“My grandpa is freakin’ dead, dude.”
“It’s okay if you’re not, man. I know you guys weren’t, like, best friends or anything.”
“No… I mean, I am, I just suck at the whole feelings, talking thing.”
“Especially the talking part.”
Ryan cracked a half-smile.
“So have you told Summer?”
“She’ll hear from Marissa. Not that I don’t love Summer, it’s just…” Seth trailed off, then changed the subject. “Have you talked to Marissa?”
“Sarcasm, man? I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“So how are you, um, taking it?”
“He never really loved me. Thought I was too... Scrawny. Whatever. I was always thinking, ‘One day, I’ll really show him. And then he’ll love me.’ And now… no. ”
“I’m sorry, really.”
“But I mean, really? We waste so much time on all this stuff that’s just not important. And one day you could just…drop dead.”
Silence permeated the air as both boys digested this. After a few moments, Seth spoke again.
“No, man. I gotta call Marissa and get this thing figured out. But this has been good.”
“Yeah. Good Seth and Ryan time. I’m glad I could help.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Alex says, sitting next to Luke and thinking of Marissa’s stories, late at night. ‘Luke is a motherfucker, but he’s a good guy.’
“Cohen told me about you, too.”
“I didn’t know you two kept in touch.”
“Yeah, well…” Alex thinks of Seth’s tales of alt-rock and Tijuana. ‘I like the same music as Marissa Cooper.’ She motions to the guitar cradled in Luke’s arms. “You any good?”
“I’ll let you judge. Want me to play something?”
Alex shrugs, noncommittal. Luke takes it for the ‘yes’ that it is and plays. Alex recognizes it.
“A whole summer with Cohen.”
“You miss her.” Luke is more observant than people give him credit for.
“So do you.” Alex is defensive, accusatory.
“It’s not a bad thing.”
He brushes a lock of purple hair out of her eyes, thinks of Marissa, and kisses Alex.
“You can’t keep doing this, Cohen. You can’t keep making the same exact mistakes over and over, and not learn, and expect me to take you back.”
“I’m sorry, Summer. I was overwhelmed. I can’t change the past.”
This makes Summer angrier.
“Look, from now on, there’s no more graphic novel.”
Summer looks disgusted. “Cohen, it’s not about the freakin’ comic book! It’s about you. Respecting me. Listening to me. Appreciating me. NOT dragging me to some stupid party under the guise of an apology dinner in an misguided attempt to include me, then completely abandoning me to be mocked by everyone there. In case you’ve noticed, I stopped dragging you to Holly’s. I stopped hanging out with her completely because she’s a superficial bitch who can’t get past that you’re Seth Cohen and see the wonderful person you are. So stop enabling the Hollys of the comic book world.”
Ryan and Anna walk along the beach eating Balboa Bars. Anna pays more attention to Ryan’s than to her own. She watches his tongue dart out to lick first the ice cream, then his lips, and she is so intent that she misses the first part of his question and he has to ask it again.
“Is it weird, being back here?”
“Well, the circumstances, yes. But I’m glad to be here. I guess it’s a little weird, because everyone’s changed and the whole dynamic is different. But I really did miss it. I missed everyone.” I missed you.
“We missed you, too.” More than you know.
He looks away then, staring into the ocean.
“Wanna go in?”
He looks at her in disbelief, and she can see every objection clearly delineated in the reflection of his eyes. But Ryan can’t resist a dare.
Anna is in a miniskirt and busies herself removing her sandals as Ryan rolls up his jeans to his knees.
“One… two… three!” They are running into the ocean, stopping when Ryan is in danger of getting his jeans wet.
An accidental splash evolves into a full-blown water fight and when they decide they’ve had enough, both are spotted with seawater and laughing hard.
Later, they sit on the sand. Anna wiggles it between her toes, looks up, and catches Ryan staring. She realizes their legs are touching; it burns her skin.
He kisses her. It is perfect, the way she remembered California.
When Seth was younger, he used to follow Rosa from room to room, begging her to teach him Spanish while she cleaned. “Why, child?” she’d ask. “Shouldn’t you be playing with your friends or something?” When she noticed the way he’d look away, she stopped asking and started teaching. “¡Ay, dios mio, Seth! Alright, alright.” And immediately she’d start chattering in rapid Spanish, watching the look of amazement on his face.
“Rosa, you know I don’t understand you!”
“Sí , sí. Alright. We’ll start slow, then.” She’d pick up a stray Bic pen lying on the kitchen counter next to the newspaper, debris from Sandy’s attempts to fill in the crossword puzzle. She’d hold it in front of his face. “What’s this?”
“En españ ol, muchacho.”
“Oh. Um. A… pen-o?”
She’d make a noise like a buzzer. “Wrong! Es un boligrafo.” She’d say it slow, repeat it. “Bo-lee-gra-fo.”
Seth would nod, wide-eyed. “Boligrafo.”
They’d repeat the process for other objects. There were verbs, nouns, phrases, too. Rosa appreciated it because it made the work less mundane. Seth appreciated it because he had a friend.
And, several years later, he appreciated it more because when in eighth grade, Summer needed a Spanish tutor, Señora Anderson recommended that she talk to Seth because while several students boasted a perfect average in the class, Seth was the one to whom it seemed to come with the least effort.
Plus, when nothing was on English TV, he understood the telenovelas. Turned out, they were better, anyway.
Seth’s cell phone buzzed against his hip. He removed his feet from the coffee table, squirmed around on the couch to dig his hand into his pocket and retrieve it. Checking the Caller ID, he smiled. “Hey, Summer. Would you believe that the most interesting thing on TV is a Discovery Channel special on polar bears? And that includes TiVo.”
“After what happened last month, I’d believe anything.”
Seth went quiet.
“I’m sorry. So… how’s everyone holding up on your end?”
“Ryan’s doing better. So is Dad. So am I, really. Amazing what therapy will do.”
Summer chuckled half-heartedly.
“So how are you?” Seth asked, wandering into the kitchen. He pulled open the fridge, closed it, ran his fingers along the counter.
“I’m actually doing pretty alright…” Summer’s voice faded away as he twirled the yellow slip of paper in his fingers. “…Cohen? Seth?”
“What?” Seth was jolted out of his reverie.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “I just… I found a post-it note with my mom’s handwriting on it. I think she must have wanted to make chicken the night of the intervention… I guess it’s a good thing we intervened, huh?” His voice broke at the end, a tear spilling down his cheek. “I can’t believe I left last summer. And now she’s gone. It’s just- I’m so-”
“I know you miss her, baby. Hang tight, okay? I’m coming over.”
And remember, kids, the offer still stands: You prompt it, I write it.