By Alexis Eastman
After the earthquake that rocked the OC at the almost-end of Season 4, Ryan ditched Taylor; the natural disaster had forced him to realize she was only a hollow replacement for his one and only Marissa. He fished his old BMX out of the garage pumped up the tires and stepped into the pool house one last time. He tossed his cellphone and picked up his old grey hoodie; there was something in the white noise of that grey sweatshirt that always made him feel safe. He biked past where Taylor lived and left an envelope for her, in his public school scrawl and with the succinct earnestness only he could muster, he wrote: "Sorry" .
Tooling the BMX out onto the boulevard, he was struck by the difference between his body now and the last time he was on this bike - he used to be young, innocent somehow, even after seeing all that Chino had shown him. And now, in a way he didn’t think the OC could allow, he was old.
His bike picked up speed leaving the OC city limits and as the warm wind blew his hood off it wafted the faint smell of Marissa’s Marc Jacobs perfume over his face. He longed for the way the taste of vodka straight from the bottle mixed with her Camels and lingered on his lips after she kissed him. It reminded him of the bars where he used to wait for his Mom. Bars where ladies danced in ways that made him feel things even though they wore too much makeup- or so Atwood remarked to himself at the tender age of 12. He recalled Cooper’s hip bones jutting out like hitchhiker's thumbs calling to him that first day he pulled up in the passenger's seat of a car that cost more than all the money he’d ever let pass through his fingers. He could still feel his heart drop into his stomach as he forced himself not to look back for her just one more time.
Ryan biked back through his past, through the grainy haze of Chino and the Halcyon California dream into the vast unknown that lay towards the east . The middle of America passed by him like a Rooney cover of a Simon and Garfunkel song; it was better when he was drunk.
But the east coast didn’t open up to him the way he’d hoped. There were no beautiful waifs calling to him from street curbs like urban sirens. No wealthy Jewish families to bring him in and call him son and keep his fridge well stocked with bottled ice tea. No fancy schools, no pretty boys to beat up, no good & evil to be torn between. Only grit & grime and his shitty fucking bike which was pretty much dust after carrying him from the OC to GC.
Gotham City. It didn’t seem real at first. It was dark & Atwood longed for the (vitamin) D of the OC while he showered in YMCA change rooms and wandered from greasy diner to greasy diner thanking the Chrismukkah gods that his dishevelled beard, borne of cross-country travel, and sweater waxed in detritus matched the aesthetic of the artists, designers, criminals and superheroes of Gotham.
From the moment he arrived, Ryan combined the street savvy from his rough & tumble Chino childhood with the social know-how that the Cohen’s so generously gave to him and waltzed into whatever he wandered past; openings, galleries, law offices and boutiques. Confident in his disheveled #ootd and with the knowledge that all you really need to do is walk into someplace like you own the place.
As days turned to weeks, sometimes Ryan stood in crowded charity functions and swore he could almost hear Phantom Planet, but it would always disappear into the noisy chatter of philanthropists & caterers offering crudités. He followed straight haired girls home expecting Marissa, and looked for kind-eyed lawyers outside of courthouses but the the Coopers & Cohens were never there. Instead, Gotham offered him families hardened by years of being held hostage by crime and circumstance. Sometimes, late at night he would lean between his bike and the brick wall of a coffee shop near the pier. Listening to the passing conversations of who he came to know as thugs working for a guy named Falcone, he wondered if the OC existed anywhere else but in his mind.
On a dark night in Gotham, Atwood had reached his breaking point. In a fit of pain & nostalgia he wandered into the closest gallery having an opening, longing to find someone who reminded him of home. Effortlessly making his way past the doormen, Ryan felt himself drawn deeper and deeper into the beautiful crowd.
He was stopped in his tracks by the back of a dirty blonde head, perched atop a 6ft frame, staring into a painting. There was something about this girl’s flats and BMI that reminded him of something safe & good. After clenching and unclenching his fists a few times, he inhaled and walked up behind the beautiful statue, wishing so badly he could reach out and kiss her. It had been a long time since someone helped him to be a better bad boy.
Her name was Barbara Kean. This was her gallery. She stood in it commanding attention because she had chosen each piece on the wall as carefully as she had chosen her Chanel flats that morning. She felt the presence come up behind her and it scared her more than she expected. She kept her eyes steady on the messy abstract. She knew that once she looked away from the painting, nothing would be the same. Their eyes met.
Everything started moving in slow motion. Barbara wasn’t ready for that, but as a former OC resident, Atwood was used to his kisses stopping time. They kissed until what felt like the commercial break. An obscure song from a reasonably popular band played in Barbara’s heart and she felt safe too. Atwood had found home. When their lips finally parted, Barbara took a step back- she had been raised better than to kiss strangers without even having introduced herself. Her name hung in the air and Ryan realized that the name Ryan Atwood would forever be linked to a time that he was less and less convinced was even fucking real. In what was likely milliseconds but felt like forever, Atwood let a single tear well in his eye for Chino and the OC and reached out his hand to hers. Shaking her dainty digits firmly, he looked her right in the eyes;
“I’m James Gordon.” James, in honour of his favorite film director James Cameron and Gordon, for his favorite celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Atwood liked the way it sounded. “...b-but you can call me Jim.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Barbara was from a wealthy family, living in a penthouse in downtown Gotham and encouraged her new boyfriend to take advantage of what she could offer. A deal Atwood had come to understand deeply.
A casual phone call to Mr. Kean turned into a dinner at the club where the Police Academy was discussed & when Ryan sunk into the leather chair of Gotham’s premiere Criminals Smoking Stogies After Hours Bar, he’d totally lost track of the conversation and found himself reflecting on the past. Whether or not the OC was real, he had a feeling his criminal record was as real as the Cuban cigar in his hand, but more than that he was unsure of whether to be happy or sad that he’d arrived in a city where that record was currency.
The old Ryan would have been angry to listen to these men talk so callously about the lives of their employees, how casually they discussed paying off cops and inspectors so they could carry on their dirty doings. The old Ryan would’ve punched them all in the face. But James Gordon took that adolescent rage and shoved it deep down. With every sip of neat Scotch his rage left his fists and burrowed deeply into his brow, becoming wrinkles around his smile and dimming the bright blue ocean of his eyes into a stormy grey. James Gordon liked to watch them brag about their exploits knowing if he waited long enough, they were bound to misstep and he would be there to catch them.
The morning of his first day at the GCPD, Gordon woke up breathless from a hazy dream where he was watching Marissa Cooper shoot vodka in slow motion. Marissa’s face kept switching with Barbara’s. He swiped his hand out in front to try to reach her, but ended up smashing the bottle of Grey Goose she was drinking from and scaring her away. As the bottle burst it mushroomed, not with glass and vodka, but with dark smoke and bats, swirling around and suffocating him. Catching his breath, Gordon turned from the bed and slid his feet into his monogrammed slippers. As he watched the gold JG’s shuffle across the hardwood he felt his fists clench in a way he hadn’t in a long time. Something was coming.
Gordon drank the last few sips of cold coffee on his balcony. From so high up, the shiny windows of skyscrapers reflecting the blue sky almost looked like an ocean, but he pushed it from his mind, letting the last blue light be engulfed by the swirling bats from his dreams.