Ryans bed, p.18
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       Ryan's Bed, p.18


  Swimsuit, Mackenzie, I told myself. Find one and stop thinking. It’s fucking simple.

  I felt Willow’s presence as I found a suit and put it on. She was always there, but I was getting better at pretending she wasn’t. And feeling the tequila really begin to kick in, I knew she’d be gone real soon.

  Completely gone.

  Grabbing a towel, I threw open the door. You can stay in here.

  After that, I walked right to the pool and dove in. Once I was in there, I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. The tequila was fast starting to dull my senses, but it’d wear off. I had to keep going. I started doing laps. I’d tire myself out.

  And it worked. I don’t know how long I went, but I just kept going until the others jumped in with me.

  I felt the splashing before a pair of arms slid around my stomach, and then I was airborne.

  Shrieking, I saw Ryan grinning at me a second before I crashed into the water again. I rose back to the surface in time to see Kirk lunge at Ryan, and then the wrestling was on. Nick cannonballed over them, letting out a yell as he joined the fray. The three dunked each other a few more times until Ryan noticed me watching. He grabbed my ankle, yanking me to him. I felt the slide of his body against mine before he threw me in the air once again.

  After that, it was war.

  Kirk, Nick, Ryan, and I spent the next hour trying to dunk each other. I was mostly the loser, but every once in a while, I pulled out a surprise and got one of them.

  I’d gone from feeling crazy, to wanting to jump Ryan, to almost fighting with Kirk and Nick, to crying, to laughing and playing in the pool.

  As skip days go, it was one of the better ones.

  After another hour, I pulled myself out. My body was tired, my mind lethargic, and the booze still securing me in a warm fog. That was all I cared about. I padded barefoot to one of the lounge chairs. Two towels were on the end of the chair and I settled back, pulling both on top of me like blankets. I settled in, curling as much into a ball as I could, and watched the guys roughhouse.

  At some point a shadow blocked the sun. It was enough to wake me, and I opened my eyes to find Cora frowning down at me.

  “You were sleeping?”

  I sat up, rubbing a hand over my face. There was a small pounding behind my temples—goddamn tequila. I looked over, but the guys weren’t in the pool anymore. They’d moved to the couches, tossing a basketball back and forth.

  “Yeah. I guess.” I skimmed over her, noting her backpack still on and her shirt untucked from her jeans. “What time is it?”

  “Almost four.”

  “You came over right after school?”

  She nodded, studying the guys before letting out a sigh and dropping her backpack to the ground. She sat on the lounge chair beside me but didn’t move to lie down. She stayed on the edge, turned toward me, and kept her eyes on the guys.

  I saw the worry lines around her mouth and sat farther up, pulling the towels with me to keep warm. I was a little chilled.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked. “They in trouble for skipping?”

  Her narrowed eyes met mine briefly. “I doubt it. Kirk never gets in trouble for skipping. He never did. Nick’s mom will probably get a call, but she doesn’t really care. If he says it’s because one of the guys had a hard day, she’ll be okay with that. And Ryan . . .” Her bottom lip stuck out farther, and she trailed off.

  Aha. I got it. She was worried about Ryan.

  “I thought you were okay with me and Ryan?”

  Her eyes jerked back to mine, widening slightly. “What?”

  “You’re concerned about him.”

  “No.” She tugged at her shirtsleeve and then smoothed the ends of her shirt over her pants. “I mean, he skipped the first day because of you, and now he skipped because of Kirk. He went downhill the other year because of him.”

  “His friend died.”

  “I know, but . . .” She stopped talking, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip.

  She didn’t get it. It didn’t make sense to her how grief could be overwhelming. It made more sense to blame Kirk’s influence than Ryan losing a friend.

  Fuck. What did she think my problem was?

  “It must be nice,” I murmured, resting my head back against the chair.

  Her eyes flickered. “What?”

  “Not to have lost anyone.”

  Her head lowered. “My hamster died when I was twelve.”

  Pets could be family members too, but I didn’t assume hers was. She didn’t sound too broken up over it.

  Real and genuine jealousy slammed through me. It hit my chest, my heart, my stomach, every single cell in my body—all the way from my toes to my hair. I wanted her life. I wanted it so badly I was almost crying.

  I would’ve given up Ryan to have what she had.

  “Everyone knows the four of you cut today.”

  I was still envisioning life without that pain, so it took a second for those words to register.

  It was my turn to frown. “So?”

  “So.” She reached up to tighten her ponytail. “Everyone knows you guys skipped.”

  I wasn’t following her. “Is that a problem? Or what? I’m not getting what you’re saying.”

  “No.” She went back to chewing her bottom lip before shrugging. “Stephanie Witts knows. All the girls, and guys. They wanted me to call them when I found out where everyone was.”

  Oh. Shit.

  “Tell me you didn’t call. Right?” I leaned forward, pulling my legs in and tucking the towels under my arms. “You didn’t call those girls.”

  She didn’t answer, and I could see she was chewing the inside of her cheek.

  Fuck! She did. I groaned, letting my head fall forward to smack my palm. “How long until they all descend?”

  She jerked up a shoulder, sitting silent.

  “Hey!” I waved my hand in the air. She was staring at the guys and barely answering me. “When did you call them?”

  “Oh.” She glanced at her phone. “Like ten minutes ago.”

  More voices came from around the side of the house. Tom rounded the corner of the house first and the rest of the guys followed. I saw Peach and Erin with them. There were more shadows behind her, and as Tom reached over a fence and opened the door, they filtered in. Erin’s friends had come with her.

  The line didn’t end.

  I recognized some guys from my grade coming in.

  Cora muttered almost to herself, “Those are the basketball players. The football team isn’t here. They had practice.” She watched as Nick pounded a few of the guys on the arm. “Nick’s going to get in trouble for missing today.”

  More people came in, flooding the entire backyard.

  I stopped watching, but I heard what she said.

  His coach would get upset, but not his parents.

  Erin called Cora’s name, and I jumped up from the lounge chair.

  “Where are you going?” she asked.

  I didn’t answer. As Erin headed over, I zipped back into the pool shed and locked the door behind me.

  I couldn’t do this. Not all these people.

  My insides felt pulled apart and put together wrong. Nothing felt right anymore. I couldn’t sit on a lounge chair with Cora, hearing whatever Erin had to say—whether she was going to take digs at me or kiss my ass. She’d resorted to the latter over the last few weeks, and I didn’t get it. Whether she wanted to be friends or not, it wasn’t happening.

  My only real friend was Ryan.

  And that’s the problem.

  God, not now! I snapped at my ghost.

  Willow rolled her eyes. You haven’t made it right with Zoe and Gianna at home, and you aren’t making friends here. I get that Cora’s a little weird, but Mac, you’re fast becoming weirder. You’re almost a leech on Ryan.

  Shut up. I paused a beat. And Zoe and Gianna, that’s on them. They wanted me gone, not the other way around.

  She snorted. So yell at them. Curse them out. Get mad
. Don’t just disappear. I mean, I know. She changed the subject. I get it, Mac. A part of you wants to go grab your boy and pull him away from his friends, but you can’t. Let the guy have a fun day for once. Don’t make yourself his problem. If you’re together or not, it isn’t going to last if you keep going on like this.

  I said shut up.

  This is tough love. I get that you’re falling apart because of me, but don’t mess up the one thing you’ve gotten right. Give him some space.

  She was right, but I didn’t want to be lectured anymore. Surging to my feet, I changed back into my clothes and grabbed my bag. I had no clue where Kirk’s house was, but I figured I was safe. Everyone was talking or laughing when I slipped out of the pool shed. Some were in the pool, but I didn’t see Ryan anywhere. Guessing he was inside, I moved around the backyard and left through the same gate everyone else had come in through.

  I’m not running away, I told myself firmly. But I was lying.

  I was totally running away.

  Not wanting to be a clinger, as Willow claimed I was becoming, I sent Ryan a text.

  Me: I’m heading home. I forgot I was supposed to go see Robbie with my folks. I’ll give you a call when I get back.

  My phone vibrated almost right away.

  Ryan: Are you sure? How are you getting home?

  I was walking, but I pulled up the car service app. After ordering one to pick me up, I relayed that to Ryan.

  It took a moment before my phone buzzed back.

  Ryan: Okay. Call me later then.

  I thumbed back, right as the car pulled up next to me.

  Me: Totally. Have fun!

  Then I climbed in, and the car took me away.

  I expected the house to be empty when I got home.

  It wasn’t.

  I walked inside, dropped my bag onto the counter, and looked up to see my mom at the kitchen table, her laptop in front of her. A coffee mug sat to her right and there was a bowl of fruit to her left. She wore her headphones, and she bit her lip before she looked up.

  Seeing me, her eyes widened, and we stared at each other.

  “What are you doing here?” I asked.

  She took off her headphones. “What are you doing here?”

  I frowned. “It’s after school.”

  “Yeah, but you never come home anymore.”

  I pointed to her computer. “You’re working?”

  She turned to look down at her laptop as if she’d forgotten it was there. “Oh. Oh yes. I decided to take a day at home.” She stood, her chair sliding back, and she paused there. It was as if she wasn’t sure why she’d stood. “Do you want something to eat? An after-school snack?”

  I didn’t want to, but I felt myself grinning. It was like I was in third grade again. “What? You’re going to cut up apples for me?”

  “No. I would . . .” She stopped and continued to frown at me.

  I heard her in the mornings, moving around, getting ready for work. My parents used to check in every night, and I stayed in my room until that was done, but they’d stopped last week. I stared at my mother, trying to remember the last time I’d seen her, the last time I had really talked to her.

  I couldn’t remember.

  But I did see how she flinched when she met my eyes, how she looked back down, how her hands gripped the table, and how she swayed in place as if she were about to collapse.

  A silent storm built inside me. I felt a scream in the back of my throat, and as I stared at her—not moving, not looking away—I could feel that scream ripping at my insides.

  I was wailing. I was crying. I was pleading for her to look at me again—because what mother doesn’t want to see her child’s face? But no sound came out.

  I stood there for another minute. She didn’t look up. It was a reverse staring contest. I was demanding her attention in a passive and peaceful way, and she wasn’t budging.

  “I’m still your fucking child.”

  Her head snapped back. She was already pale, but her lips seemed to turn blue, and she swallowed.

  “I know.” It came out as a whisper.

  I moved forward a step and then stopped. She wasn’t saying anything else.

  She should’ve been saying something else.

  I waited, my heart pounding, and I heard her sniffle.

  Her hand brushed over her cheek, and I saw her tears. She was crying so soundlessly, I wouldn’t have known it if she hadn’t moved.

  She looked away before she began to speak. “I lost a child, and I have continued to fuck up being the right parent ever since. I work too hard every day to keep my mind straight. I don’t sleep at night because I know you aren’t in bed, but I’m so scared to make demands of you. I know you can make demands on me in return. Your father and I barely talk, except when we go see Robbie, and we haven’t once told you about those visits.” She heaved a deep and shuddering breath. “You don’t sleep at home, but then some nights you are here, and I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel about anything anymore.”

  I couldn’t—what did she say? “You know where I am at night?”

  She laughed bitterly. “I’ve not been the best mother, but I’m still a mom. You’re goddamn right I have a tracker on your phone.” She stared at me hard. “Are you having sex with him?”

  My mind raced, but my stampeding pulse stopped completely. I felt it fall with a thud to my stomach.

  “You know?”

  Her lips barely lifted in a smile. It was more of a grimace. “Of course. I’ve known, and so do they, Ryan’s parents.”

  “I . . .” I had no words.

  “Nan called the other day, said you’d screamed in the middle of the night. Ryan put it off on their daughter, but they guessed it was you later on. She didn’t know if I knew or not.”

  I felt lightheaded. “How long have you known?”

  She took a breath and sat back down. “The first night you didn’t come home. You were with him?”

  “You knew then?”

  “We didn’t. We guessed.”


  I reached for the chair in front of me and pulled it out. My butt hit it with a hard thud.

  My mother laughed again, the sound hollow. “It started that first night, didn’t it? Nan told us how Ryan helped you sleep, and then it continued.”


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