NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS: Characters, etc property of Warner Brothers, Hypnotic, and Wonderland Sound and Vision. Title and summary from Liz Phair's song Little Digger, which is referred to occasionally in story. Thanks to Mare, Mosca and Jess.



THESE GROWN-UP COMPLICATIONS


Nothing rhymes with Seth that's an actual word and doesn't need another letter added to it. Like death or breath, those words were cheats. Seth had looked it up in a rhyming dictionary in the library when he was ten and he thought about it every time when someone said his name repeatedly in a bad way.

Like right now, when Ryan said, "Seth." And then, "Seth," again as he tugged Seth into Anna's bathroom. And Seth needed distraction because after Ryan closed the door, he just stood there and stared at something over Seth's shoulder. The party had been mostly boring up until two minutes ago. Anna inviting everyone she knew because they were graduating in two weeks. Seth hadn't even seen Ryan at first. He almost wished he hadn't seen Ryan now.

Ryan said, "Seth," and sighed again. It made Seth tense.

Seth always said he hated tension because it made him tense, but that was mostly a joke and sadly not a very good one. He hated tension because there was always the worry it would be the yin to the yang of a pretty amazing streak of good things. The balance would be set right, finally, in Seth's life with a streak of bad.

Seth had had the most unbelievably lucky life. His parents were still in love, unlike the parents of everyone Seth knew or pretty much everyone Seth had ever met. He only had one living grandparent, but the other three had died before he was six and he didn't even remember them. He'd been bullied and hadn't had many friends, maybe really any, but every year was a new year and sometimes he'd have people who hung out with him. Then they'd move away or get tired of him but Seth never got down enough about it to count it as a tragedy or the balance of very bad things after all the good.

Everyone else had at least one very bad thing; Seth's had to be coming.

He thought Ryan might be the very bad thing. Not a bad thing as in, best friend living in pool house who was part of the family. But having and then losing Ryan. There'd been all those scares over the last two years, and the last had been the worst, but Ryan was still here.

Maybe this, right now, was finally the very bad thing in the making, balance happening, because Ryan still hadn't said anything. It seemed like Ryan wanted to pace, but it was a pretty small bathroom so he just leaned against the sink. Ryan grabbed one of the little square soaps Anna had stacked in basket and squeezed it in his hand.

Seth said, "So, uh. Ryan?"

Seth had gotten into the habit of hesitating before starting a conversation with Ryan. After the fight in front of the school when the cops came, Seth had been sure Ryan was going straight to juvie. Even worse than all the Oliver stuff. It was so fucking unfair and wrong. Said anger on Seth's part might have been because Seth still had some lingering guilt about the Oliver stuff. But no one had said that to Seth besides Anna, so he didn't count it as true.

Not that anyone had consulted Seth about any of it. The soccer asshole guy had a bug in his butt about Ryan and had all year because of some thing that happened during soccer season. He had provoked the fuck out of Ryan and Ryan finally snapped. So totally unfair. It was the only time Ryan got in trouble the whole school year except for one other time. And that had been some minor thing where Ryan and Marissa skipped school, right before they broke up.

But Seth's dad had sprung into action about the fight thing and convinced Dean Kim to talk to people. Lots of people repeating how Ryan was waiting to hear from colleges, so much potential. It turned out mostly okay, no permanent record scarring but they had made Ryan go into counseling.

Which was just weird, Ryan having to talk to a shrink. But it made the trouble go away. And it wasn't like it changed anything. Ryan had gone to his appointments three days a week. Seth had never asked about it because it definitely seemed like the kind of thing that Ryan would bring up if he wanted to. And Ryan had seemed pretty much the same, no side effects of being forced to talk about himself for three hours a week. And no fighting at school or elsewhere.

One night at dinner, out of nowhere, Ryan had said, "So, how was everyone's day?" He had this embarrassed grin.

Seth's mom had said, "It was fine," blinked and stared at Ryan.

Ryan had sighed. "It's this, I'm supposed to start conversations. Apparently, I'm too reactive." He had said reactive like it was a made up word he'd been forced to recite and Seth thought it probably was.

At first it had been funny, sitting and staring at Ryan until he said something. Seth would come into the pool house in the morning and just smile at Ryan. It had been completely hilarious. Except after two weeks, Ryan had gotten really tired of it and one morning he just glared at Seth and didn't talk to him all day.

That was the first of many arguments, Seth thought. Except he'd lost all of them, so they weren't really arguments so much as Ryan being angry and distant and Seth trying to figure out what he should do next. They had been accepted to the same college, and one day Ryan was saying they should request to be roommates. And the next day, Ryan was locking the door to the pool house, and not even looking up when Seth knocked. So they were still the best of friends except on the days when Ryan seemed to want Seth to be four states over. Which would be Texas. Seth was scared of most of Texas.

Ryan was actually pacing now, just one step back and forth and not looking at Seth at all. He was squeezing the soap like it was someone he didn't like.

So it was probably really bad. It was something completely horrible. Like Ryan had figured out that while Seth had had two amazingly hot girlfriends and loads of sex with certified hot girls, or girl, really, he still had a slight crush on Ryan. Had had. Still had. Continued to have even worse now that they were both single. At the same time. There wasn't anything wrong with that, Seth was sure, but Ryan might see it differently. Stranger things had happened: Seth counted Luke as one of his good friends now.

Ryan put the soap down and raised his hand. So this was it, Ryan was going to hit him. That was what all the arguments were about. Ryan had discovered things in therapy, like Seth sucked. Ryan'd been staring at Seth since therapy started, more than normal. So he'd been thinking about Seth. And how much he sucked. Seth was thinking, run, run, and all he could smell was sandalwood from the soap Ryan had had in his hands. So he should run, absolutely run. Ryan had never hit him, not once.

And he was ready, almost standing up, and then Ryan's hand was on his face. Seth was so ready to bolt or get hurt. It was a moment, two, before he realized that Ryan was just touching him and his face was right there. It was another heartbeat before Seth realized he was being kissed, Ryan was kissing him.

All Seth could smell was sandalwood and all he could hear was whatever music Anna had playing in her bedroom. And Ryan was kissing him.

Ryan was really good at kissing. No wonder Marissa had kept not breaking up with him all that time. As much as Seth had imagined this and he really hadn't, not that much, but even the times when he was really thinking about it, he hadn't imagined it would be this gentle and hot at the same time.

He hadn't completely processed what was happening, because he was still standing up, trying to get away. Except he wasn't. But Ryan grabbed at Seth's t-shirt, pulling him even closer. Seth clutched at Ryan's waist and thought, fuck, this was happening.

He could still hear the music from Anna's room, loud, something about mothers. Seth didn't want to think about his mother or anyone's mother. Kissing, they were still kissing. Tingles all the way down to his toes from how fucking awesome it was.

Someone knocked on the door. Anna said, "Come on, that's my bathroom, get out. Who is it?"

Ryan stepped back and looked over his shoulder. "Sorry, Anna, gimme a second."

Seth took a step back, blinking. "Uh, I'll wait in her room, okay? Do you want me to --"

"Yeah." Ryan smiled at the floor. "Sorry."

"For what?"

"For stopping here."

Seth sighed in relief. "Oh, that's fine. I know where you live."

He ducked into Anna's bedroom. It looked different. He closed the door as Ryan walked out of the bathroom to the hallway. Seth sat on the bed and kicked his feet. This had been a really great party. He got up and went to Anna's computer to see what that song had been.

*

They were on the floor, Ryan on his back, Seth on top of him, holding himself over Ryan for maximum kissing. Then Seth pushed himself up more and said, "Whoa, man, my back is killing me. Can we --"

Ryan closed his eyes and grimaced. "Sure."

Seth stood up and then flopped on the bed. Ryan's very nice bed. Ryan sat down next to him. "Your back?"

Seth waited for making out but Ryan was still sitting there. Seth said, "Ah. This pretty much shows why my romances have all been failures. I'm really good at salting my own game."

Ryan exhaled. "It's kind of a mood killer."

"I just prefer the bed to the floor." Seth smiled. "See, bed? Bed. I like this better."

Ryan stood up and straightened his shirt. "Sandy'll be home soon, we should get cleaned up."

Seth rolled over and pounded the pillow in exasperation. Then he rolled off the bed and said, "Okay, then."

When Seth wasn't complaining about his damn back, they usually got a lot further in their making out. A lot. It had been a pretty damn good summer, what with all the making out and having Ryan. Seth wasn't the possessive type and he never thought 'mine,' but he liked knowing that he had this view of Ryan no one else did.

It almost completely made up for how fucking complicated everything seemed. Everything with Ryan. Seth had thought being with Ryan would be like being Ryan's best friend except with sex added in. But it wasn't.

He thought he used to know nearly everything Ryan was thinking. But of course, he was no longer the best friend Ryan was talking about his girlfriend issues with. He was the girlfriend. It was weird, because he'd envied Marissa when she was dating Ryan, imagining all the cute little confidences they were sharing and things she knew. Maybe she never did.

Also, he'd envied all the kissing and making out, but he totally had that now.

So all good but they were arguing more. This afternoon had been more of a fizzle than an argument but they had had much bigger ones. It was pretty fucking annoying how many fizzles they were having, too. Seth thought this would be good times non-stop. Actual arguments weren't something Seth had a lot of experience with.

Yesterday had been an actual argument. First, Ryan had been very flirty at dinner. Flirty for Ryan. Sidelong looks. Smiling at his food. And smirking at Seth. Which annoyed Seth to no end when they'd already decided from day one not to tell Seth's parents for many, many reasons. Like Ryan was just playing with Seth, taunting him. Because maybe his parents wouldn't notice, but maybe they would. Seth was so not prepared for that.

After dinner, Seth'd gone straight to the poolhouse to wait for Ryan. Who didn't come back for an hour. Ryan had looked at Seth sitting on the bed and said, "What?" Tired, annoyed. So very Ryan.

Seth had smirked. "Dude, dinner? Not cool. That was not cool. We decided."

Ryan had looked up and shook his head. Ah, Ryan expressing his contempt of Seth, Seth loved that. Ryan had said, "They didn't notice."

"You hope. And like, that's no way to be, hoping they don't notice. It's pretty easy to not do things they might notice, as you know." Seth had been resolved to stay sitting but he just couldn't. He had stood up. "So, yes, I'm pissed. Roll your eyes, do your thing."

Ryan'd walked all the way, carefully closed the door and then sprawled out on the bed. "My thing? What is my thing, Seth?"

"Your thing where you act like I'm a little child or like, stupid, or like someone you make fun of?"

Ryan had made the face he always made and said, "You're not stupid. Or a little child. Except times like now."

"And you're soooooooooo mature. And sooooooooooo smart." Then Ryan had nearly shouted Seth's name and then they were just ranting at each other and then Seth's mom came in and they both stopped. She hadn't heard the shouting, she had extra popcorn from the parents movie watching night. After she left, Ryan had mumbled, "Sorry," and Seth had mumbled back the same thing and then they made out until Ryan had said it was time for sleep.

It's not like they were resolving things, they were just arguing until they ran out of steam. It drove Seth crazy.

Seth went to the kitchen and his dad said, "You had the car today, you have to pick up your mother."

"She can't get a cab home? We can afford one."

His dad glared and Ryan turned around from the oven and glared as well. Seth threw up his hands. "Okay, okay. I'm going."

His mom wasn't even ready to go when he got there but he sighed a lot and sat down and stood up and tapped the keys against his hip until she said, "Seth, I get it, I'm ready."

"You could buy me a car and make this easier on everyone."

"You're leaving for college in a month and you can't have a car on campus." She smiled and put on her seat belt.

"But this one month I could experience that crazy feeling of having my own car. The kind of thing most kids got two years ago."

"Not most kids."

Seth sighed. "Everyone I know."

"You don't know that many kids. And you don't need your own car. Talk me to next summer." She glanced down at the radio. "You left your cds in."

"Yes, for I used the car today and wanted to listen to my own music." Seth was only doing sailing lessons this summer. Ryan had a job interning with some construction company. He'd tried to explain it and Seth had pinched himself to keep himself awake. Ryan only worked ten to four pm and when he didn't have his counseling thing he was home two full hours before the parents. Maximum kissing and way more than that.

And just to make the drive home even more fun, after a few minutes of silence, his mom said, "Have you and Ryan been fighting more lately?"

Seth resisted the urge to stop the car. He said, "Yes, he thinks I shouldn't have my own car."

"Seth." She was using her evil mother powers to pack his name with a plethora of meanings. She got in the slapdown and the stop being a child thing and even a little bit of understanding.

"Mom." Take that, he thought.

"I think it's a really tense time for both of you, with going off to college and all those changes. I think," and she patted his leg at this part, "patience is a good thing."

"Thanks, mom, that makes everything better." Patience.

Three weeks, he thought. In three weeks, he and Ryan would be sharing a room in a dorm a very long drive away from his parents. Everything would be fine.

*

Moving in had sucked. First, lots of lifting and putting down. Heavy boxes. Small room. Lucky for Seth, Ryan traveled light. Not so lucky for Seth, Ryan stopped carrying Seth's boxes halfway through. "Mine's all in, man." He sat on the bed and unpacked while Seth and his dad carried in ten more boxes. Small boxes, but still. Seth needed his comics. Not all of them, but the really good ones. Ryan should have understood.

Second was the embarrassing goodbyes. Way too many hugs and something had flown into Seth's eyes because he definitely hadn't sniffled waving goodbye to his mother. He hadn't. Not that Ryan had believed that.

Third and last of the things that sucked was being alone in the room with Ryan. Ryan who was ignoring him, now, all his books and clothes unpacked, his computer on the desk and everything plugged in. The first words Ryan said for an hour were, "Don't forget, we have that meet the other freshmen thing at eight."

Seth said, "Sure. We have forty minutes." Seth gave up on organizing his comics and flopped on his bed. His mother had made the bed for him, last time for that. So this was college. So far it was a lot like home, only now more tension in even smaller spaces. He'd had high hopes.

Seth had unpacked and set up his computer before anything else and after his parents left, he'd set the music playing. Just when Seth thought he couldn't sink deeper into his slough of despair, their stupid first kiss song came up. If Seth hadn't been so tired and achy, he would have surged up and changed it. Instead he closed his eyes.

The bed dipped and Ryan said, "Isn't this that song? The one from the bathroom."

Seth opened his eyes and smiled. "Yeah."

"Buy it the next day?" That was a good smile, Ryan wasn't upset. Good.

Seth said, "No, of course not. I waited until there was a second time. Second kiss. Then I got it. It's kind of a crappy album, man. I don't even like it. But I like the song."

"Nothing says romance like a song about some kid dealing with his parents' divorce." Ryan nudged Seth and lay down next to him. "I like it, though."

Seth rested his hand on Ryan's stomach. Ryan had the best stomach in the entire world. "Worst first kiss song ever. At least in the top ten. You couldn't have waited three minutes more? Or maybe do it three minutes sooner?"

"Be glad I did it at all."

"Absolutely. I was, I am. But your timing. Maybe we should blame Anna."

Ryan smiled and looked away. He scooted closer. "So."

"So. I don't think that counts as a conversation starter. Are you still doing that?"

Ryan shrugged. "It wasn't an assignment. It was something to think about." Seth really wanted to pay attention, because this was absolutely important stuff, but Ryan was touching him. Touching his jeans and his waist and it wasn't the really focused type of touching, but it was still the kind that made Seth want more.

Ryan said, "My shrink thinks I should keep up the counseling here at school."

Seth blinked. "Do you, are you gonna do that?"

"What do you think?"

"Like, what do I think like I should know what you're going to do, or what's my opinion?" Definitely important stuff Seth should pay attention to.

And Ryan just looked at him. That was annoying. Seth said, "Well. I think counseling is a good thing in some cases. Like, crazy people. And non-crazy people who have problems. Category one, not that I don't like her, but we'll say Marissa. Lots of problems. And category two, say, people like you. Or, like." Seth took a deep breath, and checked that Ryan wasn't frowning or anything. Blank expression, okay.

Seth said, "Okay, so I think it's completely unfair that Luke, at one time, beat up half the county and never got a record or anything or was forced into counseling. Great that he stopped, of course. Close personal friend now, except when he wants to tell me about all the girls he's having sex with. But I don't think it's too far out on a limb to say that you maybe had a problem. With anger, say. Expressing anger. But then again, you haven't beaten anyone up or got in trouble for ages now, months even. So I think it's working."

Ryan nodded. Seth said, "Also, I think counseling makes sense, when dealing with not crazy people, in cases of specific problems. Like, couples or something. If they're maybe breaking up. Or fighting a lot."

"You think we should go to couples therapy? Here." Ryan looked freaked out.

"No. No, I don't think that. I was talking about counseling. I was saying, people do that and I think it's often a good idea. Maybe not so much for two people who've been dating for three months and are, like, college students. That would be overkill."

"Plus, we're not having problems."

"Okay. No. But okay."

"That didn't make sense." Ryan was sitting up a little so he could glare from above.

"I meant, okay, you think that. But no, I don't agree. About the no problems thing."

"What do you think is wrong here?"

Seth stared at Ryan for a moment. "Well, there's that last hour where we didn't talk and the, like, constant fighting and the part where I keep thinking, I dunno. I thought this would be much easier. We were really good at being friends."

"It's different now. Being friends isn't easy --"

"Especially when it's Luke and he really wants to play you his new song." Seth smiled because somehow saying they had problems made them less pressing.

"Yes, especially then." Ryan shuddered. "But I'm saying, this isn't friends and it's different and there's problems. But I don't, you think they're serious?"

"Actually no. My mother said something about patience. Patience for friends, not like, patience for people in relationships. Because I didn't tell her, or anything like that. Obviously."

Ryan laughed. At which point Seth felt better about everything. Altogether. And Ryan had remembered their song and he laughed. Maybe Seth was waiting so hard for balance to kick in with the bad things streak; he was looking at things that were just difficult as impending tragedies.

Seth said, "So are you gonna see the school shrink or not?"

Ryan looked blank. Seth said, "You know, you went because they made you."

"I got into a fight on school grounds. Not my first."

"The guy provoked you. A lot. Like, the definition of provoked." Seth was still pissed and it had been months. "And if you had been anyone else, it wouldn't, the only reason you had to do anything was because you were on all those warnings."

"I *was* on all those warnings."

Seth frowned. "If you were in the same situation now, would you hit him?"

Ryan shook his head. "I'd talk you into doing it."

Seth laughed. "So, okay, you're fixed. And interested in getting me beaten to a pulp. Like, hi, ask Luke if you need a beat down, okay? If you feel mostly fixed, I vote no."

Ryan sat up and said, "So no it is."

"What if I'd said you should do it?"

"I'd think about it." Ryan went over to his bed and put on his sneakers. "You'd have a good reason, right?"

"Or I'd just be fucking with your head." Seth sat up and grinned. "We have time for a kiss, right?"

Ryan didn't answer, but as he walked by Seth's bed he pulled Seth up by his t-shirt into one of those should-be-patented Ryan Atwood scorching kisses that left him stumbling. Ryan said, "We have to go, come on."

"Absolutely." Seth followed Ryan, trying to get his other sneaker on as they walked into the hall.

THE END

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