"Hi, yeah, um, hi, Kirsten," said Ryan. "Do you want me to find Seth, or Sandy?" She was pained by his insecurity, which even now lingered.

"No, actually, it works out better like this. I've already gotten to talk to them both. How are you, Ryan? How's Marissa?" Damn. She'd only spoken a few sentences, and she'd already asked two questions he couldn't answer truthfully.

"I'm good. Marissa's, well, she's…back in therapy," he finished. He couldn't completely lie to Kirsten, even for her own good.

"Why? Is everything okay with her?"

"Yeah, no, it's just that her last try at therapy? It didn't really work well. She only went a couple of times, and then there was the whole Oliver thing, and…" He let the words hang. "I talked to her for a long time last night. She's really getting better, you know? I think she's dealing with all her issues." A pause. "Sorry if you were trying to call, Kirsten, I just—I mean, she called me."

"No, no, Ryan, that's great. I'm glad Marissa has you. She's a nice girl, but she's always had issues."

"Her mother is Julie Cooper."

"Hey! Julie's my mommy too," laughed Kirsten.

"Oh, and you don't have issues?" teased Ryan. He was such an enigma, she mused. So polite and reserved and painfully insecure at times, and then warm and teasing and more like the son she desperately wanted him to be at others.

"Fair enough. So you guys are holding up without me?" All these "fines" she'd gotten from her husband, from her sons, were good to hear, but it still hurt a bit to think that they didn't need her. Ryan snorted.

"If you can call it that, then yes. Sandy's all mopey, missing you. It's actually kind of a combination of annoying and endearing. I mean, it's dumb that he can't seem to function like himself without you, but it's kind of cute how much he loves you." Kirsten wondered if he were lying to make her feel better, but it felt good, anyway.

"Seth is always 'Mom would do this' or 'Mom would say that.' It's driving Summer crazy. She's been staying over a lot. Sandy always puts clean sheets in the guest room, but Kirsten? She doesn't actually use them."

"Seth told me. He said that she said he needed a woman in his life?" Ryan stifled a laugh.

"He said that he 'longing for feminine company,' and she said that if he meant he needed a mother, he was out of luck. Seth declared that it was really just the woman-ness he was missing and that Summer fulfilled the requirement." Kirsten laughed, loudly this time.

"That sounds like my Seth."

"Yeah. It's different without you. How are the doctors?"

"Nice? Well-educated?" She half-laughed. "They're okay. Dr. Nazereth—"

"Man or woman?"

"Man. Anyway, Dr. Nazereth has really been helping me. I mean…Ryan…" Kirsten wondered if she could get together the strength to say what she needed to say. "It doesn't even taste good," she confessed. "I mean, not the first sip. It never tastes good until the second sip, and it hurts, and it burns, and it…"

"Yeah," said Ryan. "I know. It's poison."

"And it's still so hard to admit it, but I just…I never thought that I was so weak as to…"

"It's okay. Everyone's got something."

"I'm sorry. I meant for this to be a light-hearted conversation, like I had with Sandy, like I had with Seth. But…"

"Really, Kirsten, it's okay."

"I'm doing better, really I am. I know that I'm…addicted…to the stuff," she said slowly. "I just hate that I am. You know, Sandy, he said he'd make sure to get rid of all the alcohol in the house before I come home? How is it that he can do that, just give it up, just like that, and I can't?"

"Everyone's got something. You're addicted to booze. Sandy's addicted to you," was Ryan's quiet response. There was silence on the other end. Ryan decided to elaborate. "He can't stop talking about you. He's always thinking about you. I mean," he said quickly, "he's okay. He's functioning; he's not hurting himself; he knows that this is right for you. He just misses you like crazy. Don't worry about him…but he misses you. He bought you new rings."

"I know. He told me," she somehow found the voice to say.

"They're beautiful. But that's not the point. He spent all of the first day you were away at the jewelry store. He bought, like, five diamond rings and made Summer and Mrs. Cooper carefully critique them."

"Not Marissa?"

"No; she was at therapy," semi-lied Ryan smoothly. "Besides, Summer and Julie Cooper? They know diamonds. Marissa's not really a jewel expert."

"And this ring has their stamp of approval?"

"Oh, yeah. You're going to love it. But Sandy promised me that I wouldn't tell you what it looks like, so…I can't." Kirsten smiled. He was so sweet.

"That's fine. It'll be a surprise when I come home." Home. She couldn't wait to come home, to see her wonderful sons, to hug their girlfriends, to feed her husband's "addiction." God, how she missed them.

"Um…Kirsten?" said Ryan nervously. "Seth's…doing something…with the BMW? And, um, no offense, but he doesn't know all that much about the car, and the hood's up—" Kirsten heard Ryan calling, "Seth, wait a second and let me help," with his hand over the mouthpiece. "Yeah. I need to go save your car. So…um…I'll see you?"

"See you." She didn't want to hang up yet.

"Ryan? I love you." Silence.

"I love you too. Feel better. Seth, don't touch that. Let me handle it…bye Kirsten."