Ryans bed, p.11
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       Ryan's Bed, p.11
 

           Tijan

  “I always thought maybe, you know?” she finally said, her voice resigned. “He seemed disgusted with Erin the last time we saw her, and I had hope. Like I had a chance, finally.”

  Sadness weighed in my chest, but my need to get through this shitstorm outweighed that. Call me a bitch. Call me a whore. Call me whatever negative thing you want, but in that moment, I was just a survivor.

  My phone beeped again.

  Ryan: Leaving in thirty. You want coffee?

  Crap. I had to get dressed.

  “Cora,” I said into the phone. “I gotta get going, but I’ll see you at school.”

  I hung up, typed out a quick “yes” to Ryan, tossed my phone onto the bed, and hurried into the shower. I didn’t have time to wait for her answer.

  Two things didn’t happen later that morning:

  I didn’t tell Ryan about Cora’s phone call. If she wanted to mention any part of the conversation to him, that would be her decision.

  And my arrival at school in Ryan’s truck did not go unnoticed.

  Heads turned and people were starting over to him when I got out. Their mouths dropped, and everything erupted in chaos.

  That was an exaggeration, but with my fragile sense of reality lately, it seemed like chaos. The girls who had been walking toward him turned and hightailed it back to their friends. I could hear the whispers.

  It didn’t get any better when we got inside. Someone tripped as she tried to veer around us to get to her gossiping friends, squeaking as she fell. When she scrambled to her feet, her face was flaming red. She pushed all the way into her group of friends for cover.

  Ryan’s eyebrows went up at that one, and when he turned to me, I saw the apology in his eyes before he said anything.

  I shook my head. “Trust me. In the grand scheme of my life, this doesn’t factor at all. I don’t care.”

  He gave me a small smile, but I knew he didn’t believe me.

  He should’ve. I’d rather have this attention than the other kind. The Willow’s sister kind. Then again, they didn’t know Willow. She was only that girl who’d killed herself.

  If they even knew that. Common sense told me the news had to have gotten out, but Ryan was adamant that he and his friends didn’t talk. I was still waiting for it to come out of Erin’s mouth one day, and when that happened, I was prepared for my first jail time.

  It wasn’t that I was hoping or planning for it, but I had to be realistic. I was probably going to punch the girl.

  Pure agony tore through my chest as I missed Willow more than I thought possible in that instant. I faltered a moment. I felt suspended in hell. I forced myself to exhale and then fill my lungs and bring my head up. My neck felt as if it was lifting cement, and I had to break concrete to resume walking.

  One step. Two. Three.

  The agony was still there, but it wasn’t bone crushing.

  Four, five, six, and I didn’t feel like I was going blind.

  “You okay?” Ryan looked toward me as we walked.

  He’d noticed. Of course he had.

  I forced a nod—God, that hurt—and cleared my throat. “I’m going to the office, get my schedule and everything.”

  “You sure you’re okay?”

  There was no appropriate answer to that. I didn’t know when there would be, so I ignored it. “I’ll check in with you later.”

  “Okay.” I felt him watching me as I continued down the hallway. I didn’t stop feeling his eyes until I turned the corner and found the school’s office.

  The interest in me waned once I hit the second hallway, which meant the school gossip train must not have traveled as fast as I’d thought. Nearing the office door, I saw Cora lingering outside of it. As I approached, she pushed off from the wall, adjusting her hold on a textbook and notebook.

  Her eyes slid to the floor, but then she straightened and her little chin firmed in determination as she looked at me again.

  She reminded me of a wounded bird. I was the eagle who’d torn her wing, but for some idiotic reason, she wanted to befriend the eagle. No, wait—Ryan was the eagle. I’d be the vulture in our little scenario.

  “Hey.”

  I paused, nodding to her in greeting.

  She picked at some imaginary threads on her shirt before rushing out, “IknowRyanlikesyouandI’msorryforwhatIdidbutIwanttobefriendsifthatscoolwithyou?” Her cheeks pinked so she had to stop. Smoothing out her shirt, she asked, “Would you?”

  “Yeah.” There were no hard feelings. She should be the one pissed at me anyway. “I’d like that. Thank you.”

  The office door opened, and I stepped back, clearing the way for some students headed out. I stepped inside, and Cora followed. The office was full of activity—teachers going in and out and three ladies working behind the desk. One waved me over with a harried expression on her face.

  “Name?”

  I gave her my info and slid over the papers my mom had left on the counter for me this morning.

  “People are already talking about you,” Cora murmured.

  The lady interrupted, asking, “Mackenzie Malcolm?”

  “Yes.”

  She went back to typing at her computer.

  I glanced at Cora, who edged closer, looking over her shoulder. I saw the two girls standing in line behind us, both watching as they talked to each other. I only hoped the gossip was Ryan-centered. I could handle that.

  They looked vaguely familiar. One had auburn hair grazing the top of her shoulders. The other had darker hair that was styled the same. Pink sweaters. Blue jeans. And glitter. They all seemed to wear glitter.

  “They popular?” I asked Cora.

  “They’re friends of Erin’s.”

  Aha. So they would’ve been at the Jensens’ on Saturday. “Gotcha.”

  “Okay, Miss Malcolm.” The lady reached for the printer behind her and then extended the papers to me. “Here’s your class schedule, locker number, and combination, and you’ll have to stop in the nurse’s office. She’ll have a form to give to your parents to sign, giving us permission to give you pain pills or Band-Aids, things like that.” She plastered a nice smile on her face, one she’d probably used twenty other times this morning already. “Is your sister coming in?”

  Cora gasped.

  She didn’t know . . .

  The lady froze, noting my reaction and Cora’s. She was thinking, but I could tell she couldn’t figure it out. She cleared her throat, and when she spoke again, there was an authoritative and slightly condescending tone to her voice, as if we were wasting her time.

  “Your sister, Willow Malcolm? If she’s absent today, she’ll need a note. I only received the information for you, my dear.”

  I couldn’t say it. The words were stuck in my throat, and I hushed Cora before she could explain.

  My fingers were clumsy as I grabbed a pen and piece of paper off the lady’s desk.

  She died June 29th, I wrote. Not coming.

  I folded the paper over and then folded it again.

  Sliding it to her, I grabbed my stuff and hurried out of there. I didn’t want to be anywhere near her when she read it.

  I failed.

  I heard her gasp as the office door closed behind me.

  “The records must not be updated. Or the records at your old school weren’t updated. I don’t know.” Cora was right next to me, holding her books close to her chest.

  I was walking blind, no idea where I was going, and it took a moment before I regrouped.

  Locker. I needed to find my locker.

  Glancing down at the number, I realized I was in the wrong hallway. I’d have to walk back in front of the office again, and there was no way I wanted to do that.

  I read my first class and showed Cora the classroom number. “Where is this?”

  She bit her lip, tugging at her shirtsleeve. “It’s down the hallway.”

  That was welcome news, and I nodded. “I’m going to class.”

  “We still have twenty minutes


  I was already off. I called over my shoulder, “That’s fine with me.”

  I’d find my locker later.

  When I got to the room, the teacher wasn’t in, so I couldn’t ask if there would be assigned seating. I slid into the seat in the back row and farthest from the door. I still had my book bag with me, but I didn’t care. I pulled out a notebook and pencil, and I put my phone in my lap, making sure it was on silent. Then I looked out the window as everyone came in.

  Conversations slowed as people filled in around where I was sitting.

  I felt them watching me. I didn’t look. I couldn’t. A few tears slipped down, and I willed them to stop. I was doing a great impersonation of a statue.

  Perhaps that was what I’d be for Halloween.

  “Okay, everyone.” The teacher paused when the door opened.

  I finally looked around, surprised at who sat beside me. Before I could process that, a student darted into the classroom and handed a note to the teacher.

  As he stopped and read it, a weird déjà vu came over me.

  I knew. I knew what he was going to do next.

  The teacher stiffened, looking up. His eyes moved over the students, landing on me.

  Remorse flared in his eyes before he coughed, handed the student back the note, and murmured, “Maybe let the next teacher know as well. All of them, in fact.” He said it quietly, but I heard him in the back of the room.

  The school didn’t want teachers to make the same mistake as the office lady, so news of my sister’s death was circulating, room to room. No teacher would read the attendance sheet and ask for Willow Malcolm. No one would ask if we were sisters and where she was.

  It was a nice gesture, but I felt stripped raw anyway.

  I had a strong feeling the teacher wouldn’t call my name during attendance, and I was right. He named every other student in the room.

  When he called on Ryan’s friends—Nick and Tom—they replied “Here” from the seats around me, and I was grateful. I wasn’t sure if this was where they normally would’ve sat, but I’d take it.

  Their presence shielded me.

  I was brave enough to sneak past the office after my second class. It was ridiculous. I was sandwiched inside a group of students, but I swear I felt the office lady watching me. I knew it couldn’t be true.

  Ryan came over as I was closing my locker to go to my fourth period. We had one more class before lunch, one more hour before goddamn freedom.

  “How’s it going?”

  And cue the other form of attention. I rested against my locker, looking down, but I could see from under my eyelashes. Oh yes, everyone was dying to know about Ryan and the mystery girl.

  “What are you? The Greek god of dating?”

  He smirked. “Hot shit. Did you already forget?”

  “Right. Eagle of hotness.”

  “Um, yeah.” His grin turned wicked, and he glanced around and saw all the attention too. Leaning closer, he dropped his voice. “For real. How are you? Cora told me about Margaret.”

  I took a leap and figured Margaret was the front desk lady. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

  “Okay.” He gestured to the hallway. “What’s your next class?”

  “Espanol. Y tu?”

  “Si, si.” He nodded. “Come on. You can be my table partner.”

  I shot him a dry look, which he returned.

  Once we got there, I realized it wasn’t a seniors-only class. Erin and Peach were in one corner, and I couldn’t stop my groan. Ryan snorted. His hand came to the small of my back, and he urged me forward. We walked to the back of the class and the very last table in the room. A guy after my own heart. We both slid in, and as if they dropped out of midair, Tom and Nick came to occupy the table in front of us.

  “Hey, man.” Tom leaned over after the class started and worksheets were handed out. He did a fist-bumping thing with Ryan. Nick followed suit. Both looked at me, saw my face, and waved instead.

  “You made it out of first period unscathed,” Nick noted.

  “I did. Thanks for sitting by me.”

  He shrugged. “It’s cool. That’s where we sit anyway. Seemed fitting you were there already.”

  That was true.

  They began talking to Ryan about classes, a party already in the works, and girls. I felt their glances, but I tuned them out.

  I wished I cared. I really did, but I didn’t.

  I felt her everywhere.

  Sitting next to me.

  Standing with me.

  Walking beside me.

  She was me, but I wasn’t her anymore.

  I glanced at Ryan from the corner of my eye.

  I’d latched on to him. He was a bandage over my wounds—covering them but not really healing them. They were still raw and open, but I was hoping to move fast enough that my insides wouldn’t spill out everywhere.

  I was no longer a part of any of this, any of these people. I was on the outside, and I was the only one who really understood that.

  No one else around me could claim to be a twinless twin. But that was my new identity.

  I could almost hear Willow yelling at me, Those girls need to be taught a lesson. They aren’t the queens anymore. We rule now. You and me, Mac. The Willow Mac Attack. That’s you and me.

  “Mac?”

  I drew in a ragged breath. I could fucking hear her.

  Her hand touched my arm. “Mac?”

  I screamed, lurching out of my chair. Scrambling backward, my back hit the wall, and I gaped at where I’d been sitting.

  Everyone was watching me.

  Ryan’s hand stretched out toward where I’d been sitting. He slowly closed it into a fist and turned around in his chair toward me. He bent forward, resting his hands on his legs. “Mackenzie?”

  God. It wasn’t her. Ryan had touched me. Ryan had only used her nickname for me.

  “I . . .”

  “What’s wrong with her?” Tom whispered.

  Nick threw him a disgusted look, slamming his elbow into his chest.

  “Ouch.”

 
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