the unexpected turn events had taken. She had never given much thought to what went on behind the scenes of her husbands job, she didn't want to know. She had naively assumed that people were safe in prison, protected. This afternoon she had been woken up to the harsh reality of what went on, beginning to understand why Sandy had made it his life's effort to keep as many people out of those places as possible. She had always thought that people deserved to go to jail. They had committed a crime, so they had to face the consequences.
But what had Ryan done? When she had first met him, she had assumed him to be the stereotypical teenage delinquent. Stealing a car, using Sandy, drinking under age, getting her son Seth in to a fight. She had felt vindicated in asking him to leave, she had to protect her household from this threat. But as she had watched him more closely that had began to change. What she actually saw was a soft spoken, well mannered conscientious child. It seemed all he was guilty of was having the misfortune to be born into a life of chaos and abuse, led astray by an older brother. How was it fair that Seth, Luke and Marissa had all been born into lives of love and luxury, while this poor boy had been dragged up by his permanently drunk mother?
This is what should have happened, Kirsten thought. This is what Ryan's mother should have done. Checked he was ok and made him something to eat, instead of throwing him out on the street. If it was Seth in this position it wouldn't matter what he had done or how much trouble he was in, she would still love him and want to make sure he was ok. She loved him so much that her first priority would always be to keep him safe. Maybe Ryan's mum got a fright, she justified. Maybe it was a rash decision in the heat of the moment. She probably regrets it now, she could be out there trying to find him.
They would have to find his mom. When she found out what had happened, surely she would come. She would want Ryan to be safe and happy, want the best for him. She would drop everything and come help him. Because that's what Kirsten would do for Seth. Mothers would do anything for their children, right?
The sound of the front door opening and closing again broke her out of her reverie. Sandy was home and she had a lot of explaining to do. Not that he'd mind in the slighted that Ryan was back with them. She knew that underneath the talk of private investigators and foster care that Sandy would love nothing more than to have Ryan live with them. She'd seen it on his face the night he had come into the kitchen and announced that he'd brought a young client to stay for the weekend. Something about Ryan had drawn him in, and rekindled his passion for helping people in a way that none of his other cases ever had.
"Seth, what did we say? No video games!" She heard Sandy call as his voice got closer.
A few moments later he appeared round the pillar from the tv room looking confused and followed her through into the lounge.
"You know honey, the strangest thing just happened. I could have sworn I saw Ryan in our tv room just now, but the last I heard, he was still in the juvenile detention centre," Sandy said with a raised eyebrow.
Kirsten sighed. She knew exactly where Seth had got his sarcasm from, and it wasn't her.
"Seth was trying to sneak out to go and visit him so I went too. One thing led to another and I decided to bring him back here," Kirsten told him.
"I never knew you to be an impulse shopper," Sandy said, pacing backwards and forward.
"I didn't know what else to do."
"Did you tell him it was permanent?"
"No of course not!"
"Cause we can't keep jerking this kid around, pulling him out of juvie, sending him to foster care, giving him hope and taking it away," Sandy said, turning away from her sadly. He knew that the ideal scenario was for Ryan to live with them. But he also knew that couldn't happen while Kirsten wasn't on board.
"They were going to kill him in that place Sandy. He couldn't stay there,' Kirsten exclaimed. 'But he can't stay here either, we have to find his mother!"
"He doesn't want to find her."
"He's a kid! He doesn't know what he wants!"
"So I guess I wont unpack," came a voice from behind her.
Kirsten whips round and sees Ryan standing there, his empty plate in his hand. He still cant bring himself to look them in the eye.
He wordlessly walks away to the sink. Kirsten hears him washing his plate then sees him walk back to the tv room. Kirsten turns awkwardly back to Sandy, who looks upset. She sits down on the nearest couch, and Sandy sits down next to her.
"Look Sandy, he seems like a nice enough kid but we're not his parents and we haven't known him very long. We can't just take matters into our own hands and start deciding what we think is best for him,' Kirsten said, softening her tone.
She gazed into his sad eyes and he nodded reluctantly.
"So what 'things' led to him coming back to the Casa del Cohen?" Sandy asked her, shrugging out of his jacket and putting his arm around her.
"It was awful in there Sandy! Some guy was coming at me and Seth so Ryan put himself in front of us. The guy had him on the ground punching him, the guards had to come in and pull him off," Kirsten explained sadly, nestling into her husbands safe embrace. "Is that really what its like in these places?"
'I'm afraid so honey. Some places are even worse,' Sandy replied, in a careful measured tone.
Over the past few days he had seen his wife start to awaken to the social injustice he faced on a daily basis. He knew she had had a different life experience from him, she had never really seen the reality of life on 'the wrong side of the tracks.' But he could start to see it in her now. The heartbreak of realising that for so many people, Ryan's situation was the norm. Violence, alcoholism, broken homes and families. He could see that it hurt her deeply.
"Why does no one do anything?" she asked sadly.
"Because no one cares," was the only answer he had.
After a grilled cheese of his own, Sandy padded over to the pool house to see Ryan. It had been a hard few days for the kid. Being thrown out by his mom, going back to find she had walked out on him and disappeared, coming back to Newport, being in a fire then ending up back in juvie. The poor kid must be terrified, Sandy didn't blame him for trying to run away. He'd been through more in one weekend than many people would go through in a life time.
Sandy could see Ryan sitting on the bed, his arms wrapped around his chest and his eyes unfocused and far away.
"Hey Ryan, is it ok if I come in?" he asked, knocking lightly on the door frame.
Ryan looked up at him and nods so he pulled a chair over to sit opposite him.
"How are you doing, kid?" Sandy asked him seriously.
"I'm fine," Ryan replied in a monotone, without looking up.
"Those bruises look nasty, what happened?" Sandy enquired gently.
"It was nothing."
"It doesn't look like nothing, Ryan. I know what goes on in these places," Sandy probed, hoping to get the kid to open up a bit more. Trying to get him to share his burden, rather than keeping it to himself.
"Fine, I tripped in the food hall and landed on my fork," Ryan said with a bitter smile.
"Just like you tripped and fell on your cheek in the visitor hall?" Sandy guessed shrewdly. Kirsten had filled him on the guy who had hit Ryan. He had seen the blatant fork mark on his neck and put two and two together.
Ryan jerked his head in something that resembled a nod. Sandy got up and moved over to sit next to him on the bed. He knew it was unwise to get too emotionally or physically close to clients but from the moment he had given Ryan his card and added his home number, he had known that Ryan was more than just a client.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Sandy enquired softly.
"Not really," Ryan replied in a monotone.
"Oh Ryan, I'm sorry you had to go back there. I'm sorry any of this is happening to you, kid. Its not fair."
Ryan just shrugs.
"Its my own fault. I stole a car and burned down a house," he mutters after a moments silence.
"C'mon kid, we both know that's not true. Your brother stole the car and the fire was an accident. I'd argue it was more Luke's fault than yours," Sandy reassured him.
Sandy let the silence sit for a moment, let Ryan digest and process what he was saying. He was desperate for the kid to give him something, anything that would help Sandy bring him out of his shell and talk.
"I don't want to go back and live with her. My mom," Ryan said, unexpectedly breaking the silence.
"I know Ryan, but she's still legally responsible for you. At the very least she needs to know where you are," Sandy explained.
How could he tell Ryan that he had to go back there when he himself had left home at the same age?
"What happens if you don't find her?"
"We will. Look Ryan, I know its hard but try not to worry too much just now. I think we should find your mom and see what she says, then if you really don't want to go back there, we can talk about your options. What do you think?"
"Yeah, I guess," Ryan responds reluctantly.
"I just want to make sure you're safe Ryan. I'm not going to abandon you, I'll help you figure something out that works for you. In the meantime you can stay here with us while we try and find Dawn."
"I can't ask that of you. You've already done more than enough."
"Ryan, you don't have to do this on your own. Please, let me help you," Sandy said earnestly.
"Thanks. Thank you," Ryan responded sincerely.
"No problem kid. In return there's one thing I want you to do for me," Sandy said, taking on a more serious tone.
Ryan looked up at him anxiously.
"Please just promise me you won't run away again. No judgement, I understand why you did it and I'm not angry. But its not safe out there, anything could have happened. We were really worried about you."
Sandy knew enough from Ryans file to guess that he wasn't used to people knowing or caring where he was. He also knew the data on teenage runaways and he couldn't bear the thought of Ryan becoming just another statistic.
"I'm sorry. I promise," Ryan said after a moments pause.
"Its ok kid, I'm on your side. If you come and talk to me I'll listen and do everything I can to help," he promised.
Ryan gave him another nod of acknowledgment. Sandy could see that his tensed shoulders had dropped and he seemed more relaxed. His breathing had evened out and he no longer had his arms across his chest like he was trying to hold himself together.
I'm getting there, Sandy thought. I think I'm starting to get through to him. He just needs someone to care. I care kid, I really do. I was you once, I want to help you. Let me in, let me help you.
Now that Ryan was obviously feeling calmer, Sandy could turn his attention to the wound on his neck. He could see a dark purple bruise blossoming out from the prong marks and a yellow crust starting to form.
"I'm a bit worried about your neck kid, its looking a little bit infected. Would it be ok if Kirsten gives it a clean for you?" Sandy asked him.
"Yeah, sure," Ryan replies, impassive.
"Be right back," Sandy smiled at him as he got up.
He padded over to where Kirsten was sitting in the lounge.
"How is he?" she asks sheepishly.
"He's a bit worried about finding his mother but we had a chat and I think he's feeling a bit better now," Sandy told her. "I don't like the look if his neck though, would you be able to clean it up a bit for him?"
"Of course honey, I'll just go get the first aid kit."
Sandy followed her along to the bathroom and watched as she rummaged through the cabinet.
"What if his mom won't take him? Are there any other options apart from foster care?" Kirsten asked him.
"Well normally emancipation would be an option, he would be able to get a job and an apartment. But he's going to be on probation so I can't see the court going for it. They'll want him somewhere with adults to look after him," Sandy explained
"And they really think that will happen in a group home?" she said cynically, leaving the bathroom and heading through the lounge towards the back yard.
"The system's not perfect, kids like Ryan end up slipping through the cracks," Sandy said sadly as they walked out to the pool house.
"Hey Ryan, lets have a look at you neck," Kirsten said gently, entering the pool house and sitting down on the bed next to him.
Sandy sat down in the chair and watched with a wry smile as his wife's instincts took over and she started to mother their guest.
"Alright Ryan, I'm just going to clean it with an antiseptic. It might nip a little bit," she explained to him.
Sandy watched as she got to work dabbing at his neck with cotton wool. Ryan hissed as the antiseptic stung but didn't try to pull away from her. She spoke to him softly, offering words of reassurance as she rigorously cleaned the wound with the stinging liquid.
Sandy thought back to all the times he had seen her fuss over Seth like this. Scraped knees as he learned to walk, scraped elbows when he learned to ride a bike. Scraped knees and elbows when he started skateboarding. He loved seeing her in mom mode, it made his heart swell with love and pride. Her natural love and concern coming out even for a relative stranger. He could see that this kid was starting to work his way under her skin too, there was just something about him that was impossible not to love.
"Ok that's it clean so I'm going to rub a bit of antiseptic cream in. Its got a local anaesthetic in it so it should soothe the irritation and stop it getting any more infected," Kirsten told him, dabbing the cream onto his neck and rubbing it in.
"How is that feeling now?" she asked him as she finished and screwed the lid back on the tube.
"Yeah much better, thanks," Ryan replied gratefully.
"I'll leave the tube on the bedside table here and you can rub some more on tonight and tomorrow morning," she told him, giving him a smile as she stood up to leave.
"Uhhm, Mrs Cohen? I just wanted to say … uhhm … I'm really sorry about the model home. And thanks … y'know … for not pressing charges … and for this afternoon …" he said awkwardly, not meeting her eye again.
"Its ok Ryan, the fire was an accident. The house is insured, the most important thing is that you're ok," she told him graciously with a smile.
"Oh, and Ryan?" she said as she started to walk out the door then turned back round towards him.
He looked up at her curiously.
"Please, call me Kirsten. Mrs Cohen is Sandy's mom," she said, winking at him.
Ryan couldn't help it this time and a smile burst through his lips in Kirstens direction as Sandy chuckled.
"Alright kid get some rest, you look beat," Sandy said, clapping him on the shoulder and heading for the door towards his wife. "Remember to give us a shout if you need anything, and just remember you're safe here."
They walked back into the lounge and settled down on one of the sofas. He put his arm round Kirsten and she nestled into his shoulder.
"He was defending me," she said, muffled.
"When he got beat up in prison, he was defending me. Even after I asked him to leave he still wanted to keep me and Seth safe. And Seth said he was defending him from Luke, he didn't start the fight. He's not what I expected when you said you'd brought a young offender home," she said thoughtfully.
"He's a good kid," Sandy replied.
"Yeah I think you're right. You want him to come and live here, don't you?" she asked shrewdly.
"In an ideal world, but like you said its not as simple as that," he said, not daring to get his hopes up. He could see she was so almost there. But he couldn't push, he had to let her get there on her own.
"Well lets just see how things go with him mom first. I love you, Sandy Cohen."
"I love you too, Kirsten Cohen."