The Aesthetic Of The Mistake
by alejandra

time, as it stands, won't be held in my hands, or
living inside of my skin, and as I fell from the sky,
I asked myself: why can I never let anyone in?
( -- oasis, "hey now")

Summer isn't sure why she's stayed in touch with Anna. People leave all the time, and they always say, "We'll keep in touch. No, really." But they never do, ever, except this time they did. Anna called her, and Summer called her back, and they talk on the phone at least three or four times a week -- sometimes every day.

She's never told Seth, although she's not sure why. Anna's never told Seth either, but that's because -- or so Anna says -- she and Seth don't actually talk anymore. That surprises Summer almost as much as the disclosure that sometimes Anna and Ryan exchange email. Seth has to know about that -- but since he never says anything about it, Summer assumes he doesn't (or doesn't want to talk about it, which Summer guesses makes a bit of sense -- Seth-sense, anyway).

Her relationship with Anna is complicated. There are a lot of things Seth doesn't understand -- Ryan's attachment to Coop, Summer's relationship with her father, Mrs. Cohen's drinking problem -- the list goes on. Seth definitely wouldn't understand his girlfriend and his ex-girlfriend being close friends. Summer kind of understands it, but also kind of doesn't. She needs someone to talk to -- someone who isn't Coop. It's funny to think that Summer isn't the one who's self-absorbed and horribly oblivious to other people, but she's not; Coop is. Perfect Marissa; this is the first time she's ever put a foot wrong (except it's not, and Summer knows it, but there's no room in her right now to let others have even an inch).

And anyway, at least Summer isn't exchanging email with Luke, the way Ryan is. She'd never tell, of course, and now that Ryan is back in Chino (where they don't even have electricity, much less computers and email) that's probably stopped.

Summer confided in Anna once that she thought maybe Ryan was gay and just hadn't realized it yet. All that heat over Theresa? Was really heat over Eddie, right? Or Seth. Anna didn't agree with her one way or the other, but they both squirmed, and Anna had assured her that heterosexual girls finding gay guys hot was really normal. Which was a relief, because there was enough happening in Summer's life -- she didn't need a sexual identity crisis. Hell, until just a few weeks ago, she hadn't even had a sexual identity.

(She does realize that's not true, strictly speaking, but that's something she really doesn't want to think about. Life is complicated enough without creating problems for herself.)

All this means that while it comes as kind of a surprise when Anna says, "Seth is gone, Ryan's gone, and Marissa is being a bitch, right? So come here," it's not totally out of left field. You'd think Summer had joined the Communist party and given away all her worldly possessions (did they still do that?) the way Coop reacted. And Summer's parents. And -- well, that was it, wasn't it? Summer could have taken the car and gone to see Ryan in Chino to tell him and see how he reacted, but that would require going to Chino, and Summer just wasn't willing to sacrifice.


"How was the flight?" asks Anna as she takes Summer's heavy suitcase. She looks the same, but different. She's changed her hair, and she's not wearing layers or flouncy skirts or heels. This is the first time Summer's ever seen Anna wear jeans and a t-shirt, like someone on television or something, not a real person at all.

Summer just shrugs. "It could have been worse," she says. "At least I was in first class."

"As if you'd travel any other way?" Anna raises an eyebrow, and Summer's overcome with nostalgia for last summer, when she didn't know Anna, didn't know Seth Cohen existed, and no one from Chino was living in anyone's pool house or impregnating anyone or anything, and Summer's biggest concerns were getting her nails done and making sure she was on time for her biweekly facial. (Well, those are still her biggest concerns, but now they aren't her only concerns.)

She follows Anna through the airport, and they don't really talk, not even once they're in Anna's (huge, enormous, gigantic, orange) SUV. Anna was always comfortable in silence, but Summer feels like she needs to fill it with chatter about Julie Cooper and Caleb Nichol -- but she doesn't. Anna rolls down the windows, and Summer doesn't complain about the wind in her hair, and they speed down the highway, mountains on either side of them. The landscape couldn't look more different from California, and Summer can't explain it, but for the first time since she read Seth's goodbye letter two weeks ago, she's not unhappy.


Anna doesn't push. It took Summer a long time to notice that (because it took her a long time to notice Anna to begin with). She likes it. Coop is the most passive-aggressive person Summer's ever met, but Anna isn't unpushy like that. She's unpushy like -- like nobody else that Summer knows. When Anna wants something, she takes it, or she tries to take it (like Seth), and when she's unhappy, she makes sure Summer knows, but she never pushes. She never tries to manipulate Summer.

And she doesn't try to get Summer to talk about it more than once a day. Mostly, Anna is content to either talk without a response (about bands and video games and comic books and novels, so sometimes it's even like listening to Seth), or sit in silence. Or sing along to the radio, which Summer discovers that she actually enjoys doing. The radio station in Pittsburgh is stuck in the early nineties, which Summer barely remembers (but at least she got Anna to put a music station on, instead of the talk-talk-talk public radio).

Anna's aunt and uncle are nice enough, if a little strange. Summer knows how to talk to them; they're rich and they're adults. All rich adults are spoken to in the same way. The only exception to the rule is Sandy Cohen, because he didn't grow up rich, and he hates rich people (although Summer thinks he thinks Seth's friends don't know that). Anna's aunt and uncle? So not Sandy Cohen. And they're rarely around, because they're always going on cruises and taking business trips together, and Summer doesn't quite see how this is different from being in the O.C., except it's colder here, and more humid, and no one dresses as well.

Anna likes to go to a particular coffee shop, and sit outside sipping iced lattes. Summer's all right with that. They mostly sit in silence -- because Anna doesn't push, and Summer finds that the less she talks, the less she wants to talk.

Is this what it's like for Seth, out on his boat? She sometimes wonders about that, but only when it's dark outside and she's lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Anna's aunt and uncle have every bed in the house fitted with 520-threadcount Egyptian cotton sheets, but even that doesn't put Summer to sleep the way it used to. She wonders if Seth remembered to bring fresh water and sun block (his skin will get all wrinkly!) and more food than pretzels and bagels. She wonders what songs he listened to on his iPod as he sailed off, and which comic books he packed. Will he call when he reaches Tahiti? How does Ryan feel about Seth being gone?

Coop calls Summer on her cell after a few days. Anna raises an eyebrow and kind of smirks as Summer stares at the LCD, but doesn't answer the call. Once it's forwarded to voicemail, she reaches out and turns her phone off and shrugs.

"I just don't..." Summer breaks off and takes a sip of her latte (half caf double mocha with a hazelnut shot, half-and-half). "She's going to want to talk about Ryan and Theresa."

"Do you want to talk about Ryan and Theresa?" Anna sips her own latte (full caf, extra espresso shot, soy, half-ice), but keeps her eyes on Summer. She's wearing jeans and a t-shirt again, no nail polish, no jewelry. Lip gloss, though, Summer notes -- a rich brown color not unlike Summer's own. Seth doesn't like brown lip gloss, she knows, so she only wears it when she knows she won't see him.

Maybe Anna knows that too.

"No," says Summer finally. "Chino is obviously making a big mistake, but it's none of my business."

Anna leans back in her chair. "Wait. Why isn't it your business?"

"Because -- I mean -- " Summer scowls. "How is it my business?"

"You're his friend, Summer. You care about him."

"I do not care about Chino."

"You're a liar." Anna stops, then smiles at Summer. "It's okay to like people who aren't from Orange County. You like me, don't you?"

Summer rolls her eyes. "No."


Summer can feel a muscle in her jaw ticking, and she forces herself to relax. Anna is smirking, and just because maybe she's right is no reason for Summer to acknowledge it. "I mean," she says, "it's not like he even knows the baby is his." Another sip. Mocha goodness. She hopes there are no mocha lattes on Tahiti, because Seth, the jerk, doesn't deserve them. Anna would know, but Summer isn't going to ask. "He just, like, went off with her, back to all the guns and the jails and people who hate him."

"Uh-huh." Anna is distracted for a moment when someone she knows passes by the table and pulls on her spiky hair, and Summer uses that distraction to jump up and excuse herself for the bathroom.

The bathroom is air conditioned, and freezing, and Summer's skin sticks to the toilet seat as her sweat dries, and she feels feverish. She doesn't want to talk about Ryan and Theresa anymore -- doesn't want to think about Seth on the Summer Breeze, floating toward an island paradise without her.

When she goes back down, Anna is talking to a skinny blonde (what Seth would look like if he was blond and paler is what Summer automatically thinks, but that's not right, there are plenty of differences, she's just seeing Seth everywhere), and as they talk, he sketches her. Summer looks over his shoulder -- they're talking about gay pride rallies, and Summer doesn't care (except to wonder if Anna is gay, or just a do-gooder) -- and the drawing is excellent. He turns, stopping in the middle of his sentence, and their mouths are breaths apart, and Summer's heart skips a beat. The boy just smiles at her. She notices that his skin is slick with sweat, and his hair is floppy (like Seth's would be, if his hair was straight and thin), and she feels a little faint.

She blinks, and he's talking to Anna again, but when she looks at his sketchpad, there's a small drawing of her, just two or three lines. She looks sad, her mouth turned down (she can hear her stepmother in her head, warning her about wrinkles, offering to take her for Botox). Summer backs away from the blonde boy, breathes fresh air, looks around at all the people, takes her drink and sits at the next table over, the back of her chair pressed up against the back of Anna's.

Anna leans her head back, and Summer can feel the spikes of her bleached hair poking into Summer's own sweaty ponytail. She leans her head back, too, until their scalps are touching, sweating together, and they stay that way until the blonde leaves and Anna wants to keep talking about Ryan and Theresa, but Summer changes the subject -- lemon yellow pumps with lavender polka dots and a lavender bow: classy or tacky?


"Ryan called your cell phone," says Anna a few days later. They're eating breakfast (soy yogurt with granola for Anna, a bagel with cream cheese for Summer; the bagel isn't as good as the ones Sandy makes for her sometimes, when she's spent all night making out with Seth and Sandy offers to drive her home, but first they have to eat -- but it's all right) in front of the television, which is tuned to CNN. Summer put her foot down the second day: no volume.

Everywhere in the world, people are angry. Dead. Dying. (There's no news of Tahiti.) Summer knows more about world events now than she did when she was in Global Studies freshman year, and all of it is awful. Summer wonders how anyone could ever stand to smile.

"How would you know that Ryan called my cell phone?" She bites into the bagel carefully -- she already applied her lip gloss (it goes on right after she brushes her teeth and puts on her shirt, but before she puts on her skirt, every morning).

Anna holds up Summer's sleek silver phone and smiles (even though people are being tortured on the television) and pushes it across the table. "You left it on after you called me yesterday, and it was buzzing. You have thirty six voicemails."

"Thirty six?"

"Thirty six." Anna nods. "Have you called anyone since you got here? It's been like two weeks. I'm sure Marissa's worried. Your dad?"

"I don't want to talk about Newport." Summer eats the last bite of bagel slowly, and doesn't say that maybe if her dad hadn't been so down on Seth, Seth would have asked Summer to go with him to Tahiti. But Anna has that look in her eye -- the look that means that if Summer doesn't start talking, she's going to start to push.

"I think -- " she begins -- Summer knew it. She knew it! It was too good to be true, that Anna wouldn't push. "I think I'll give Ryan a call and see how he's doing. He hasn't been writing me email."

"Does Chino even have electricity?" snaps Summer. When Anna leaves the room, she walks over to the television and changes the channel, puts on MTV. It's a rerun of a reality show that she doesn't want to watch, but she leaves it on anyway, as a statement.

She takes a glass of ice water and eavesdrops on Anna's conversation with Ryan, which involves a lot of statements of "No way!" and "You're joking!" and "Oh, my god. Oh. Ryan." She's bored. She checks her voicemail: thirty from Coop, getting progressively more hysterical. One from her father ("I've put more money in the account, buy yourself something pretty") and two from Kirsten Cohen ("The Coast Guard says Seth is all right; I hope you are too"; "The Coast Guard says that Seth is still doing all right; the storm passed by him and didn't capsize the boat") and one from Luke ("I know everyone hates me, but I just... wanted to say hello") and two from Ryan.

Summer deletes the last message and closes the phone with a snap as Anna comes back into the kitchen.

"Theresa -- "

"I know," says Summer. "I listened to my messages."

"Do you know who this Josh kid is?" asks Anna. She frowns at the television, then turns her attention back to Summer.

"No clue. Nobody ever tells me anything anyway," says Summer. She drains her water glass, folds her arms on the table, and rests her head on them.

"Maybe if you ever answered your phone," snaps Anna, "you'd know more."

Summer ignores her.

"What kind of sick person punches a pregnant woman in the stomach?" says Anna. She sighs and slumps against the counter.

"You know what Chino is going to do -- is doing," says Summer dully. "He's blaming himself. Even if it has nothing to do with him. Even if they do a paternity test on the corpse and it's the child of Eddie or some waiter from Chino and -- "

"They did a DNA test. He asked them to. It was his," says Anna, and leaves the room.

Summer stays, her head on her arms, and falls asleep in the still air. She dreams of Seth caught in a hurricane at sea, tossed around, his hair full of sand, his skin cracked.

"You need a good product," she lectures him. His breath is raspy and his hair has been bleached light brown by the sand and sun -- he looks like the artist from the coffee shop, his hair is blonde, his lips are thinner. He reaches a hand out to her, but she steps back. "Like, ew. You're dirty! Take a shower!"

When she wakes up, her neck hurts and she's hungry again and it's the afternoon, and she wishes she dreamed hearing about Theresa and Ryan's baby. Her phone is buzzing; seven messages in four hours and they're all from Coop. She deletes them without listening to them (but she knows Coop, so she knows they're about Ryan), and locks herself in her room and cries.


Summer emerges the next day feeling annoyed with herself.

"Okay," she says to Anna. "I need a full caf mocha latte, a facial, a manicure, a pedicure, and a massage. Preferably in that order. Right. Now."

Anna smiles at her. "Hi, Summer."

"Hi, Anna."

"Feeling better?"

Summer makes a noise halfway between a snort and a giggle, and stamps her foot. "Let's go."


"So that's why I am totally gonna kill Seth," says Summer as her manicurist -- Eric, Ely, Aaron? -- carefully pushes back her cuticles.

"Men are never worth it, honey." He clucks, and strokes her hand. "You have lovely skin."

"Why thank you!" Summer beams at him, and he beams back. "I was just thinking the same thing about you! What's your secret -- your pores are so tiny!"

The manicurist launches into a detailed description of the masque he uses one a week, and Summer relaxes. She doesn't know how to do boyfriends who run away ("I love you, but Newport is hell without Ryan" -- "Darling," says the manicurist, "that's not just friendship," and Summer sighs and says, "I know, but can't I pretend?" and the manicurist waves his emery board and says, "That way leads only to heartbreak!"), and she doesn't know how to do accidental pregnancies (although maybe she could get some tips from Julie Cooper -- "Snap!" says the manicurist, whose name, she finds out, is really Esme), and she doesn't know how to do senseless violence ("Republicans," says Esme) -- but she does know how to get a manicure, how to talk to manicurists, and how to keep an eye on her companion in the mirrored wall behind the manicurist's back.

Which is how she sees Anna excuse herself, greet the floppy-haired blonde artist and his sexy companion -- wearing a suit in 90-degree weather; classy -- and kiss them both. Esme notices Summer isn't paying attention, and turns his head to see what Anna's looking at.

"Pah," he says, and rolls his eyes. "None of that here, honey; pay attention to your nails."

"Who are they?" asks Summer. "That's Versace he's wearing."

"Sweetie, don't even go there. He's gayer than a flock of seagulls." Esme clucks a bit, and holds up Summer's hands. "How's that shape?"


Summer feels like herself again. She isn't quite sure who that zombie person was who stepped off the plane in Pittsburgh, but she's not that person anymore. Who could be a zombie with a fresh manicure? Who could be a zombie after the most divine massage? Who knew there was civilization in Pittsburgh?

"Do you want to go bowling?" asks Anna that night.

"Uh, no. Do I look like a bowler to you?" says Summer. "Oh my god, I have to tell you about Las Vegas! Seth and Ryan had hookers!"


Summer turns off the television and turns to Anna. "That blonde boy. You're not in love with him, are you?" Anna's jaw drops, but Summer keeps going. "Because he's, like, really gay. Like, gayer than seagulls or whatever."

Anna is laughing. "Yeah," she says. "I know."

"So! Tell me!" Summer bounces, crosses her legs Indian style. She'd borrowed a pair of Anna's jeans, and they were too tight, but they made her feel like she had the longest legs in the world.

"Tell you what?" Anna turns to face her, crosses her own legs.

"Are you gay?" asks Summer. "Like Luke's dad, except with girls?"

"Me?" Anna laughs again.

"You could be," says Summer. "It happens."

"It does happen," agrees Anna. "But I like boys too."

"Too? So you are gay!"

"Only a little."

Summer eyes her warily. "You're not going to hit on me, are you? Because even though Seth has gay love for Ryan, he's still my boyfriend, and -- "

"Give me a break, Summer." Anna rolls her eyes. "Not everyone wants you."

"Now you're just making things up," says Summer, and hits Anna's leg, but she's smiling, and Anna's smiling.


Mrs. Cohen calls her once a week with updates from the Coast Guard -- they're keeping an eye on Seth, he's okay but a little sunburned, he stopped off at a port and ate some fish. Summer wonders that the Coast Guard has nothing better to do than write down what kind of fish Seth eats, but doesn't call Mrs. Cohen to question her, just listens to the voicemails and feels a little better for a little while.

Ryan calls her sometimes, too, and leaves her voicemail. He sounds like he understands why she doesn't answer the phone -- unlike Coop, who sounds like she's in hysterics 24/7 now. She wants to know when Summer is coming home, why she left without saying anything (just like Seth), doesn't Summer understand that Marissa needs her (just like Oliver needed Marissa), Julie is unbearable (shock), Caleb is horrible (double shock), Marissa is miserable without her father (triple shock, except for real, because Summer doesn't remember Coop ever being so into her father -- not until last year).

Summer knows that if she answered the phone and talked to Marissa, she'd just lose her patience. She's adjusted to Anna's practicality, her down-to-earth, no bullshit attitude, even to her jeans and t-shirts and sneakers -- Marissa's melodrama seems like it's a million miles away, and Summer thinks she'd end up yelling.

And yelling strains the vocal cords and causes wrinkles (which leads to Botox, which means Summer would end up looking like her stepmother), so it's better to just stay away from Coop all together.

Anna approves of this decision, but does think that Summer should call Ryan. Summer shakes her head. Ryan, of all people, knows about what it means to need space.

Anna starts spending time with her gay activist friends, who had all been on vacation. Now they're back, and they plan events in a tiny diner where the food is greasy but good and the lemon bars are divine. After the first few days, though, Summer gets bored. Walking around in the sun protesting stuff and eating tuna sandwiches with too much mayo isn't the way she wants to spend her summer vacation. She stays at Anna's aunt and uncle's house, swims in their pool, watches television, reads all their home and garden magazines.

She stares, sometimes, at their pool house, and wonders when she became so introspective. It's all Cohen's fault -- it has to be. He changed her life completely, and therefore everything is his fault.


Summer calls Ryan back when Ryan leaves her a message that says, only, "I'm coming home tomorrow."

"Ryan," she says, and then hesitates.

"Summer," he says quietly.

"I'm sorry," she says.

"Don't apologize; it's my -- "

"Shut up! God, Ryan, you'd think you're the only person who's ever made any mistakes."

"Summer Roberts, make mistakes?" Ryan snickers, and she can see him in her head, with his hand on the back of his head and his mouth curving up, but just a little. She had wanted him first, had noticed that he was interesting-looking before Coop did. Coop never appreciated her possessions -- just used them, like they were her due right.

And maybe Summer did that, too, but she always appreciated boy-possessions a little more. And she stopped doing that with Seth, so she figures she gets extra points.

"Whatever, Chino," says Summer. She can't help but smile. "So inform me."

"Inform you?"


"The Coast Guard told Kirsten that Seth ate leafy green vegetables three days ago, and she cried with joy."

Summer laughs, and then Ryan laughs too.

"You're going back to Newport?"

"I'm back in Newport already. Sandy gave Theresa money to go to Atlanta."

"What? And she took it?"

"She..." Summer still has that picture of Ryan in her head. She hears the click-whoosh of a lighter, the crackle of a cigarette, the soft exhale. "She made him promise to let her pay him back, slowly."

"Mr. Cohen is such a sucker for people in trouble. Are you sure you weren't accidentally his son?" jokes Summer.

"This isn't an episode of Everwood," says Ryan. "Theresa didn't -- "

"I didn't mean it like that," says Summer irritably. "You know what I meant."

"Yeah," says Ryan after a long pause. "I did. I'm sorry."

"Besides," continues Summer, "I don't watch the WB. Anna's aunt and uncle have digital cable."


"Have you thought about when you're leaving?" asks Anna. Summer looks up from the new issue of Vogue, and Esme looks up from Summer's toes.

"I've only been here for a month," says Summer.

"Not long enough!" declares Esme, and cracks Summer's toes, one by one. Summer sighs, and wriggles in the chair.

"I thought -- now that Ryan's back -- "

"Coop is going to monopolize Ryan," snaps Summer. "Or do you want me to leave?"

"No, I don't want you to leave." Anna looks down to her manicurist, who rolls his eyes. "I just want to know what your plan is."

"To stay here until you want me to leave." Summer stares at Anna until Anna stares back. Anna blinks first.


Anna manages to cajole Summer into coming to a protest, and she introduces Summer to the blonde with floppy hair. Summer's chest constricts at the number of people marching in a circle --

"This is my life," she says aloud, and the blonde says, "What?"

Summer's sure she's supposed to know his name, but she doesn't remember it, so she just flips her hair and says, "Nothing." She's kind of proud of herself for not being mean to him just because she could be -- the protest has done its job and made her a better person.

Still, the next time Anna wants Summer to come to a protest, Summer goes shoe shopping instead.


Despite Summer's statement to Anna, she knows she can't stay for too much longer -- school will be starting soon, and there's no way she's going to school with Anna in Pittsburgh. From the looks of things, even though Anna's not an outcast here, Summer definitely would be -- there's only so far charm can take you, and then everything really relies on whether or not you went to pre-school together.

Their remaining days have a pattern: in the mornings, Summer and Anna sit outside Anna's favorite coffee shop. Summer watches people; Anna talks to her friends. Sometimes Anna's friends talk to Summer -- they're all flamboyantly gay, and sometimes they mix stripes with polka dots. Summer doesn't approve, but is willing to overlook the fashion blunders because they're people to talk clothes with, and that's sorely lacking.

She asks about the rest of Pennsylvania (because that's where Pittsburgh is, right? From the weird looks she received, you'd think it was in a totally different state!) and one tall, skinny man snaps his fingers. "Child, Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh and Philly, with Alabama in between. And I should know, since I'm from Alabama."

"You are?" says Summer. "I've never met anyone from Alabama before."

"Sure am!" The man leans over and shows Summer a scar on his neck. "See that? A genuine Alabama hate crime!"

"I guess they don't really like gay people down there, what with the God stuff and all," she says sympathetically, and sips her latte.


"Summer?" Anna sits down next to her on the couch. "Oh, ugh, what are you watching?"

"What Not to Wear," replies Summer. "And I am totally not understanding how they could possibly tell that poor woman to wear horizontal stripes! Ew!"

"That does look horrible." Anna cocks her head and watches the television, and Summer watches her.

"What?" says Summer.


"What?" Summer pushes their shoulders together. "Come on. Spill."

"I'm -- I'm not trying to be pushy, okay? I know that a lot is going on in your head. I just... want you to talk to me. I mean, I'm your friend, right? The point is that we talk, right?"

"Right," says Summer, and frowns a little. "Talk about what?"

"About you. Seth. Ryan. You never say anything! And I want to know -- what happened? What's going on?"

"You know what happened. Ryan got Theresa pregnant and went to Chino, and Seth ran away and left me a fucking letter telling me how he couldn't stand to be in Newport without Ryan. Like I had nothing to do with it? Like he couldn't have sacrificed to spend some time with me? Like he couldn't have told me in person or asked me to go with him -- like he had to leave me with Coop?" Summer pressed fingers to her temples and took a deep breath. "I'm not angry. I mean. No, I am angry. I'm really angry. I don't know if I was ready to be angry before, but I'm angry now. Like. He kept talking about how much I meant to him -- he stood on a table and told me he loved me in front of the whole school! But he doesn't -- like, there was no -- like... you know?"

Anna puts a hand on Summer's knee and leans in. "I know. Seth isn't always good with the follow-through."

"Right..." Summer nods. "He did that to you first, didn't he."

"I guess. What about Ryan?"

"What about Ryan?"

"I thought you and Ryan -- " Anna stops, starts again. "I mean, me and Ryan -- but I didn't realize -- " She stops again, and blushes, and takes her hand off Summer's knee.

"Oh my god. No way. No way!" cries Summer, and she thinks she's going to laugh so she tries to hold back. "You and Ryan? You and Chino? Oh my god."

Anna's mouth opens a little and she sits back and Summer feels really bad. "Is it really so surprising that someone would want me?" She turns her head and looks out into the dining room, and Summer feels even worse. "I thought -- you and Ryan -- you talk, and Seth -- "

"No," said Summer. "Chino and I never. And I didn't mean that no one." Summer stops and takes a deep breath. "You were just so into Seth. And you were so upset when he didn't pick you. And he ran after you that night when you left. And... you guys were so good together."

"Yeah, like brother and sister," says Anna glumly, and now it's Summer's turn to put her hand on Anna's leg.

"Better than brother and sister." She lowers her voice, even though what she's going to say isn't really a secret. Talking to Anna about private stuff isn't easy, but it has to be done, because she and Anna are friends -- closer friends than she and Coop have been lately -- and Summer likes her, and Anna needs to stop being this weird not-Anna and go back to wearing mini-skirts, and heels with ankle socks, and pink lip gloss. "I do, like, wonder why he picked me. I mean, you like comic books and I like shopping."

"Opposites attract?" Anna smiles at her, and her eyes crinkle, and Summer lets out a sigh of relief.

"It's weird," says Summer. "He and I aren't really opposites. We just don't like the same things. You guys were opposites, but you liked the same things."

"The world is very strange." Anna nods solemnly, then laughs, and Summer laughs with her, and they end up watching another episode of What Not to Wear and Summer makes fun of Anna's old wardrobe, just like old times, and she feels a lot better.


By the end of August, Pittsburgh's lost its charm. It's hot and sticky and there's nothing on television and there is no place to shop. Anna took Summer out dancing but Summer didn't enjoy it -- because it was hot and sticky and everyone was looking worn around the edges. She pretended to have fun long enough for Anna to start kissing some girl in the bathroom, and then got drunk and danced with the friend of the girl kissing Anna.

"We were wondering what Anna was doing," says the girl, her hips pressing into Summer's. Summer scowls at her, and presses back, thrusts hard enough to move the girl back a step, throw her out of time with the music.

"Anna wasn't doing anything," says Summer. Her head is starting to hurt, and the flashing lights aren't helping.

"Uh-huh." The girl catches Summer around the waist and pulls her close, presses their lips together. She tastes like sweat and rum and cigarettes, and Summer kisses her back, just for a second, just because it's been so long (and she's never kissed another girl before), and then steps away.

"I have a boyfriend," says Summer, and takes another step back.

"Never stopped me before," says the girl.

"I don't even know your name." Summer shakes her head. "And besides, you're -- "

"Save it, princess," says the girl, and grabs Summer around the waist again, pulls her in close again (and Summer doesn't necessarily not like it, but she doesn't appreciate being manhandled) and kisses her.

Summer lets her eyes closed, lets herself kiss this strange girl who's wearing a plaid skirt with a striped shirt. Fashion crimes everywhere in Pittsburgh, and Summer without a point-and-laugh buddy, although sometimes she shares the worst of them with Esme or Anna's friends at the coffee shop. The girl smells the way she tastes, and they're still dancing to the pounding music, and Summer's head still hurts.

And she misses Seth. A lot.

She pushes away again, and says, "Don't touch me if I've said no," and turns around, walks through the crowd. She kicks off her shoes and climbs onto the hood of the SUV, leans against the windshield, and stares at the stars until Anna comes out of the club, her lipstick kissed off, her hair mussed, and her shirt untucked.

"Is this why you really broke up with Seth?" asks Summer.

"Don't be ridiculous." Anna unlocks the SUV and gets in, turns it on while Summer slides down the windshield and off the car. "I broke up with Seth because you were there and he wanted you, and it was hard to be with him when he was thinking about you. And, anyway, I realized I wasn't in love with him."

"I'm not either," says Summer. The interior is so hot she can't breathe, and she wishes she thought to bring a bottle of water. The air conditioner is blowing hot air onto her already heated skin (which has shrunk and feels tight), and she can't buckle her seatbelt for a moment, because the metal burns.

"You're a crappy liar," says Anna, and pulls out of the parking lot.


Anna is different; she's not the same person she was when she lived in the O.C. Summer noticed this a long time ago, but is only starting to think about what this means. If it means that when she goes home, she's going to be different, she doesn't know if she's okay with that -- but she might also end up going back to being the same old Summer, and she doesn't know if she's okay with that either. When she tries to think about it, it just makes her head hurt. She's the same Summer she's always been, except she's not -- maybe she's a little less mean, but she's always been less mean in her own head. It's when she says things out loud that she realizes that sometimes she can hurt people's feelings (and sometimes she means to do that, anyway).

Mrs. Cohen leaves a message to tell her that Seth flew home, suntanned and too skinny, and Seth is asking where she is. No one's told him, and Summer likes it that way. She calls Ryan.

"You haven't told him?" she asks, even though she knows the answer.

"He left you, so it's not his business, is it?"

"Did you tell him about the baby?"

"He hasn't asked."

"What a loser."

"He's still angry with me."

"He's still a loser."


Summer sighs. Anna is standing in the doorway, watching her, arms crossed over her chest. Her shorts are very short, and her skin is pale still, even though she's been out in the sun almost every day for the past two months. She puts her hand over the phone.

"Seth is back, and still mad at Ryan," she tells Anna.

Anna frowns. "He's a loser."

"I'm flying back to Newport soon," she says to Ryan, but she's looking at Anna, who nods.

"Let me know when you get in and I'll pick you up at the airport," Ryan is saying, but Summer's only half listening because Anna is crying, and then Summer is crying. She sniffles a little, and Ryan says her name -- once, twice, then more concerned.

"Make sure you wear one of those chauffeur caps," Summer says to him, and sniffles again, and he pauses, she tripped him up, same old Ryan -- just now an almost-father.

"Sure," he finally replies. "Bye."

"Bye," she says, and hangs up the cordless on the wall mount, and turns, and there's Anna, and they hug forever, or maybe just a few minutes, and then Summer has to fix her eye makeup and Anna has to fix her hair, and they end up at the coffee shop, making fun of Seth for hours.


Ryan's wearing a chauffeur's cap when he picks Summer up at the airport, and she smiles. He hugs her and he smells like Newport, like the pool house, and like Seth. She sniffs his neck. No Coop perfume anywhere on him.

"How was Pittsburgh?" he asks. "Did it snow?"

"No, it didn't snow," Summer says, letting go of his shirt and stepping back. He's already picked up her suitcases from baggage claim, and now he takes one in each hand and leads her out of the airport. "Where's Seth? Where's Coop?"

"I didn't tell anyone you were coming back. Except Kirsten and Sandy," he amends. "I didn't know what you wanted."

"Aren't you thoughtful." Summer reaches around and tweaks his cap and he actually smiles. "How is everyone?"

"I don't know, actually. I've been working -- "

"At the Crab Shack?" she asks, just to prove she's been paying attention to his life.

"Yeah." Ryan borrowed Mrs. Cohen's car, the same one they took to Tijuana. It seems like forever ago, but it was only just over a year.

Ryan is quiet for most of the ride, lets Summer push the buttons on the radio, even sings along to one or two songs.

"I didn't figure you for a Journey fan," he says to her.

"There was nothing to listen to in Pittsburgh but soft rock and Nirvana," she replies, and he laughs -- had he ever done that before? His laugh sounds rusty, but there's probably not many opportunities for laughing in Chino. She's going to say more, or go back to singing along, when her phone rings. It's Coop.

"Hi," she says.

"Where have you been?" shrieks Coop, and Summer winces, pulls the phone away from her ear. Ryan glances over and Summer shrugs, raises her eyebrows, shakes her head -- does everything she can think of to let Ryan know that she has no idea what Coop would be hysterical about.

"I went on vacation," says Summer. "I had a great time, thanks for asking."

"I have been calling you every day." Summer rolls her eyes. "My life is falling apart." Summer sighs. "I needed you and you were gone."

"Coop? Coop? I'm losing you -- there must be a plane overhead. I'll talk to you later tonight!" Summer hangs up her phone and turns it off. "Whatever," she says to Ryan, and he lifts a shoulder.

"If it makes you feel any better, I haven't really been talking to her either. I think we're done for good this time," he says. "She's... she's having a difficult time, but -- "

"But you can't, like, save her," says Summer, quoting Anna almost word-for-word. Anna has this theory, about Ryan and saving women, and Summer thinks it applies; Anna will be pleased to hear about Ryan's breakup, but not in that she-wants-him-back kind of way. If she ever had him for more than a few minutes to begin with.

Summer studies Ryan consideringly. She could see it -- him and Anna together, bleached blonde hair and long limbs and pretty mouths. Not as nice as her and Seth, but nice enough. Better than Ryan and Coop, and Summer feels disloyal thinking that, but it's almost like she and Coop aren't even friends anymore. Marissa's turned into this, like -- like Summer's stepmother, almost. Almost.

"Right, I can't save her," says Ryan and he sighs, and Summer sighs.

"Okay, so I am going to ask you something, and you have to answer but then we'll never talk about it again, okay?"

"Okay," says Ryan, and he looks nervous, and Summer rolls her eyes.

"You and Seth: sex or no sex?" she asks, and the SUV swerves a bit, and Ryan coughs, and Summer smirks.

"No sex," says Ryan.

"Because he's straight or because you are."

"Because -- " Ryan glances at her, then focuses his eyes back on the road. "Because he's dating you."

"He's not dating me anymore," she points out, perversely pleased that she and Anna were right, even though she and Seth are supposed to be in love forever and ever.

"Yeah, he is."

"No." She shakes her head. "He's not. Going to Tahiti? That was, like, his way of running after you."


"Ryan," she mimics.

"Summer, you're wrong. And now we're never going to talk about this again." Ryan glances at her again, and she rolls her eyes at him again.

"Don't worry, your secret homosexuality is safe with me." And it is -- who would she tell except Anna? And who would Anna tell?

"Right." Summer knows Ryan is already regretting his true confessions moment, but she's not sure how to assure him that she won't tell.

"I kissed a girl," she announces. "And I kind of liked it, even though I was thinking about Seth."

"Yeah? I like kissing girls too. Not really a big deal." Ryan kind of chuckles -- but it's not a laugh, not really; that was a once in a lifetime occurrence -- and Summer sits back, looks out the window, and a few seconds later, while she's pondering the blue of the ocean versus the blue of the sky, Ryan starts singing under his breath along with the Elton John song on the radio, and Summer cracks up. Just loses it and starts to laugh, and Ryan laughs while he sings, and they don't stop laughing and singing until the SUV pulls into Summer's driveway.


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