Ryans bed, p.3
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       Ryan's Bed, p.3
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  “Oh yeah.” He darted around the table, around Ryan, and hurried up the stairs.

  Another uncomfortable silence descended.

  I looked down at my lap because, honestly, why would I want to see their pity? I’d had to remind my little brother why he stood from the table. That wasn’t normal, and nothing about our visit was. We weren’t friends with these people. We barely knew them. We had no other friends or family here. I mean, I was pretty sure I was sort of friends with Ryan, but we weren’t there for a fun visit.

  I could feel their attention. I hated it.

  Willow had wanted attention. She and Robbie. But it was on me, and not in the way I’d always gotten it before. I was the laid-back one. The one who could joke. The one in the background. The one who everyone always forgot about. I was the steady one. That kind of attention—or lack of attention—was what I liked. This attention, I loathed.

  It wasn’t mine to have. It had been forced on me.

  Clearing my throat, I had to get out of there. I turned to Ryan. “Warcraft till my grandparents show up?”

  He stood right away. “Hell yes.”

  He was as happy as I was to leave that kitchen. I should’ve wondered why, but I didn’t.

  We spent the rest of the day in his room, Robbie too, until the doorbell rang around seven that night.

  Shit got real once Grams and Grandpa Bill arrived.

  There were tears. Hugs. Patting on the back, a lot of it. And that was between the adults.

  “Have they met each other before?” Robbie asked me in a whisper. Once they turned to us, he stuck to my side. Still, he was almost mauled by Grams.

  Ryan, who was leaning against the wall next to me, snorted but coughed to cover it when his sister shot him a dark look. It transferred to me before she seemed to remember why I was there. Her head hung, and she kicked at the floor. I couldn’t really blame Peach. I suppose I wasn’t like the other girls she knew. I mean, I wasn’t crying. I’d left her bed and had stuck like glue to her brother, and the few times she’d talked to me, I hadn’t been the most receptive. I wasn’t rude. But I didn’t respond to her the way she was clearly used to. That was Willow’s role. She’d been the social one, the engaging one.

  The perfect one.

  I folded my arms over Robbie, pulling him back against me, and rested my chin on top of his head. “No. I think Grandma needs to cry. That’s all.”

  Robbie found my hands and held tight. “Grandpa looks like he wants to cry too.”

  Standing off to the side, Grandpa Bill clutched a white cloth handkerchief in his hand. He always had one in his pocket, Grams insisted on it, but I’d never seen him use it before today. As Grams talked with Mr. and Mrs. Jensen, Grandpa Bill scrunched his nose, blinked a few times, and turned to the side. His hand came up before he turned back, and he blinked his eyes a couple more times. At the end he lifted his shoulders and rolled them back, as if he had to keep reminding himself to stand tall.

  The conversation started to dwindle, and that was my cue to get ready.

  I knew Grams’s questions for me would start soon.

  Had I known? Did Willow say anything before it happened? Could anyone have done something to stop it? Did something happen that day? I sucked in my breath, already feeling the slap of each inquiry.

  “Ouch, Kenz.” Robbie wiggled out of my hold. “You’re hurting my hands.”

  I released him immediately, seeing white imprints where I’d been holding on to him. A wave of disgust rolled over me, and I replicated Grandpa Bill. Blink. Blink. Turn. I will not cry. I will not cry. Blink. Blink. I’m okay.

  Lift your head.

  Stand tall.

  I can do this.

  Robbie touched my hand, and his sympathy almost undid everything I’d shoved back. I was the strong one, that was what he said.

  Head high.

  I couldn’t cry. Not yet.

  I gave Robbie a little smile, pretending to hit his shoulder. “Ready for the adult melodramatics?”


  Grams had heard me.

  “How crass and insensitive of you! Your sister died two days ago. Melodramatic? That’s what you call a grieving grandmother?”

  I cleared my throat. “You’re right, Grams. How insensitive of me.” Willow hadn’t been her twin sister, her other half, her partner from the womb. How thoughtless I was.

  “Mom?” Ryan straightened. “Are you guys going to talk for a while more?”

  “Uh . . .” Mrs. Jensen glanced to Grams, the question in her eyes.

  “Charlotte and Phillip were hoping we could talk about the children before we went to the hotel,” Grams said.

  “Of course.” Mrs. Jensen touched Grams’s arm, and both couples turned down the hallway.

  When they were out of earshot, Ryan said, “They’re heading for the formal dining room. That’s where Mom takes all our guests, unless she really wants to impress them. They’d go to the formal living room then. We can go back to the kitchen if you wanted to eat something.”

  I hadn’t eaten all day.

  That was odd. Was I trying to be like Willow? Was I trying to be close to her, or had I lost my appetite?

  Robbie’s stomach grumbled, and I squeezed his shoulders gently. “Looks like we have an answer.”

  Rose was in there, and it was as if she’d read Robbie’s mind. A packet of pizza rolls appeared, and it wasn’t long before my brother was stuffing them into his mouth. I lifted an eyebrow. “Didn’t you eat today?”

  He paused mid-stuff and shrugged as he swallowed a bunch of them all at once. “You didn’t. I wasn’t sure if I should or not.”

  Definitely not like Willow. I knew then. “You can eat any time you want. I didn’t have an appetite today.”

  “Ryan, why are you acting like this?”

  Peach’s question came from left field. She was almost glowering in her seat at the kitchen table. She’d followed us in and locked her gaze on her brother.

  He frowned. “What do you mean?”

  “You never act like this.” She gestured to us with a brisk motion. “All hostess and stuff. You usually can’t wait to get away from guests. You’re acting like she’s your girlfriend or something. She isn’t.”

  “Shut up, P. Seriously. I’m being nice, and the reason I usually leave when we have guests is because I don’t like the guests.”

  “You didn’t care when Erin came over on Sunday.”

  He lifted his eyebrow. “I ate a pizza at the same table with you two, and then I left. Don’t make it something it isn’t.”

  Her face got red, and if possible, her glower went up a notch. “Whatever. You’re being weird.”

  “What does it matter?”

  Robbie was on his second handful of pizza rolls. He was nearly through them all, and Rose must’ve noticed because she pulled out a second package. Once they were cooked, they all went on a single plate. Just for him.

  “It doesn’t. It’s . . .” Peach cast me a look, chewing on her bottom lip. “It doesn’t. Never mind.”

  Ryan looked as confused as I felt when he met my gaze. He shook his head, and for a moment, it was just the two of us. I knew the others were there, but they all melted away and an invisible, unbearable weight lifted from my chest. It was over as soon as it happened, but I was already yearning for the next time.

  “Okay.” Mr. Jensen came into the room, rubbing his hands together. He swept a look over all of us, lingering on Robbie before falling to me. “Your grandparents are going to take you with them. I guess your mother packed some bags for you two. It’s all waiting at the suite.”

  “Are my mom and dad going to be there?”

  My throat burned, and I was glad Robbie had asked the question. I couldn’t bring myself to voice the words.

  “Uh . . .”

  And like his son the night before, Mr. Jensen gave me the answer without saying a word.

  Shoving back my seat, I avoided his gaze and said to Robbie, “Come on. We
gotta be strong for Grams now.”

  “I don’t want to be.”

  I whipped around to face him. “Robbie! Just . . . come on.”

  His lip started to tremble, and I experienced instant self-hate. Taking his hand, I pulled him with me. “If you’re still hungry, we can make Grandpa stop at a drive-thru somewhere.”

  I wanted to stay.

  I didn’t want to have to be strong for Grams either. I didn’t want to see Grandpa struggle to keep from crying, because he too had to be strong for Grams, and I really didn’t want to think about how the last time I’d seen my mother, she’d seemed all too relieved to see me go.

  I held tight to Robbie’s hand until I heard him hiss. I relaxed my hold. “Sorry.”

  “It’s okay.”

  But it wasn’t. Nothing was okay anymore.

  We were halfway to the car when Ryan called my name. I looked back, stopping as Robbie kept going. Ryan was coming down the sidewalk, the house door closed behind him. Everyone else had stayed inside. Glancing over my shoulder, I could see Robbie settling into the car. Grams was already seated, and Grandpa headed to the driver’s side. He’d left the back door open for me.

  “Hey,” I said.

  Ryan stopped, and a flurry of expressions flashed over his face. Doubt. Confusion. Then wariness. He started to rake his hand through his hair, but he realized what he was doing and stopped.

  He laughed shortly. “I do that all the time. My hair’s always a mess.”

  “It suits you. You look cute.”

  His eyes widened. “Oh. Thanks.”

  I shrugged. It was the truth. Well, it made him hot, not cute. But I kept that to myself.

  He looked back at his house, like he was deciding whether to say whatever he’d come out to say. He slid his hands into his pockets. “Are you going to be able to sleep okay?”

  Ah. The bed. “Are you going to miss me?”

  His dimple winked at me, teasing. “Maybe.” The other side of his mouth curved up, and I realized he had a second dimple. “For real, though. Are you going to be okay? Your Grams doesn’t seem the most soothing type, you know?”

  “Oh boy. I know.” I tried to grin but failed. Ignoring his question, I said, “Thank you.”

  “For sleeping with you?”

  “That too. Thanks for spending time with me. I know I’m . . . not really myself.”

  “With reason.”

  “Yeah.” I had to get going. I probably had three more seconds before Grams would be lowering her window to call for me. “Look—”

  “My sister isn’t that bad,” he said.


  “My sister.” He pointed over his shoulder toward his house. “I could tell you thought she was a spoiled bitch, and yeah, she can be that. But she isn’t always. I think she wanted to be friends with you.”


  Ryan looked as if he was trying not to laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”

  I wasn’t. I didn’t know what he meant. Two seconds. I was already bracing to hear Grams’s voice. “I should go.”

  “Nolesrock at gmail. You can email me if you want. It goes right to my phone, and I’ll get an alert. I can call you if you want.”

  I opened my mouth, but I heard the car window coming down and swallowed my thanks. Before Grams could say anything, I remembered I didn’t have my phone. I’d dropped it when I saw Willow.

  Willow . . .

  “I’ll email you,” I said quickly before hurrying into the car.

  I wanted to look back to see if Ryan had stayed to watch us go. But I didn’t. I didn’t know why. And as soon as we got one block away, I regretted it. I wished I had looked, but again, I couldn’t explain why. I just did.

  Then Robbie said what I was thinking. “Ryan’s cool.”

  Yes. Yes, he was.


  “Hello, Mackenzie. My name is Naomi. Your parents thought it was a good idea if you had someone to talk to during this time, but I want to help you in any way you need. So, why don’t you tell me where you’d like to start?”

  “I want to leave.”

  And I did.

  One month later

  “Counseling isn’t working,” my father said. “She won’t go to most of the sessions, and it’s been a month. What about Arizona? Should she go back home?”

  I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping, but the temptation was too great. They’d been in the kitchen talking about what to do with me for the last twenty minutes, and I finally gave in, moving from my room to sit at the top of the stairs.

  And no shit, Sherlock.

  The whole push for counseling had started right away. It was Grams’s idea, and everyone except me agreed with it. I’d fought hard, but nothing I said made a difference. So, I resorted to some stupid-shit tricks. And I say stupid shit, because it was as basic as I could get. I didn’t go. Literally. If they dropped me off, I went in and left once the car moved ahead. If they parked and waited the whole hour, I went out through a back door.

  The only way I would’ve stayed the entire hour was if one of my parents went in with me, and I knew that wasn’t happening. Deep down, they were about as fond of counseling as I was. So, no, it wasn’t working. After a few missed appointments, the counselor called my parents, and I don’t know what they discussed, but something shifted. I bargained down to one session every other month. That was the most I’d agree to, and anyone who thought it wasn’t enough could suck it. It wasn’t their twin who died.

  “Nan Jensen was telling me about the Portside Country Club,” my mom replied. “They have programs that Mackenzie could attend. Her daughter goes to them with her friends. She says they’re very beneficial for her daughter, teaches her respect and how to act like a lady.”

  My dad’s snort told me his thoughts on that suggestion. “What about back home? That’d be more beneficial, wouldn’t it?”

  “You want to fly her back and forth the rest of summer? I don’t think that would be helpful. Besides, you can’t push her Arizona friends like that. I talked to Emily and Amanda.”

  “Who are Emily and Amanda?”

  “You know, Emily Christopherson and Amanda Green. Their daughters are Mackenzie’s friends in Arizona—”

  “The ladies you had your wine walks with?”

  I almost smiled as I imagined Mom bristling. Dad thought the wine walks were stupid. Mom thought they were the next best thing to going to church.

  “Yes. Those ladies.” Her voice dipped low, almost a growl. “But I talked to them about Zoe and Gianna. They said they want to be there for Mackenzie, but you know how it is. Teenagers don’t know
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