Ryans bed, p.22
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       Ryan's Bed, p.22


  real pain going on. The nail cuts weren’t even a blip on my radar.

  One of the four pieces loosened. It was going to fall away.

  I frowned. “I was getting better.”

  Ryan was hunched over, cleaning out my cuts. He paused, straightening to meet my gaze. “What?”

  “I was getting better.” My head felt so heavy suddenly.

  I was sleepy. I bent forward, my forehead resting on Ryan’s shoulder.

  “She went away today, and there were four pieces,” I mumbled against his shirt. “They all fit. I was getting better.”

  Ryan went rigid and slowly, agonizingly slowly, reached up to cradle the back of my head. “Who went away?”


  But that wasn’t completely right. She’d spoken to me, hadn’t she? That had been her in the car. Right?

  He was like a statue. “Willow’s been with you?” His voice sounded rough.

  I nodded, straightening. It hurt to look at him. The sun behind him was so bright that it made me tear up. “She left me earlier, but she talked to me in the car.”

  “She talked to you?”


  That had been her? The question was still bugging me.

  “She’s been talking to you?”

  His hand moved to my neck. He traced some of my hair, smoothing it over my shoulder. Bending forward so only a few inches separated us, his eyes found mine..

  I looked away. I couldn’t look him in the eyes. I didn’t know why, but I had messed up.

  I wasn’t able to think clearly. What did I say wrong?

  Willow, what did I do?

  I felt a tear slide down my face. “She won’t answer me.”

  “Willow won’t?”

  Willow . . .

  I shook my head. “She’s gone.”

  I wanted her back. My heart clenched. I wanted her back. I wanted to talk to her again, feel her again.

  More tears slid down my face. “Ryan, where did she go?”

  He stared at me, his pupils dilated.

  Willow. I wasn’t supposed to talk about her. But she was gone again.

  I crumpled inside. I felt myself curling into a ball, and Ryan cradled me to his shoulder once again.

  I cried while my arm bled.

  The sanity ship sailed. I’d officially snapped.

  I was talking to dead people, seeing dead people—and I wasn’t psychic.

  Ryan drove me to Mallory the Homewrecker’s house. He’d cleaned up my arm after I got myself back together, but I kept using my arm to clean my tears. So the bandage was soggy, and blackened from my makeup.

  Going up to the door, Ryan knocked. His other hand laced through mine.

  I considered lifting my bag and saying, “Trick or treat,” but the door opened, and nothing came out of me.

  The woman gasped, seeing me.

  “Is Mr. Malcolm here?” Ryan asked.

  Her hands shot up to cover her mouth. She matched her pictures on Facebook, but she was even prettier in person.

  I hated her.

  My hostility helped push away some of my craziness, and I was able to stop some of the tears—some of them. I was still sniffling like a crack head.

  She eyed me for a moment and leaned forward. Comprehension flared, and she stepped backward. “Phillip!” she yelled over her shoulder before turning back to me. “You’re Mackenzie.”

  I didn’t answer. I summoned all my energy into a glare. I wanted to give her the full force of Willow and me. It was only right, since she was missing out on the more wrathful one of us.

  She sucked in her breath, her mouth twitching down.

  Footsteps came from behind her, and she moved back. My dad filled the doorway, frowning at her and then us. “Wha—Mackenzie?”

  His gaze switched to Ryan, whose hand tightened around mine. “Can we, uh . . . can we come in?”

  I don’t know why Ryan brought me there—if it was closer than a mental hospital, if he didn’t want to deal with me, if he wanted to pawn me off on my dad. It could’ve been any of those reasons. When I’d realized where he was taking me, I had tried to pull my hand from his in the truck.

  “No, Ryan. Take me where I need to be to get the right help. Going to see her won’t do it. I was wrong.”

  He hadn’t let me go, and he’d pulled our hands from the console between us into his lap. “We’re going to see him.” His voice was gentle but firm, and his eyes were tender as he looked at me. “And that is where you’ll get help. Trust me.”

  His gaze almost sent me off on another crying escapade, not that I had really stopped. But as he kept holding my hand, a fifth piece had melded with the others. I didn’t know why, or how, but it had happened. I was coming together even as I was falling apart.

  Go figure that one out.

  “Yes. Come in, come in.” My dad ushered us in, his hand falling to my shoulder. I heard him murmur to Mallory, “Can we use the screened-in porch?”

  “Yes. Sure, sure. Anything you need.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  I stiffened and whipped around. “Yes.” My tone was scathing. “Please, Dad. Keep apologizing. Tell your whore you’re sorry we showed up here because I’m losing it over my dead sister. So goddamn sorry to inconvenience you.”


  She turned to my dad, but he coughed, interrupting her. “We’ll be outside if you need me.”


  His hand tightened on my shoulder, but Ryan tugged me out from beneath my dad’s hold and led me toward the back patio. He opened the glass door and shut it behind us, leaving my dad behind.

  I took the seat farthest away, and Ryan sat beside me.

  He didn’t reach for my hand again, and I didn’t know if I wanted him to. He watched my dad and Mallory talk just on the other side of the door.

  His hand went to her arm, but she pulled away. She looked out at us with angry eyes as she said something else to my dad. His shoulders drooped, and she crossed her arms over her chest, disappearing down a set of stairs.

  “I might be crazy, but I don’t think your dad is with her like that.”

  I grunted. “Trust me. No one will be calling you crazy.”

  He grinned at me, leaning back in his chair. “You know what I mean.”

  “Still no. You’re amazing. Not crazy.”

  Raking a hand over his head, my dad regarded us through the glass doors. I noticed his clothes. Sweatpants and a thermal long-sleeved shirt—he paused just outside the door to slip his feet into a pair of black slippers.

  A low growl started in my throat.

  “Where’s your robe, cigar, and newspaper?” I asked as he opened the door. “You look more at home than you ever did at the new-new house.”

  He stiffened and then stepped out and shut the door behind him. I looked for the bags under his eyes that I saw last night, but they were gone. The bastard looked almost refreshed.

  “You’re angry.” He sat across from Ryan.

  I snorted. “What gave it away?”

  Fuck him.

  He got the new job.

  He wanted to take it.

  He made the decision to move.

  He was the one who brought us to this town.

  I leaned forward and hissed, “You promised us a better life.”

  He looked at the floor.

  Ryan coughed, sitting forward too. “Uh, Mr. Malcolm?”

  He was a lot nicer than I was.

  My dad looked up, and I saw the anguish on his face. It was real and genuine. He mirrored everything I was feeling inside. Torn and twisted.

  The bags under his eyes might’ve disappeared, but a grayish tint had settled under his skin, making him look almost half-dead.

  He tried for a kind smile. “Yes, Ryan?” The smile faded fast. It’d been only a small blip.

  “I don’t know my place here, but I feel like I should speak up about something.”

  This was it. My heart started to press into
my chest. He was going to tell him about Willow. I was slipping to the mental side.

  Ryan folded his hands together on the table, and looked at them. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with your daughter—enough to know I shouldn’t have been.”


  He looked up then, staring right at my dad and not looking away. “I’m aware of the hell your whole family has been put through, but if you were still doing your job, your daughter wouldn’t have been in my bed half those nights she was.”

  Good Lord. What in all the Willows was he doing?

  My dad’s face went flat. “You think so, huh?”

  “I know so, sir.”

  “You think you know how I should’ve been parenting more than I do?”

  Ryan didn’t flinch, grimace, cringe, or look away. His tone was soft but strong. “When it comes to Mac, yes.”

  My dad was the one who twitched. My nickname acted like a repellant. I could almost see my dad shriveling, and I knew he was going to make an excuse, stand, and ask us to leave.

  It was coming . . .

  He sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Maybe you’re right.”

  Uh, what?

  I sat straighter in my seat. I hadn’t heard that right. I should’ve been halfway to the door by that point.

  “I have been messing up this whole time, and it takes a seventeen-year-old to set me straight.” He laughed, the sound bitter and weak.

  “I’m eighteen.” Ryan grinned, shaking his head. “Not that it matters.”

  “Oh. Well.” My dad tried to grin back, humoring him. “That one year makes me less pathetic, I’d say.”

  I didn’t know if I should laugh, make an inappropriate joke, or what? Dissolve into tears again? What would Willow do?

  I’d attack, sweet cheeks. I could hear her again, and I relaxed.

  “Willow talks to me,” I announced.

  They both looked at me.

  I kept on, needing to do this. “She’s around me all the time. I have conversations with her. I dream of her. And I hated it at first. I didn’t want to think of her, feel her, hear her, but she wouldn’t go away. She haunted me, until today.” My voice broke and I let my eyes drop. “She went away today, and I fell apart.” Keep going. “I hate her, and I love her, and I need her. But Dad . . .” A break. My throat ceased to work, just for a moment. “You’re the one alive. I need you more, and you left.” I wasn’t talking about just the night he moved out. “You stopped checking on me. You stopped knowing where I was.” I faltered again.

  I heard sniffling and my dad clearing his throat over and over again.


  His chair scraped against the floor. I couldn’t look up. I didn’t have the heart, and then I felt his arms around me. He knelt beside me, holding my head to his chest, and he took a deep breath.

  “Mackenzie, I am so sorry.” His arms tightened around me.

  I could’ve fallen apart then. I could’ve stopped, contented myself with the confessions I’d given, but that wasn’t all the truth inside me.

  “I couldn’t bear to see myself, so how could I make you look at me?” I whispered.

  I missed her.

  I wanted her.

  I didn’t want my dad’s arms around me.

  I wanted hers around me.

  “I don’t want her to be a ghost, Dad.”

  “I know.” He patted my head and pushed back some of my hair like my mom used to, like Willow did at times. “I know. Trust me.” His voice grew thick and hoarse. “I miss your sister so much that I can’t bear it some days.”

  It was right to be crying to my dad. But he wasn’t the one I needed. I thought it was him. I thought it was my mom. It wasn’t Robbie either.

  There was one person I needed to hold me, and she couldn’t.

  I pulled away from my dad, and he framed my face with his hands. “I’m sorry, honey. I’m so sorry.” His hands fell from my face to my shoulders, and he pulled me back to his chest, wrapping his arms tight around me.

  I looked at Ryan from within my dad’s hold, and he must’ve seen something in my eyes because he leaned forward in his seat again. “Uh, Mr. Malcolm?”

  My dad eased back. “Yeah?”

  Ryan watched me, and I nodded to him, smoothing out my shirt. There were stains everywhere.

  “What’s really going on with you and . . .” He gestured inside.


  My dad looked at me, and I tried to smile. “I’m fine.”

  He still paused.

  “Really,” I added.

  “Okay.” He sat in the chair closest to me and ran a hand over his face. “I’m not cheating on your mother. Mallory is a work colleague, and I came here because we have a project that needs to be finished as soon as possible. We’ve been working at it all day and had to call in more people to help. We have to work around the clock, and—” He looked up and found the clock on the wall. “We might get interrupted shortly. More of our colleagues are supposed to be coming here. They’re coming straight from the office.”

  “You told me you were leaving us. You said you were leaving us for her.”

  “I did, but I’m not.” He didn’t seem flustered by the accusation in my voice. “I mean, I said I was moving closer to Robbie, and that’s the truth. Your mother is with Robbie today, and I’ll be going tomorrow. Coming here wasn’t planned until my boss called me last night while I was on the highway. I thought I was cleared for the day off. That didn’t happen.”

  I shook my head. “Why did you tell me you were leaving us for another woman?”

  “Because it made sense. That’s what you thought, so I just let you.” He took a breath, started to say something, and took a second breath. “I was working yesterday with Mallory, but that’s all it was. Work. And your mother and I are separating, but I’m not leaving her for anyone. I’m here for work, only for work. And I am moving closer to Robbie, at least until your mother and I work things through.”

  I could feel Willow railing inside me, but I had enough clarity to know it wasn’t really her. It was me. It was the part of me that was still connected to her.

  “None of this makes sense,” I snarled. “You aren’t making sense. You or Mom.” I leaned forward. “I get it. I’m not talking,
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