Secrets, Lies, And The Home Shopping Network
by alejandra

Summer didn't know Cohen had left until she went over to his house and Mrs. Cohen handed her the envelope. She was angry for a lot of reasons -- because she'd wanted sex and he hadn't been there, because he left without saying goodbye in person, because his note hadn't said anything she hadn't already known -- but not because he was gone. She didn't bother to examine that feeling. Mrs. Cohen had been crying; Summer had left as quickly as she could.

Coop left two days later for a "family" vacation. Summer tried to explain to her how to deal with stepfamilies before she left, but Coop was drunk and ended up falling asleep in the middle of Summer's lecture, right at the part about how you should sleep all the time, until they've all left, and then you can wake up and do whatever you want.

So, no Coop.

No Coop, no Cohen, no Chino: just Summer and Princess Sparkle and the Home Shopping Network. Summer now owned a rhinestone encrusted ceramic horse, its mane and tail made of real horse hair. She also owned a do-your-own manicure set with a special tool to pierce her nails, and 24-carat gold urn. It was tacky and ugly and Summer wasn't sure why she bought it; she gave it to her stepmother for her birthday.


Three weeks later, Summer was bored out of her mind, and Ryan was back in Newport Beach. Summer wouldn't have known, except she saw him smoking outside the Crab Shack as she drove down the street. Her first instinct was to call Coop, and ask her what was going on -- but Coop wouldn't know, because she refused to take Ryan's calls while he was gone, and, then Coop would have a lot of questions Summer couldn't answer.

And she didn't even care about why Chino was back in town or what happened with him and Theresa and the baby anyway. She didn't care. Why would she? Summer Roberts was her own woman again, with her own friends and her own life, and she wasn't entangled with any annoying geeky dorks.

But she called Anna anyway.


"Ryan's back?" Anna paused, and was quiet for so long Summer thought her phone might have cut out.


"I'm here." Another pause, not so long this time. "Why call me?"

"Because you're friends with Chino, duh!" Summer shook her head. "Being in Pittsburgh is bad for you -- cold makes your brain slower."

Anna snorted. "It's hotter here than it is in Newport right now, Summer."

"What's your point?"

"I don't know what happened with Ryan and Theresa. I don't know why he's back. I didn't even know Seth was gone. I didn't know any of this."

"You didn't? But I thought you talked to Seth all the time!"

"You talk to Seth all the time. Sometimes he sends me a comic book. And Ryan? Ryan never talks to me. Which isn't shocking, right?" Anna sighed, and Summer's heart shrank a little -- until she remembered that she really didn't like Anna at all.

"What do you mean? Ryan doesn't talk to anyone!"

"But especially me." Another sigh, and Summer could see Anna shaking her head, her short blonde hair flying, and, irrationally, she kind of missed her. "I have to go, Summer. Good luck figuring out what's going on."

"Right," said Summer, and flipped her phone closed. "Bitch."


Summer figured it out all right. Did Anna think she was stupid? She marched right over to the Cohens -- well, she drove, not listening to the mix cd that Seth gave her, and instead listening to an old tape from Luke -- and flung open the pool house door.

"Ryan Atwood, I know what you did," she announced. But the pool house was empty, and there were no signs that anyone was living there. Not that Ryan had ever really sprawled out, but obviously if someone was living there, the bed wouldn't be a couch, and the bathroom wouldn't be sparkling clean.

She exited and headed for the house. No Mr. Cohen. No Mrs. Cohen. But the door was unlocked. Through the kitchen, down the hall, up the stairs -- nobody. Nobody anywhere to answer her questions. Chino was where she should have figured he would be: in Seth's room. Creep.

"So how many times did you cheat on Marissa?" asked Summer. She posed herself in the doorway, so when he turned around from where he was kneeling near Seth's bed, he would see her impossibly long legs, and the beautiful curve of her waist and hip, and her tanned arms folded across her chest, and her pursed lips, glossy.

But he didn't turn; he just kept his head down on the bedspread. She huffed out a sigh. "Answer me, Chino. I know you're not asleep. Marissa is my best friend, and if you cheated on her and then acted all self-righteous about Oliver -- well, he was a homicidal maniac and kind of psycho, but still!"

"I never cheated on Marissa," replied Ryan. She could barely hear him; his face was buried in fabric. Summer gave up her pose at the door, and walked further into the room. Seth didn't take Captain Oats; no one had told her that.

"That's not what Anna says." Summer sat down on the bed.

"Anna says?" Ryan turned his head and looked at her, finally, while she was licking her lips and looking not at all intimidating.

"Well, she didn't say. She sighed. But you know that girl! One sigh is worth ten thousand words."

"Uh-huh." Ryan turned his head back into the fabric.

"That looks really uncomfortable, with your back all curved like that," said Summer finally. She put a hand tentatively on Ryan's back. "Doesn't that put a lot of stress on your neck? You should be careful -- "

"Summer, did you want something?"

"I just wanted to tell you that I know what you did," she snapped. "And I wanted to tell you that I don't miss Cohen at all, and when he comes home, you tell him to stay away from me. I don't care about that stupid letter."

"Uh-huh. I'm really surprised," said Ryan, and Summer stood up.

"And here I was, trying to be nice to you. I should have known better."

"That was nice?" Ryan didn't even look at her as she stormed out, and she knew, because she turned back to check twice.


There was a message from Marissa on her cell phone when she got back to the car. Coop was whiny and her words were slurred together and she was complaining about horses. Yet another person who thought Summer had no idea what was really going on. Julie Cooper -- Julie Nichol -- needed to get on the ball. Coop didn't need therapy; she needed Betty Ford.

Summer drove home, still not listening to the cd Seth had made her, and sat outside with the motor idling. Go inside and deal with her stepmother or sit in the car and think about Ryan and Anna?

It wasn't fair. Everyone had gotten a shot at Ryan except her. Stupid Chino and his stupid tastes for skinny people. Well, Summer Roberts was absolutely not going to lose weight for a guy, even to even the score.

When she started wondering if Ryan and Seth had ever cheated with each other, she rested her head on the steering wheel and closed her eyes. "You're losing it, Roberts," she said to herself. "Get a grip. Get a manicure. Get a new pair of shoes. Get over it."

She put the car into gear and drove away from her house.


"You're back," said Ryan.

"Tell me what happened," said Summer. She sat down next to him this time, on the floor.

"Why?" asked Ryan. He wasn't buried in Seth's bedspread anymore; he was just sitting, with his back against the bed.

"Why are you even in here?" she asked instead. He just looked at her. She sighed. "I just want to know, okay? I'm nosy. I'm interested. Seth -- you, it's all together. Obviously. I'm not an idiot. I know something is going on. Was going on."

"Nothing happened," said Ryan. "Anna and I made a pact, that's all."

"What kind of pact?"

"The kind where we don't tell each other's secrets, except now it's not moot. It's not even pertinent."

"What was her secret?" Summer leaned closer to Ryan.

"Are you kidding?" But Ryan smiled, so she smiled back.

"If you don't tell me, I'm going to continue coming up with theories," she threatened. "I mean, obviously you and Seth were cheating on me and Coop with each other, right? Obviously you cheated on Seth and Coop with Anna. Obviously -- "

Ryan shook his head. "I'm not going to tell you, Summer."

"Fine," she said. "Don't tell me. Make me something to eat -- I'm starving." She stood up, and Ryan stared up at her. "Come on, Chino," she said, more impatient now. "I hear you make a mean bagel, whatever that is."


Summer thought about calling Holly. Or -- or someone. She had a lot of friends and she could go hang out with any of them. She didn't need to spend most of her days watching television with Chino and not thinking about Seth more and more. Which was funny. She knew there was a word for it, but couldn't remember what it was, and probably Chino didn't know. But she bet there was a word for this whole situation. Maybe it was German -- they had long words, right?

Ryan was nothing like Cohen. He sat still. He was quiet. He didn't tell her the endings of the movies they saw before the beginnings were even on. He didn't talk about comic books or insist she listen to horribly whiny songs. She was kind of understanding why Chino would be friends with him, though -- obviously, opposites attract. Seth needed his exact opposite to be happy, right? Blonde instead of dark, quiet instead of loud. That made sense, because Summer wasn't his exact opposite -- she was Anna's exact opposite.

She brought it up to Ryan, who just shrugged. "Everyone needs something different," he said, and offered her half of his bagel.

Bagels were pretty good, especially toasted, which Ryan said would scandalize Mr. Cohen. Except Ryan called him Sandy most of the time -- he only slipped once, and called him Dad.


Seth came back on a Tuesday, in the middle of an episode of The Valley, tired and grouchy. Coop was still on vacation. It was in the middle of the day, so the Cohens were at work. Summer wondered why the Coast Guard hadn't called to say that Seth asked them to take him to an airport and get him back to Newport. She also wondered if he stopped at any little islands and romanced the native girls with his Rilo Kiley playlists and Bright Eyes t-shirts, but she didn't ask.

"So now you think you can just come in here like nothing happened and everything will be fine?" she shouted.

"This is my house!" Seth shouted back.

"I don't care! What did you think you were doing?"

"I needed to find myself!"

"That is the stupidest thing I ever heard, Cohen. We are officially broken up!"

"What are you even doing here?"

It was that question that broke Summer. What was she doing there? She had no idea. She was trying to be closer to Seth. She was hanging out with her good friend Chino. She was missing Coop, except secretly not. She was avoiding her stepmother -- and her father's smirks and jibes about Seth. There were so many reasons and Seth couldn't even think of one?

Summer stared at him, gaping. He was tan. Too tan. Tanner than she was. His skin was brown, and peeling in places, and his dark hair had light highlights that obviously hadn't been stroked in by a masterful stylist.

Just as she was about to burst into tears, Ryan came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Leave her alone, man," he said, and it was Seth's turn to gape. He recovered faster than Summer, though.

"What are you doing here?" Seth asked.

"I live here," said Ryan. Summer looked up at him and he looked down at her and he said, "Come on, Summer," and slid his hand down her arm and took her hand. That was for dramatic effect -- Summer knew the value of making an impressive exit.

Still, she couldn't resist looking over her should at Cohen on their way out, and it made her feel better to know he looked as stunned as she felt, like his best friend had just kicked him, like his girlfriend had just broken up with him, like he had closed his eyes for just a moment and the world had changed around him.

Good, Summer thought. She was satisfied with that.


Ryan took her to a coffee place she'd never been to before.

"There are a lot of places you've never been to before," he said, and gave her a cup of coffee. She decided not to complain that it was plain coffee, with skim milk in it, and she had to add the sugar herself. Summer was tough; she could suck it up.

Ryan's was black. She noticed that, and winced.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"Why do you care?" Ryan replied. He perched perfectly on his chair, leaning back, an arm across the top, and she scowled.

"I was trying to be sensitive."

"Did it occur to you to ask?"

"I called Anna, didn't I?"

"And then you accused me of cheating on Marissa." Ryan sipped his coffee and made a funny face. Summer clenched her jaw and refused to smile. He leaned forward and took three sugar packets, emptied them in, and stirred the coffee with Summer's spoon, then licked it off.

She felt a curl of heat deep in her belly. She'd stirred with that spoon and then licked it off. Was that what Ryan had done to Anna -- had he taken her out for coffee to console her when Seth was being an idiot, and licked her spoon? That almost felt like it could be cheating. If Summer was wearing a beautiful long dress made of silk and had her hair twisted up and it was two hundred years ago, that would be cheating. Summer would have said to him, "You take liberties, sir," and he would have kissed her hand.

Things were way more straightforward back then. On the other hand, did they even have sex except to make babies? Forget it.

"Theresa had the abortion," said Ryan, after another sip of coffee.

"It's none of my business," said Summer.

"Are you kidding?" asked Ryan.

She ignored the slur to her character that Ryan thought he was making. He was right; everything was her business. Someone had to know what was going on. "Did you tell the Cohens?" She sipped her own coffee. It wasn't too bad. It needed more sugar, but she wasn't going to lick that spoon again.

"I called Sandy. He picked me up. KirstenŠ" Ryan paused, sipped, sighed. Summer sipped her coffee too, but kept her eyes on Ryan. "Kirsten cried a lot. It was very emotional."

"You must have been unhappy. Emotions don't seem to be your thing," said Summer, and immediately wanted to take it back or apologize. But she never would, never ever; when had she become so soft that the slightest bit of snark made her feel bad?

Ryan just stared at her. "It wasn't the easiest thing in the world," he finally said. "But it was worth it. I do love the Cohens. All of them. Even Seth."

"Was that hard to say?" Summer asked. She sipped her coffee again, and gave in -- emptied four sugar packets into the cup and stirred and licked. Ryan's eyes never left his cup. He seemed to spend an awful lot of time not watching her, which wasn't exactly the proper way of the world.

"No. Not as hard as I thought it would be."

"Because I know it was hard for you to say to Coop."

"That's a different kind of love."

Summer thought back to the conversation she had with Anna, all the things that had been left to Summer's mind to speculate, all the perverted things she thought about. Ryan with Seth hadn't even been the worst one -- Ryan with Mrs. Cohen? Ryan with Mr. Cohen. Ryan with Coop's dad. Somehow it was more horrible when she paired Ryan up with adults. She wasn't supposed to be thinking about Coop's parents in sexual ways; that wasn't fair to her. She was never gonna be able to look at Mr. Cooper again.

"Are you sure?" she replied, and took a long sip of her coffee.


Summer and Ryan had a standing date -- no, not date. Appointment. Time they accidentally specified through repetition for hanging out. After Ryan's shift at the Crab Shack, at two a.m., Summer would swing around and pick him up and they'd go through the Wendy's drive through and eat salad because Ryan didn't want to look at anything fried, and they would sit in Summer's car with the engine idling and the radio on low. Summer would talk about what happened on The Valley or what she read in a magazine -- and hopefully the actual talking didn't sound as stupid as thinking about what she said -- and sometimes Ryan would talk about what happened at the Crab Shack, or what Mrs. Cohen had said that morning, or how Mr. Cohen thought Summer should come over more when they were around because they missed her.

It had only been a few weeks, but there was a pack of Ryan's cigarettes in her dash compartment and two of Ryan's cds in her cd folder -- hip hop, but she didn't mind, because it wasn't so bad -- and there was a book tucked next to her magazines in the pocket on the door, Werewolves in their Youth; Summer liked the title.

Ryan was nice to be around. She could admit it. There was nothing wrong with saying that she changed her mind -- wasn't that a woman's right? Well, Summer had changed her mind. She liked Ryan. He was comfortable and comforting. Having him around meant Summer never had to be alone or go home -- and he didn't mind just sitting and reading while she got a manicure or smoking while she lingered over bakery selections or coming over to save her from her stepmother's friends.

And Summer had gotten used to having Ryan be there. Because he was there, in a way that Cohen hadn't ever been.

But that night, the night of the return of Seth, when Summer swung around to pick Ryan up, he wasn't there.


"Hello?" said Summer, tucking her phone between her ear and her shoulder. She was struggling to open a jar of green olives, with the little red things in them. She'd already slapped away the help of the cook and the pool boy; she could do it herself, thank you very much. She wasn't entirely helpless.


"Ryan." Bastard asshole jerk.

"Where are you?"

"At home. AH!" The jar popped open and olives and juice went everywhere. Summer leaned against the refrigerator and sighed. It would be ridiculous to cry over olives, she told herself. It would be ridiculous to cry over olives.

"Miss Summer!" said Lupe, hands on hips. "I told you to let Juan do it! Now you make a mess!"

"What's happening over there?" asked Ryan.

"Nothing," said Summer. She put her hand over the phone. "I'm sorry, Lupe. I'll clean it up."

"You go inside! Go inside!" Lupe waved her arms at Summer. "I will clean. You will make a bigger mess! Shoo!"

Summer sighed again. It would be ridiculous to cry over olives, she told herself again, and left the room. It would be ridiculous to cry over olives, and more ridiculous to cry because Ryan stood you up last night. It wasn't like you had plans. It would be ridiculous to cry over olives.

"Summer?" said Ryan. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Summer snapped. "Did you want something?"

"Aren't we supposed to watch The Valley?" asked Ryan.

"Watch it with Seth," said Summer, and turned off her phone. She left it in the tv room, went up to her bedroom, and tucked her head under her pillow. When Lupe knocked a few moments later -- "Your salad, with olives, Miss Summer" -- Summer pretended to be sleeping.


"Uh, what's going on?" asked Marissa.

"Nothing," replied Summer. "Why?"

"Because Kirsten called Caleb and told him that Seth was home, so both her boys were finally back."

"So?" said Summer.

"Where are you?" asked Marissa.

"Getting a pedicure," lied Summer. She was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to Ryan's Eminem cd. It was vulgar. She was enjoying it.

"Did you go to a new place?"

"Yeah," said Summer. "What did you want?"

"I just wanted to know what's going on," said Marissa. She sounded hurt, but Summer didn't care.

"Nothing is going on. Why?"

"Because Kirsten said Ryan is back! Ryan is back? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't know," said Summer. "I have to go, okay?"

"You didn't know?" repeated Marissa. "Oh."

"Yeah," said Summer. "Laters?"


Summer closed her phone before Marissa, and closed her eyes. It rang again almost immediately after, but it was Seth, so she didn't answer it, and she made a mental note to not answer it for Marissa anymore either. She didn't want to talk to her -- or to anyone. Why should she? No one ever told her anything.


Watching Seth and Ryan interact through the pool house windows was like when Seth made her watch that movie with the elf, and he spent the whole time explaining to her how the movie was really transgressive, because it was obvious that the elf and the king were in love because of the way they moved. Like, they touched hands at one point. Like, the camera followed the elf from the king's perspective.

That's what it was like. Because Legolas was hot, and there was no way that he was interested in the ugly, dirty king. Like, hello? Duh.

If Seth hadn't made her sit through those movies, though, she never would have thought anything about anything. She would have marched into the pool house -- never mind asking what they were doing there, because she knew that Ryan was sleeping in one of the guest rooms now -- and she would have inserted herself into the scene. (Like the blonde girl! Like the blonde girl, the warrior! Cohen's geekiness was obviously more dangerous than Summer had ever realized.)

Instead, Summer stayed outside. And she watched Seth move closer to Ryan and she watched Ryan's hands come up to fend him back, and she watched Seth grab hold of Ryan's wrist, and move his fingers over the wrist cuff. And her breath felt kind of funny in her chest, kind of like she couldn't breathe at all except she still was breathing so that couldn't be it.

Ryan stepped back, Seth stepped forward, Ryan stepped back, Seth stepped forward, Ryan leaned forward, Seth leaned forward.

Summer closed her eyes.






"I know the secret. The thing. The Ryan thing."

"Are you okay?" Anna's concern grated on Summer's nerves.

"Of course I'm okay," snapped Summer. She ran her index finger over Princess Sparkle's mane. "It's not a big deal."

"I meant, you don't sound okay."

"I'm fine."

"Of course it's not a big deal," continued Anna. "It's not like it has anything to do with you. Except for Marissa, but -- "

"What? It has everything to do with me!"

"What?" Anna paused. "Summer?"

"Cohen? Chino?" Summer sighed impatiently. "I know. I saw them."

"You saw Seth and Ryan?" repeated Anna. "Doing what, exactly?"

"I stopped watching before they did anything." Summer twisted a silky strand around her fingernail.

"You." Anna stopped, started again, stopped again. "Summer, I don't understand. Pretend I'm stupid. Explain to me slowly."

"I saw Seth and Ryan. Together. And that was the secret, right? I just wanted you to know that I figured it out. I'm not really stupid, you know? I know stuff, too."

"Summer, that wasn't -- that wasn't." Anna sighed. "That wasn't the secret. I don't know anything about Seth and Ryan. They're like brothers, right? I mean -- they're not. You must have been misinterpreting."

"What was the secret?" demanded Summer.

"It doesn't matter," said Anna. "It's not important anymore."

"Yes it is! It is to me!"

"People have secrets," Anna snapped. "I have to go."

"You don't get to have a secret!" yelled Summer at the dial tone. "I want to know what's going on!"


Seth came up beside her when she was getting a mocha latte, half-caf, peppermint shot. "Hi," he said, and looked kind of stupid.

"You need a haircut," she replied, and gave the cashier $4.03 in exact change.

"Summer -- "

"Leave me alone," she said, and turned away from him. She stood next to the counter, waiting for her order to come up, and ignoring Cohen. He smelled like the sun, like salt and air, like the ocean. No big deal -- everything in California smelled like the ocean, except for all the stuff that smelled like dead fish.

"Summer, I'm sorry. Did you read my letter?"

"Mocha latte, half-caf, peppermint shot, no foam." The coffee girl slid the cup across the counter, and Summer took it, nodded her head curtly, and turned again, this time bumping into Seth. His body was hard, tough, and she wanted to punch it.

"Leave me alone, Cohen," she said, and walked out of the coffee shop.

"Summer, please," he said, following her down the street.



She unlocked her car, climbed into it. She set her coffee into the cup holder, and turned on the car. Summer turned on the radio, Ryan's stupid Eminem cd that she didn't take out, rolled down the passenger side window, and leaned over a little.

"Go talk to Chino," she said to Seth. "Ask him about Anna and his little secret."

"Ryan doesn't have secrets from me," said Seth, but he looked a little uncertain. Summer smirked.

"Yeah? Then you know what happened, don't you?"

She pulled out of the parking spot, into traffic, and left Seth standing there. She hadn't even asked what he was doing there, or who he was with. She was getting better. She hadn't thought about Ryan for, like, three hours. Until Seth had shown up with his stupid grin and his stupid eyes and his stupid hair, and made her remember what it was like when he wasn't around. Ugh.

"No matter how many fish in the sea," said Eminem, "It'll be so empty without me."

At the next red light, Summer jabbed viciously at the cd player and threw the Eminem cd on the floor, and turned on the radio to some stupid bubble gum pop station that nobody else she knew ever listened to.


Marissa was still off riding horses and hiking and having mud baths. The idea of Caleb Nichol in a mud bath was just amusing enough to offset the irritation that the only friend Summer had left wasn't around. Like Summer wanted her to be around? Maybe. Summer definitely was tired of being alone; maybe she wasn't tired enough to wish for Coop to be back in town. Maybe she was.

Summer entertained herself by driving around Newport and making nasty comments in her head about what everyone was wearing. It worked -- for about five minutes. Then she was back to being bored and avoiding Seth and Ryan. Once she saw Luke -- back in town for whatever reason, she didn't stop to ask, she just gunned the engine and locked herself in her room.

The most exciting event for an entire week was when her stepmother decided to have her eyes lifted. Summer suggested she stay the night at the clinic and spend the next day in the beauty bar -- it was the most she'd said to her stepmother in months. Sometimes she even forgot she had a stepmother, and when she remembered, couldn't remember her name.

Summer slept a lot and swam a lot and went back to watching the Home Shopping Network. She bought Coop a hideous necklace made of twisted wires, and she bought Ryan a genuine Tiffany lamp that had been made into an ashtray, and she bought Seth a copy of the Spiderman movie signed by a bunch of the people in it, and she kept everything under her bed, because obviously she wouldn't ever gift any of that crap to anyone. Except her stepmother.

She dreamed -- mostly about Ryan and Seth wrapped around each other, about watching them. All of their touches over the months she'd known them suddenly took on new meanings, all of the lingering glances, all of the instances Seth made excuses to see Ryan and spend time with Ryan and watch Ryan get changed. It all made sense. And in her dreams, everyone moved slowly and with assurance and every look had six or seven meanings, and it was like television, where they only showed what was important.

Summer grew up believing that all touches and looks meant something, because she grew up watching daytime television. Finding out that nothing meant anything was tough, but she persevered -- mostly because she felt like an idiot. Just because someone looked at you a little longer than was polite didn't mean he or she was secretly in love with you.

Except for Cohen. Summer would bet that Seth had the exact same thought in his head. That was scary, kind of, but reassuring. She knew what he was thinking and what he would do -- or she thought she did. So she did, with the exception of that whole sailing-to-Tahiti-because-Ryan-left thing. That should have been the number one clue right there, but it just sailed -- pun intended, obviously -- over her head.

But if every touch and look mattered -- and with Seth, she knew it did -- then whether or not Ryan and Anna thought the secret was the whole Ryan and Seth thing, it was. That was the secret. And maybe it was even a secret from Ryan.

It kind of made Summer feel really good to know that there were things she knew that Ryan didn't that had nothing to do with money, clothing, and girls.


Ryan was standing outside the Crab Shack, with one foot propped on his bike, smoking. Summer could watch him smoke for hours, because he pursed his lips and closed his eyes slowly, and it was captivating. That wasn't why she was there, though. She was there because she had cramps, and all she wanted was a salad from Wendy's, the kind with the crushed pecans. Wendy's was the only place in Newport where there were pecans on the salad. Every other place put walnuts on the salad, and that wasn't what she wanted.

She rolled down the window. "Get in," she said, and unlocked the doors. Ryan stared at her. "Get in, I'm not going to say it again."

He flicked away his cigarette, hefted his bike, and climbed in. The bike fit perfectly in the back, and this was exactly why Summer needed an SUV, even though gas prices were sky high and her father turned white every time he saw the gas card bill. If she didn't have an SUV, where would Ryan put his bicycle?

"Haven't seen you in a while," he said to her. She handed him the Wendy's bag. Side salad, vinaigrette dressing, frosty. He half-smiled at her. She pulled around the corner into the parking lot.

"I know your secret," she announced, and ripped open the little packet of pecans. She looked from the pecans to the salad, and decided to just eat them separately.

"So you told Seth," he said.

"No, not that one." She sighed. "You're not keeping up."

"You're confusing. Seth is losing it."

"Seth and I are over. I don't care what he has or what he's losing."

"Right." Ryan took the top off his frosty and licked the ice cream. "I'm confused."

"I'm shocked," said Summer. Ryan offered her the frosty and she took it, licked the top, handed it back.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"I have PMS," she said.

"Oh." Ryan opened the spoon and scraped off the top of the frosty and sucked it into his mouth. Then he scraped off more frosty and offered it to Summer. "You probably need this more than I do, then."

"Whatever, Ryan," said Summer, but she took the spoon anyway, licked it clean. She'd forgotten to get herself a drink, but that was okay because she had lettuce, which was mostly water anyway.

They sat in silence, which was also okay. It wasn't the silence of the last few days -- it was the silence of people who didn't need to talk. Summer wasn't sure when she and Ryan had become people who shared spoons and didn't need to talk, but she kind of liked it.

"So the secret is about you and Seth," she said after she'd finished the pecans. She started on the lettuce, nibbling each piece, letting the water drip onto her tongue.

"Me and Seth." Ryan always used the whole packet of salad dressing. Ew. Every bite dripped with the stuff.

"Yeah, you and Seth. I saw you -- in the pool house. The touching." Ryan raised his eyebrows at her. "The meaningful touching."

"Seth and I touch all the time."

"You know what I'm talking about." She pointed the frosty spoon at him.

"I don't."

"You do."

"Summer -- "

"Ryan. I saw you. Maybe that's not what you're thinking, but I know Cohen. It's what he's thinking. He's thinking about boy touching. Meaningful boy touching."

"He's thinking about you."

"He's thinking about you," Summer said back to him. "But I know there's another secret."

"It's less exciting in the real world than it is in your head," said Ryan. "The other secret isn't even a secret any more. I don't understand why you think it matters."

"Because I need to know!" said Summer. She took another spoonful of the frosty. It was cold, and chocolate, and the spoon was hard, and everything was perfect on her tongue. "It's my business to know all this stuff."

"The secret between me and Anna was that I caught her leaving on New Year's," said Ryan around a mouthful of lettuce. "And she knew that I told Marissa I loved her even though I didn't. I mean, I did, I do, but not -- "

"Not in the way Coop needs." Summer nodded. "So you knew Anna broke the pact before anyone else."

"Except Seth."

"Seth didn't know there was a pact. How did you?"

"I just did." Ryan shrugged.

"That's the secret? That's the big deal? That's why you don't talk to Anna?" Ryan shrugged again. Summer stared at him. "What's the rest of it?"

"She and I made our own pact," he said, and took another forkful of the salad. Summer turned down the air conditioning, and gave up on pretending that the frosty was in any way Ryan's.

"The kind of pact where you had sex in the Cohens' living room?"

"You're obsessed with sex -- did you know that?"

"It's my hormones," said Summer.

"We didn't have sex. We just made a pact. But now it's not relevant," said Ryan, and he reached over with his licked-clean fork and took a pile of frosty.

"Everything is always relevant," said Summer, and moved the frosty cup further away from him. "Will you do me a favor?"

"That depends," said Ryan. He put the empty salad container back into the bag, and cracked his knuckles. "What?"

"When you and Seth have sex, will you let me watch?"

Ryan laughed -- actually laughed, and Summer laughed with him, but she was totally serious, and she said so. "I've never seen two boys doing it."

"Me either," said Ryan. "I told you -- it's not -- "

"Spare me." Summer waved a hand at him, handed him the empty frosty cup and her uneaten salad, and put the car into gear. "I know what you think about when you look at Seth. It's what everyone thinks about."

"Are you drunk?"

"Am I Coop? No. I was just thinking about this."

"Okay, I'll bite. What do I think about when I think about Seth?"

"You think about biting his mouth. That's what I think about too. And his nipples get puffy. And -- " Summer glanced down at Ryan's lap. He wasn't hard, but maybe he wasn't a talker. "And he -- "

"Summer?" said Ryan.




"Tell me what I missed," said Marissa, sprawling out on Summer's bed. She was puffy and pink and it hurt to look at her.

Summer sat at her desk and twisted Princess Sparkle's mane around her fingers. "Nothing much," said Summer. "Mostly just hanging out."

"Oh, come on. Summer Roberts spent a month sitting around watching television? I don't believe it!"

Summer flicked her eyes up and down Marissa, looked away. "Well, I wasn't going to go hang out with Holly or someone. Like, ew."

"Well, you could have hung out with Ryan," said Marissa. Tentatively. Like she was testing Summer to see if Summer would betray her like that.

"I could have." Summer stood up. "I have to use the bathroom."

She left the room, and went into her bathroom, and sat on the toilet, and put her head in her hands.


"What's going on?" asked Marissa. She had a cup of orange juice that Summer knew perfectly well wasn't actually orange juice. Apparently, Orangina mixed with tequila was the drink of the month. "Tell me everything."

"I told you yesterday -- nothing. I just. Like. Sat around."

"How is Seth?" Marissa sipped for too long, savored too much. Summer wanted to punch her right in her puffy face.

"He's tan," she said. She poked at her soda pop with her straw, and let anger bubble up inside her. There was no reason for her to feel juvenile because Marissa was drinking alcohol and she was drinking Coke. Well, Diet Coke with two twists of lime, because Lupe felt bad for her after eavesdropping on Summer and Marissa. Like Summer didn't know she spied for her father? Whatever. She wasn't going to say anything, because Diet Coke with lime was way better than with twists of lemon, especially when the lime was fresh.

"Summer? Summer, I'm talking to you." Marissa reached over and tapped Summer's leg with two fingers. "Pay attention."

"I don't want to pay attention," said Summer. She pushed her drink away and stood up. "I want to be left alone."

"What is going on?" Marissa stood up too, and wobbled a little, but held her ground. There was that, at least.

"Nothing is going on!" Summer took a deep breath and lowered her voice. "I'm just in a mood, Coop."

Marissa stared at her and folded her arms across her chest. "You're in a mood? You're never in a mood. And you don't have a manicure, or a pedicure. And you haven't exfoliated in three days, at least. You're acting weird. Weird, Summer, very very weird."

"I am not acting weird," declared Summer, and she pretended Marissa was wrong, and decided resolutely to make a nail appointment the next day. They were looking a little worn.

"You are. It's like you have a secret." Marissa bent over and picked up her glass, slurped through the straw, and put it back down. "I'm going to figure out what's going on!" she said, and turned on her kitten heel, and walked out of the room.

"Nothing is going on!" yelled Summer after her. "I don't have a fucking secret!"


The next day, after a thorough beauty bar treatment, Summer swung around to pick up Ryan.

"Two a.m. limo service," she said, and didn't smile, even though she wanted to.

"Hi," he said. He sounded more surprised than she expected, but he still put his bike into the back of her SUV and climbed in. "I didn't know you liked Eminem."

"I don't," she said. "It's yours."

"Why are you listening to him?"

"I'm not." She sighed. "You don't understand anything."

"That is so true," Ryan agreed, and leaned on the window.

"You look greasier than usual," she said, examining him out of the corner of her eye.

"It wasn't the easiest shift ever, no."

"Marissa thinks I have a secret," she said abruptly. She turned into the Wendy's drive through lane. "And she's right."

"This is where I ask what your secret is?" said Ryan, and yawned.

"You know what my secret is," said Summer, and leaned out of her window to order.

She handed everything to Ryan and let him organize things, and it felt so much like it was the right way to do everything that her throat started to hurt. So stupid, and so lame, but she couldn't, like, deny her feelings. She pulled into a parking spot and turned off Eminem, but left the air conditioning on.

"You know my secret," she repeated, before she took her first bite of salad.

"You don't have any secrets. You tell everyone everything." Ryan hadn't even opened his salad. He was eating his frosty with a fork.

"I do too have secrets!"

"What?" said Ryan. "The other day you put your foundation on without putting on a thin layer of moisturizer first?"

Summer was almost offended, except that had really happened a few weeks ago, and she'd been really upset, and she'd talked to Ryan about it for at least twenty minutes, and this meant that he had been paying attention, and since no one ever paid her attention, it was kind of flattering.

That might have been the biggest lie she ever told herself, because people paid attention to her all the time. It just wasn't the kind of attention she wanted. But it still counted, she told herself firmly.

"You and Seth," she said.

"Are friends," said Ryan, and swallowed another mouthful of frosty. There was chocolate at the corner of his mouth, and she wanted to lick it off. That was a motivation to definitely be examined at a later date. Or to be hidden deep down inside so that no one could ever find out about it. Ever.

"That's my secret. I saw you."

"You couldn't have seen anything; there was nothing to see," said Ryan.

"I saw," she insisted. "I saw you in the poolhouse."

"That's what you get for spying," said Ryan. "Only half the story."

"Please." She stopped and sighed. "I just want to know. He's my boyfriend."

"You broke up with him. I was there."

"He's still my boyfriend," she said.

"You're kidding, right?" asked Ryan. He put down the frosty and pulled out his salad. Dressing all over pale lettuce. Ew.

"I still care about him," she amended.

"As much as you care about anyone," said Ryan.

"Why don't you just shut up." She put a forkful of salad into her mouth before she said anything else. Ryan reached out and turned the radio on, fumbled a little before the tape went into the deck.

"Is this the tape from Luke?" he asked.

"No. It's a tape from when I was little," she replied. Fine; she could also pretend that nothing happened, if that's the way Ryan wanted it.

"What is this?" He started to laugh. "It's Lisa Loeb!"

"I was ten," said Summer coldly.

"Uh-huh." Ryan smiled at her around his cheekful of lettuce. She rolled her eyes.

"Can we talk about something else?"





Summer avoided Marissa and picked up Ryan for days, and it was like before, and Summer talked about Brad Pitt's new movie, which only interested Ryan because Colin Farrell was in it -- "So you like them pretty," said Summer; "I liked S.W.A.T. ," corrected Ryan -- and her new nail polish -- "Another shade of pink?" asked Ryan; "It's pinky orange," said Summer -- and her stepmother, of course.

"Did she like the vase?" asked Ryan.

"She loved it." Summer rolled her eyes as they pulled into the Cohens' driveway. "She thought it was amazing. Oh! And I bought you something." She put the SUV into park, and flipped down her visor. "Here."

Ryan raised his eyebrows. "What is this?"

"It's a manifesto on gay sex. Whatever! Just open it!"

Ryan stuck his hand into the small pink bag and pulled out a cd. And started to laugh. Summer's insides warmed up, just a little, and her feet tingled. "Nice," he said. "Very nice. I've always wanted a copy of Journey's Greatest Hits, signed by Steve Perry."

"Hey," Summer began, but Ryan stopped her.

"I love it," he said. "Thank you." And she smiled at him and he smiled at her, and he leaned forward, and she presented him with her cheek, and he pecked it, and something hit Summer's windshield.

"What the -- " Ryan opened the door and stepped out, and was attacked by hair and nails. Summer frowned. Familiar hair and nails.

"Marissa!" she yelled. "Coop! Quit it! What are you doing!" She slid out of the SUV and ran around the front. Her windshield wasn't cracked, but it was covered with liquid and smelled like her stepmother. A plastic party cup rolled along the edge of the Cohens' driveway.

Ryan wrestled Marissa to the ground easily, kept her arms pinned behind her back and sat on her legs. Summer looked down at them, then up at the Cohens' house. The lights were on. Marissa was screaming, shrieking like Ryan was murdering her, and she. Oh yes. She smelled like Summer's stepmother.

"What's going on out here?" asked Mr. Cohen. "Isn't it too hot for shenanigans."

"Sandy," said Mrs. Cohen. She came down the stairs. Summer admired her for a moment -- now there was a classy lady. Even her slippers were pumps. "Marissa, Ryan, what's -- Summer. What's going on here?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Cohen," said Summer. She cast desperately for a way to explain this without getting Marissa in trouble, but couldn't think of any. And didn't really care to, actually, because Marissa had thrown vodka at her car. At her car! For no reason!

"Actually, bottom line," said Lisa Loeb, "you tell the truth sometimes."

Summer sighed. "I don't know what happened, Mrs. Cohen," she repeated, a little louder, because Marissa was still screaming nonsense words. "I was dropping Ryan off and Marissa threw a cup of -- something -- at my car."

Mrs. Cohen wrinkled her nose. "I can smell what Marissa threw at your car," she said, and turned back to look at Mr. Cohen, still standing in the doorway. "Sandy? Are you going to help us out here or just stand there?"

"Oh, I'm just going to stand here," said Mr. Cohen, and winked at Summer. Then he came and knelt down next to Marissa. "Marissa Cooper," he said sternly, and Summer was suddenly really glad that he wasn't her father. "Explain yourself."

Instead of explaining, Marissa stopped screaming and began crying, and Summer wanted to cry too, because Coop's nose was running and her face was red, and her cheek was resting on the driveway, and Ryan was looking away, and Mrs. Cohen looked so sad and sorry, and Mr. Cohen looked angry.

Summer's eyes flicked around, looking for Seth, but he wasn't there. She wrapped her arms around her shoulders and held on, feeling cold in the sticky hot air.

"Pain is always the sign," said Lisa Loeb, and when Summer got home, she broke the tape in half and threw it away.


Summer decided that her best options were either to move to France and become a bohemian like Johnny Depp, or to go back to staying away from everyone. She wasn't sure if bohemians were allowed to get manicures, though, so she just locked herself in her room. Lupe brought her food on a tray -- salad with little green olives with the little red things in them, and rice with cilantro, and spicy black beans, and slices of plantains fried until the outsides were black and the insides were gooey. She ate it all, because she felt ravenous.

She was ravenous and furious and kicked things and ripped the heads off two of her stuffed animals and broke her ceramic horse with the real horse hair.

How dare Coop? How dare she? What the fuck was that, anyway? She was waiting outside Ryan's house? Calling wasn't good enough for her? And what had she been thinking? Was she like, "Oh, I haven't seen Ryan too much, let me wait for him to come home instead of driving over to pick him up like a good girlfriend?"

Except she wasn't his girlfriend anymore.

What had she thought when Ryan kissed Summer's cheek? Summer hadn't even been able to properly react to that, to the way his eyelashes kind of brushed her cheek. Summer had no idea how she could have possibly reacted to that, because Marissa's cup of vodka had interrupted. What was she doing with a giant cup of vodka? How could she have possibly thought that was a good idea? In what universe was drinking vodka out of a cup in front of your ex-boyfriend's house appropriate? Or acceptable? Or a good idea? What? How?

It took the entire night, and part of the next morning, but Summer decided that she wasn't mad at Coop. She wasn't angry. She wasn't annoyed. She was embarrassed. Being imperfect in front of other people just wasn't something anyone should do. You keep your imperfections to yourself; you should only show everyone the best parts of you. The parts where you know everything and always have the right answer and can match your shoes to your purse to your nails.



Mrs. Nichol called and apologized on behalf of Coop. She said, "Marissa was a little confused last night," and, "I hope you'll be able to forgive her," and, "Of course Cal and I will pay to have your car thoroughly cleaned," and, "We're looking in to getting her some help."

Summer waited patiently through her talk and then said, "You might want to consider putting her into rehab."

"Well, we're thinking about the hospital -- "

"No," said Summer firmly, in her adult voice, the voice she used when she told her father she was going to keep seeing Seth, the voice she used when she told her stepmother to stop walking into her bedroom without knocking, the voice she used when all her breeding came out. The icy voice. The cold, cool, upper crust voice. The voice Julie Cooper would never be able to use because no matter how many times she married above her station, she just wasn't from the same class.

It wasn't like Summer thought she was British or anything. It was just reality.

Summer used to think Julie Cooper was just great. She always wore perfect clothing, and had a trim figure, and a big smile, and she had long fingernails that were superbly manicured, and she never wore white after Labor Day, and she --

Well, Summer had thought she was classy.

It didn't take much for Summer to change her mind. Only everything.

"No," repeated Summer. "She needs rehab, not a psychiatric evaluation. And then she needs to go live with Mr. Cooper. Trust me -- I'm her best friend."

"Oh?" said Mrs. Nichol. "Then what were you doing with her boyfriend?"

"I don't think my friends are any of your business." Summer paused, and considered just hanging up the phone, but she had more class than Julie Cooper did, so she couldn't. "Have a lovely afternoon. Please tell Marissa to call me when she's feeling better."

Then she hung up. Being classy didn't mean waiting for Julie Cooper to say something else that was nasty.


Summer called Seth. She was lying on her bed, holding Princess Sparkle, and listening to the mix cd he made her. She wondered if maybe the lyrics of the songs were actually a secret code that was supposed to tell her something. But what? This wasn't a cd he'd made for the super cool Summer Roberts who he'd had a crush on forever. This was just a cd he'd put together for Summer-his-girlfriend. A bunch of MP3s off his iPod or something, just thrown onto a cd. She could put it into her computer, she could put it into her car, she could put it into her discman.

She liked Rilo Kiley, a little. She liked the Faint, a little. The Pernice Brothers were too sad, the Pixies were too grungy -- she could, like, feel the plaid inside the music, ew -- and Clem Snide was too nasal. Elliott Smith was annoying. She liked Ryan Adams, he was okay, although he seemed kind of like Elliott Smith but grouchy. She didn't really like any of the other stuff, didn't really understand why Seth liked it when there was so much else being done, musically, that really represented the way people really felt, not just a strange ideal of life being --

Summer cut off her thoughts. They weren't even in her own voice; they were in Ryan's, and she squeezed her eyes shut against the image of him sitting in her passenger seat, sucking on a spoon, finishing a frosty, explaining hip hop.

She wanted to listen to Eminem.

So she called Seth.

"He -- " Mr. Cohen hesitated. "He's not here."

"Why don't you tell me the truth, Mr. Cohen?" she said. Mr. Cohen wasn't like Julie Cooper. Mr. Cohen had a lot of class, no matter what her father said. So did Mrs. Cohen. They were people who understood the way the world was supposed to work. The best part about Mr. Cohen was that he usually didn't care, so you could always count on him to tell the truth. Summer hadn't known him for very long, but long enough to know that. Long enough to know when he was lying.

"That is the truth, Summer."

She used the voice on him: "No, the truth is that he's a jackass who's avoiding me. Tell me," she demanded. "Tell me."

"You're right," said Mr. Cohen, and sighed. "He's a complete jackass. I can't believe I spawned such a son."

Summer smiled and felt perverse and smiled wider. "Thanks, Mr. Cohen. Have a good day."

"You too, Summer," he said, and it sounded like he was trying not to laugh.


Summer sat in her car and stared out the windshield at her house. It had been in her family for six generations, and each new owner added something. Her father and mother had updated the greenhouse and gardens before she was born. Her stepmother added a mudbath. Summer was going to. Do something. Maybe add another television that only showed the Home Shopping Network.

Maybe rip out her father's home office and turn it into a shelter for pregnant teenage girls with no place to go, so they wouldn't all have to stay with the Cohens.

In the dark, she couldn't see the top of her house, only the original front. The whole front, which was built by Carmen de Malaga y Diaz and her husband in 1804, and their son Bernardino de Malaga y Diaz y Periez added more rooms and the garden, and his wife Estelle Dupree added the servants' quarters, and their second son, who married the McFadden girl whose name Summer could never remember -- even though she polluted their bloodline with Irish -- added the greenhouse and tripled the family fortune when James McFadden built the wharfŠ

Summer could go on. She could spend the whole night sitting in her car, reciting the history of her family in her grandmother's creaky Spanish accent, right up through the Roberts and the Ziris, and the irony that now the French was on the patriarch's side and the Castillian on the matriarch's. Except there was no matriarch any more, because her mother was gone, and that no-blood was in her place, building mud baths instead of renovating the servants' quarters, complaining about the small rooms and the stone floors and convincing her father to install central air.

Central air! Not like Summer couldn't appreciate air conditioning, but the house never got that hot, and they had fans, and it was about history.

Yeah, Summer could sit in her car all night and stare at the door and absolutely not go anywhere near the Cohens and their nouveau-riche McMansion with its big rooms and air conditioning and ocean view. She could sit in her car and listen to Eminem and not go near stupid Ryan or stupid Seth and Seth's stupid crush on Ryan and their stupid relationship and their stupid making out in the pool house.

Not that they had. Made out in the pool house. Because RyanŠ Ryan said they hadn't, and he didn't lie, not even when it would make things easier. And Ryan wouldn't do that. Even if he wanted to. Ryan wouldn't do that because Ryan couldn't betray Mr. Cohen like that. Not that Ryan and Mr. Cohen -- like, ew. But if Mr. Cohen saw Ryan as his son, and Summer was pretty sure that he did, then Ryan would be, like, having sex with his brother.

Worse than a mud bath in the back of the house.

She wasn't even halfway through the genealogy -- those cousins all took time, and she could never remember all the Irish ones, with their names like Mary Margaret and Margaret Mary and Mary Margaret Magdalene -- when headlights washed over her.

Summer twisted around and looked at the car.

"Don't ever make the first move," said Eminem. "Just let them come to you."

Summer turned off the SUV and climbed out, and walked around to the passenger side of Mrs. Cohen's Range Rover, and climbed in.

"Hi," she said.

"Hi," said Ryan.

"My life is full of empty promises and broken dreams," said Eminem. Summer turned off the cd and rolled down her window, and Ryan pulled out of the driveway.

She didn't ask where they were going, just let the wind blow through her hair. She kept her eyes closed.


"Don't be all silent on me, Chino. Don't even try to pull that shit," said Summer. She figured it would have sounded more menacing if she hadn't had a mouth full of lettuce, but it had to be said and she had to be the one to say it and she was eating.

Ryan just looked at her and took another spoonful of his frosty.

It was strange to be sitting in the wrong seat; Summer couldn't remember one time in the past two months when Ryan had ever been the one driving. It wasn't the way the world should be, but the world was all screwed up anyway, so Summer might as well relax and not care that the wind messed up her hair.

"It's annoying," she said.

"What is?"

"Sitting in silence."

"We've done it before."

"But." She stopped and took another forkful of lettuce, and chewed it thoroughly before continuing. "But that was accidental, and this is on purpose. You're ignoring me."

"I'm not ignoring you. You're not talking."

"I don't have anything to say!"

"Me either."

Summer scowled at him. "Fine."

"Okay." He looked up and kind of half smiled at her and she kind of half smiled back and he offered her a spoonful of frosty and she gave him her tomatoes.


Ryan kissed her cheek when he dropped her off, and she turned her face and brushed her lips over his, and her stomach twisted up into little knots and braids like Lupe's hair and she pushed out of the Range Rover so fast she almost fell over and she ran into the house and didn't even say goodbye or look back to see if he was watching her.

His breath smelled like chocolate and cigarettes, and his lips were dry, and all she could think was SETH SETH SETH SETH SETH and the fish sex and the curly hair and the way he would move into her touch and SETH SETH SETH RYAN RYAN RYAN



She didn't think she'd be able to sleep, except she did sleep -- she slept a lot, she slept until the sun was high and she was sticky with sweat even though she wasn't wearing any clothing and was only covered with a sheet. She didn't want to wake up, but she had to open her eyes, because otherwise they would be stuck shut by sweat forever.

The TV was blaring -- she'd left it on, fallen asleep to seed pearls, and woke up to a rhinestone encrusted lipstick case. She ordered one in green for her stepmother's Christmas gift. Next was a rhinestone encrusted golf caddy. No one needed that.

Summer clicked off her TV and didn't bother with clothes or anything, just grabbed towels from her linen closet -- one for her hair, one for her body -- and ran a bath.

She'd had to go back out to her SUV last night for the newest issue of Harper's, and on the driver's side seat was a cd with a note. Ryan had tiny, cramped handwriting.

Thought you might like some of these songs, since you liked The Eminem Show.

He couldn't have made it in the time between when she ran away and went back outside, and anyway he wasn't Seth, so it wasn't like cds were, like, so meaningful. So it had to be a cd that he'd meant to give her before she'd run away from his mouth.

First she'd captured his mouth, then she'd run away. So she really had won, she'd just also chosen to lose. But maybe she hadn't lost, because how could she kiss Ryan when she wanted to kiss Seth and when she wanted to -- when she knew Seth wanted to kiss Ryan, too?

Maybe she was kissing Ryan for both of them.

Ryan listened to a lot of music Summer had never heard of before, but it wasn't too awful. She even liked some of it. Like Eminem. And Sublime. She'd listened to it last night but only once, because she couldn't sleep to it. And because -- because it was making her feel itchy, and too big for her skin.

She sank all the way down into a tub of cool water, until her hair floated around her, and she closed her eyes and pretended she was a mermaid. Some of the music made her want to dance, want to press against another body and slither. She slithered in the bathtub and let the water splash over her and let her neck move in time with the beat, and her hips, and her shoulders.

Sex with Seth had been fun, sometimes -- okay, mostly -- and it had felt good, and they'd even hit a level of sweaty-in-a-not-gross-way. But sex with Seth had never made her want to slither, and neither did his music.

His music totally made her want to cry, and not in a good, cathartic way either. It made her want to stab her eyes out. Bright Eyes? Get that kid a Xanax. Elliott Smith? Ditto. Jeff Buckley? For the love of Vera Wang. No wonder Seth was so screwed up, if he poured that music into his ears all day every day. No wonder he had weird ideas about love.

She tried to compare Ryan's mix cd to Seth's, and instead of thinking about the musical quality and the way the songs made her feel and what each boy might have been trying to tell her through song lyrics, but instead of feeling flattered that they were thinking about her -- which just spoke of all sorts of things wrong with the world, as boys thinking about her should be the default, not something special -- she just felt guilty.

She'd kissed Ryan. She couldn't even say that he'd kissed her because she knew what he was doing and she was the one who had moved and he'd left her a cd anyway.

Oh, god, Marissa.

Summer took a deep breath and went back to thinking about sex. It was supposed to, like, give you a deep connection or whatever, right? But sex with Cohen didn't make her feel connected. She had way more of a connection with, like, Coop. Not that she and Coop would ever have sex -- ew -- but -- but not that she was homophobic or anything.

Yeah, she and Coop had a connection, so it wasn't a big deal that Summer had kissed her ex-boyfriend.

She tried to think logically: if it had been Luke, would it have mattered? No. Coop cared that her mom slept with Luke, because ew, right? But if Summer slept with Luke, it totally wouldn't matter. So why was Ryan any different? Summer could --

Summer could sleep with Ryan.

She could touch his shoulders. She could dig her nails into his skin. She could put her face in his neck and breathe in cigarette smoke and sweat, which actually didn't sound all that appealing at all. She could have a connection with him.

It would totally make sense.

Summer slid under the water, and let the cold seep into her eyes through her eyelids. People should be able to have sex with anyone they wanted to have sex with, and maybe once or twice Summer had thought about having sex with Ryan, or with someone who had the same parts she did, and that would have been particularly helpful the first time Cohen had gone down on her and she just wanted someone with long fingers and a brain to be all like, "Look, Seth, here, your tongue goes here like this; it's called the clitoris, okay?"

She had the feeling Ryan wouldn't need much instruction. Or maybe he would. She had no idea, not really, and she absolutely positively did not want to think about it.

Like Anna, right? If Anna had been there, the first time -- the one with Seth, obviously -- she could have demonstrated and it wouldn't have been cheating because Anna was the girl version of Seth. So it would have been like having sex with a brother and a sister.

Okay, gross.

When Summer came up out of the water she took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes -- but carefully, because too much rubbing of the delicate tissue in the eye area led to early wrinkles -- and decided that before she freaked out, she needed to find out if Ryan had wanted her to kiss him.

Because if he didn't want her to kiss him, she didn't need to get that weird feeling in her stomach or her ankles or the tips of her fingers, because then it was just a weird mistake and life could move on.


"I think you're making a mistake," said Anna.

"You're jealous because you want Ryan for yourself," said Summer.

"I don't even think you want Ryan," Anna retorted.

Summer sucked the red thing out of an olive. "I don't know what I want," she said, and stopped. "I don't want to hurt Seth."

"You aren't responsible for Seth's feelings."

"I wish you were here," said Summer, and was kind of surprised to realize that it was true.

"Well, I'm not, and even if I was, it wouldn't be easier," snapped Anna.

"Did you really have sex with Ryan in the Cohens' living room?" asked Summer.

"I am not going to answer that," said Anna. "Do you really think Seth -- "

"Yes," said Summer. "Definitely. And that would explain the -- "

"Yeah." Anna stopped. "Be careful."

"I already said I don't want to hurt Seth."

"I meant with Ryan," replied Anna. "There's a lot -- there's Marissa. There's his mother. There's -- "

Summer chewed the olive, sucking all of the salty, oily juice out first, then swallowing the mashed up meat. "I know," she said. "It's not like I want to marry him."

"There's Theresa," Anna continued.

"I know," said Summer. "I don't even think I want to kiss him again."

"Right," said Anna. "Okay. It's good to hear that Newport hasn't changed at all."


"What are you doing here, Cohen?" Summer planted a hand on her cocked-out hip and glared and Seth, who was sprawled on Ryan's bed.

"I think the better question is, What are you doing here, Summer?" replied Seth. "As it's clear that I am currently kicking demon ass."

"You're delusional." Summer sat down next to him on Ryan's bed. "Where's Ryan?"

"Ah yes, I did hear that now you're dating Chino."

"Not the entirety of the town, no," said Summer, and stood up again. She scowled at him. Fine, if he wanted to be like that, that was fine. "I'm not even dating Ryan. We're just friends."

"That's not what Marissa thinks."

"Marissa is in rehab because she's crazy," said Summer, and her voice almost cracked, but it didn't, and she turned on her heel and left the room.

That wouldn't have hurt so much if maybe Seth had looked at her, even just once, even just for a moment. But it kind of made everything a little more clear. It said: Don't kiss Ryan. Call Anna. Listen to Eminem. Buy something from the Home Shopping Network.


Ryan still hadn't decorated his room or anything. There was nothing there to imply that it was more than just a guest room. Summer avoided Mr. Cohen -- she could hear him in the kitchen, singing -- and the Range Rover wasn't in the driveway, so Mrs. Cohen wasn't home. Unless Ryan had taken the Range Rover. Which didn't make sense because it wasn't even four in the afternoon, so Mrs. Cohen would still be at work.

Ryan wasn't in the pool house or the pool, and when Summer squinted up against the sun at the house, the only face in any of the windows was Seth's. Way to go to act like a jerk, Cohen; way to go to act like nothing had changed from six months ago. Way to go.

Summer kicked the tire on her SUV before she climbed in.

"Were you looking for me?" asked a voice from the back seat.

She jumped, and twisted, and scowled.

"Sorry," said Ryan.

"You don't sound sorry," replied Summer, and put the SUV in gear, and pulled out of the Cohens' driveway. She'd stuck his mix cd in before she left, and it was loud, but not so loud that she couldn't hear what Ryan was saying.

"Seth is mad at me," said Ryan.

"He's mad at me too. So what?" Where to go? She could park somewhere, like in the mall parking lot, on the far end, where no one ever parked except on Friday nights, because it was so far away from the mall entrance. But then they might end up kissing, and that would mean that she'd planned the kissing and wanted the kissing.

Which she did. Want the kissing. But she didn't want to plan it.

"So that's not cool," said Ryan. He leaned forward. He smelled like oranges and limes. Summer glared at him in her rearview mirror. "But -- there's. Like."

"What?" she snapped.

She could just. Drive. Or they could go to Wendy's. If they weren't eating, they wouldn't be kissing. Maybe she was in the mood for something different, like Jimboy's. In & Out. Chipotle. P.F. Chang's -- no, they weren't on a date.

"If The -- Theresa -- and the b -- baby -- if they taught me anything." He stopped. She stopped at the light, and waited. If she turned right here, they'd be going toward Wendy's. If she went straight, they would be going toward the mall.

"If they taught me anything," he said again, "it's that, you know, I can't -- other people. Seth." He shrugged, but she only knew because she saw it in the rearview.

"Seth," she repeated, and went straight. Next chance to back out: the third light down, where to go to the mall, she would have to make a left.

"Right. I think. You have -- he has. He thinks. And he was really in love with you," said Ryan. "He really was. I think he was just -- confused."

"Confused," she repeated. "Confused?"

What she wanted was a nice greasy taco with chicken and too much cheese. A burrito with a lot of rice. A --

"Turn here," said Ryan, and she did, and they were at the mall and she was either going to throw up or have an orgasm the moment he touched her; she wasn't sure which. "I need socks," he added, and she sighed.

"I don't want to go sock shopping with you," she snapped, "and I don't want to hear any more about Seth." But she pulled into a spot anyway, and put the SUV into park, and he leaned forward, and she twisted around, and he just stared at her, with his stupid eyebrows all twisted and his stupid mouth all pouting and she sighed a little again, and leaned forward more, and he kissed her, quick, like last time, and his lips were wet like he'd just licked them, and when she licked her lips after, she tasted citrus, smoke, and salt.

"Let's go," he said. "I also need a birthday gift for Kirsten. I won't talk about Seth anymore."

"Fine." Summer unbuckled her seat belt and twisted more. Their mouths were too close together. "What's your budget?"

"Not much," said Ryan, and looked at her like she was crazy. Duh, of course it wasn't much. He wasn't gonna find anything here, that was for sure, not for not much money. But maybe -- maybe the Charlotte's would be having one of their special sales, the kind they had when Summer's stepmother came in and dropped hundreds of thousands of Summer's father's money.

Summer could do that too. Or they could go to Bloomingdale's.

Or Ryan could kiss her again.

Or not.

"It's summertime," said the guy from Sublime, "and the livin's easy."

Summer turned the SUV off and opened her door, and the sun was bright and hot, and Ryan was squinting at her, and she didn't care if Ryan wanted to kiss her again, or if it was wrong that she wanted him to, or if Seth would be jealous. If Ryan wanted to kiss Seth, even, he could. Seth could be confused and Marissa could be fucked up and the sun could be hot.

Ryan took her hand. "Come on," he said. "Let's get inside." She let him lead her to the mall entrance, even though she usually went in through Bloomie's, and then she let him buy her a smoothie, and she picked out the Charlotte's ring for Kirsten for him, and when he slid his arm around her waist, she moved toward him.


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