Ryans bed, p.23
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       Ryan's Bed, p.23


  but neither are you. Why is no one talking?”

  I was yelling.


  No one told me to lower my voice. No one hushed me.

  And if they had, I would’ve turned on them.

  This was my anger. It was deep and unhealthy, and I had it in excess.

  Calm down, Mackenzie, I told myself.

  A beat of silence passed on that porch.

  We heard the doorbell ring. Mallory came up the stairs, glancing to us before moving toward the door.

  More people were arriving. They flowed in, wearing work suits and business skirts. My dad hadn’t lied. They looked like they’d come straight from the office.

  He hadn’t lied.

  He hadn’t lied.

  Shoving my chair back, I pulled my feet up and hugged my knees to my chest. I rested my head against them and breathed.

  He hadn’t lied.

  When I didn’t say anything more, Ryan said, “Maybe we should go?”

  I nodded, moving my head against the tops of my legs.

  “Are you going to be okay, Mac?”

  God. He used her nickname—but that wasn’t fair. Everyone in my family had called me that. It’d become her nickname for me since—I felt the anger and hysteria rising up.

  “You want to go?” Ryan leaned closer to me.

  I lifted my head, feeling raw and stripped bare. I nodded again. “Yes.”

  Ryan took my hand and led me back through the house. My dad followed us, saying something to Mallory as he passed. All of their people had gone downstairs where she’d been earlier.

  “I’ll be right there,” he told her. “Give me a moment with my daughter.”

  He stepped outside to the front steps with us, closing the door firmly behind him. “They ordered food from the office, so we might get interrupted again.” His eyes fell to me.

  It was hard not to see my dad’s suffering. He looked closer to sixty than forty.

  “If you need me, I’m here,” he said. “I will drop everything and come to get you. I mean it.”

  I’d needed him when Willow died. I’d needed him all the months in between, and I would need him until I was an adult. But how could I say that when he was choosing work today? Could I even say that?

  Yes, you can.

  Fuck it. “I need you at home, with Mom, with Robbie. I need my family back together.”

  He winced, but he didn’t look away.

  I waited, staring at him.

  Then he nodded. “Okay. I’ll call your mother. We’ll make it happen.”

  I looked down and saw how white Ryan’s hand was. I’d been squeezing too tightly. Relaxing my hold, I gave him an apologetic look. He shook his head. He didn’t care.

  “You’re okay to head back to the house?”

  I turned back to my dad, and I felt that fifth piece.

  “Yeah. I’m okay.” And like that, a sixth tagged along.

  We were starting to go when my dad asked one last question, “Did you troll Mallory’s Facebook account?”

  Ryan drove us back to my house.

  It was dark, but I knew my mom would still come back tonight. Ryan asked if I wanted company till then, and I told him no. It felt right—the most it had in so long—for me to go inside, do my homework, and hope to get in trouble for still being up whenever my mom came home.

  I kissed him and said, “I’ll be okay.” And I meant it. I gave him a smile before heading inside.

  The house was cold when I got in, so I kicked up the heat and ordered a pizza. After that, I did what I would’ve done last year.

  I did my homework at the kitchen table, paid for the pizza when it came, and I had half of it eaten by the time the garage door started to open. I was getting up, intending to pour a glass of wine to further mess with my mom, but as I reached for the bottle, I heard his voice.

  My heart stopped.


  I whipped around, my feet moving before I realized it.

  I was halfway to the garage when the door flung open. Robbie threw himself at me.

  I caught him and held him up. It’d only been a month and a half, but I swore he’d gotten bigger.


  “Heya, sis,” he mumbled into my neck, his arms wrapped tight. One last squeeze, and then he pulled back.

  I didn’t want to let him go, but I had to. I kept my hands on his arms and set him to stand on his own feet. “You look so big. You’re tall too.”

  He was an inch shorter than I was. I looked at our mom. “Is that normal? How tall is he now?”

  She laughed, coming inside with a pizza box and two other bags hanging from her arms. “Well, he shot up half an inch, but I don’t think he’s the one who changed.”

  I frowned at her, eyes lingering on the pizza box.

  “You lost weight!” Robbie nearly shouted. “I got taller, but you got smaller.” He could wrap his fingers around my arm, or the bottom of my arm. My bicep still had some muscle to it.

  I shrugged, grinning stupidly. “That’s probably going to change.” I pointed to the pizza I’d ordered.

  Our mom started laughing. “I got confused for a second.” She held up the one she was carrying. “Robbie insisted on stopping and getting you food. He was worried.” She gazed at him, her eyes softening. Everything about her softened. “I told you, you didn’t have to worry.”

  He smiled. “I’ll always worry.” Then he tightened his hold around me again, hugging me. “I’ve missed you, Mac.”

  I hugged him back, closing my eyes. “Me too.”

  If I could’ve held him all night, I would’ve. It was as if he wasn’t just my brother anymore, but half me, half my son, half my responsibility. Or that might’ve been Willow’s influence. She was gone, and I didn’t want to lose anyone else, ever again.

  “Okay.” Mom clapped her hands, pushing her sleeve back to peer at her watch. “It’s close to midnight. Robbie, you don’t have school tomorrow, but you need to go to bed. And Mackenzie . . .”

  I waited for her order, my arm resting around Robbie’s shoulder.

  She paused, staring at us and rubbing away a tear. “We have lots to talk about, but you do have school, and you aren’t allowed any more skip days. Off to bed, and no boys sneaking in. Got it?”

  She was pretending to be the stern parent. Robbie and I both saw right the act, though.

  We nodded, and Robbie went first, hugging her before running upstairs.

  “Take your bag!” she called after him.

  His footsteps pounded back down the stairs. He grabbed a bag and gave us a huge smile. His cheeks were flushed. “I forgot.” Then he was off again, pounding the stairs as if he had never been gone in the first place.

  I felt her hands first, a soft touch as she pulled me in for a hug. “Are you okay, honey?”

  I didn’t know for sure, but I felt a seventh piece attach to the others. Fitting right.

  I hugged her back and whispered, “Please bring Dad home too.”

  “Oh, Mackenzie.”

  I wasn’t the only one who’d lost weight. Her almost-frail form shook in my arms. She smoothed a hand down my back, brushing some of my hair.

  “I will. I will.” She coughed and leaned back, holding me like I’d held Robbie moments before. Her eyes traced all over my face. “Please be okay. Please.”

  My throat swelled, and I blinked a bit at that. Shocked.

  I nodded. “I’m trying.”

  “Okay.” She tugged me back for another hug. “And I mean it; no Ryan tonight.”

  I nodded again, and with a soft smile and flutter in my stomach, I went upstairs after my brother.

  I was getting ready for bed, or at least curling into bed with my Kindle, when there was a soft tapping sound.

  I almost went to the window, thinking it was Ryan, but my door creaked open.

  Robbie poked his head around
the corner, his hand still hanging onto the doorknob. “Hi.”

  He might’ve been eleven, but he was three in my mind. He was still my little brother.

  Feeling everything melting inside, I patted the bed next to me. “Come on.”

  A big, wide smile appeared, and he hurled himself onto my bed. Scooting under the covers, he laid his head on my second pillow and gave me his toothy smile.

  This guy—he owned me. I balled up a fist and pretended to punch him in the stomach. “How’s it knocking, little brother?” Instead of hitting him, I began tickling.

  He laughed, shrieked, and twisted around, but he looked over his shoulder when I stopped. I started tickling his side, and cue the shrieks and laughter again.

  “Hey! What are you two doing?”

  Robbie was breathless, panting as we heard Mom yelling from downstairs.

  I chuckled and then yelled back, “Robbie won’t get out of my bed! Mom, come make him.”

  His mouth dropped and he sat upright. “She’s tickling me, MOM! It isn’t true!”

  We could hear her laugh, and I closed my eyes for a moment. This was what I had needed all summer long.

  My mom was laughing.

  Robbie was laughing.

  I was smiling.

  And Dad was coming home.

  We’re going to be okay, Wills.

  She didn’t answer, but I knew she wouldn’t, and I didn’t need her response. I already knew she was happy for us.

  The tickling continued until Robbie yawned, and I started to feel bad that he was still awake. It was long past his bedtime. Hell, they came home after his bedtime. After a minute he curled up with my blanket. Without asking, I brought up one of his favorite books and began reading to him.

  Five minutes later, he was sleeping soundly.

  He had the entire blanket wrapped around him. I didn’t have it in me to wake him or carry him to his own bed.

  Sneaking around my room, I checked my phone. There were a couple of texts from Ryan:

  Ryan: How’s it going?

  Thirty minutes later.

  Ryan: Finished my homework. Want to talk for a bit?

  An hour after that.

  Ryan: I’m hoping everything’s good on your end. I’m heading for bed.

  And ten minutes ago.

  Ryan: I think I’m in love with you.

  Ten seconds ago.

  Ryan: Goodnight.

  I almost dropped my phone, but with my heart pounding its way to my eardrums, I texted back.

  Me: Goodnight. I think I—

  “Robbie’s sleeping?”

  I jumped. The phone flew in the air. Stifling a curse, I caught it, and my hand hit the send button.

  Oh no!

  Shit, shit, shit.

  My mom stood in the doorway, frowning as she watched me.

  “I—hold on.” I glanced over, but Robbie was still sleeping. I moved closer to the door. She moved back, and I followed her out. She closed the door with a soft click, and I checked my phone as she did.

  Oh my God.

  Oh my God.

  That text had gone through. I hadn’t answered, and—I couldn’t think.

  “What’s wrong?” Mom looked from me to the phone.

  “Nothing.” I held it behind my back. “I didn’t have the heart to take Robbie to his room, and I’ve missed him. A lot.”

  She nodded, resting against the wall. Her arms crossed over her chest, and a tear slipped down her face. “We worried whether seeing you was good for him or not.” She gazed at my door. “I think we did more harm than anything. I’m sorry we kept you guys apart.”

  They’d done this on purpose? I had wondered that, but to hear it confirmed . . .

  “I thought he wanted to stay there?” I was gutted and reeling. How could they do that?

  “He wanted to stay, but he wanted to see you too. I don’t think he wanted to come back here.”

  It was a new house. Willow didn’t have a room there, but her things were still with us. My mom had hung her pictures on the walls. As if feeling her presence coming from them, we both looked over.

  Willow smiled back at us from her junior-year school picture. She’d straightened and brightened her hair so it was almost platinum blonde. She had it pulled over one shoulder, her head tilted to the side as she flirted with the camera. A coy smile on her face, she looked on the verge of bursting out laughing.

  “Oh, honey.” My mom reached out, wiping a tear from my face.

  She was still crying, and I realized couldn’t be angry with them. We all tried to cope in our own way, whether wrong or right, healthy or unhealthy.

  “I’m going to go back in to sleep.”

  She nodded, pressing a kiss to my forehead. She rested her cheek there. “Be safe and be smart. Okay, Mac?”

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