Ryans bed, p.29
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       Ryan's Bed, p.29


  my hands into tight fists, waiting for her response. It never came, and slowly, as I approached Ryan’s locker, I unclenched my fingers.

  I didn’t feel her either. She had gone away once more.

  Feeling lighter, since she wasn’t sitting on my shoulders, I slid down to the floor. My back was to Ryan’s locker, and I pulled my knees up, hugging them to my chest.

  I clasped my eyes tight, pressing my forehead to the back of my knees.

  Even then, I wanted her gone. I wanted all of this out of my head, but I also didn’t. I felt less crazy than a few days ago, but I was still halfway crazy. Or one-third crazy. Once that healed, would she really be gone then?

  “Planning world domination?”

  I started to laugh, lifting my head. My laughter died when I saw Erin standing over me. “You.”

  She laughed, shaking her head before holding her hands up. “Look. I’ve given up. I’m laying my flag down, and I think I’ve done that a few times. You don’t have to keep with the hostility.”

  I sighed. I was already so tired of this conversation. “What do you want, Erin?” Because there was an agenda. She was just one of those people.

  “Okay. Fair enough.” Her hands went back to her side and then she crossed them over her chest. “Look, I never went after your sister, and we both know I could’ve. You mentioned her twice, and Peach explained.” Her head inclined. “She explained better how you and Ryan got to be so close. I get it. I honestly do. He understands your pain, like you understand his.” Her top lip curled in a small sneer. She kept going, sounding bitter. “Grief is a great foundation for a relationship, but whatever. I’m not the one fuckin—”

  “Get to the point.”

  If she didn’t, I was getting to my point where I’d get to my feet and we’d have a confrontation of a different sort. Maybe. Most likely. Probably not. I’d throw insults at her and leave once I thought I’d given her my best zinger.

  Since my physical visit from Willow, the fight in me had dwindled. It might take a bit more to tap into it, but I knew it was there. A good well of craziness.

  “—tonight at the party, okay?”

  I had tuned her out.

  Oh yes, I was such an ace fighter. I got so bored, I only thought I might want to fight her.

  “What’d you say?”

  “Were you listening at all?”


  “Nice. I’m trying to do you a solid, and you aren’t even listening.”

  A second sigh from me, and I leaned my head back against the locker. “I’ll listen now. What were you saying before?”

  She looked at the floor. “That friend of Ryan’s who died?”

  “Yeah?” My gut twisted in a knot. I didn’t think I was going to like what I was about to hear . . .

  She looked up, flicking away a solitary tear. “He was my boyfriend.”

  “Wait.” So that meant—

  She was already there. “That’s why Ryan and I dated briefly. It wasn’t long, and to be honest, it was more just messing around because we both missed him so much. I’d been with Derek for two years when it happened.”

  It made sense, why Erin was around so much.

  “I couldn’t figure out why they let you hang out with them,” I mused to myself. “I thought it was only because of Peach, but you guys were at the house when Kirk came back.”

  “Yeah. Derek’s cousin. All of us were friends. Then Derek died, and I messed around with Ryan afterward, like a few months afterward.” She grimaced, her whole body shuddering. “Want some more honesty? No. I’m not even asking.” She plunged ahead. “I don’t regret sleeping with Ryan. I just regret the timing of it.”

  She understood. Somewhat.

  “I’m not with Ryan because of my grief.”

  Yes, I had used him in the beginning, which was something Ryan knew about. Something he understood since he’d used Erin in the same way.

  That was why he understood.

  “Thanks for telling me.” I meant it.

  She nodded. “That’s the reason I never went after you about your sister, but that’s why I’m here. You need to watch Stephanie. She isn’t going to understand.”

  “Yeah.” I meant everything I said to her and her friends, but that was before my coming-to-Willow moment. “I heard she’s going to make a pass at him tonight.”

  “She is, and she can be ruthless sometimes. Just watch your back with her. Okay?”

  I studied her a moment. Trust her or not?

  Erin was the popular girl in her class. Even though she was a grade younger, I knew she didn’t need to hang out with Stephanie and her friends. There’d been a divide between them earlier in the year. I hadn’t been noticing much at that time, but I had noticed that at Peach’s pool party.

  “Why are you hanging out with her?”

  A fleeting smile was my answer. She started to leave but said over her shoulder, “Because sometimes it’s smart to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” She winked at me. “It’s a classic for a reason.”

  She was leaving as Ryan headed toward me, his gym bag hanging from one shoulder. He glanced at her as she passed him.

  “What was that about?” he asked as he drew close to me.

  I beamed, feeling the same way I always did.

  He pushed back the darkness, sometimes literally.

  “Stephanie Witts is going to make a pass at you tonight, and I’m supposed to watch my back,” I said, almost upbeat about it. I winked at him. “I heard she’s ruthless.”

  He matched my grin, but didn’t respond as he let his bag drop to the ground and then slid down to the floor with me. “You know you have nothing to worry about, right?”

  I nodded. “I know.” But there were knots in my stomach. I couldn’t deny them. “Just . . .” I leaned my head back and turned toward him so we were inches apart. “I don’t trust them.”

  “Yeah. I get that.” He dipped down, his lips touching mine and resting there a moment before he whispered, “But I don’t want Stephanie Witts. I don’t want anyone else.” His eyes were hard on me.

  My body warmed. A tingle shot through me.

  I grinned, my lips curving against his. “You’re all I want too.”

  He pulled back, an uncharacteristic seriousness on his face. No smile. No grin. No smirk. No amusement in his gaze. He was suddenly so serious. “I just want you. I just love you.”

  My tongue felt heavy.

  I should say it back, but I was still hearing Willow.

  Pain sliced through me, and I turned away—I started to turn away.

  He caught me, his hand touching my chin, and he moved me back to look at him. His thumb caressed my jawline, and his eyes dipped to my mouth. “I couldn’t have said this a year ago. I couldn’t have said this six months ago, but I can now. It took me that long, Mac. Derek’s death fucked me up, so when I say I get it—I get it. But I want to say it.”

  I needed it.

  It was like air to me.

  I turned my body, my head holding still, and slowly, I crawled until I was straddling him in the darkened hallway. It was empty, but people were probably lingering just around the corner or by the gym. Two steps—that would be all it would take for someone to round the corner and find us there.

  I so wasn’t caring at that moment.

  I settled down on top of him, feeling him beneath me, and his hands moved to my hips.

  I leaned forward, my lips nipping his, and I whispered, “I want to show you what I can’t say, not yet.”

  “Oh yeah?” A small grin pulled at his lips, and he watched me with dark amusement.

  “Yeah.” I shifted, pushing down with my hips. He was hard for me. His gym pants didn’t obstruct him much, and my jeans were a little baggy.


  I glanced left and right, but no one was there.

  Biting my lip, feeling all the right tingles and pleasure filling me, I knew I should get up. We should take this somewhere else, but I
was not caring.

  This was reckless.

  This was stupid.

  This was dangerously intoxicating, and with that last thought—I stopped thinking. My hips pressed against his, and he pulled me in, holding me against him and lifting his hips a little to grind against me.

  “Fuck, Mac.” He pulled back, his eyes so damned dark I wanted to get lost in them. His left hand slid up my waist, up my arm, around to my front, and lingered between my breasts. They were straining for him, but he didn’t go any farther. He just stayed there, feeling my heartbeat and watching me all the while.

  He groaned. “You make me feel things I thought were gone.”

  He seemed tormented by that, and I shifted back a little and slid my hand through his hair. It was half-dry, so there was a tiny little bit of a messy curl to it. I loved how it was chaotic.

  “What do you mean?” I asked.

  His hand went back to my hip, and he cupped me there, jerking me back in place. He fit right, perfect.

  I was having a hard time not moving my hips again, rocking on top of him.

  He rested his head back against the locker, watching me. “Derek was my best friend, not Kirk.”

  “I thought . . .”

  He shook his head, his eyes still so dark. “Kirk became my best friend after Derek died, but it was him and me. Even the others—Tom, Nick, and Pete—they knew that. It was me and Derek. Then he died, and God—” He let out an anguished breath, closing his eyes as lines of tension formed around his mouth. “I used to think no one got it. No one understood.”

  I shifted back even farther.

  My gut was sinking. My chest was starting to tear open.

  I had a feeling I knew exactly what he was going to say.

  He looked at me. “I thought no one would understand what it felt like to hurt so badly that you just wanted to go with that person.” His hand smoothed down my hip, stopping on top of my leg, and he looked down at it. “Until you.”

  He lifted his gaze again. The torment was so real, so haunting, that it hurt me to be there. Every bone in my body started to ache, but not from him. Not because of him. Not in a way that made me want to run from this.

  It was an ache because someone else understood.

  It was almost as if, for a split second, I got her back. Ryan took Willow’s spot. I took Derek’s spot, and we were the other’s mourned loss for a moment.

  Then I gasped, and the feeling left me.

  It was back to us. Ryan and me. The ghosts had gone again.

  “I didn’t know.”

  He shrugged and went back to watching his hand. He traced it up and down the inside of my leg. “He died before basketball season that year. Some told me I didn’t have to participate, if it might be too much for me, but I wanted to. All the others who kept quiet, I knew they were relieved. They wanted me to play. They didn’t care about Derek, but it was him and me. We were co-captains on the JV team. I played varsity too, but I don’t know . . .”

  His eyes met mine. The anguish was back. He whispered, “All I did right away was play ball. It was like I was half-trying to forget him, and half-trying to kill myself. You know?”

  I nodded. My heart was in my throat. “Yes.”

  “But everyone wanted something from me. They wanted me to win. They wanted me to keep going, get faster, learn more drills, learn more tricks. The coaches. The teachers. My friends. My parents—it was all of them. I never got a fucking break. All they wanted was to fucking win. All I wanted was to fucking die.”

  “Ryan,” I whispered, moving back to him. I hurt, but this time, the pain wasn’t mine. It was his. I put my hand where his had been, right in the middle of his chest. I felt his heart pounding. It was so fast, almost skipping a beat before going even faster to try to make up for it.

  I wanted to say something to calm him, slow his heartbeat, but there were no words.

  There was only grief and the silence that accompanied it.

  He bent and took my hand, kissing it and holding it tightly. “I gave everything that year, and I was empty after it. I had nothing when the season ended.”

  “That was when you stopped caring.”

  “Yeah.” He squeezed my hand, resting it against his chest. His other hand went to my hipbone and burrowed under my jeans, his thumb rubbing over my skin. “Kirk and I, we didn’t give a damn. Drugs. Drinking. Fights. Fucking.” He grimaced. “None of it worked.” His hand started up my back, sliding under my shirt. “It took a year and a half, but all of that went away.” He stopped, his hand right next to my ribcage. He held me in a gentle embrace, as if I were a delicate treasure. “I get what you feel. I get you talking to Willow. I get you sitting in a dark and empty hallway. I get you leaving the bed to cry in your guest bathroom. I get it. You don’t think I do sometimes, but I do.”

  “Ryan.” Tears slid down my face. I reached up, cupping his cheek. “I . . .”

  I wanted to say it.

  I was feeling it. I was feeling more than just that word, but . . . the words wouldn’t form.

  His eyes flickered, shuddering a second, and then the agony was gone. He had closed up, returned to being the old Ryan again, and my heart sank because I realized this had been him the whole time.

  He had been shut down this whole time too.

  “Don’t.” I leaned forward, catching his face with my hands. I moved so close, my eyes jumping back and forth between his, my lips almost touching his. “Don’t do that. Not to me.”

  “Don’t what?”

  But he knew. He so knew, and I shook my head.

  “Don’t shut me out. I’m not them.”

  His eyes shut again, resting a second, and his chest rose as he took in a deep breath. Then they opened, and I was seeing the real him. He just opened up for me again.

  “There.” I raised my hands, cupping the sides of his temples, right next to his eyes. My forehead rested against his. “There you are.”

  More pieces fit together.

  Both his hands went to my hips, and he gripped me, just holding me in place.

  And then, because it was the right time and a gate had shattered inside me, I said, “I love you, and I love you for loving me.”

  His eyes closed again, as did mine, and we stayed there, just holding each other.

  My first warning should’ve been Erin.

  She was standing on the curb in front of Stephanie Witts’ house when we pulled in. Peach was next to her, and Tom right behind her, but for some reason, their welcoming party didn’t sound the alarms in my head.

  It might’ve been the feeling I was basking in at that moment—telling Ryan I loved him and genuinely feeling it, not feeling all the other baggage inside that had kept pushing it down so I couldn’t say it. It felt like a weight off my shoulders.

  Or maybe it was because I had a strong feeling I couldn’t hold up my promise not to have sex with Ryan again. Though, it wouldn’t be sex. It’d be making love.

  I suddenly wanted to know what that felt like so bad it was almost worth risking my mom’s anger.

  Or maybe it was that Ryan hadn’t let go of my hand. The only time was when we separated to get into his truck, and he was still holding it as he pulled up to the curb and threw his truck into park.

  Of all people to greet us, it shouldn’t have been those three.

  Peach? Maybe. Tom? Maybe. Both of them together? Terrible idea but still plausible. But Erin? There might’ve been a temporary
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