Title: Special Offer (The O.C.)
Author: Janet F. Caires-Lesgold
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Category: Vignette, romance, Ryan POV
Spoilers: Set in the hour or so before "The Girlfriend"
Rating: PG-13 for implications of m/m interaction
Pairing: Seth/Ryan (eventually)
DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me. The O.C. is the property of Josh Schwartz, Dave Bartis, Doug Liman, and McG, Warner Brothers Television, Hypnotic Productions, and the Fox Network. This story is just for the entertainment of my online friends and myself, not for any profit.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part of my as-yet untitled O.C. stories series, which can be found elsewhere on this archive - Enjoy!
DEDICATION: To the girl who asks all the right questions, Tiff.
COPYRIGHT: (C) Janet F. Caires-Lesgold, October 28, 2003, email@example.com
Please don't redistribute or alter this story in any way without the express permission of the author. Thank you very much.
The 54th Armored Division approaches today's battlefield, or, in other words, the Cohen family SUV pulls into the parking lot of the local super-mega-yowza-market. Seth's grandpa is coming for dinner, and we are shopping for food.
When Seth or I have been sent out after milk or bread or something small, we usually go to the convenience/gas/what-have-you in the next development over. This is the first time I've been invited along on a major grocery-acquisition run. I try very hard not to be six, but I can barely keep my feet still as we wait politely for a parking space. If Seth notices, he doesn't let on.
For that matter, at the moment, Seth is nine. He hasn't stopped whining since we got in the car, which I find absolutely adorable. First the stereo's on the wrong station. Then it's too loud. Then it's too soft. Then the air conditioner isn't set high enough. Then he's cold. I don't let him see me chuckle.
His childishness amuses me since I know that the only reason he is here is because I have come along for the ride. I'd call him a leech on my side, except that he's more saltwater than fresh, so I'll call him a barnacle. Whatever species, he's glommed onto me like a drowning man onto a rope in the water. Guess he needed a friend, too.
Seth is my first friend away from Chino, and is constantly teaching me new things, sometimes without even trying. What's weird is that I never had crushes on my teachers before--it must help if they like you...
That's sort of how I'm approaching my affection for him in general: guys have caught my eye before, sometimes in school, sometimes on the street, but none of them have looked back at me with anything close to the wholesome admiration and honest warmth he has shown me from the first day we met. I may like girls, but it's okay for me to like him in the same way, because I believe I can trust him like nobody else. I'm not absolutely sure that Seth has a crush on me, too, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that he does.
At last, we are at a full and complete stop, just like on the rides at that carnival one of my mom's boyfriends took me to a very long time ago, so we emerge into the sunlight. Maybe Seth is really a hamster, or some little nocturnal rodent, because he blinks like he's just woken up. Now that I think of it, he'd been sulking silently in his seat for the past ten minutes, so he very well could have fallen asleep.
We form an orderly line into the supermarket, and Seth and I are issued our very own cart and chunk of the list. Before we split up, I dig in my pocket for squares of shiny paper I'd hidden there earlier. "Do you want these?" I ask, handing them over to Seth's mom.
"What?" she asks, distractedly studying her perfect handwriting on the rest of a lined sheet of skinny blue paper with the word "Groceries" printed on the top.
"Coupons," I insist, pushing them at her.
She blinks, almost like Seth did in the morning sun, looking at me curiously. "Where did you get these?"
Bravely as I can without causing a scene, I explain, "You said we were going to the grocery store, so I went through the newspapers in the recycling bin and found the ads. I cut out the ones I thought you might want."
As she has fallen silent, Seth's dad picks up the interrogation with a little grin that he doesn't think I notice. "How'd you decide which ones to cut out?"
"I just looked in the fridge and cabinets to see if there were any brands you liked. Thought you might want to save a couple of bucks..."
Sandy's smile is broad and accepting now, which makes me feel a little less uncomfortable. "Thank you, Ryan. We'll see if any of them come in handy," he adds, taking them from my hand and pushing off their cart in front of Kirsten, who hasn't closed her mouth for about a full minute.
Seth commandeers the other cart, and I follow him to the other end of the store. "Dude," he intones, scoldingly.
"Coupons?" He looks incredulous.
"What? I used to have to do the shopping for my mom, and we didn't have a lot of money, so..." My voice starts to annoy me, so I shut up. Seth isn't really listening anyway.
"So, what's the first thing on our list?" he asks, scanning the signs hanging from the ceiling.
"'Chips'," I read.
We both stand there for a second until he decides on a direction. "Ah. One of the basic food groups," he nods, shoving the cart across the sparkling clean linoleum toward a sign reading "Snacks".
He turns down an aisle and stops in front of a huge display of shiny bags in lots of colors. I flip over the paper in my hand to see if there's any further instructions than Kirsten's five little letters. "How do we know what kind of chips to get?"
"Just get whatever you like," he assures me, letting go of the cart handle and cruising down the row like he is finding his favorite brand via psychic waves. Darting up onto his toes, he snares a bag of something called "soy cream and chive crisps" and tosses it into the cart.
I decide to stick with the familiar, and grab an orange and red package of dip-size Fritos.
"Is that it?" he asks, eyeing my selection with about as much confusion as I did his. "Those are kind of plain. You can get some dip or something..."
"That's okay," I answer, hiding my bag behind his in the cart. "I like Fritos."
"No big," he assures me with a glance over my shoulder to the torn-edged scrap of blue paper in my hand. "'Potato salad'. Yuck."
"You don't like potato salad?"
"No, but it's Dad's favorite, so I guess we're going to the deli counter..."
Steering the cart around a large display of cases of soda, he leads me to a shiny glass case from which a pig looks out at me. "What is that?" I ask, just a little disturbed by the visual.
"What? The sausage? I guess the butcher gets bored and dabbles in a little sculpture."
Sure enough, on second glance I can determine that a huge mound of bulk pork sausage has been given a smiling piggy face to attract shoppers. I think back to the smelly, grubby butcher's counters back in my old neighborhood and imagine that the piggy, instead of smiling, would be begging to be let out of the case. Amused by that mental image, I follow Seth's serpentine route to the right counter.
After what seems like a mile of glass cases so clean that they could easily hold the crown jewels instead of meat and fish, we come to one that looks like a cafeteria. Seth must spot me eyeing the lasagna and twice-baked potatoes hungrily--it's too close to lunch, and breakfast was too long ago--because he stops and wheels back around to me. "You need something?" he asks easily.
"No," I brush him off. "I can wait till lunch. I've never seen so much cooked food at the store where I come from. Do they always have this amount of stuff prepared already?" I wonder aloud as he turns to another section of the store.
"Yeah. Nobody has time to cook anymore, so you can get it to go from the supermarket. Heck--there's even a microwave over there and some tables if you want to eat it here."
"Seems wasteful..." I mutter while he rips a paper number from a red plastic dispenser.
"I think they distribute the leftovers to poor people," he suggests distractedly, then immediately corrects himself. "You know, at homeless shelters and places like that," he adds, watching my eyes like he's afraid I've taken offense.
"That's nice," I say with a smile, feeling a little guilty to be languishing in the hospitality of the Cohen household, but secretly pleased that I'm not being served day-old meatloaf from a jeweler's case.
A quart tub of "old-fashioned mustard-style potato salad" in our cart, and sample crackers bearing gobs of hummus in our hands, we stroll off to our next destination. "Ah, the mother lode!" sighs Seth as we head into an aisle where I am greeted by the vision of what seems like a hundred different boxes of cold breakfast cereal.
Never have I seen this vast an assortment of crunchy sugared delights in my life, including two dozen variants on granola alone. I am truly overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, Seth is in his element. He juggles three boxes of Cocoa this and Honey that, comparing not the nutrition labels on the side but the cool prizes advertised on the front. One box goes back on the shelf, and two wind up in the cart, but still I stand there, undecided and half afraid I might faint in a panic.
"Come on," he says, in his kindest, warmest voice. "What do you like?"
Before the cartoon faces and rainbow colors start swirling in a dizzying vortex, I focus on his gentle brown eyes, which silently promise to hold me tight and never let me drown.
"It's okay, Ryan," he soothes. "You can have anything you want."
Suddenly I know he doesn't mean just the choice of wheat flakes versus rice puffs. His mouth relaxes from a grin into a shape that could easily be longing for a kiss, just as mine has wanted from him, and I search his eyes for confirmation. I wouldn't feel comfortable touching him like that unless I were absolutely sure that this, and maybe more, was what he is offering, no matter how desperately I might need it. He is close now, close enough that I swear his warm, slightly garlicky breath brushes my cheek in the perfectly climate-controlled atmosphere. My own mouth drops open, and my hand reaches for his skinny arm for balance before I tilt my head and move even closer.
"Hey! There you are!" calls Sandy from the end of the aisle, breaking the moment and my heart all at once. Seth turns to his dad, startled, and I grab a box of Frosted Wheat Squares from a nearby shelf and drop it quickly into the cart to cover my surprise. "You guys ready?" the old man asks as he comes closer, and Seth and I automatically take two steps separating ourselves to prevent questions.
"Yeah," Seth answers, yanking the list out of my hand to cover up the slight tremble I notice in his voice. "Oh, wait," he amends, reading, "We're supposed to get a case of Coke."
"Hmph," Sandy marvels, comparing his list to ours. "Your mother must have written that down twice, because we already have one. I guess we're done, then. Oh, good--you got potato salad. I love that kind! Do you like potato salad, Ryan?" he continues, making conversation as he takes over our cart and turns it toward the checkout lanes.
"Um, sorta," I reply, watching Seth, who seems very interested in the pattern of the linoleum under his sneakers.
"Anything else you want before we go, fellas?"
Seth won't meet my eyes, but I have to know that he's okay. "Maybe a bottle of juice from the chiller there," I suggest, pointing to the refrigerator at the end of the lane where Kirsten is unloading three times more food onto the conveyor belt than she should have been able to select in the few moments we've been separated. "You know, something sweet to tide me over till later..." I expound far too casually, making Sandy raise his substantial eyebrows as he opens the door for me.
"Okay," he agrees, including his son at the last minute. "Seth? Anything for you?"
He raises his eyes, first to me, then to Sandy. A wave of relief washes over me when he responds, "No, thanks--I have everything I need," and shoots me a secret grin before piling our meager groceries on the belt.
On the way home, I sip at my bottle, exchanging looks with my very best friend in the back seat and wondering how much sweeter his kisses will be than the juice on my tongue...
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