Ryans bed, p.28
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       Ryan's Bed, p.28


  to the game. But there wasn’t. There was no other Jensen on the team, and when the players came out to start warming up, the second Ryan was visible, a roar took over the gym. Both sides of the bleachers.

  It was insane.

  Cora saw my look and started laughing. She patted my knee. “Yeah. Get ready. Ryan isn’t like any other player on the team, on any team in the state.” She leaned across me, pointing to a bunch of guys sitting in the back who were all wearing baseball caps pulled low and writing on clipboards. A few other guys, wearing Portside apparel, sat with them. “Those guys aren’t college recruiters.”

  I nodded, remembering the ceremony. “He already committed.”

  “Those are professional guys.”

  I knew Ryan was good, but I hadn’t thought he was that good. I sat up straighter, feeling proud of him, and as if he could feel me watching, he sank a three-pointer and glanced up to me.

  My mouth watered for him; his hair was messily rumpled like I always loved. Some guys had shirts under their jerseys, but Ryan didn’t. I could see the definition in his shoulders and upper arms. As he caught the ball and jumped for another shot, his shirt bounced up. A nice glimpse of his stomach showed me what I already knew. He was tightly muscled, and it hit me. All the warnings I’d gotten about him—how intense basketball season was, how much he was loved by his friends and family—hit me like cement bricks.

  He wasn’t just the top of the chain within his group of friends. He was literally the top over everyone. That time we went for food and got it free? That wasn’t the only time. That’d been the first of many times.

  I was starting to understand why.

  Cora nudged me again, nodding below us on the bleachers. “Stephanie Witts is planning on making a pass at Ryan tonight. Just warning you.”

  That was the girl I’d had the confrontation with yesterday, and she was sitting with a bunch of her friends. Erin and Peach were at the end, but whispering on their own. Tom was in the row behind Peach, along with a few other guys I didn’t recognize.

  “Where are the other guys?”

  As if hearing my question, Kirk and Nick showed up, walking in from the hallway. Two other guys were with them, but I only recognized Pete.

  “That’s Nick’s cousin, right?” I asked Cora. “And why isn’t Nick playing?”

  “He got in trouble. I don’t know why he’s not on the bench with them. And yeah, that’s his cousin.”

  She stood, waving with a smile stretching over her face. “Hey! Pete! Up here.”

  He looked around and saw us.

  Kirk and the other two lingered behind, talking to Stephanie and her friends, while Pete came toward us. There was an opening by Peach, so he started his climb there, ruffling her hair in greeting and pausing to knock fists with Tom before coming the rest of the way.

  “Hey, Cora.” He grabbed her in a big hug before smiling politely at me. “Mackenzie, right?”

  I nodded. “Peepee, right?”

  He barked out a laugh. “Man. That’s right.” He sat right behind us, his knees behind Cora, and she leaned back, draping her arms over his legs. He was a human backrest. He jiggled her a bit. “Not that I’m not excited to see you, but please, please let me flirt with you. Kirk’s already warned me off. I could die happy if I could shake him up a bit tonight.”

  Cora stilled at his words, watching me.

  Pete just laughed again, moving his knees to jostle her. “Hmm? Cora?”

  She was watching me.

  I just shrugged. “I’m fine.”

  She nodded, only needing that before turning and punching Pete in the leg.

  “Ow! What was that for?”

  He was clueless. “You’re an idiot sometimes,” she told him.

  “An idiot like my cousin and your new beau?” He tapped her shoulder, pointing to where we’d just been watching.

  Kirk was watching us, a keen look on his face. He narrowed his eyes, focusing on Cora before turning to respond to something Stephanie said. She leaned forward, her hand touching his arm, before falling back as if she’d made a joke. Her friends began laughing. Nick swept an easy grin over Kirk’s face before sensing his focus on us. He looked up then too, his eyes narrowing at Pete.

  I glanced over, seeing that Pete had leaned forward to drape one of his arms around Cora’s shoulders. He was wiggling his eyebrows in suggestion.

  Cora shook her head. “You’re going to get beat up.” But she wasn’t moving away from the touch either.

  Kirk lifted a finger and waved it side to side.

  His message was clear, but Pete only laughed harder. “The fucker can sweat a little.” He pretended to rub his cheek next to Cora’s.

  She shrieked, pushing him away, and sat forward.

  I looked down, noticing that almost their entire section was watching the display. Stephanie’s eyes locked with mine and darkened with anger. Her friends whispered to each other, looking from her to me.

  “Whoa,” Pete said. “What’s going on? I’m totally egging Kirk on, and no one’s caring . . . except him.” He laughed to himself.

  Cora rested an elbow on his knee again. “Stephanie Witts and Mackenzie got into it yesterday.”

  “Got into it?” Nick asked as some people left behind us. He and Kirk had decided to join us, and Nick sat behind me, adding, “More like Mackenzie decided to get in some practice of her own, with Stephanie’s head as the ball.” He nudged my shoulder with his fist. “Hmm? Hmm? Am I right?”

  “Yeah?” Pete grinned. “I remember hearing you wiped the floor with an ex of Ryan’s too.” He tipped his chin to me. “You the next badass of Portside High?”

  I laughed at that. “Badass?”

  “She holds her own,” Kirk said as he dropped down beside Cora. He nodded to me before turning and shoving Pete off his seat. “Touch what’s mine again, and we’ll have real words.”

  “Oh yeah?” Pete was unfazed, scrambling back and pushing his face close to Kirk’s. “So Cora’s yours now? You claiming her?” It was small, but I caught the smallest wink in Cora’s direction.

  I studied my friend, and I didn’t miss the small smile on her face or the way her head suddenly ducked down. I was starting to wonder if this hadn’t been set up by Cora herself. Maybe Pete was doing a little friendly favor for one or both of them.

  “I . . .” Kirk was unsure, glancing to Cora. “Well?” He frowned, softening his tone. “Do you—do you want to go out sometime?”

  Her head popped up. “Sometime?”


  Nick made a noise.

  Kirk corrected, “Tomorrow night?” He winced. “There’s a party tonight I already said I’d go to.”

  Her face was almost bright red. “Oh! Um. Y-yes. Yes.”

  She beamed, and Kirk nodded. “Cool.”

  The two continued to stare at each other, having a small moment before Nick punched his cousin in the shoulder.

  “Ow!” Pete clamped a hand over his arm and glared. “Honestly. What is up with the physical violence?”

  “From what I remember, you hit him the first time I met you.” I pointed at Pete and then Nick.

  Both cousins froze and then Nick cracked up. “Ha! She got you there.” But he swung back and tried to punch his cousin again, only Pete was ready this time. He leaned back, and Nick’s arm went in front of his chest, and he grabbed it. Nick retaliated, and the two started brawling right there in the stands.

  Kirk grabbed Cora and me, pulling us down a seat, but most of the others around them scrambled out of the way. A few little kids started crying.

  “Ah! Stop it!” A middle-aged lady took her purse and began batting at Nick and Pete’s backs. “You two. Stop it at once.”

  It worked, and it didn’t.

  They stopped wrestling and returned to their seats, but they started shoving instead.

  “You guys.” Tom had run up the side of the bleachers, using the actual stairs, and he paused at the end of our row. “Kirk.” He ges
tured to the court where some of the basketball players had stopped to watch the scuffle. “They’re going to call security.”

  Kirk groaned, but he started to wade in between the cousins. “I can’t take these two anywhere, I swear.”

  The purse lady gave up and passed her weapon to her husband, who was the only one who didn’t seem perturbed by Pete and Nick. He remained almost in the middle of it, sitting calmly and watching the court. I followed his eyes and found his attention fixed on where the cheerleaders were stretching. One had her back to the bleachers, bent over so she could still talk to her friend. Her ass was right there. I didn’t think she cared.

  Then—smack! I reeled backward, feeling blinding pain on the side of my face.

  “Hey!” Kirk yelled, but I couldn’t see. I just knew I was falling—falling—until hands caught me, more than one pair of hands.

  “Oh, dear.” A lady gasped from beneath me, and then an arm came around the back of my waist and lifted me back upright.


  I recognized that chest pressed against mine and started to protest even as I relaxed. “No, no. You’re supposed to be warming up.”

  Ryan’s arm tightened around me. His whole body tensed, and he barked again, “Knock it off! NOW!”

  He kept me cradled against him with one arm, his other moving around.

  The pain started to recede, and I opened one eye enough to see Nick and Pete staring at me.

  “Oh no.” Nick started forward.

  Tom had waded in too, and he made a gurgling sound. If it was meant to stop Nick, it worked because his shoulders dropped dramatically. “That wasn’t Pete I hit with my shoulder, I’m betting.”

  Pete pushed forward. “I’m sorry, Mackenzie. He’s sorry too.”

  Nick hit his shoulder. “I was about to say that. I’m sorry too, Mackenzie.”

  “Yeah.” Pete’s head bobbed up and down. “We’re both sorry.” They looked at Ryan, and if they could’ve taken a step backward, I was sure they would’ve. Pete gulped before adding, “Sorry, Ryan.”

  “Fucker,” Ryan grit out, flinging a hand toward the court. “You hit her, and you’re causing a scene. Security was coming in before I told ’em I’d stop it.” His entire body was rigid, and hearing a threat of violence in his tone, I looked up a little more intently.

  I wasn’t the only one.

  Kirk met my gaze, and I could tell he was also slightly concerned.

  I frowned, placing a hand over Ryan’s chest to calm him. “I’m okay. Honestly.” I blinked my eye open a few times, testing it out. “I can still see.”

  Ryan didn’t respond as he wrapped his arms around me for a hug. He pulled me in tight, dipping his head down a moment. His lips grazed my neck, and then he released me.

  He pointed at Nick and Pete. “Sit your asses down, and shut the fuck up.” Pointing at Tom, he said, “You. Sit.” He pointed on my left side. “Stop hitting on my sister, and if these assholes start fighting, use your face to protect Mackenzie next time.”

  Ryan glanced at me for a second before leaving for the court. As he went, a few people patted him on the back. One guy pumped his fist in the air. “Bring home the win, Jensen!”

  Kirk chuckled once Ryan got back to the floor and turned to Tom, adding, “Or next time just get your ass in here to help out.”

  Tom sat, but he leaned around us to give Kirk a menacing look. “It isn’t my fault these two revert to being nine year olds when they’re around each other.”



  Everyone ignored Pete and Nick, and Kirk rolled his eyes as we all took our seats again. “You should rethink dating Peach, and you know it. It’s going to cause problems with your friendship.”

  Tom glowered at him but didn’t respond, and as if everyone had decided the excitement was done, we all turned back to the court.

  A loud alarm sounded, and the players stopped warming up.

  It was time to play.

  Ryan scored thirty-two points.

  Twelve rebounds.

  Six assists.

  Three steals.

  I was starstruck—and ashamed I didn’t have a Jensen jersey to wear myself. As the last buzzer signaled the end of the game, I was tempted to ask that lady where she’d gotten hers made.

  “Fun, huh?” Cora’s eyes were invigorated, but it could’ve had something to do with her spending the last two hours holding Kirks hand.

  I nodded. “Yeah. Is it always like that?”

  She saw the jersey lady going past us down the bleachers and shook her head. “That’s a bit much, but it’s the first game too. This is nothing compared to state. It’s insane then.”

  Kirk rested his arm around Cora’s shoulders. “You need a ride to the party? Are you going?”

  I nodded, laughing. “I think I have to.”

  I’d heard the warnings. I saw some of the excitement leading up to this game, but being there—my eyes were open wide as fuck. Cora’s whole heads-up about Stephanie Witts had a new seriousness to it.

  “But I know Ryan will drive me.”

  “I figured, but I still wanted to ask. He and I haven’t talked about the party.”

  Tom had returned to Peach’s side after halftime. He’d left for snacks and never came back, slipping in with their crew below. Nick and Pete had stayed with us, but they were down there, talking with some of Stephanie Witts’ friends.

  “They’re just flirting. You and Cora are taken.”

  Kirk must’ve seen where I watched.

  “No, I know,” I told him. But I’d never felt this emotion before, at least with these guys. It felt a little like betrayal, which was stupid. I knew that wasn’t what it was.

  Maybe . . .

  Ryan’s friends are guys. They want to get it on. I could hear Willow rolling her eyes. Just because they didn’t sit the whole time with you doesn’t mean they’re losing interest in your friendship, and no, Ryan definitely will not. The guy is gaga over you. I’d die from boredom from how cute you two are if I weren’t already dead..

  I stiffened. Willow . . .

  Yeah. Yeah. I can feel your disapproval, but guess what? I’m dead. I can joke all I want. She snorted. What are you going to do about it? Kil—


  I suddenly had to get out of there, and fast. “I’m, huh, I’m going to wait for Ryan down by his locker.” I didn’t know if they understood me, I spoke in such a rush. But I couldn’t take the dead jokes. It was too fresh, too raw.

  She told me to remember her, to cherish her, and then let her go. But she was making that difficult. I could still feel her around me. Maybe she wanted to comfort me, apologize . . . I didn’t know, but I did not want to hear it. Not right then. It was Ryan’s night.


  I heard Nick yell my name, but I pushed past them.


  He was standing between Erin and Stephanie Witts, both girls I knew would love to be with Ryan. And there I was, literally running away from a ghost that was in my own head. This wasn’t Supernatural. I wasn’t a medium. Willow didn’t exist.

  There, Willow! I half-shouted to her in my head, but half-whispered because I still didn’t want to hear her response. You don’t exist. I’ve analyzed myself and decided—you are dead. Make all the fucking jokes you want. I didn’t want to actually hear them.

  Going through the doors and into the emptied hallway, I curled
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