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I'm Just Ryan. And That's All I'll Ever Be (Chapter One)
BEEP, BEEP BEEP!
Groaning as I glanced in my rearview mirror, I realized I had over-estimated the space between my black VW Bug and the red pick-up truck behind me. I hate parallel parking. I quickly pulled forward slightly, set the Bug in park, and leapt out of the driver’s seat. Hopefully the damage to the truck wasn’t too extensive. If only the stupid alarm would shut up.
I crossed the short distance to where the pick-up sat, and surveyed the scene.
The truck was parked in front of a charming Cape Cod, beautifully landscaped with daffodils, tulips, and red rose bushes. Its lawn appeared freshly manicured and the cement driveway was still wet from a recent hose down. The water trickled down to the gutter behind the Ford. My Bug’s bumper had rammed into the truck’s left headlight, and the glass covered the black pavement. Not too bad. Maybe I could just leave my name and number on the truck’s window, and talk to the owner later…
Unfortunately, the alarm changed that plan. I looked up from my examination just in time to notice a man running down from the porch to his truck. Great. Not only would I have to deal with him, but he was also my new neighbor. What an awesome beginning.
“What happened!” he exclaimed, drawing nearer.
“I’m so sorry. I rear-ended your truck as I was trying to park. I can pay to have the headlight fixed…” I tried to explain.
“You’re lucky it was only the headlight! This was a very expensive truck, so you bet your life you’re paying to fix it! Why, I oughta—”
The man continued to rant, but I wasn’t really paying attention. Leave it to my mother to pick a neighborhood where all the rich snobs live. I’m quite sure it wouldn’t have hurt the man’s bank account in the slightest to pay for just a headlight. I watched him as he ran his hands over the vehicle, checking for any more damage, all while continuing his monologue.
As I was observing him, I noticed that he wasn’t much of a man after all. Actually, he was just a teenager. A very tall one, which was probably why I had assumed he was an adult. He had cocoa brown hair, and matching dark eyes, currently narrowed with annoyance. He wore khaki shorts and a blue Aeropostale tee. Not a horrible-looking guy.
I finally realized he was staring at me expectantly. What had he just said?
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I said did you contact the police yet to file a report?” he repeated impatiently.
“Oh. No, I—”
“I thought not.” He heaved a great sigh, as if I was such a burden to him. “I’ll do it.”
The teenager turned around and sprinted back up to his house. I rolled my eyes and spun to examine my own Bug, which only had a small dent in the bumper. Satisfied, I returned to the wheel, reached into my purse, and grabbed my cell phone. Dialed. Waited.
“Hello, Vicki Silverton speaking.”
“Hey, Mom.” I winced as my mother said ‘Silverton’. That was her maiden name, and I’m still not used to hearing it yet.
“Hi, sweetie. What can I do for you?”
“Well…don’t freak out. I’ve had a small accident…”
“What! Oh my God! Ryan, are you okay? Are you hurt? Where are you? I’ll be right there!” Mom shrieked.
“Mom! Mom! Calm down! I said don’t freak out! I’m fine, I swear. I was parallel parking and I rear-ended the car behind me, that’s all.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. The Bug has a dent but that’s it.”
“What about the car you hit?”
“The headlight’s broken. I offered to pay to have it repaired and the guy went to call the police.”
“Alright. Well, it sounds like you’ve got it all under control. I’m just glad you’re not hurt. Listen honey, I’m about to go into a meeting, is there anything else you need to tell me?”
“This neighborhood sucks and I don’t want to be here.” I replied nonchalantly.
“I meant something that you haven’t told me already.”
“Then no.” I heard Mom sigh.
“Fine. Just remember to pick up your brother from soccer practice, okay, Ry? And there’s money on the counter for pizza. I’ll be home around six.”
“Okay. Love you.” She hung up.
I threw my phone back into my bag, and waited for the truck owner to come back outside. I didn’t have to wait long. A few minutes later, he came jogging down his porch steps, across the lovely green lawn, and stopped at the curb.
“Cops are on their way.” He stated.
“Yeah,” he cleared his throat. We stood facing each other awkwardly for several moments. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer.
“I’m Ryan, by the way. I just moved in next door.” I offered.
“Oh, do you own Cooper & Company Banking?” I remembered seeing the sign for it while driving through town.
“My father and uncles run it.”
Man, this kid was a great conversationalist. He was barely giving me anything. Fine, if he didn’t want to share, neither did I. We stood in silence until the police car arrived. The officers took our information and made their report. It took much longer than I would’ve guessed. When the cops finally left, I suddenly remembered my brother.
“Crap! What time is it?” I asked hurriedly.
Andrew lazily glanced at his watch. “Quarter after five.”
I swore under my breath. Practice ended at four thirty. Ben was gonna have a fit.
“I have to go! Right now!”
“What about my money?” Andrew objected.
“Give me an estimate tomorrow and I’ll take care of it.”
“You better.” He muttered.
I resisted rolling my eyes, and instead jumped into the Bug. Barely buckling my seatbelt, I tore off down the street. I peeked into the rearview mirror just in time to see Andrew cross his arms and give me Death Glare 3000. I mentally flicked him off before turning my attention elsewhere to more important things. Such as the radio. I jabbed the power button and cranked the volume. Music always eased my mood. And I need as much calming as I can get before I face Ben.
As I drove along, my mind drifted and thoughts swirled around in my head. Thoughts about my old home. My old boyfriend. My parents when they used to be happy together…
My house had been in a suburb of Chicago in a very nice neighborhood with pleasant neighbors. I lived about twenty minutes from my high school, and my best friend Rachel lived two doors down. We spent every summer together going to waterparks, amusement parks, swimming, eating ice cream, and most importantly, shopping. We had been best friends for twelve amazing years. Now I lived 500 miles away…
Yellow light. Red light.
Speaking of amazing, I had used to date an awesome guy back in Chicago. His name was Nick Meyers. He was in the school marching band and on the swim team. He wasn’t that tall but he had the most amazing eyes you’ve ever seen. I fell for him at first sight. We dated for eight months, blissfully happy. Then my parents dropped the bombshell of their divorce…
Lane change. Right turn signal. Exit. Reduced speed.
After their announcement, and Mom’s consequential plans to move, Nick and I’s relationship took a turn for the worse. Nick started having doubts about our solidity and whether we could really last long-distance. Not to mention there was an attractive senior musical prodigy named Marissa who kept flirting with Nick when she thought I wasn’t paying attention. A month later when Nick broke up with me, I wasn’t surprised. Nor when he began dating Marissa two weeks after that. I despised Marissa for taking my love away from me, though…
Left turn ahead. Left turn signal.
That’s why I had thought this move would be beneficial for me. New town, clean slate, fresh boys…
Right turn. Right turn signal. Parking lot. And there was Ben, standing all alone next to the bleachers. He still wore his uniform, and his bright blue duffel bag hung from his shoulder. He held a soccer ball against his knee. And if I didn’t know any better, I could’ve sworn there was smoke coming out of his ears.
I pulled up meekly beside him. He opened the back door, shoved his gear inside, slammed the door shut, and then got in on the passenger side. All without a word.
“Lemme explain, Ben. There was an accident…” I knew he wouldn’t care, but I tried to explain anyway.
“Whatever, Ry. I want Mom to pick me up from now on.”
“She would’ve today, but she’s working late. I had barely got home from the library when the accident happened, then the police took forever, then I flew over here immediately because I knew you would be waiting.”
Ben scoffed and shifted to face the window.
“She gave us money to order a pizza…” I attempted to appease him.
A full minute passed before Ben mumbled, “Sausage?”
“Only half. I want pepperoni.”
And with that, I reminded my brother to buckle up, and then proceeded to pull out of the lot.
“Maybe if you were here every once in a while instead of fooling around with your secretary your daughter wouldn’t be failing chemistry!”
“Oh, no, you can’t put that off on me. The stupidity comes from your side of the family.”
“She is not stupid! She just slacks off because she thinks no one cares.”
“She’s right about that.”
“No, she’s not! I care! My God, take an interest, Jackson! She needs a father!”
“I don’t have time to be a father. There’s so much more to life than being tied down to a family.”
“Yes, we all know that, Jackson! But Ryan is growing up. Ben will be in middle school in the fall. They’re only young once, and you are missing this, damn it!”
“What if I don’t want to be around for it? Maybe I have better things I could be doing.”
“It’s called being a father! We all have to make sacrifices around here. You think I didn’t give up dreams when Ryan was born? But I realized she was more important!”
“Maybe to you! She’s worthless to me.”
“Don’t say that! That is my baby you’re talking about! Jackson, you’re allowed to have a life, but being a dad should be a part of it! Ryan loves you.”
“Did you ever consider that maybe I don’t love her, Vicki? No, you didn’t. You never stop to think about anyone’s point of view, other than your own! You’re the most selfish woman I’ve ever met!”
“Did…did you mean that? You don’t love Ryan?”
“I never wanted kids! You getting pregnant was an accident.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing! She is your flesh and blood!”
“Not anymore, Vick. I’m done. That’s it.”
“What are you saying, Jackson?”
“I want out. I want a divorce.”
Tears streamed down my face. My parents’ final argument was just as vivid in my memories as it was the night I heard it from my perch in the stairwell. I had quickly tiptoed back to my room before my mom ran up the steps crying, so she never knew I heard their conversation. But I did. And I knew the real reason for the divorce.
It wasn’t my dad’s multiple affairs.
It wasn’t my mom being a workaholic.
It was me.
This was my fault.
It was my fault that Ben felt abandoned. That he couldn’t have a daddy to coach his soccer games. That he couldn’t have the family vacation to Disney World he always wanted.
It was my fault that Mom cried herself to sleep at night. That she worked herself to death to hide the pain. That she couldn’t enter into another committed relationship so she settled for one night stands.
All of it. Because of me.