NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS: Characters, etc property of Warner Brothers, Hypnotic, and Wonderland Sound and Vision, and Everwood Utah, Inc., not me. Not for profit to infinity and beyond. Quotes from the song Silica by Kristin Hersh, title from Yes, Anastasia by Tori Amos. Inspired in part by Melanie Thernstrom's The Dead Girl. Thanks to Maggie for the info and help. Thanks to Younger, Katie and Amber for excellent betas.



WE'LL SEE HOW BRAVE YOU ARE



Let the ache out
Spread it around

It maybe added up to six weeks, total. If Ephram stretched the definition of weeks.

He was including the times when his mother would talk about her cousin Sandy and how they did this and that as kids, her favorite cousin. Time spent reading holiday cards, opening pretty generic gifts.

And actual face to face time was three or four holidays, two bar mitzvahs, three funerals, one wedding and one week at the house in the Hamptons without his father, of course, and with Sandy, Sandy's wife, and their son.

One morning, Delia had woken up early and saw Sandy with his hair sticking up from sleep and she ran screaming into the living room. Between the hair and the eyebrows, she thought he was a monster. Seth and Ephram spent four hours one day sitting on the same bed arguing about comic books and pulling out their favorites to make particularly important points. Both their moms peeked in once and retreated quickly.

It's been nothing more than cards on birthdays and holidays since they moved to Everwood. Ephram always thought Sandy didn't think much of his dad, so he's surprised at dinner when his dad says, "Your cousin Kirsten called me today about visiting."

A week later, it was "Okay, Kirsten called again and they definitely want to visit. All four of them. Won't that be nice?"

"How is it four?"

Raised eyebrows over pizza, "Remember their holiday card? They've adopted a boy, Ryan. He was on the card."

Delia said, "I don't remember." A whine in her voice because she barely remembered them anyway.

"Well, they have and they're talking about all coming out here. They want to see you guys."

A week after that there were actual dates in June and actual whining from Delia about still being able to go to the pool even with the cousins in town. A week after that, the dates were the same but now it was just Seth and the new kid. "Sandy has a trial and Kirsten has some thing at work. But the boys are still coming. That'll be fun, won't it?"

Ephram said, "Are they being punished?"

"No." This time a frown over spaghetti.

"Right. Because living in Los Angeles, they probably can't wait to come Everwood to stay with people they haven't seen in years. They probably begged their parents to let them come." Ephram reached for more bread and Delia nearly laughed.

Ephram thought it would be cancelled the next week or the week after but instead they put a small futon in Ephram's room and another in Delia's and bought more food. A whole week planned.

Ephram got to drive to the airport. "How are we even gonna recognize them? It's been years."

Just another smile. "Seth knows what I look like and you haven't changed that much since you were thirteen."

"Yes, I have."

A pat on his shoulder and they stood with all the other people waiting. Ephram thought they should have made a sign. They didn't need one after all, because Seth waved as soon as he and the other one broke out of the crowd by the security gates. Ryan, thought Ephram. That's his name.

Ryan who might have been mute except right then when they first met, he said, "Pleased to meet you," and "thanks, I've got it" when Ephram offered to carry his bag. Nothing else while waiting for their other luggage or walking to the car or the first thirty miles out of Denver to Everwood. Maybe he was used to letting Seth do all the talking or maybe he'd given up on talking altogether after living with Seth.

According to Seth, the flight had had a lot of turbulence and it was Ryan's first flight and yeah, Ryan threw up but there had been a lot of turbulence and Ryan felt much better and they were really stoked to be there and man, Denver had a huge airport, the trains and everything. The trains might be good idea for LAX, because that was also huge, but not as nice as the Denver airport.

Ephram thought his dad was in some kind of heaven with an actual teenager who wanted to talk about his life because the two of them talked for a straight half hour about Seth and Ryan's private school, how Sandy and Kirsten were doing and even a quick conversation about the girls Ryan and Seth used to date. Seth's girlfriend had dumped him for being too self-absorbed and that was something he was definitely going to work on. Ephram tried to find a radio station and made sure his dad didn't start talking about him.

Seth said, "So, Everwood. What do we have to look forward to?" He smiled. Ryan was looking out the window, face blank. Ephram decided Ryan was the one being punished, sent away for a week, Seth was along for the ride. Seth added, "Anything we should be warned about?"

Ephram said, "The mind-numbing boredom? There's nothing to miss in Everwood, trust me."

And nothing to warn them about. Not really. Nobody seemed to think of Dr. Brown as the town crazy anymore. Nobody blamed him for Colin's death anymore. Not out loud.

Ephram looked out the window while his dad and Seth talked again. More than a year ago now, it had been two or three weeks ago when the Pinecone had had that article. Another memorial service. Ephram hadn't gone. He watched the road go by and listened to the hum of the engine, Seth's voice, his dad's voice.

He thought, Colin. It maybe added up to six weeks, total. If Ephram stretched the definition of weeks. And it didn't matter.

*

Ryan liked Colorado so far. It was giving him a headache, but he thought that was leftover from the plane. It looked different from California because they built higher, no earthquakes. He liked looking at the houses, even the suburbs where every house came from the same three models.

Dr. Brown wasn't what Ryan had expected. A famous neurosurgeon, Kirsten had said, her mouth turning down. Seth said when he was a kid, his parents always said if he got dropped on his head they knew someone in the family who would fix him right up. Sandy seemed to think Dr. Brown wasn't a very good father, and Sandy said it like it was one of the worst things you could say about someone. Sandy probably thought so.

But Dr. Brown was affable, flannel shirt and jeans. Friendly questions about the Cohens, Seth and Ryan's school. Ephram looked like he'd never had enough sleep in his entire life, but maybe that was just his face.

It was a weird vacation, visiting family that borrowed family. Of course, the Cohens were happy to share. And it was absolutely a vacation, nothing to do with this being the week Marissa was moving back in next-door and Julie Cooper's dislike of Ryan and the other million things that were Marissa and Ryan. Kirsten and Sandy were crappy liars. Ryan liked that about them.

Dr. Brown said, "So what are you guys thinking about college?"

Ryan glanced at Seth and said, "Nothing until September. Right?"

"It's a banned topic until school starts up again." Seth laughed. "Too stressful. Makes people crazy. Causes fights."

"But you've already taken your SATs and you're getting letters, right? Ephram's gotten a few letters." Dr. Brown grinned at his son. Ephram glared at the window.

Seth sighed. "Dude, Ryan gets the letters. With the 1530 on the SAT, colleges are trying to get close to me just to get to him."

Ephram turned around for that one. "Seriously? 1530?"

Seth said, "1530. I cried." He grinned, though, like Sandy always did, like they were really proud.

"It's just a test. And you didn't do so bad, Seth."

Dr. Brown said, "Did you take a class?"

Ryan said, "No." He looked out the window and stared intently at the passing cars. Just a standardized test. It wasn't anything earned.

Even Dr. Brown had recognized his withdrawal and the conversation had shifted to Ephram's college plans. Julliard maybe, a good music school. Ephram played piano.

Everwood was a long drive from Denver. Population 9300 the sign said. Not poor. They drove on a wide street with stores on either side and then it was just houses and trees. Then Dr. Brown said, "Here we are," and they parked on the street outside a white house with a wraparound porch on the ground level and the second story.

They were unloading the bags when people came out from the house next door. Ryan saw a woman, a little boy, and a girl about Caitlin's age wearing a baseball hat. The girl smiled and came over to the car. "You're back!"

Dr. Brown patted the girl's shoulder and said, "This is Delia. And Delia, you remember Seth. And this is Ryan."

She turned to look at him and smiled like it was Christmas. "You're Ryan?"

He nodded and held out his hand. "It's nice to meet you."

She hugged him instead and said something about being great to meet him to his stomach. He patted her back.

Delia pulled back, still smiling and said, "Hi, Seth. You're tall now."

"Yes, I am. You're much taller, too." Another hug and then they were walking into the house. The woman and the boy were standing on their porch. Dr. Brown waved and she waved back. Friendly smile and then she was back inside.

It was big and clean. Big like a house, not big like the Cohen's which was really a mansion.

Delia pulled him by the hand upstairs and said, "You two are in Ephram's room and he's in mine. Just while you're here. Put your bags down." She waved at the room and stood there until Seth and Ryan had put down their bags in the doorway to Ephram's room. Ryan had a moment to look before Delia grabbed his hand again and said, "Okay, now let's see my room."

She had a really nice collection of baseball hats. Ryan said that and she grinned up at him. Seth said, "You have a really nice room, Delia, I'm impressed with what you've done with it."

Delia pointed out where the bathroom was, and then they heard Dr. Brown calling them downstairs. Delia said, "He's gotten so much better at cooking. I bet dinner will be really good." She ran downstairs.

Seth said, "Okay, yeah, getting my sneakers out of the bag. Dude, she's so hot for you."

"I'm charming."

"To ten year olds." Seth put on his shoes and looked in Ephram's room. "This is nice. Small, but nice."

*

Dinner was surprisingly edible. Ryan asked for an aspirin afterwards, but he said it wasn't for his stomach. Ephram made an excuse about getting things out of his bedroom before Seth and Ryan wanted to go to bed so he could duck out of Delia's grand plan for everyone to play Scrabble. Ephram refused to play his father in Scrabble. Or someone who got a 1530 on their SATs.

He made sure the futon was open and had sheets on it and grabbed things to read. Not like he couldn't get things in the morning. Or the next morning. He sat on his bed and held a book he wasn't going to read.

He didn't want to think about Colin. He'd made it through the anniversary, every single one of those. Sheer force of will, he thought. Lots of denial. All the weird personal anniversaries he hadn't even thought about because he'd been dating Madison. He'd had much better things to think about than someone he hadn't been in love with at all.

Six weeks weren't anything. He didn't even need denial, he didn't have anything to deny.

When he went downstairs, Ryan had spelled the word hoyden for over twenty points. Ephram wasn't even sure he knew what that word meant. Delia was looking at Ryan like he had wings. Seth was bent over his letters, laughing. And Ephram's dad was defining hoyden for Delia.

Ephram sat down next to Delia and said, "You want a partner?"

Delia nodded. "I need one."

*

At 2am Ryan hated Colorado. Maybe just Everwood. Or just his head, about to explode and his stomach rolling. He wanted to throw up. Or beat his head against the floor because it would hurt less. Ryan took a deep breath. He tried to go back to sleep.

He woke up at 3am and 4am and when he woke up at 5:30 am, he gave up.

He went downstairs for more aspirin. He took three with water and started the coffee. There were two papers on the doorstep, one from Denver and one called the Pinecone. He'd read the Pinecone and started on the front page of the Denver Post when Dr. Brown came downstairs. He stopped and stared. "You're up early."

"Just woke up." Ryan sipped his coffee and passed over the front page.

"You read it. I like to start with the Pinecone. It's a new thing for me, but the Pinecone makes the morning better."

"There's a chili cook-off coming." Ryan's head was going to explode. It hurt so much he could feel it in his fingertips.

"Third largest in Colorado. Maybe the country, I never remember."

Ryan said, "Do you like chili?"

"You know, not that much." Dr. Brown laughed a little. "You look tired."

"I woke up at 5:30." Ryan stood up and looked at the oven. He was going to throw up in the sink, he was sure. But he didn't, so he said, "You want something? I can cook."

"Really?" Dr. Brown sipped his coffee. "Well, you're my guest, I should be doing that."

Ryan looked out the window. It was a pretty view, snug houses and trees and bikes in the yard across the street. He went to the refrigerator and looked for something to make.

Ryan went with pancakes but he screwed up somewhere with the flour and had to make a second batch. He looked at the ingredients and said, "We're high altitude, I guess."

"Yeah." That was Ephram. After a few minutes, there was Delia and Seth, too.

Delia said, "You cook, too?"

"He's the complete package," Seth said.

Breakfast went quick and no one but Seth noticed that Ryan barely ate. Seth just said, "Did you already have something?" and sat back down when Ryan nodded. Ryan wasn't going to make a fuss.

When they'd all eaten, Dr. Brown said, "Okay, I have to go to Denver today to meet with those surgeons. I'll be back by six, but if you need anything, ask Nina or, Ephram, you know what to do." He grabbed his backpack and said, "And thank you very much for breakfast, Ryan."

They sat around the table for an hour after that reading papers and talking. Ryan leaned against the sink and felt every breath in his head and his stomach.

Seth stood next to him and said, "Dude, you look like shit." He whispered the last word.

"I feel fine." Ryan closed his eyes. Then he threw up in the sink.

*

Ephram was briefly convinced his father had finally done it and hurt someone with his cooking. But everyone else looked okay. Plus, Ryan had cooked breakfast. Ryan said, "I'm fine."

"Yes," Seth said. "You're perfectly fine and you just threw up in the sink and you look like your head hurts. A lot. I've seen you look better after being beaten up by the entire water polo team."

"It's just a stomach thing." Ryan looked over his shoulder at the sink. "I should clean that up."

Delia looked in the sink. "It's pretty gross. But you're sick." She paused. "Maybe Ephram can do it."

Seth said, "Look, you've eaten things mom made and been fine --"

"One thing. Two bites." Ryan grimaced.

Ephram said, "We should go to a doctor."

"The doctor's in Denver, right?" Seth looked panicked. His hand was on the table right next to Ryan's and Ephram thought he wanted to touch Ryan.

"There's two doctors in town," Delia said. "We could go to Dr. Abbott."

"I say yes." Seth nodded. "Call that doctor."

"For an upset stomach? No." Ryan stood up and even Ephram could see it was an effort. "I'm fine. Don't make a fuss."

Seth said, "No, we're going to a doctor. If we were home, Mom and Dad would take you. And they're not here, so I'm, like, a stand-in. And as such, speaking for your legal guardians, we're calling a doctor."

To make it easy, Ryan threw up again in the sink. Ephram said, "Better idea. Let's call Edna."

Seth said, "Edna?"

Delia said, "She's great."

"She's a doctor?"

Ephram shook his head. "No, she's Dad's nurse. We can just call her."

"Just a nurse?" Seth sounded panicked.

"Edna is very smart. She served in the war." Delia crossed her arms and looked fierce.

Ephram said, "She was in the army, she's been a nurse forever. We'll call her."

Ryan said, "That's a better idea."

She answered the phone with "Doc Brown's office, he's not in today." He explained about Ryan being sick and she said she was just a nurse, Ephram said it was just an upset stomach and she made a harrumph noise and he passed over the phone to Ryan.

Delia came up to Ephram and said, "Maybe we should have called Dad." She whispered, "He said he had a headache, too. Heads are Dad's specialty."

"Dad's in Denver. You can trust Edna." He patted her shoulder. "It was probably Dad's cooking."

"But then we'd all be sick." Delia said, "I hope he doesn't go home. Does he have a girlfriend?"

Ephram pressed his lips together so he didn't laugh. Then he said, "I think he doesn't. Seth said something about an ex-girlfriend in the car ride here from the airport. But maybe wait to ask him to prom until he's feeling better."

Delia snorted. "I'm not going to ask him to prom. God." Another pause. "But we're not, like, he's not related, right? So we could get married, right?"

"Uh, I guess not. Maybe it's a little soon to be planning the wedding, though. See if he makes it through the day."

"You said he'd be fine." Delia glared at him.

"Just kidding."

*

The nurse said sternly, "Ever had a migraine?"

"No."

"Anything like this before?"

Ryan shrugged. It made his head hurt again. "I went on a ski trip a few months ago and we had bad shrimp. It felt like this. Caitlin, my friend's little sister, got sick, too."

She said, "Ski trip? Go skiing often?"

"Never. That was supposed to be the first time."

"Mountain climbing? Is this your first trip to this elevation?"

"I've only ever been in California. And not up in the hills."

"Private, I'm pretty sure you have altitude sickness. Do you know what that is?" Ryan said no. She continued, "We're at about 8200 feet above sea level. Less oxygen in the air. Most people won't notice. But some people are more susceptible. So you get headaches, nausea, the whole kit and caboodle you've got."

"So I'm going to feel like this the whole time I'm here?"

"No. You'll acclimate. You'll feel this bad today, tomorrow you'll probably feel better and then you'll be fine."

"So there's no drugs or anything I can take?" Ryan wanted something.

"Aspirin oughta work. Plus some Dramamine. And if you still feel this bad tomorrow, Doc Brown will be back. I'm no doctor, but I know altitude sickness. If anything changes, call Doc Abbott."

Ryan relayed what she'd said to Ephram and Delia since Seth had disappeared from the room. Ephram left to buy the Dramamine at the drugstore.

Ryan sat on the couch and Delia brought him aspirin and a glass of tea. "My mom always gave me tea when my tummy hurt." He said thank you and took a sip while she watched.

Seth said, "Dude, You should call mom. Cause I think she might be freaking out."

"Why would she be freaking out?"

Seth looked away and said, "Because I called her. And said you were sick. So, she's freaking out."

"Right." Seth handed him his phone and Ryan walked out to the porch. They had a swing, like something out of a magazine.

Kirsten answered on the first ring. "Seth?"

"No, it's me. He let me use his phone."

"We should get you your own. I'm glad it's even working." Kirsten sounded worried. "Are you okay? If you want to come home, Seth has the emergency credit card, you just say the word."

"It's fine. I'll be fine in a day."

"Are you just saying that? I don't care if it's a fuss or Seth wants to stay or whatever." She sighed. "I wish you were here. I'd order soup."

"Special soup?" He almost laughed.

"Actually yes. There's this place I always order from when Seth's not feeling well. They make great soup. With noodles. Sandy really likes it, too."

"I'll be fine."

"Did she seem competent, the nurse? Maybe you should see an actual doctor." She was back to worried.

"It's just altitude sickness." He looked through the window and saw everyone sitting on the couch.

She said, "Okay. But you call me tomorrow if you feel worse or you don't feel better. Or if you feel better. Either way. And Sandy might call tonight because I called him."

A little more worry and her regards to Seth and then Ryan went back inside. Delia made him sit on the couch and they flipped through channels. Delia stopped at a movie and said, "Is this one okay? Have you seen it?"

Ryan shook his head. She said, "Do you want to see it? We have movies, too. Black Beauty. Finding Nemo. They're not just for little kids."

"This one works." Seth and Ephram had disappeared upstairs somewhere. The movie wasn't so bad.

*


Play a grownup
'Til you grow up

Seth sat close to Ephram on the bed, the comic book open on his lap. He was talking about something and pointing carefully at the page. Ephram nodded and said, "Yeah, totally," without knowing what he was agreeing to.

Go to the doctor, go quickly. What if, make a list of where things could have been different even though Ephram wasn't that invested, hadn't been that invested. Not like everyone else. He didn't have the right. It was stuck in his head like a theme, not yours to be feeling this. You don't have the right. He agreed. He was wrong to be, all this time afterwards, suddenly obsessed with not even six weeks or anything after. He didn't get to be depressed. Drink too much, go on Zoloft, fail a class, move away and move back. Ephram hadn't even earned the right to dress in black and not wash his hair for a few days.

Seth was bent over the comic a little now, the light from the window right in Ephram's eyes and if he blinked, it wouldn't be Seth at all. He blinked. He was leaning closer, his face tilted towards Ephram and now, now he would reach up with the good hand and almost touch Ephram's face but instead his hand would just be out there, suspended. Then they would kiss.

Except it was Seth. And both his hands were on the comic book. So Ephram leaned in and kissed him.

Just long enough for Seth to open his mouth, maybe two breaths or some other really short count of time, then Seth moved back. He blinked. He took the comic book and carefully closed it, stood up and put it on Ephram's desk. He walked to the door and right when Ephram thought he'd just run straight out and downstairs and get Ryan, probably, to beat the shit out of him, Seth just leaned against the door, closing it. He came back and sat on the bed, still awfully close to Ephram.

This was the time for something clever to say. Ephram was never ready for those times. Seth said, "Huh. Did I miss something?"

"Something?" It was better than 'for a moment there you reminded me so much of someone. Who's dead. By the way.' Ephram tried just staring.

Seth touched his lips. "Just, huh. I've never done that before."

That was a nice one-up for Ephram. He kept up with the staring. Seth said, "Not, I mean, dude, I've kissed lots of people. Just, only girls. And I've had sex. With a girl. More than once. And she was hot. Is hot. And oddly enough, thinks I might be gay. I have two ex-girlfriends, you know." Seth looked at the floor.

Ephram shrugged. "Me, too. I mean, not really two ex-girlfriends, but I have one, definitely. We had sex. She's 21."

Seth said, "Wow." Then, "Now that we've proved we're, uh, studs or something. I was, okay, that was --"

"Okay, look," Ephram said and tried to think of something that made sense.

But Seth was kissing him, his hand on Ephram's neck, not suspended or waiting at all. Longer this time, even more breaths they weren't taking. Seth pushed them both back on the bed.

Ephram said, "So. You clearly weren't offended."

Seth laughed, his forehead resting against Ephram's, Ephram aware just then of their legs tangled together, June, and they were both in jeans, he thought. Seth said, "I wasn't, dude, I was. Surprised. I haven't, I mean until three minutes ago, but there have been thoughts. Moments where I thought." He laughed again.

Ephram laughed, too, because it was absurd. But hot, too, right then, pressed down on his own bed by his cousin who was actually hot if you actually looked. Apparently life really was always completely weird and not what you expected.

They were kissing again and Ephram had no idea who'd started it this time. He touched Seth's face, hair, rubbed Seth's back, up under his t-shirt. Seth pressed him down farther into the bed. Ephram thought that Ryan had slept here last night, just a hint of him, a smell, around Seth, the room, the comics taken out of their plastic bags somewhere to his right.

Making out was so under-rated. Making out was great, kissing again and hands everywhere and the awkward poke of Seth's knuckles, his elbow as he tried to get Ephram's jeans unbuttoned, noses bumping, sweating. He pushed at Seth a little, and said, "Okay, it's gonna look, I don't wanna have to change my jeans here."

"Should we stop?" Seth looked sorry, almost.

"No, just, wait." Ephram shifted and laughed and got his pants off, his underwear, too. Or at least down to his knees. And Seth nodded and did the same thing, looking away. Because this was Seth who even at ten never seemed sure anyone besides his parents really liked him.

Ephram rolled over on top of Seth and touched his face. "Okay, right?" He moved his hips and fuck, that was nice. Seth grunted and nodded, then more kissing. More kissing and thrusting and rubbing and other really good things that were building to from slow burn to something, something better. Better, better, best.

Ephram flopped onto his back and said, "That was nice."

"Yes, thank you." Seth covered his mouth. "Okay, yeah, we should get back downstairs."

"Yeah." Ephram reached in his drawer and found a washcloth. Lucky break, Ryan had left a half-full bottle of water on the dresser, as well. Ephram noticed the coaster underneath the bottle and snorted.

They went downstairs. Seth whispered, "Stealth, right?" and Ephram whispered back, "Right, which starts with not appearing stealthy because nothing happened." Seth nodded. Ephram knew he looked fine and Seth looked fine, too. Nothing to see, just reading comic books.

In the living room, Seth sat down quickly in the chair and identified the movie with a glance, babbling to Delia about the time his ex-girlfriend made him watch it. Ephram decided to get a drink from the kitchen. He glanced back at them, and met Ryan's eyes for one moment. Ephram knew that look, anger and hate. Amy looked at him like that sometimes, long ago. Then it was gone and Ryan went back to watching the movie.

*

"So your day pretty much sucked, huh?" Dr. Brown made himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. Dinner had been cleared away, take-out from some diner this time, and everyone else had gone off to bed. Ryan wanted every part of this day to be over but he wasn't tired. Worn down was more like it. Even Newport hadn't been this hard on the first day.

Dr. Brown said, "Well, Edna was right. You'll feel better tomorrow. I bet by Wednesday you'll feel great."

"I wish it was Wednesday then."

"You guys just watched movies?"

"Downed half your Advil, watched Seth and Ephram play video games. You should have been here." And there was that part around noon when Seth and Ephram were fucking or something close to it up in Ephram's room. Delia hadn't noticed, but Ryan knew Seth too well not to see. Which made Ryan angry for reasons he decided to think about when his head didn't hurt so much.

Dr. Brown smiled and said, "So it was that bad?" He was like Sandy that first day, seeing what Ryan thought of Seth.

"No. Not that bad."

"I remember the first time I met Sandy," Dr. Brown said. "Julia kept talking about her cousin Sandy, best guy ever, so funny, and I had to miss the wedding, so the first time we all met was their grandmother's 80th birthday party, I think. Julia and Kirsten were both pregnant, too, I think. Sandy didn't like me and Julia thought Kirsten was great." He laughed at that. "They're a lot alike, don't you think? Seth and Ephram?"

Ryan didn't think so. He wondered what was the kinder answer. He said, "Well. I've never seen Seth and Sandy have nothing to talk about."

"Ephram and I have plenty to talk about when we're arguing. I think we're saving that until you feel better." Dr. Brown put his coffee cup in the sink. "Sandy called me today, you know. And Kirsten. They were worried about you."

"But it turns out I'm just really bad with heights."

"I think it's nice to have people worried about you."

"Mostly." Ryan finished his glass of water and washed both cups in the sink. "I think I'm finally tired enough to sleep."

Seth was asleep on the bed, curled on his side. Ryan wondered if the bed smelled.

Delia decided in the morning that she had to go to the pool. All her friends would be there. Ephram could take her but he had to practice his piano. As Dr. Brown started to volunteer to drive her, she said, "Ryan could take me. You swim, right, and you said you feel better."

Which ended up being the plan. They rode in with Dr. Brown and Ryan didn't think about Seth's guarded looks, "don't you want to hang out?" Now that Ryan was the only person Seth knew in town. Fuck Seth. Or leave that to Ephram.

As soon as they got to the pool, Delia ran straight to a group of ten-year-old girls. It was frightening. They squealed and Ryan looked away. He had War and Peace to get through. Summer reading.

He looked up every ten pages to see if Delia were drowning or being led away by a stranger, but she was always with her friends, splashing in the pool. Twice she saw him and waved back, then turned to her friends and said something he couldn't hear.

After 100 pages, he looked up and saw a girl his age with very long straight hair in a crisp uniform standing there. "Hi," she said. "Do you want a drink? Soda, I mean."

"Uh, sure."

She wrote it down on her pad and then tapped her pencil against the pad. "You're Ephram and Delia's cousin, right?"

He nodded. "The one who was sick yesterday?" He nodded again in surprise. "It's not that impressive," she said. "My grandmother's the nurse you saw. Small town."

"So I see."

She smiled. "So, you have a fan club." She glanced over at the girls with Delia and then at a smaller group of 13-year-olds in another corner of the pool. "You can tell me or one of them might get up the courage to come over here. I don't think the book will hold them off."

"Tell you what?"

"The important things. How long are you here, do you have a girlfriend, full name, any exciting activities at school, what do you think of Everwood? Things like that."

He just looked at her for a moment. "Um."

"We'll start with name."

"Ryan."

She made a rolling motion with her pencil. "They'll just make up something."

"Atwood."

"Age, school, activities? And are you always this talkative or is it me?"

He smiled at that. "16 for one more month, about to be a senior, and uh, I play soccer? And it's not you."

She laughed. "Okay, good. Girlfriend?"

"Not anymore." He opened his book again. "Ulterior motive?"

"Me?" She tucked her notepad into her pocket. "Okay, fine. The ten minutes they'll talk about you will be ten minutes less about me. That's how it works." She paused and said, "I'm Amy, by the way."

"It's nice to meet you." She smiled at him over her shoulder as she walked away.

Before she came back with his drink, Delia and two of her friends came over and sat around the table. Delia said, "How are you feeling?" and waited until Ryan said he was okay. Then he fielded questions about his book and whether he'd be swimming. His head still hurt. "I can swim at home." Then ten more questions about whether he had his own pool, what the pool looked like, did he have a hot tub, what that looked like, what it was like period.

Day one in Newport all the questions seemed malicious, here they seemed curious.

All the girls went back to the pool except Delia. She said, "What are we doing for lunch?"

Amy put Ryan's coke down next to him and said, "You could have it here. You guys have an account."

Delia said hi and Amy said hey and then Delia said, "We should call Ephram and Seth, though."

Ryan shrugged. "If you want. I bet they're amusing themselves." He glanced back at his book.

Delia said, "We could go to Mama Joy's. It's not that far a walk, I think." Ryan closed his book and nodded.

*

Ephram had played piano for two hours and then found Seth reading on his bed. Blowjob, handjob, Seth's attempt at a blowjob which wasn't completely horrible, a half hour break to stare at the ceiling and wait for Seth to say something which he didn't, more making out and Seth's surprisingly improved second attempt at a blowjob. Then Ephram had said something about people maybe coming home, and they both got quick showers and now they were playing video games. Seth loved video games.

There were moments when Seth was talking that it was like some Peanuts character, waah waah waah you should get this game, it's so great waah waah waah. It was oddly comforting. Ephram felt rude, too, and wondered how many people just tuned Seth out at home. He wondered if Ryan ever did. Probably not, if Seth's seeming two-hour speech about the greatness of Ryan was any indication. Ephram didn't see it.

Seth paused the game when his phone rang. He stared at the number and said, "Who's calling me from Colorado?" He opened the phone and said, "Hello?" and then, "Yeah, he's right here." He handed the phone to Ephram. "It's for you."

It was Bright. "Are you at home?"

"Yes. Where did you get this number?"

"I was driving downtown and there's Delia with some guy. Just walking along. So I picked 'em up, turns out it's your cousin, man. He's cool. So we're at Mama Joy's and we thought we should call you, see if you guys wanted to join us. And that other cousin." When Ephram first met Bright, Bright was an asshole to him. Extenuating circumstances, granted, but it still felt weird that Bright immediately warmed up to Ryan.

Ephram said, "Yeah, we'll drive over. Give us fifteen minutes."

"It won't take you that long to drive over, man. We're hungry."

"Whatever." Ephram hung up.

When they were in the car, Seth fidgeted with his seatbelt and looked out the window. He said in a burst, "You give really good blowjobs. Like, so did my ex-girlfriend, the one who I had sex with, she was really good, too."

Ephram laughed. "Well, thanks. Thanks, that's great to hear."

"Okay, I was actually working up to say something else but that's what came out. Not that it wasn't true. Because it was. But it was more, what exactly are we doing here?"

Ephram stared at the road. He was hoping Seth wouldn't bring it up. He said, "Great blowjobs, according to you. But that doesn't include yours. Sorry."

"You said I was getting better." Seth pressed his lips together.

"You are, grasshopper. You are."

"But that's not all we're doing. I'm talking about the kissing cousins and the more than kissing."

"It's just kissing. And the other stuff. It's nothing else. I'm not planning on running away with you, I don't care if you leave here and sleep with other people, fuck, I don't care if you sleep with other people while you're here. It's just fooling around. Okay? It doesn't mean anything."

He glanced at Seth to see if he looked hurt. It was interesting, being the one giving that speech. He was ashamed for a moment that he enjoyed it.

Seth said, "Okay. That works for me. I just wanted to be clear." He rubbed his hands on his jeans and looked blank. Seth probably didn't have any expectations. Ephram hadn't had any expectations last year, but he'd still been hurt. A little.

Delia had arranged the seating, Ephram was sure, because she was squeezed in the middle of the seat between Ryan and Bright. Ryan and Bright were clearly getting on like a house on fire since Ryan was actually laughing. Ephram and Seth sat down on the empty seat across from the happy threesome.

Bright said, "Hey, man, I'm Bright."

Seth blinked and said, "Hey. Seth." They shook hands. Then Seth said, "Um, actually, is there a bathroom? I want to wash up if we're eating." Bright pointed and Seth got up quickly. Ephram wondered if he was freaking out about how they'd spent their morning and where his hands had been.

Ryan looked over the menu and said, "Everything looks good, man."

"At Mama Joy's?" Ephram looked down at the menu again.

"The food is good here," Bright said. "Man, do you like Mexican, because there's this actual new place that opened one town over."

Ryan was saying something about some neighbor he'd once had who made great burritos. Seth came back and sat down, watching Ryan and blinking a lot. Seth said, "Mother of Teresa?"

Ryan nodded and Bright said, "Mother Teresa? You knew her?" They were both grinning like big stupid idiots.

Lunch was weirdly painful. At least Seth was awkward and made stupid jokes, but Ryan was comfortable like he'd been born here. Ephram couldn't believe he was envying someone for fitting in Everwood. But Ryan was short and if Delia and Bright hadn't been there and it hadn't been Mama Joy's, he could have had Seth under the table in a second.

Thinking that left him feeling like an ass.

Then in the afternoon they just screwed around the house or out in the yard. The four of them and Ryan could even be funny, was incredibly nice to Delia and only once looked over at Ephram like he'd like to kick him into next week. The rest of the time he was completely likeable.

They went to Gino Chang's for dinner. Seth and Ryan found it amusing. "This is, like, the best restaurant ever." Seth's eyes were wide. One of the mothers of Delia's friends came over with her daughter to say hi to Ryan and Delia. He was popular with everyone, apparently.

The night dragged and dragged after Ephram put his foot down and banned Scrabble. Ryan and Seth and Delia went upstairs and Ephram washed the dishes from breakfast while his dad drank a glass of water. Ephram should have done them in the morning, but he'd been distracted by playing and sex. He wasn't going to say that to his dad.

But, of course, there was going to be conversation. "So it's not so bad, right, having them here? You're enjoying it?"

"Seth is cool. It's fine."

Ephram could see his father glance upstairs and then he said, "I like Ryan. Don't you?"

Ephram shrugged. Objectively, sure. But here was some kid from Newport Beach who took to Everwood like he was born to be here and everyone liked immediately for some reason Ephram didn't get. If he'd stayed longer, he'd probably end up going out with Amy and being Bright's new best friend. Ephram looked out the window for a moment and swallowed. He'd had enough of that.

He said, "What's his deal? What's, why did the Cohens take him in?"

There was a long pause. Ephram had finished the few dishes and he turned around and watched his father think. Finally, his dad said, "His mother abandoned him, his father's in jail. It's not a nice story and I wouldn't, I don't think it's really anyone's business."

"Because I'm so wired into the Everwood grapevine, I'm sure to get it right on the front page of the Pinecone."

"Well, you don't seem to like him too much." Now his dad was standing up, putting his glass in the sink. That was the concerned but slightly disapproving expression.

"I like him fine. I was just wondering." Ephram went off to bed. He almost went to his own room but remembered before he opened the door. Delia was already asleep but she'd left her bedside lamp on for him. He made sure her covers were tight around her before turning the light off and going to bed.

He dreamt of Colin. He woke up angry. He'd never dreamt of Colin before Seth and Ryan came. That was Amy's job, Amy's right. The Harts. Maybe Bright. Ephram didn't want the dreams or the memories or this weird feeling of loss, lodged in his throat this week. He'd been way more in love with Amy then, he still loved Amy more than anything he'd felt then. He'd loved Amy even when he had her boyfriend's dick in his hands. Something about that was wrong, Ephram was sure.

Right before Colin kissed him, they'd been talking about something, someone. Not the manga they were looking at, but someone. Ephram wished he still knew. But he remembered that Colin had said, "He's so dreamy," laughing.

*


Wish you were here
Wish I was not

Delia was chattering and Ryan nodded as often as needed. She was a really great kid. Then she got a phone call from one of her little friends and disappeared into the living room. Seth moved his chair closer to Ryan's and said, "So. You're having fun."

"I am." He felt fine, actually really good, for the first time since getting off the plane.

"It's like you like here more than home, man." Someone else would have grinned to try to make it a joke, but Seth didn't.

"It's just a vacation."

"Yeah." Seth looked away. "But still."

"Still what?" Like Seth was going to complain about the town where he got laid on the second day he arrived. Ryan picked up his plate from breakfast and put it in the sink.

"I dunno. It's just like you like Everwood more than Newport. I get that impression. Maybe I'm just imagining it."

"I'm not moving even if I do, so it doesn't matter. And if I did, it's got nothing to do with you."

"Okay, wait. Wait, dude. Are you angry with me about something?" And there was Seth, standing right next to him. He'd stood up quietly.

Ryan considered but he didn't have an answer for that. He said, "No. I just meant, look, I'm actually enjoying our forced vacation and I didn't think I would at all, so why are we picking at this?"

Seth stared at him. Ryan wondered if he'd say anything about Ephram. Come on, he thought, fucking say it. No way had Seth done that before, no way it wasn't eating away at him, begging to be talked about and obsessed over.

Seth said, "Okay, then. Never mind."

He did like Everwood better than Newport. It wasn't hard. No one called him Chino. He'd liked nearly everyone he met and he sure wouldn't say that about Newport. He didn't trust it; he knew it was the shine of something new, before you could see underneath.

Delia decided there was no pool today because apparently Brittany wouldn't be there and it wouldn't be fun. Ephram sat down at his piano and played. Ryan sat outside on the porch swing with his Tolstoy. After a minute he had Seth on one side and Delia on the other. Delia said, "What's that book? You were reading it yesterday. It must be long."

Seth said, "It's War and Peace. Longest book ever written, I think. Okay, longest book ever written that people get assigned to read in school. Before college."

"How long is it?" Delia leaned over to see the book.

"Over a thousand pages." Seth leaned over, too.

"But so far, I've only read two hundred. And I have eight more books to read in the next two months." He glared at both of them.

Delia looked away. "You could read it out loud."

"Please?" Seth was grinning.

"I read faster than I talk." He could hear Ephram playing, it was pretty. "Wouldn't you rather listen to the music?"

Delia leaned against his arm and sighed. "I hear it every day."

"It's awfully pretty, though," Seth said.

They all listened for a few minutes then an older woman walked by on the sidewalk. She waved and Delia smiled, waved and said under her breath, "I hate her."

Seth said, "Why? You waved and smiled. You convinced me until you said that."

"She was mean to Dad after Colin died. Then she was nice like she hadn't been. I hate that." Delia crossed her arms and glared.

"Who's Colin?" Ryan closed his book.

"He lived here. He was Ephram's age. And he was in a coma, then Dad operated on him and fixed him and he was better. And then he got sick again and this time, Dad couldn't fix him. People thought it was his fault and then they didn't. But I didn't forget. Some people apologized. She didn't."

Ryan glanced at Seth. Seth said, "A lot of people were mad at him? I mean, he's a neurosurgeon, I wouldn't think he had a 100% fix rate."

"He doesn't do that anymore. Just for Colin. And the first time he did it just right."

"Did a lot of people know Colin or something?" Ryan gave up on the book and put it down.

"I guess everyone in town did. Everyone came to his memorial. I only met him a few times. He seemed nice." Delia sighed. "He was friends with Ephram for a little while and then he wasn't. Dad liked Colin. Anyway, that's why I don't like that lady."

Seth looked back at the house for a moment. Then Seth said, "So let's talk about something else. How is school, Delia? Are you looking forward to the fifth grade?"

Delia went back inside after a half hour of spirited discussion about how much she disliked her teachers and her classmates. Ryan picked up his book to read again.

Seth said, "So this has been fun. Swimming with the little kids, playing Scrabble, hearing the small town gossip. We're having a little adventure, scripted by Disney. I was hoping this would be more a buddy bonding kind of adventure thing."

"We've spent plenty of time together."

"You're angry at me." Just a little snap from Seth being funny to Seth being serious. Ryan kept his eyes on his book. "Okay, you should tell me. Because it's not fair to be mad at me and not tell me why. That's the kind of thing girlfriends do, not friends."

Ryan turned the page even though he'd missed whatever happened in that paragraph. "Summer usually told you when she was mad at you. She was pretty clear about it."

"That wasn't what I was talking about." Ryan turned the page again even though he hadn't read that one, either. Seth said, "Ah, but you knew that. You're avoiding me. Sitting right next to me, but still avoiding me."

"Maybe I'm trying to read and I'm not angry at you at all." When Seth didn't reply, Ryan started reading again. He tried to figure out how to go back a page without Seth noticing but then he just did it. Nothing from Seth.

When he looked over ten pages later, Seth was sitting with his hands clasped in his lap, staring at his feet.

*

Bright called and they all had lunch at Mama Joy's again. Seth ordered a burger and talked about getting lobster at some local restaurant back in Newport Beach. Ryan ordered a cheeseburger and didn't say anything. Ephram wanted sushi and ordered meat loaf.

Seth started talking about video games and Ephram tried to pay attention but by the time he actually heard anything, Bright had invited everyone over to his place because "we have way better games than you guys." Ephram didn't even think about how long it had taken him to get an invite to the Abbotts' house from Bright.

Delia bounced on the couch and did badly in every game she played. Everyone was nice to her. Seth was visibly uncomfortable except when he was talking to Ryan but Ephram found it sort of charming. He wondered if he could find a way for the two of them to sneak away but then it was his turn and he was playing Ryan. Ryan sat up and looked very serious. Ephram imagined Ryan picturing Seth as the ultimate prize and he smirked.

Ephram won and was playing Seth when Mrs. Abbott came home, blinking twice at the crowd in her living room. Bright did quick introductions and said, "Hey, can they stay for dinner?"

"Don't you already have plans?" She looked at Ephram.

Delia said, "No, we were gonna get dinner on our own. Dad won't be home until late, he has some doctor thing."

"In that case, it's fine." She smiled and said, "Chicken works for everyone?"

"Splendid," Seth said, looking away from the TV to smile at her. She nodded and went into the kitchen.

Dr. Abbott came home a few minutes later, was introduced to Seth and Ryan, and then retreated to the kitchen. Seth said to Bright, "Your mom's cool."

"She's the mayor," Ephram said. "Be extra nice."

"Wow, seriously?"

Delia said, "She is." And then, "Hey, Ryan, do you know how to play cat's cradle?"

Ryan, first words in ten minutes at least, said, "With string? Yeah, I probably remember."

Delia made a squeaking noise. Ephram refused to turn away from the game. Bright said, "You can use my laces, yours are pretty short."

By the time Seth had beaten Ephram in the game, Mrs. Abbott was walking out to say dinner was ready. Ryan had Bright's white shoelaces arranged in some kind of net or something on his fingers. Delia was staring intently, her hands splayed above the net, saying, "Now what do I do?"

Ephram said, "Come with me to wash your hands." Delia frowned but followed him to the bathroom.

He waited for her to finish. Colin, when he and Colin were in their actually talking phase, had said the Abbott house scared him. Ephram hadn't thought about that in ages. Colin had probably used this bathroom a million times, before the coma and then after when he wasn't scared of the house at all. Ephram closed his eyes and opened them. "Are you done yet? They're going to think you have OCD."

Delia frowned. "This soap smells really good. Why don't we have soap that smells nice like this?"

"Because we don't." He steered her back outside.

*

It was a really nice dinner. Ryan had seen places like that on TV, family dinners where moms cooked and dads talked about their day. It wasn't like he didn't know people back in Chino like that, but he didn't get invited over to their houses. Teresa's family had him over a million times, but Teresa's dad had never been there. He was in New York. Or Chicago. Ryan wasn't sure and he didn't think Teresa was either.

He could read enough around the silences that things weren't perfect. Something about Amy, he thought, who wasn't present and whose name caused pauses. Perfect was always a lie, but pretty nice with only a few things wrong struck Ryan as a good place. He didn't say that to Seth or Bright or Delia.

After dinner, he went into the kitchen and offered to wash the dishes. Mrs. Abbott blinked and said, "Goodness, yes, please. Thank you." She moved a step away from the sink so they could both stand there.

As they were washing plates and silverware, she said, "My mother hates doing the dishes. Hates." She smiled. "So as soon as I was old enough to see over the sink, I was washing the dishes. But I like it. The smell of dishwashing detergent is very calming to me." She laughed a little.

"Plus, you can hide in the kitchen."

She nodded. "And there's that as well." They scrubbed and rinsed for minute or two. Then she said, "Did you all draw straws to see who'd come in and help?"

Ryan almost rolled his eyes. "I stood up and everyone looked relieved."

She laughed again. "I won't ask if you and your brother are liking Everwood because I know everyone else has."

Ryan shifted to the other side of her and started drying. "I like Everwood. I think Seth does, too."

"But you shook your head."

"The Cohens just took me in last year, so brother sounds, uh, odd." He rubbed the towel quickly over the dish.

"More like a friend," she said. "That's why you get along so well." Another quick laugh. She was good with awkward moments.

"My brother's a lot more annoying." And in prison, Ryan thought. Just like Dad. He wondered if she'd be so nice if she knew that.

"I think, I think family is the ones who have to put up with everything you do," she said and paused. "Nearly everything you do." Amy, he thought. Then he thought about his mother and then he looked back down at the plate. Pretty dry now. She said, "Friends choose to put up with us."

He nodded and took the next plate from her.


They were watching some movie in Bright's living room and Delia had already fallen asleep on Ryan's lap. Ephram had put his jacket over her legs. Bright was talking about his plans for the summer. "I could do the lifeguard thing again, but I need to make some serious money this summer."

Ryan said, "Good money in construction if you can find some around here."

"Don't you have to be in some union for that?"

"Depends on the foreman. I was doing that when I was fifteen and it wasn't even legal."

Ephram stood up and said, "You can do better than manual labor, Bright."

Ryan glared at him which Ephram ignored. He took the jacket off Delia's legs and rubbed her arm. "We need to take her home."

Bright said, "Nothing wrong with manual labor, man. Not everything has to require genius or a good average." He didn't sound annoyed, just calm. Happy.


Ryan thought about fucking around in the kitchen until Seth would be asleep but he decided to address this thing between them. He went straight upstairs right after Seth. Seth said, "the food was really good, man," and mumbled something about nothing wrong with manual labor and climbed in bed and fell right asleep. He wasn't even faking. Ryan almost laughed.

*


Wish you were here
Wish I was too

Ephram played piano. He'd gotten up early, not that they had any plans. He played and he thought. He thought about Will and his advice and for a brief moment, Matt. Bright laughing. Seth. He wondered if he'd ever have time alone with Seth again. Or if he even wanted to. It had been weird. Nice but still weird. He hadn't meant anything; he didn't think he'd meant anything except he was a teenage boy who wanted to get laid. People did that all the time, just slept with people. Maybe even their second cousins. And stayed friends. And didn't, maybe, go to their weddings in ten years and think inappropriate thoughts about how the groom's dick looked.

He wasn't ever going to Seth's wedding.

He didn't think Seth minded either. Seth had been weird since Tuesday anyway. Seth had been weird since birth, but especially weird since Tuesday. Maybe it was Ryan going all repressed angry alpha male in reaction to it. Maybe Ryan was always like that and just didn't like Ephram. Maybe, maybe, maybe. It was a rhythm like the metronome but not quite.

"Maybe," Colin said. "Maybe there were things that no one knew before and now I'll never know now. Maybe I was a secret agent."

"Don't secret agents have handlers? If you were a secret agent, your handler sucks. Seriously, in comics and movies, secret agents don't work alone."

Colin smiled, a small thing. "Maybe I'm in hiding. I mean, how much secret agenting can you do in Everwood?"

"How far are we from NORAD? In the movies, NORAD is worth breaking in to. That's Colorado, isn't it?"

Colin shrugged. "Maybe I failed, and I'm supposed to call him when I'm ready to go back to work."

"You're not ready, so you have time to remember." Ephram thought about standing up but Colin put his hand on Ephram's knee.

Maybe you'll just die and never say you're sorry to me, Ephram thought. He'd lost his place in the music so he stopped. The metronome ticked off five times and he started again on top of the page.

Delia wanted to go swimming and Bright had mentioned something about a swimming hole or a place up at the lake. She wanted to go there. Ephram's dad said, "But there's no lifeguard."

"Ephram can swim. And Seth and Ryan. It would be so cool, come on, Dad."

"There's a difference between swimming and being a lifeguard."

Seth raised his hand, looked abashed, and put his hand down. "Actually, see, I give sailing lessons to little kids, like, in the ocean and stuff so I took lifeguard stuff. Lessons. I'm a pretty strong swimmer, too."

Delia said, "please" really loudly and Ephram almost winced. He wasn't sure if he wanted to go, but it was something to do.

After Ephram's dad caved, Ephram called Bright and got directions. A half hour to get swimsuits on and grab books and towels and then they were in the car. He'd made a CD Monday, songs about Colin, if only in his head. It felt wrong and he wouldn't tell anyone what it was about and no one would ask. No one ever asked. No one ever knew about Colin except Ephram and Colin and now Colin was dead and that meant no one knew.

Ephram shook his head and tried to think straight. He remembered that the first song featured a fuck and a screw and turned off the stereo. Delia didn't need any encouragement.

There was a place to jump, but everyone told Delia she wasn't allowed. She didn't even try to sneak around them. Ephram thought her request was perfunctory; she looked scared at the jump. Seth was the only one who tried it. Ryan looked once and then stepped back quickly. He took Delia's hand and they walked around looking for an easier way to get to the water.

Ephram watched Seth swimming. Sun and water and mountains. He missed gray buildings and light off windows all over again. He was having a fucked up week. Hot guys swimming in beautiful landscapes made him think of Manhattan. Visitors from California made him think of dead people he'd once blown who'd punched him a month or so later. Fucked up. He ran out and jumped into the lake.

*

Ryan got tired of the lake experience way before Delia or Seth did. He sat in a sunny spot and read more War and Peace. Watch, he thought, he'd have forgotten all of it by September.

Ephram sat down next to him and said, "Hey."

"Hey." Ryan took a deep breath and looked up. He didn't have a real reason to dislike him so he even smiled.

"You actually have school assignments over the summer?"

"Summer reading. I'm still behind from last year." Ryan closed the book.

"I went to private school in Manhattan, I don't remember that much work."

"I went to crappy schools before this. We barely had school reading. Plus, I wasn't the best student."

Ephram nodded like he understood and stood up to see Delia. Maybe he was just staring into space. Ephram said, "Do you remember where you were last year? Not, like, it was just last year, I'm sure you don't forget, but between then and now."

Last year Ryan had been in Chino. He was dodging AJ and his mom, hanging out with Teresa or Arturo or Trey and his asshole friends. Like that was any of Ephram's business. He said, "I hadn't even met the Cohens."

Seth was swimming circles around Delia, splashing her every few minutes. She laughed, over and over again. Everwood was really beautiful.

Dinner was bad, but filling. Seth muttered, "Just like mom used to make it," and Ryan almost laughed. Dr. Brown looked happy and smiling so Ryan didn't say anything. Ephram said something about the food sucking, and Delia chimed in but Ryan was pretty sure Dr. Brown wasn't upset.

He went upstairs as soon as Seth did. He just felt weird being mad with Seth again. Ryan took the bed and Seth turned on his side, away from Ryan, on the futon. Ryan sat up and said, "Seth."

Seth turned around, his face blank, "Yeah?"

"I know." He spoke quietly, they were guests here, but he was angry. He threw off the covers and sat on the end of the bed.

"You know?" Seth looked frightened now.

Ryan took a deep breath. "Don't lie. Just don't lie, Seth. You know what I'm talking about."

Seth blinked and sat up. "I know, okay, but why are you angry?" A note of panic in Seth's voice. "I don't understand, it's not, like, I didn't think you were against, you know --"

Ryan wanted to shake Seth quiet. He pushed off the bed and sat down next to the futon. Seth whispered, "Seriously, Ryan, what, are you, like --"

Ryan reached out and held Seth's neck and thought strangle. Then he was kissing Seth. Just like that. He was more surprised than Seth. But it made sense. Stupid sense. Seth, Seth under him, mouth open, warm and wet. Ryan pulled back and wiped his mouth.

Seth said, "What. Fuck." He looked down. "Okay, Everwood has turned me gay. Gay, with a creepy incest kink thing. And you." Another pause. Ryan sat back up on the bed. He was still trying to think. Seth said, "So, you weren't so much angry as jealous. Jealous?" He looked shocked.

Ryan said, "I guess," whispered it more than spoke. He grabbed Seth's arm and thought pull him up but he didn't want to hurt Seth, he wasn't angry now. So the pull became more of a suggestion and his hand slipped from Seth's arm. But Seth came up anyway, he was on his back on the bed. Ryan turned and he was on top of Seth, pressing him down.

Seth said, "This is nuts."

"I don't think Everwood turned you gay." Kissing again. Seth might be nuts, was nuts, but he kissed well. Mouth open, hungry.

"But I was worried. I've been worried for, like, days." Seth ran his hand from Ryan's cheek to his collar bone. The room was warm, but Ryan shivered.

"Worried why?" Ryan started pushing up Seth's shirt. "You've been hot for me since we met."

Seth blinked and said, "Um. Wait, was I obvious?"

Ryan pulled off Seth's shirt. Seth sat up and said, "You could have told me."

Ryan stared. "Seth. Maybe let's be quiet now." He sat up and took off his shirt.

"Um, so we're completely skipping, like, first date, awkward kissing, slow build up and going right to --" Seth trailed off as Ryan got his pajama pants and underwear off. Seth said, "Okay, then," and wriggled out of his pants. Ryan's throat wasn't working and he couldn't exactly breathe.

Seth looked less skinny naked, stronger than when he was just in swim trunks somehow. Real and there. Ryan pulled Seth close, on their sides, together. Fuck, it felt like he'd been waiting forever for this. Seth's legs felt strong, and butt and back. Seth was whispering something over and over again. Ryan felt each puff of breath cool against his neck.

They were both sweating. Almost sliding against each other. Then Seth pushed his hand between them. Seth was muttering faster, and then just panting when put his hand between Seth's legs. Seth started to moan then Ryan covered his mouth with his free hand. Teeth against Ryan's palm and then Seth came, Ryan the same two heartbeats later.

Ryan wished for a cigarette. He smiled. Seth said, "Wow. That was really different from Ephram."

Ryan made a face and shook his head. "Wow. You're suave."

Seth ducked his head and said, "Okay, that came out wrong. Never mind. Um."

"Let's sleep." Ryan sat up and found his underwear and pajama pants. "You should get back on your bed."

"Right," Seth said, scrambling off the bed. "Someone else's house. Right." He was dressed again and tucked under his own covers when he said, "Right?"

Ryan stretched across the bed and fell half off it, but he managed to get close enough to pull Seth into a kiss. He got back into his bed and then he said, firmly, "Right."

When he woke up, Seth was coming back in from the shower. Ryan sat up and watched Seth get dressed. Seth looked up and saw him. Smiled. "Good morning."

"Hey."

Seth sat on the bed next to him and kissed his neck. Seth said, "Delia's in the bathroom now, so, you know, you got a few minutes."

"More than a few." Ryan held Seth's neck, hands in his wet hair. Then he pushed Seth back. "But."

Seth backed up to the very edge of the bed. "Right. Right. So, um, okay, was last night, was that, like, one-time thing? Or did I just fuck it up being all suave?" Seth and his hunched shoulders and sad look.

Ryan knew he made snap decisions and tried not to. Things like, maybe call that Mr. Cohen, talk to Marissa, every time he'd ever hit anyone. Do it, worry later. Sometimes he could feel it in his chest, right before he jumped. Like now. He said, "No. Not one-time." He reached for Seth and Seth was already there.

They were going to fuck this up. But not yet.


*


Come see how okay we are
Come see how okay we can be

Seth cornered Ephram after breakfast and after Ephram played piano, made him go outside to stand in the middle of their lawn. Ephram couldn't imagine this was going to be a fun conversation so he said, "I fed a deer right here once."

"A deer?" Seth looked around like he expected the deer to come back at any moment. Maybe armed. Seth panicked easily.

"She was very nice. She got lost and me and my dad found her a safe place up in the mountains."

"That's, wow. Everwood, a hotbed of, like, wildlife. Like the Discovery Channel or something." Seth ran his hand through his hair and frowned. "Okay, I know you said you didn't care if I slept with other people even when I was in town so it's sort of pointless, but I wanted to say --"

"You finally hooked up with Ryan. Yay for you." Because Ephram was always just a pit stop on the path to better things. For everyone. Ephram needed to hook up with someone like that because he was nowhere near better things. He was being dumped by his own fucking cousin who he hadn't even been fucking dating.

Seth, of course, was grinning now like he'd won the lottery. Or whatever kids so rich that winning the lottery didn't mean much got really happy about. Seth started to say something but Ephram said, "Fine, I get it. I don't care. I said I didn't care, I meant it. So yay. Have fun." Ephram turned and went back into the house.

He thought, pit stop. Use me and dump me and find what you really want. He should advertise. This was going to be an awesome day.

Bright called around lunchtime again. "I got a job, man. You would not believe how much I will be getting an hour. So much better than being a lifeguard."

"Do they have room for one more?"

"No way, man, it's at this warehouse. Loading and unloading. One box would break your back." Bright snorted. "Anyway, there's a party tonight. In the canyon. We should all go. You know, Ryan and that other guy."

Ephram rolled his eyes. "Seth. And it's their last night, I don't know how easy it's gonna be to get out of the house. Dad probably wants to play Scrabble again."

"Party doesn't start until ten, dude. Sneak out."

"Fine. I'll pass on the offer to Ryan and that other guy. Bye."

Naturally, they were both very excited. Or Seth was excited and Ryan smiled and said, "Sounds cool."

Ephram said, "We'll have to sneak out or something."

"Or we could just ask your dad." Seth shrugged.

"Your parents let you go to lots of parties at home? Where there's drinking and getting home late and things like that?"

Seth nodded. Vigorously. "Actually yes. I mean, not so much on school nights, but pretty much yes."

"Can you adopt me, too? He's not gonna just say yes." Since Ephram had turned into a complete asshole this week or ever since he'd first thought about Colin again, he enjoyed the flicker of a wince he saw on Ryan's face.

Of course, his dad came home early. Of course, he had all sort of great ideas about how to spend their last night. Movies he'd rented and more Scrabble, of course. And thankfully, take-out from Gino Chang's.

Delia liked both movies; Seth and Ephram thought the first one was the lamest thing ever. Ryan and Ephram's dad preferred the second and even had a lovely little talk about it. Ephram wanted to have a nice wallow in self-pity in his room or beat his head against a wall but he made popcorn for everyone instead.

During dinner, Seth said, "And there's this party tonight, Ephram said. It doesn't start until ten." Ephram almost hit him and Ryan looked amused.

Of course, Ephram's dad had some weird need to look cool. Or just completely annoy Ephram because he said, "Well, since you asked. I guess it's okay. Remember you're all underage and if anyone drinks and drives, I'll make sure all of you get grounded. And worse."

Delia pouted about not getting to come but Ryan distracted her by offering to play cat's cradle or something. Seth smiled at Ephram. Happy Seth who had everything he wanted. He probably just reached out his hand. Over his pit stop. Ephram sighed and called Bright to say they could come.

*

They rode in Ephram's car because of some argument that Ryan barely listened to between Bright and Ephram. Not quite an argument, quick words and Ephram frowning a lot.

Seth sat next to Ryan in the back seat and kept bumping Ryan's knee with his own and grinning. They were going to last maybe one week when they got home before Sandy and Kirsten figured it out. If that.

They'd have to talk about this. Ryan thought the plane home would be the best place. Something to take his mind off the fear.

Ephram's music was one song about screwing someone's friends and the next was a girl singing about Charlie Brown. Bright said, "Dude, is this chick music? What is this?"

"It's Tori Amos," Seth said. "My ex liked her." Seth looked over at Ryan. "Anna, obviously. Summer has never even heard of her." Ryan didn't know who Tori Amos was.

Ephram said, "Madison liked her. She gave me the album."

Bright grimaced. "Is that the theme of this CD? Music my lame-ass ex-girlfriend gave me that now makes me want to slit my wrists? Because, Ephram, man, we're going to a party. Maybe we could listen to something more cheerful?"

"My car. My music."

Bright said, "Okay, then. I hope the next song is about drowning puppies or something. Those are my favorites." Ryan laughed and Bright looked over his shoulder, grinning. "Man, I wish you were staying all summer."

Ephram turned up the music even louder.

They gathered around the car when they got to the canyon. It looked like any party; cars, two kegs, teenagers milling around. Bright said, "Okay, designated driver. Someone volunteer." Ryan raised his hand. Bright nodded and said, "Cool. Ephram, give him your keys."

Ephram frowned and looked over at the keg. Then he shrugged and handed his car keys to Ryan.

Seth was drunk after two glasses from the keg. Ryan saw Bright slapping someone's shoulder and laughing. Ephram had disappeared with two bottles of beer in his hand. Ryan fought back the urge to yawn.

He wanted to go home for the first time since the headaches went away. He missed Kirsten and Sandy. And his own bed. Seth sipped his drink and said, "What's that face, Ryan?"

"It'll be nice to be home."

"I thought you liked here better." Seth grinned and hiccupped.

"Doesn't mean it's home."

Then Seth was hugging him tight, patting his back many times. Big drunk hug. Seth said, "I like it when you call Newport home. You should do that all the time."

"I do." He pushed at Seth to get him to let go. Ryan looked around and saw a boy and girl walk into the trees. He touched Seth's elbow. "Hey, follow me."

They walked past two couples making out until Ryan could only barely hear the moaning. Far enough. And he could still see the lights from the party through the trees, so it wasn't too far. Seth said, "Have you ever seen the Blair Witch movie? Have you, man, because I'm having flashbacks. There's all this shaking."

"That's you, Seth." He turned around and shoved Seth against a tree. "Make you feel less suave?" He grinned and held Seth's waist so he stayed upright.

"I feel very suave. In a good way. In a way where I won't say something stupid after you kiss me. And blow me, man, were you planning on that? That would rock."

Ryan pressed against Seth and said, "What are you planning for me?"

"Anything you fucking want. That we can do in a forest. Where a tree will help me stand." Seth smirked. "You first."

Ryan rolled his eyes but he sunk to a squat. Fingers first, over then under Seth's shirt, along the waist of his jeans and then dipping into Seth's boxers. He undid the top button and pulled the pants and underwear down just to Seth's thighs. "Brace yourself." Seth nodded and blinked a few times. "I meant so your pants don't fall down."

Seth giggled and stopped. Fingers first and then mouth. Long time since he'd done this. And never in a forest, branches and leaves, smelled like rot. He had one hand dug into Seth's hip to keep him up and the other busy. Seth was panting again, his hands fluttering. Ryan had forgotten, about how this made his mouth feel stretched and full and he liked it. Even if he wouldn't get any pot out of it this time.

Seth made a low groan and came. Ryan spat most of it out and wiped his mouth. He buttoned up Seth's jeans and pulled down his shirt as he stood up. "My turn, right?"

Seth pressed his forehead against Ryan's. "You're so awesome. You're like, awesome." Seth closed his eyes but he also turned them both so Ryan was leaning against the tree. "When we get home, we're doing this in the poolhouse. And the pool. And my bedroom. And maybe, when the parents aren't home? Dining room. Also, the hot tub."

Ryan didn't let his hands flutter, he held onto Seth's head, pushed him forward. It wasn't the best blowjob he'd ever had, but it was Seth. So it was special.

Special, Ryan thought, as he pulled up his jeans. Seth leaned against him and laughed into his ear. Special. Stupid of him that he had to come here and see that Seth would actually do it to realize that.

Ryan had his hand on Seth's back until they reached the first couple.

*

Ephram wasn't having any fun. He'd drunk two beers and gotten two more. Now he only had one. He'd talked to Bright for ten minutes and then just hellos and fuck yous to people he knew from school. He hated all of them.

"You're in a very foul mood, son," he said to himself. And the bush. The bush in front of him looked upset. Or maybe Ephram was projecting because he was pissing on it. He walked away from the bush.

Seth came over and hugged him. He smelled like leaves and sex. Ephram hated him. Seth said, "Dude, how are you?"

"I hate everyone." Ephram sat down on the ground. Seth, the annoying idiot, sat down next to him.

"Well, most people suck. Not everyone, of course. Delia. Bright. I kinda like your dad, but parents can be really sucky to their kids. And Ryan, and my parents. They don't suck. And --"

"I don't need a list, Seth, I'm not planning on gunning down everyone you know." Ephram shifted away from Seth.

"Right." Seth took a sip from his glass. "Okay, so maybe I'm completely wrong, but I have this theory about your bad mood. And I think I can be helpful, and I'm trying to be less self-absorbed and stuff and share --"

"If I want someone to pry into my life and make stupid assumptions I'd spend a lot more time with my father." Ephram tried to move farther away. Seth just shifted closer.

"Because, okay, maybe this is stupid --"

"Maybe?"

"Just listen. When I was, like, ten, remember, like, Batman, when Jason Todd got killed? And I was totally depressed. My dad even let me call in to vote that he live and it didn't matter. And my grandfather was making fun of me and my dad yelled at him. Not that my dad needs an excuse to yell at my grandfather because they get along like the Joker and Batman. But my dad said that it didn't matter that it was just a comic book character or people thought it was stupid because, um. He said it was better to feel something than nothing. And it was better to be the kind of person who cared than someone who didn't give a crap." Seth coughed and took a long drink from his glass.

"That was a good issue," Ephram said.

"It was. Totally. I still have it." Seth grinned.

"That story was stupid. Yours. It made no sense and it had nothing to do with my bad mood." Ephram bumped Seth's knee. "But I appreciate that you felt something."

"I am full of feelings." Seth laughed.

"You're full of shit." Ephram pushed at Seth's shoulder and watched Seth fall over. Seth was laughing as he sat up.

"Okay, dude, I'm gonna go find Ryan again."

"Tell him hey for me." Ephram stood up and walked away from everyone.

Tell him hey. Ephram wondered if Colin had liked these parties. But, of course he had. Colin had liked all these drunk get shitfaced do nothing bullshit parties. He only hadn't liked them for a brief space in time. A blink.

Ephram wondered if he'd stop thinking about this, stop being in such a foul mood once Seth and Ryan were gone. He didn't have the right to be in a bad mood, he knew that. He wasn't a boyfriend or even a friend when the end came. No one said sorry about that to him.

Ephram kept walking. He stumbled over a root but didn't fall. Maybe Sandy was right or Seth made up that stupid story and he was right. It was probably better than feeling nothing. Ephram thought feeling nothing would be nice, just for a while. Forget his mother and Colin and things about Amy and Madison and feel nothing at all.

He'd probably suck at that. Not feeling anything wasn't his strong suit. Maybe Ryan offered lessons. Ephram almost laughed. He had walked far enough to be almost back at the party so he stopped. Stood still. Except it wasn't so much that Ryan didn't feel anything. He certainly felt things for Seth.

"Feelings," Ephram sang quietly. Such a fucking stupid song.

It didn't matter what Ephram felt or thought, Colin was still dead. He wouldn't ever apologize or change his mind or stand awkwardly in the living room and act like Ephram was nothing. He wouldn't do anything. Sorry, Ephram thought. Sorry you died. Sorry your last year on Earth sucked so bad.

Sorry and sorry, Ephram thought, his throat tight. His eyes were dry. Sorry to be your pit stop.

He'd never said goodbye. Didn't go to the funeral and left the memorial service early. He looked at his half-full beer bottle and back at the lights and people. Feel something, he thought. Say goodbye.

"Sorry," he mumbled and started to pour his beer out on the ground. Stupid gesture, not even his. They'd never had a beer together. But it was what he had. So, sorry. He mumbled what he remembered of the kaddish as he watched the beer spill out.

"Bitches and hos," some drunk asshole said laughing. He stumbled out of the crowd and knocked Ephram's arm. "Bitches and hos, man, empty your forty out for our gangstas lost." He burst out laughing again and stumbled the other way.

Ephram looked at the beer bottle and laughed. He stumbled and fell and put his hands right in the puddle of beer. That was his memorial mud. He kept laughing as he pulled himself up.

*

The thing Ryan disliked most about being designated driver was the drunks. Bright was quiet. But Ephram and Seth, jammed into the back seat, were loud. Laughing at least. Ephram wasn't nearly as morose as Ryan had expected.

There was singing. Ryan thought about turning on Ephram's music, but he couldn't take one more song about death and betrayal. Instead he got Seth and Ephram singing Radiohead. He'd give his left nut to never hear the fucking cousins trying to do a falsetto again.

He got everyone home and half pushed, half carried Seth and Ephram upstairs. Familiar feeling. They were trying to be quiet, but as he was dragging Seth into their room, Dr. Brown's door opened. Ryan waved and Dr. Brown smiled and closed his door.

Seth hugged him. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Sorry?" He maneuvered Seth to the bed and left him sitting on the edge. Got Seth's shoes off and started on his jeans.

"Sorry. I drank too much. Just tonight, though, man, I'm not, that's not me."

"I know." Ryan pushed Seth back on the bed.

"But just, you know me, it was just tonight. I'm not, like, one more problem drinker person in your life."

Seth turned on his side and smiled. Then he went straight to sleep. Ryan stretched out next to him. "Right," he murmured. He kissed Seth's forehead and went to sleep.

Delia and Dr. Brown started the game of accidentally dropping things or putting them down with a crash in the morning. But Ryan was happy to play along. Delia counted points for each time Ephram and Seth winced. Best part of being designated driver, tormenting the hung over.

Packing was quick for Ryan, long for Seth. He kept thinking he had left something somewhere, running out to look for it in the living room or the bathroom and then coming back empty-handed. Ryan said, "You know, they can mail things. I'm sure I saw a post office."

Seth nodded and looked back at his bag. "Well, of course, but it seems rude."

Seth ran down to the kitchen this time, something about his asthma medication, when Ephram came in and stood in the doorway. Ryan said, "Hey."

Ephram smiled. "You washed the sheets and everything."

Seth would have stuttered and said something stupid. Ryan nodded. Ephram came into the room and sat on the futon. He said, "So, seriously, you guys were being punished for something, right?"

Ryan shrugged. "Not really. Just needed to get out of town a little."

"Cops after you?"

Ryan looked over at Ephram sitting on his futon, leaning forward, smiling. Smug little shit. "Not anymore. And now I know a lawyer."

Ephram blinked, confused. He looked away and said, "Did you have fun last night?"

"Yeah." And then, to be polite, "Did you?"

More smiling. Genuine, Ryan thought. He didn't look so much like he needed ten years of sleep then. Ephram said, "Actually, it was. Not fun, but good."

Then Seth came back in and finally decided he was done packing.

Stock goodbyes at the airport, though Delia held on like she wasn't going to let Ryan go anytime soon. "You should come visit" from Seth to Ephram and Delia, manly back pats from Dr. Brown. Then on to the plane. Heading home.



Easy now



THE END

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