Ryans bed, p.26
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       Ryan's Bed, p.26
 

           Tijan

  Ryan, who was walking over to his bench. “I’ll be taking off with him in a minute,” I told them. “Go. Hang out. Have fun.”

  Kirk’s grin widened. “Yeah. What she said. Let’s hang out and have fun.”

  Cora was so stiff that when she nodded, it came out looking like a robot. “Yeah. Okay. Let’s hang out.”

  “Great.” Kirk was up on his feet, pulling her with him. “Tell your boy I’ll call him later,” he told me. He tugged Cora behind him, though she couldn’t seem to stop looking at me. Her mouth hung open.

  I waved at her, and when Kirk turned around, I gave her two thumbs-up instead. Have fun, I mouthed.

  She flipped me the bird, but she was grinning.

  I chuckled to myself.

  The bleachers moved underneath me, and I looked up again. Ryan was loping up the seats, but he stopped and turned in the direction Kirk and Cora had disappeared.

  “Did I see what I think I saw?” he asked.

  “You think he’ll hurt her?”

  He looked at me, his eyebrows shooting up. “They leaving to mess around or something?”

  I frowned. Was he clueless? “They’re holding hands.”

  “Kirk holds hands with every girl.” He thought about that and growled, “Except you. He better never touch you.”

  That made me feel good. “If she likes him, you think that’s a bad thing?”

  He sat next to me, straddling so one knee was touching mine and his other knee was behind me. He was sweaty and smelly, but neither mattered. I felt myself calming, just having him this close, and I was startled to realize I hadn’t even known I wasn’t calm until he touched me.

  I relaxed into him, and he pulled me close. “I don’t know. Kirk always had a thing for Cora growing up.”

  “He did? When did that stop?”

  He didn’t answer right away, and I turned to look at him more fully. He was suppressing a grin.

  “When she started liking me.”

  I swatted his knee. “And you pretended to play dumb, didn’t you?”

  He shrugged, pressing a kiss to my shoulder. “I never liked Cora like that, but she never said anything. I would have been an asshole if I’d told her straight up not to like me.”

  “There were little ways you could’ve set her straight.”

  “I did. I dated other girls. I emphasized that she and I were friends, but that’s all over.” He hugged me close. His chin rested on my shoulder, and I felt his voice through his chest to me as he spoke, “Who knows? Maybe that’ll be a good thing. I think Kirk actually does like her.”

  I was starting not to care, being in his arms.

  “Ryan!”

  And I was back to caring.

  I looked down. Erin was waving at us—at him—wildly enough that her shirt rode up, showing off her midriff. I felt a growl forming, and Ryan bit back a laugh.

  He nipped my shoulder. “Easy now.”

  “Right.” I locked eyes with him. “Imagine me saying that to you about Wachowitz two hours ago.”

  He winced. “Sorry.” Lifting his head, he called out, “What, Erin?”

  She stiffened. That hadn’t been the inviting tone she wanted, but she pushed out her chest anyway. “A bunch of us are going for pizza. You want to come?”

  I waited to be included in the invite, but it didn’t happen.

  A full growl erupted, and I surged to my feet. “You did not do that, did you?”

  I wasn’t waiting. I started down where she was, and Erin squeaked, backing up.

  I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I wasn’t going to let the insult stand.

  “Hey.” One of her friends backed up in front of her like she was going to block me. She waved her hands in the air. “Come on, Mackenzie.”

  I ignored her. I ignored everyone watching us, and I really ignored how I knew I was overreacting. But this was a personal affront.

  How could I not react?

  I went right up to Erin, and I kept going until she was backed against the gym wall. I slammed my hands against the wall beside her, trapping her.

  My eyes were dead. I couldn’t see myself, but I knew they were. I was channeling all the anger, grief, and sadness inside me, everything I’d started to suppress. I let it all up to the surface and turned every ounce of it on her.

  “What do you think you’re doing?”

  She gulped, not daring to look away. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

  “You ask your ex out for pizza while he’s sitting right next to his girlfriend? When I’m right in front of you. What’d you think I was going to do?”

  I felt Willow snort beside me. It’s because you’ve been nice. She’s forgetting the crazy in you.

  Fine. I’d let her see how crazy I was, and I pulled back the last remaining wall. I let her see the girl who cyberstalked her dad’s mistress (well, who I thought was his mistress) and showed up at her house. I let her see the girl who’d been talking, seeing, feeling, smelling her dead sister, and I let her see the girl who had yet to talk about what it was like to find her sister in her own pile of blood. That girl had never been let out, yet.

  I let her see the darkness in me.

  Erin had almost shrunk in half, starting to ball up, but I wasn’t letting her go.

  This was an insane scene. I was causing it, and I knew people were recording it on their phones. They’d talk about what a lunatic I was, probably talk about how Ryan deserved better, but I didn’t give a shit. I meant what I’d said to Cora—you couldn’t care. Once you did, they had you.

  Are you really fighting them? It wasn’t only Willow’s voice in my head. It was Robbie’s. It was my dad’s. It was my mom’s. It was mine.

  Maybe not. Maybe I was fighting myself.

  Maybe I was fighting something else entirely.

  “I don’t know, okay?” Erin yelled, throwing her hands wide and shoving me back.

  I gave a step, but I didn’t flinch. I didn’t even feel it. I knew it happened because I heard the crowd gasp behind me.

  “I don’t know. All right?” She was heaving, her hands in the air, and she stormed at me.

  I didn’t move.

  Not one goddamn inch.

  She could’ve hit me, but she backed up at the last second.

  I smiled. “You’re a fucking liar. You know exactly why you did that, and you’re lying about it right now.”

  “What? Are you going to hit me?”

  I contemplated her question, my head moving to the side. “No, but if you hit me again, yes.”

  She paled at my words. I didn’t think she knew she’d hit me.

  “What do you want, Mackenzie?” She shoved some of her hair from her face.

  “I want you not to hit on my boyfriend in front of me, or at all. I want you to stop thinking I’ll take it. It isn’t even him. You come after anyone I care about, I’m going to say something.” I narrowed my eyes, moving a step closer to her. “I’m going to fight you, whether it’s physical or verbal or mental. I’ve been through hell, so I have no problem reaching up and pulling you down with me. If you’re looking for a girl to bully or intimidate, it isn’t me.”

  She should’ve known this, but apparently she really had forgotten. It’d been months since our last real exchange. Or maybe she forgot in the rush of basketball? Cora had warned me, and maybe I was setting the precedent. Go after Ryan and expect a fight. No. That wasn’t me. Girls would hit on him. If he indulged, that was his decision. I’d walk then. I wouldn’t fight that, but this was a different situation.

  “Was it even about him?” I asked her.

  “What?”

  “Just now. Did you really want Ryan to go for pizza with you? Or was it about me?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Of course, it was about you.” Her eyes moved past me, and I saw the group of senior girls standing there. “They dared me to ask Ryan for pizza and not include you.”

  They were testing me.

  I kept my eyes narrowed and to
ok a step toward them. “You’ll have to excuse me,” I called. “I’ve been preoccupied since coming to Portside. I have no clue who the ‘leader’ is here.”

  The girls were shocked, their mouths hanging open, except for one.

  She pushed forward and pushed her hair over her shoulder. “I guess that’s me.”

  “You have a problem with me?”

  “Yes.”

  “Why?”

  “Because of Kirk.”

  I was dumbfounded. “What?”

  She exchanged looks with her friends before turning back to me. “He was talking to us.”

  “His arm was around her.” I gestured to Erin.

  She huffed and then shrugged. “But I was the one he was talking to.”

  “You’re pissed at me because I called him over.”

  No. As she was talking to me, she kept looking at Ryan. This fight wasn’t about Kirk. This fight was about Ryan. Cora’s warning might’ve been more realistic than I realized.

  “You are what’s wrong,” I said.

  “Say again?” I saw the storm building in her eyes.

  “You’re what’s wrong. You’re saying this is about Kirk, but I think you’re full of bullshit. You’re going at me, and you’re sending Ryan looks this whole time. This is about him, and why? Your ego is bruised because he isn’t with you? Is that the problem?”

  She shook her head. “You are unreal. You have no clue who—”

  I stepped right into her face. There was an inch between us, and she stopped talking. I waited, watching as she struggled against moving back, but she didn’t. She knew how this game went.

  I was in her space. I could feel Willow riling up next to me. She used to live for this stuff, and a bleak part of me thought to her, You’ve been silent for almost two months, and now you’re back?

  I’m here because you need me here.

  “You think you’re going to win?” snapped this girl, smirking. She’d been at the pool party at Ryan’s house, and later at Kirk’s after we skipped. “I have friends. We can make your life miserable—”

  “Do it.” I included her friends, sweeping a look over all of them. “Cyberbully me. Text me whore, skank, whatever other fucking stupid words you can find that are beneath you. Do it. Send it to me. Call my house. Whisper to my mom about how she should wish her second twin would kill herself too.”

  I felt their surprise at those words. But I’d said it before. I knew it was out. They knew about Willow.

  “Send me the emails about how I should die. Slice my tires. Slice my mom’s tires. Write loser on my locker. Do all of it. I will fucking eat everything up. I will record your calls. I will screenshot your tweets. I will save every fucking email and forward it to our principal. I will turn every goddamn thing you do to me back on you threefold. I will make it so you bury yourselves until you’re the ones getting called to the principal’s office, where you’ll hope the best thing that happens is being expelled. Do it.”

  I hated them in that second.

  I hated what they stood for.

  I hated what they did.

  But it wasn’t really them I hated, not even a tiny bit.

  Erin wouldn’t step up to the plate. Cora backed down right away. Even Peach had expressed her sympathy, but these girls—they were worth the fight.

  I wanted this fight. I could breathe it in. It could be my purpose for living. But none of them replied, and I glimpsed Ryan in the back corner. I locked eyes with him, and just like that, the rage drained from me.

  It left me weak, and shame bloomed in my chest.

  I felt tears coming to my eyes, and I turned away.

  It wasn’t them I wanted to fight.

  “Mom?”

  My phone began ringing not long after my standoff with whatever-her-name-was, so I didn’t have much time to dwell on how embarrassed I should be. Grabbing it, I moved out to the hallway and huddled against a locker with my finger in my ear so I could hear her.

  “Yeah! Hey, honey. How was your day at school?” She didn’t wait for my answer. “Listen, something’s come up. Nothing bad, but your father and I are staying in the city tonight. We’ll go to work like normal tomorrow, and then pick Robbie up for the weekend. We’ll be home tomorrow afternoon.”

  Oh.

  I felt someone standing behind me, and I knew it was Ryan before I looked. I was attuned to his presence.

  I turned to face him, still leaning against the locker, and put my other finger in my ear. “You aren’t coming home at all tonight?”

  His eyes lit up.

  I rolled mine, knowing what he had on his mind.

  “Yes. I mean, no, and Mackenzie, please be good. Please, please, please, no Ryan in your bed tonight.”

  Wait—what was she saying? I leaned forward. “But he can stay over?”

  I heard a long sigh from her end. “I really wish you’d make some female friends, but yes. Ryan can stay over as long as he doesn’t sleep with you and there’s no sex. Got it?”

  I gave him a thumbs-up. “Yes. We got it. No sex, and he won’t sleep in my bed.”

  Ryan was grinning when I hung up. “We’re sleeping in the basement then?”

  “Hell yeah.”

  He tugged me in for a kiss.

  I let myself get lost for a few seconds before pulling away. My anger was still raw from the gym confrontation, but his touch helped calm the edges. I didn’t feel so much like a combustible balloon—one prick and I’d explode.

  “Thanks.”

  “For what?”

  For making me feel sane again. “For not looking at me like I have two heads.” I started to pull away, not wanting to see his response, but he tugged me back.

  A fierce look filled his eyes. “Hey,” he said softly. “I get it. Okay? You’ve only had words with a few girls. Kirk and I trolled for actual fights some weekends. It was stupid, and bad—really bad.”

  A slice of fear went through me at the thought of Ryan in a fight. “Were you hurt?”

  His grin turned lopsided. “That was kinda the point.”

  “Did your parents know?”

  He nodded. “I couldn’t hide the evidence, but I stopped. Peach looked traumatized every time she saw me afterward. I couldn’t do it after a while.”

  I was shaken by the thought, but I remembered how it had felt to square off against the girls in the gym. Flames started flickering, warming me. It was almost addictive, and so simple. Hurt or be hurt. Those were the options, and both were an escape from what I didn’t want to feel.

  I shuddered, feeling it starting to burn again. “Let’s go.” Before I go in search of another fight.

 
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