Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters of The OC. They all belong to Josh Schwartz.

A/N: This takes place post-Oliver, Ryan and Marissa did not get back together, and Seth did not run off to Portland. This story is AU and I've taken liberties with some of the characters including Theresa and Kirsten. Be easy on me, this is my first story.

Just a sidenote: I'm not following the way the Ryan/Theresa relationship was portrayed on the show after he moved back to Chino. In my story, Ryan truly loves Theresa, and even though he may not be ready for fatherhood, he genuinely wants to do what's right and take responsibility. Having such selfless convictions is one of the traits I admired so much about the character, especially in one so young.

Chapter 20

Sandy drives aimlessly around Chino, racking his brain thinking of where Ryan might go. He hopes Arturo finds someone who has seen Ryan, but deep inside, he knows the kid isn't going to go to a bar. A bar is too loud, there's too many people, Sandy thinks to himself. Ryan will want to go someplace quiet, somewhere to think... "He'll need to hear himself think," Sandy says aloud, praying for an epiphany.

Sandy knows he's searching for a needle in a haystack. He needs to start asking around... find out if anyone has seen Ryan. Sandy spots a young man walking alone on the sidewalk. He pulls up along the curb, rolls down the passenger side window and tries to get the man's attention. "Excuse me, sir?" Sandy calls out.

The man, in his mid to late twenties, wearing faded jeans, a Black Sabbath t-shirt and arms covered in tattoos, glances over in Sandy's direction. He walks over to the car, leans in the passenger side window and inquires, "Yeah? You want somethin' Pops?"

"Hi, I'm hoping you can help me," Sandy says, trying not to sound too nervous. "I'm looking for a boy... sixteen, around five-nine with dark, blond hair and blue eyes."

"Shit, man... you are specific, I'll give you that," the man declares with a sly grin.

"What? No... "

"You lookin' for a piece of young ass to tap, you're on the wrong side of town. You can probably find a boy to your liking over on..."

"No, you've misunderstood me," Sandy interrupts, realizing how he must look to the stranger. A middle-aged man driving around Chino in a BMW looking for a teenage boy... Sandy shudders at the thought. "No, he's my son... I'm looking for my son."

"Aw, man... sorry 'bout that," the man apologizes profusely. "Ya know, I just thought you was... well, ya know, lookin' for..."

"The boy?" Sandy quickly interjects. "Have you seen anyone fitting that description?"

"No, man, haven't seen a kid fitting your son's description... Sorry."

"Alright, thanks anyways," Sandy says, frustrated that he's still no closer to finding Ryan.

Sandy turns the corner and continues to drive slowly while searching for the distraught teenager. He knows that abused kids, like Ryan, have the ability to disappear... to make themselves invisible, even when they're in the same room with you. Come on kid, Sandy thinks to himself as he continues searching. Don't become invisible on me now.

Sandy begins to worry as he looks at the clock and sees that dusk is rapidly approaching. Nighttime will only make finding the boy more difficult. As Sandy continues to drive down the street, he begins to get a feeling of deja vu. I've been here before, he thinks to himself as he looks around at his surroundings. This is where I picked up Ryan a year ago, after Dawn kicked him out. Sandy stops the car and stares at the phone booth where Ryan made that fateful call... the phone call that changed their lives. Sandy scours the area, his stomach tied in knots from the unrelenting stress of the afternoon. Then he sees it... a park. A small, peaceful patch of green with nary a soul around. Sandy parks along the curb, gets out of his car and looks around. He begins walking towards a fountain that looks like it hasn't put forth a cascade of water in years. Still searching, he notices the swingset and monkey bars have been abandoned; the children have gone home for the night. A soft, warm breeze wafts through the air and then he sees him... a lone figure sitting on a park bench, hunched over, deep in thought.

"Mind if I sit here?" Sandy asks. He takes the boy's silent shrug as an "okay" and sits down on the bench next to him. A few minutes pass and still no words are spoken. Sandy knows Ryan will sit on this bench all night without uttering a single sound. He needs to get the kid talking, but how?

Sandy notices something in Ryan's hand. He tries to get a closer look but can't make out what it is. "What do you have in your hand?" Sandy decides to ask, breaking the silence.

Ryan slowly opens his hand and reveals the small toy top he had placed in his pocket earlier that day.

Sandy smiles. "Ah, so the Nana did get you a dreidel."

"A what?" Ryan asks quietly.

"A dreidel... very fun game to play," Sandy says, thankful to have finally begun a conversation with the well-guarded boy. "And the great thing is, you don't even have to be Jewish to play."

"I don't know how to play," Ryan says, his voice dull and somber, as he stares at the toy in his hand.

"Oh, it's easy," Sandy states, as he gradually slides over a little closer to Ryan. "You can have as many players as you want and everyone starts with the same amount of game pieces. We always played with M&M's," Sandy says, as he recalls playing the game with Seth before comic books and video games captured his son's interest. "Everyone starts off by putting a game piece in the pot, then you take turns spinning the dreidel. See these symbols?" Sandy asks, pointing at the strange markings on the toy. "They're Hebrew letters and depending upon how the dreidel lands when it stops spinning, you give or get game pieces from the pot."

"I don't know any Hebrew letters," Ryan says quietly, as he continues to observe the toy in his hand.

"Well, see here... this is Nun," Sandy says, pointing to one of the letters. "It means 'nisht' or 'nothing'. If the top lands on Nun, the player does nothing." Sandy glances at Ryan, hoping he's making sense to the quiet, introspective teenager. "This letter is Gimmel which means 'gantz' or 'everything', so the player would get everything in the pot."

"I could see Seth liking Gimmel," Ryan states, becoming interested in Sandy's explanation of the rules.

"Yes, Seth always had a great appreciation for Gimmel," Sandy replies smiling, as he notices Ryan becoming more engaged in the conversation. "This letter is Hay which means 'halb' or 'half'."

"So the player gets half of what's in the pot?" Ryan asks.

"Exactly, you catch on quick," Sandy says with a warm smile. "This last letter... kind of looks like a double-u, is Shin which means 'shtel' or 'put in'. The player would have to add a game piece to the pot. When one person has won everything, the game is over."

Sandy waits a few moments as he watches Ryan mull over what he's just been told. "You know, maybe we could all play sometime... you, me, Seth and Kirsten? We don't even have to wait for Hanukkah."

Sandy becomes disheartened as silence once again takes over. "But, I should warn you. I've got quite the deadly wrist action," Sandy says, demonstrating a flick of his wrist.

"Sandy, it's a game of luck," Ryan states emphatically.

"Shhh... don't tell Seth," Sandy whispers, leaning into Ryan. "He still thinks it's all about skill... except when he's losing, of course."

Ryan can't help but smile. He knows Seth has never been able to lose graciously. For most, it would be a negative quality, but for Seth? He somehow made it endearing, Ryan thinks to himself.

More silence follows as Sandy continues observing the pensive boy sitting next to him. "I remember... I think Seth was six... maybe seven. It was Hanukkah, and Seth came marching into the livingroom with his dreidel in his hand announcing that we were going to play for real money. No more candy," Sandy says smiling, as he recalls the fond memory. "Seth had been saving up his allowance for months."

"So, what happened?" Ryan asks. "You decided to advocate gambling?"

"Well... not quite," Sandy replies, intrigued with Ryan's perspective. "We agreed that whoever won, that person would take at least half of their winnings and buy a toy to donate to the Toys for Tots charity."

"So, who won?" Ryan asks, interested in the outcome of Sandy's story.

"Seth won. The kid cleaned our clocks," Sandy acknowledges with a smile. "We took him to the store the next morning... Seth bought the newest Batman action figure. I remember how pleased he looked when he placed the toy in the big, red donation box. Seth knew that Batman was going to make some kid very happy come Christmas morning."

Ryan smiles as he pictures a six-year-old Seth donating a Batman action figure to charity. Then his smile slowly begins to fade. "I remember Christmas when I was six," Ryan states guardedly, not sure if he should share his memory. "My dad was in jail and my mom... well, she lost her job. She wasn't doing too well..."

Sandy leans in a little closer to Ryan. The boy is speaking so softly and Sandy wants to make sure he doesn't miss a single word.

"My mom told me and Trey that she didn't have enough money to get us anything for Christmas," Ryan continues quietly. "She put in a request to Toys for Tots so she could give us something to open on Christmas morning."

"Please tell me she didn't get you a Batman action figure, did she?" Sandy asks.

Ryan smiles. "No, she didn't. Don't tell Seth, but... I was never really into action figures," Ryan confesses.

"It'll be our secret," Sandy assures him. "So tell me, what did you get?" Sandy asks, wanting to know what Ryan got that Christmas morning.

"My mom got me a toy dump truck," Ryan states proudly, unable to keep himself from grinning. "You know... like the kind you find at a construction site."

Sandy smiles as he pictures a six-year-old Ryan playing outside with a dump truck. The kid probably loaded, hauled and dumped dirt happily all day long, Sandy thinks to himself.

Ryan lets out a pensive sigh and stares at the ground. "I was playing outside with my new truck and my mom came out... she was drunk. I mean... really drunk. She started yelling at me... I don't know why."

A pained expression suddenly appears on Sandy's face as he realizes that this story may not have a happy ending. Nothing good could possibly happen if it involves an intoxicated Dawn, he thinks to himself.

"She kept yelling at me about something being my fault... and I started crying." Ryan bites his lower lip as he recalls the painful memory. "She grabbed the truck out of my hands and threw it really hard against the side of the house. It shattered... I mean, there were truck parts everywhere. Trey came out and started to help me pick up the pieces and put it back together." Ryan quickly wipes a stray tear off his cheek, surprised that he can still be emotionally affected by something that happened so long ago.

Sandy remains silent as he watches the teenager struggle with his painful memory.

"I remember I couldn't stop crying," Ryan continues. "Trey kept telling me to shut up, stop crying... stop being a baby. He told me he could fix my truck."

"And did he fix it?" Sandy asks, hoping there might be a chance for a happy ending.

"No... my mom took the truck and threw it in the garbage," Ryan says quietly, his voice trembling slightly. "She told me that little boys who cry don't deserve any toys." Ryan becomes silent for a few moments then adds, "I spent the rest of the day alone in my room. We didn't even have a Christmas dinner."

Sandy's heart sinks. No child should ever have to experience something like that. Damn you, Dawn, Sandy curses to himself. "You know, I bet if Trey had more time, he would have been able to fix your truck."

"Yeah... maybe."

Silence lingers in the air as Sandy watches the boy struggle to keep his emotions in check.

"When I was listening to Mr. Nichol on that tape this evening, I felt like I was that truck being hurled against the wall," Ryan states, his voice shaking as he fights to control his emotions. "I didn't see it coming... I feel so stupid."

"Why do you feel stupid?" Sandy asks, relieved that Ryan is opening up to him. "Because you care? Because you put your trust in someone you love and have known most of your life?" Sandy takes a chance and places his hand on the back of Ryan's neck. He feels the boy briefly try to pull away, but Sandy keeps his hand firmly in place.

"She told me she loved me..."

"And, I believe she does love you," Sandy says, trying to assure the hurt and confused boy. "It's just not a healthy kind of love."

"I really thought..." Ryan swallows the lump in his throat as he finds it difficult to continue.

Sandy gently rubs the back of Ryan's neck in an effort to comfort him. He wants so badly for Ryan to keep talking.

"Theresa... she need help," Ryan says, taking a deep breath as he begins to accept Sandy's caring touch. "She's not a bad person."

"I know she's not a bad person," Sandy acknowledges as he feels the boy begin to relax a little. "I prom..." Sandy stops. The last thing he wants to do is feed the kid another promise that could be broken. "Ryan, I will stay in contact with Eva and make sure she has the resources available to her so Theresa can get the help she needs."

"Thanks," Ryan says quietly as he fiddles with the toy he still holds in his hand. "Why do I still care?"

"Because it's who you are. It's what you do," Sandy says as he moves his hand over to Ryan's far shoulder. "And, we wouldn't want you any other way." Sandy senses the boy flinch slightly when he moves his hand. He knows that with kids like Ryan, the emotional scars linger long after the physical ones have healed. "It's one of the things that makes you so special... it's one of the reasons why we love you so much."

"So... how come you didn't trust Theresa?" Ryan asks tentatively as he starts to feel better since he's been talking with Sandy. "How did you know she was lying about the baby?"

"Well, it was more Kirsten and Seth," Sandy replies honestly. "They had their doubts... their suspicions..."

"But, why?"

"Well, I believe it came down to birth control," Sandy states as he remembers when his wife asked him to have "the talk" with Ryan when he first came to live with them. "They both felt that you're just too responsible... and there were a lot of other things that just didn't add up."

Ryan feels himself starting to blush. He's never been comfortable talking about sex, especially with a grown-up. "Sandy, you're not going to..."

"What... have 'the talk' with you?" Sandy says as he gives Ryan's shoulder a playful squeeze. "I'm afraid that ship has sailed, my friend."

Ryan lets out a small sigh of relief. "So... how did you find out I was leaving for Atlanta tonight?" Ryan asks, realizing Sandy hadn't spoken to him or Theresa.

"Caleb told me earlier today," Sandy replies. "I think the old goat actually feels bad about what he's done and is looking to make amends."

"Is Kirsten alright?"

"Kirsten? Hell, yes," Sandy says with a smile. "You should have seen her this morning. 'The Kirsten' was in full force. Caleb didn't stand a chance."

Ryan smiles as he pictures Kirsten standing up to her father. He knows that wouldn't be an easy thing for her to do, and he's touched that she did so... for him.

"What do you say kid... let's go home," Sandy says as he gives Ryan's shoulder another gentle squeeze. "Give us another chance. Let us help you get through this. We're a family and families stick together, no matter what."

Ryan wipes his last remaining tear away and places the dreidel back in his pocket. "Okay," he replies, feeling a great sense of relief knowing that the Cohen's still want him to be a part of their family.

"Okay, then," Sandy states as he feels his eyes well up with tears... not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy. Joy in knowing that Ryan will be coming back home. "You know, I think I forgot to lock my car. What do you say we get out of here before someone makes off with my 'beamer'."

"You left your car parked on the street... unlocked?" Ryan states in disbelief. "Are you crazy?"

"What can I say," Sandy says in his defense as he gets up off the park bench. "I was preoccupied."

"Yeah, but... it's a BMW," Ryan says as he stands up and starts walking out of the park with Sandy.

"It's just a car, Ryan. It can be replaced," Sandy says, putting his arm around Ryan's shoulder as they start walking back to Sandy's car. "You, on the other hand, cannot."

Ryan can't help but smile... "Thanks, Sandy."

-The End-

I want to give a special "thanks" to everyone who has read my story. I really appreciate all the feedback you've given me and the encouragement to continue writing. This was my first time writing a story and I've learned a lot. Thanks! :-)