Ryans bed, p.24
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       Ryan's Bed, p.24


  I nodded, looking up at her. “Don’t take him away again. I mean it, Mom.”

  She pulled back. She started to nod, but then she did a double take. Mine was not an idle threat. She’d find out what would happen if she did.

  I moved back into my room and texted Ryan back.

  Me: I want to say things to you, but not till tomorrow. Let’s talk in the morning?

  Then I checked to make sure my alarm was set, put my phone on silent, and grabbed a second blanket. Curling up next to my brother, I closed my eyes.

  Ryan said he loved me . . .

  Ryan was waiting for me in the front of the school the next morning.

  He had texted earlier to see if I needed a ride, but I’d said no.

  “Okay, honey.” My mom put the car in park. Her eyes looked past me to where Ryan was waiting, and she sighed. “That’s Ryan?”


  “He’s handsome, isn’t he?”

  “Mom!” The back of my neck got hot.

  She grinned, ducking her head. “What? I have eyes. I’m not blind.” She biting her lip and narrowed her eyes. “Have you guys been sexually active since that first time?”

  Yep. My neck was definitely burning up. “You’re killing me here.”

  She rolled her eyes, tsking me under her breath. “You’re so dramatic.” Her grin softened. “Keep it up. I know Willow would be ecstatic for you.”

  “Mom.” I looked down at my lap, tugging at my backpack’s strap.

  Why’d she have to bring Willow up? All it brought was different feelings, the twisty and angsty ones.

  “But I mean it, no more sex.”

  She was trying to be stern, and she was serious about the sex, but I could tell part of her was trying to move on. There was no real oomph behind her words. I’d still been awake when my dad got home last night, and I heard them talking for hours after that. When Robbie had started tossing back and forth, I’d shut my bedroom door and turned on my fan to drown out the last murmurings. I was able to sleep after that, and I was pretty sure my mom had been sporting a little glow this morning at breakfast.

  There was a bit of a spark in her, but she couldn’t entirely mask the big hole that was still there. I saw it, because I felt it too. We all did. Robbie had it in his eyes.


  She’d been waiting for a reply from me.

  I blinked a couple times. “What?”

  “Tell me you aren’t going to have sex again.”

  “Ever?” I reached for the door handle.


  I began to edge out of the vehicle. “Come on, Mom. You know I can’t promise that.”

  She frowned. “Mackenzie! Don’t you shut that door before—”

  I shut it, bent, and waved at her with a bright smile plastered on my face. “Love you, Mom. Be safe. Have fun with Robbie.”

  “Mackenzie!” she shouted again, but I was hurrying across the sidewalk and lawn toward Ryan.

  He grinned as I joined him to walk toward the doors. A bunch of students were lingering out front. Most seemed to be talking, but a few were riding skateboards up and down the main sidewalk in front of the school.

  I didn’t usually enter the school this way. The parking lot was in the back, so I knew that side would be three times as busy, but this still seemed too busy for the conversation I knew Ryan was waiting to have.

  This conversation was the real reason I’d stayed awake as long as I did.

  Ryan stopped to lean against the building and nodded at my mom as she pulled away from the curb. “Your mom isn’t working?”

  “Robbie’s home, so she took time off. She asked this morning if she could drive me in.”

  He nodded. “You need a ride home then?” He shifted, turning to face me and resting his shoulder against the school’s brick exterior.

  This felt weird, and I frowned.

  “What?” He straightened, but the movement drew him even closer.

  My backpack hung behind me, and I fiddled with the strap like I had been in the car. I fingered the shredded ends and, without thinking about it, began shredding more of it.

  “I got your text last night.”

  He grunted. “Which one? I sent you four.”

  “All of them.”

  He was silent a moment. “I see.”

  No. No, he didn’t. He was guarded, and I could only guess as to the reason, but I knew he had no clue what was going on with me.

  I took a breath because I needed some extra air. “You don’t know. You don’t see everything. I got your text, and I . . .” How could I explain this? I didn’t even know if there were words. I had to try. “I’m reserving the right to respond.”

  His eyebrows went up. “Say what?”

  I flushed, feeling the heat scorch my cheeks. “You told me the L word, and I was ecstatic to read that, but it wasn’t fair. I’m . . . I’m behind you.”

  His hand rested on the wall, and he moved forward, leaning over me, and I moved so my back was against the brick. I gulped, my throat and mouth suddenly dry. His hazel eyes locked on mine, starting to smolder.


  I’d forgotten how tall he was.

  “Have you gotten taller?” I asked breathlessly.

  A smirk pulled at his lips, and he shifted again. His hips were almost touching mine, but he still braced himself with a hand above my head.

  I was fast forgetting what I was going to say, and I wet my lips. “Ryan.”

  “Mmm?” His eyes were on my mouth.

  I touched his chest but pushed him back an inch. “You’re making me not be able to think.”

  His free hand went to my waist. “Is that a bad thing?” He didn’t move back. I could feel his chest moving up and down with shallow breaths and his muscles shifting under my touch.

  He was as affected as I was.

  “You’re reserving the right to respond to my text.”

  “Yes.” I nodded again, trying to clear my head. I was remembering the first time he’d kissed me at the college party, when we’d kissed again in my theater room, and how he’d felt sliding inside me. “I’m a mess.”

  He chuckled, and good gracious, even that was a caress.

  “Ryan,” I murmured.

  “Yes?” He dipped closer.

  I closed my eyes because I could feel him, his breath on my face. I felt him straining under my hand, holding himself back, and I couldn’t help myself. I moved my thumb side to side over his chest. It was a small touch, but it elicited a groan from him.

  “You want to take this somewhere else?”

  Yes! But I groaned. “I promised my mom I wouldn’t skip.”

  “And that’s important.”

  It was. Wait, he was agreeing with me?

  I opened my eyes, and he was right there. If I tilted my head a fraction, he’d be kissing me.

  What had I been saying before? It felt important, too important to go a day without saying.

  I was a mess. Yes. That was it.

  I began again, clearing my throat first. “Things are just getting to be a little normal at my house. I don’t know if it’s going to last or what’s going to happen, but I’ve been a mess.” I still was. The hole was still there. She was still gone. I kept going before a different ache had me sobbing in his arms. “I’m trying to tell you that—” I flattened myself back, giving me an inch, and I looked up to his eyes. “When I return your text, I don’t want it to be because you said it. I want to feel it, and I want to mean it, and I want . . .”

  Some of the smoldering dampened. “You don’t feel it?”

  I pressed my hand against his stomach. “It isn’t that I don’t feel it; it’s that I have too much other stuff going on inside me. My parents are home today. Robbie is back today. Willow . . .”

  My stomach knotted, but it was too important that he understood what I was saying for me to stop. “I’ve been trying to ignore that she was gone.” I’ve been trying to ignore a lot of things. “I used
you to do that. I skipped school to run away. I tried tequila.” Deep breath, Mackenzie. My heart beat in a rapid staccato. My hand wrapped around his shirt and tugged. “There are layers of pain inside me. Pain that I can’t put into words, and underneath it all is hell. It’s raw and bloody. Agony. Suffering. Torture.”

  And denial. That lined the bottom of me. It was a dark, black hole.

  His hand curved around my waist, but the touch took on a different feeling. It was more soothing than sensual.

  “I can’t text you that back because it isn’t fair to you, or me. I want to say it when I’m feeling that and only that. Willow’s gone, and I’ll always feel as if half of me has been ripped away, but I know someday those wounds might heal over. I’m not saying I’ll completely be right one day, but I’m saying that until most of those layers of pain have gone away, I can’t say it back. There isn’t enough room inside to say it back. Not yet.”

  I pulled him against me, feeling his surprise before he caught himself so he wasn’t crushing me against the building. He put an inch of space between us, but that was too far in my mind. I wanted all of him against me, his whole body plastered against mine.

  That soothed me, but I wanted more than soothing.

  Ryan’s hand cradled the back of my head. His thumb brushed over my cheek. “I know what you’re saying, and I’m not mad.”

  “You aren’t?”

  He shook his head, his eyes firmly attached to my lips. “When I texted you that, I knew you couldn’t say it back. That isn’t why I sent it. I pressed send because it felt right to tell you. I wanted you to know, but I get it. I really do.” He groaned again and dipped down. His lips finding mine for a brief second before he pulled away.

  I went with him, arching on my toes, not wanting to break the kiss.

  He rested his forehead to mine, his gaze boring into my eyes. “You say it when you can, and I’ll still be here.”

  An eighth piece fit with the other seven.

  Five hundred ninety two to go, but it was good. So much good.

  I tugged him back to me.

  Two months later


  I sat on Naomi’s couch, and she took the seat across from me.

  To say I’d been a participant—willing or otherwise—in the first four would’ve been an outright lie. I’d walked out of the first one. I’d refused to talk the second one. The third session lasted a few minutes longer as I recited obvious facts, like that Willow had died. And I’d dropped the bombshell about Ryan and me in the fourth one.

  Naomi smiled at me. I saw the caution there and felt a little remorse.

  She was in her mid-thirties with a medium complexion. Her black ringlets framed her face today as she’d let it hang loose. Some days they were slicked down with product, but today they were a little frizzy and free.

  I liked how they looked. They seemed to match all the freckles on her face—almost like they didn’t want to be tamed. They wanted to be themselves.

  I could relate. Somewhat. Okay, not at all. The counseling sessions had been the only limitation put on me by my parents since WWD, except lately. They had given me too much freedom in the beginning, but after everything blew up, it was starting to be the other way around.

  “How are things going at home?”

  I’d been waiting for Naomi to speak, and I looked up. I was somewhat surprised. She usually came at me friendly, but with a determination to get me to talk. That wasn’t what I heard today.

  She sounded curious.

  Some of the tension left me, and I found myself answering. “Better.”

  Her mouth dropped open, but she coughed and smoothed out her shirt, sitting more upright in her seat. “What do you mean by better?”

  I told her.

  I didn’t see why I shouldn’t start being honest, at least a little. I still didn’t want to talk about Willow, but a conversation about my family was something else.

  When I was done, I glanced at the clock. That had taken me twenty minutes. She’d sat in silence the entire time.

  “In my work, I’ve learned that families either come together in times of severe grief, or they fall apart. The fact that your father was leaving doesn’t strike me as uncommon. The fact that you stepped forward, you said something, and everyone listened to you is not common.” She stared at me. “You changed the narrative. Do you realize what you did?”

  I frowned. I didn’t know what she was talking about, and I was starting to wish I hadn’t said anything.

  “You helped your family, Mackenzie.”


  “You spoke up, and your parents listened to you. I’ve had other children in here because of grief. In some cases, they didn’t speak up, or if they did, no one listened. I can only speculate as to the reasons your parents were going to separate, but you said your father moved back home?”

  I nodded. “He’s been home since the day I talked to him. My mom too.”

  “Is your little brother at his school again?”

  “He’s there during the week, but he comes home on the weekends.”

  We had movie dates every Saturday afternoon.

  Her hands rested on her knee, one on top of the other, and she leaned even closer. “I don’t know your sister. I never met her, but I can tell you this one thing: she would be proud of what you did.”

  The session turned awkward after that, at least for me.

  Naomi said a bunch of nice things about me, and I tried to change the topic every time. A joke. A debate. I asked her ridiculous questions about why she didn’t have more plants in her office. I even tried to piss her off. I told her if she didn’t stop praising me, I’d feel like I was being propositioned and could report her. She only grinned and went right back to telling me all the good things I’d done since Willow died.

  She was wrong.

  Everyone was wrong. I knew my parents looked at me a little differently since the whole Mallory-stalking/yelling-at-my-dad event. It was like they were seeing someone new.

  I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t like it.

  And there was one other topic I didn’t want to talk about, and so far, Naomi hadn’t brought it up.

  She did when I was leaving this time.


  I was at the door and I paused, looking back. “What?”

  “We have to talk about your sister’s suicide note before I’ll sign off on these sessions.”

  Yeah. That.

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