Ryans bed, p.30
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Ryan's Bed, p.30


  truce or a tentative peace between us, whatever we had, but we weren’t friends. So yeah, all three of them should’ve been sounding my alarms at full blast.

  We got out. Ryan came around the front and still the trio said nothing.

  Tom wore an uneasy grin. As Ryan came to my side, he stepped away from Peach and dipped his head. “Ryan. Mackenzie.”

  Peach shared his uneasiness, biting her lip and looking as if she wanted to reach for his hand. She didn’t. She tucked it under her other arm, almost holding herself back, and her head hanging a tiny bit.

  It hit me then. Those two were backup for—and my gaze found the girl who’d been my first enemy at Portside: Ryan’s ex-girlfriend/fuck buddy.

  Then the alarms sounded, tightening my gut. “Erin.”

  She didn’t even look at Ryan. Her eyes were only for me, and I saw the sorrow. It flickered there, but it was strong. It was evident. Her eyes clouded, her eyebrows pinched together, and she frowned, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear.

  “I had no idea,” she said.

  “No idea about what?”

  Ryan moved forward a little, as if he wanted to shield me. “What are you talking about, Erin?”

  She still didn’t look at him, but his sister did. Peach went to Erin’s other side, standing in front of her brother. She held her hand out, saying softly, “Ryan . . .”

  He ignored her, barking out, “Erin!”

  The door opened behind them. Music, light, and people spilled out.



  Kirk, Cora, Nick, and Pete darted down the front lawn.

  Cora was unnaturally pale, and her face was streaked with tears. Once her eyes hit mine, she jerked to a stop, and I watched as she sucked in her breath. Kirk stopped too, looking toward her. He frowned and reached for her hand, but like Erin, she only had eyes for me.

  She and Erin were both terrified—for me.

  The guys were sending nervous looks at me, but they were more wary of Ryan.

  Because . . .

  Because why?

  Why were they concerned about him when the girls were so scared for me?


  Because of . . .

  Because Ryan was protective of me, but Erin and Cora . . . the way they were looking at me, as if they pitied me and were horrified at the same time.

  It’s me.

  I jerked backward, hearing Willow’s voice like she was standing in front of me.

  I swayed, clasping my eyes shut.

  No . . .

  Yes, Willow sighed. They’re going to use me to get at you.

  I looked again, past everyone in front of me, and I saw her.

  She was faint, like a mere reflection in the wind, wavering all around, but I saw her.

  Willow was looking right at me, wearing the same dress she had on in the dream. A pink, shimmering dress, but there was no crown on her head. This time, her hair was pulled up into a braid and wrapped around her head, looking like a crown in and of itself.

  But she looked alive, so alive that I heard myself exhale a ragged breath.

  I blinked a few times, but she was still there.

  There were no more words. She didn’t come toward me. She didn’t point inside, but I knew she was leading the way.

  She wanted me to go in, and feeling her courage join mine, I grew calm. I felt ready, and I started forward.

  Everyone turned then, and I heard Cora gasp.

  “Holy sh—” Kirk exclaimed.

  They saw her.

  They honest to God saw her.

  I almost faltered, my knees buckling, and then she vanished. I only felt her beside me. Her hand touched mine. More strength transferred to me, but there was also peace. Contentment. She was letting me feel everything right along with her.

  The door swung open. Someone saw me coming and was ready. The music cut off, and everyone who had been standing around on the walkway turned to watch. Some were smirking. Some were laughing. Some were sad. And the pity—that seared me the most.

  I didn’t want anyone’s pity, but I was getting it. I gritted my teeth. Whatever was ahead of me, I would show them I didn’t need it.

  They were in the living room.

  The crowd didn’t part for me when the hallway forked off to the dining room and kitchen. But it opened to the living room, where people were sitting on the couches. Others were spread out, sitting all over the floor.

  They were watching a movie on a large screen. It wasn’t even the television. It had been projected onto the wall for maximum effect, and standing right to the side of it was Stephanie Witts, but she wasn’t alone.



  And next to them? Duke and Willow’s ex-best friend, Serena. He had his arm around her. I turned away from them. They didn’t even deserve my attention, but Duke dropped his arm as soon as he saw me. His eyes widened, and he jerked forward a step.


  He was already groveling. I heard it in his voice, and I leveled him with a hard look. “Don’t. Even.”

  I didn’t need to ask how they got there. I looked right at Stephanie. “What’d you do? Go on my social media? Google my sister’s name?”

  Her eyebrows went up, and her lips pulled back in a haughty smirk. “You told me to come at you with the worst I could do.” She waved at my ex-friends, at Willow’s ex-friends. “Here you go. They’ve been telling me all about your sister—”

  I finally looked at the screen, and I tuned her out. She was saying things, no doubt hurtful things, but it didn’t matter in that moment.

  Willow had been right. It was her. They were watching a compilation video of her winning the championship with that six-foot, papier-mâché dragon. She smiled, holding the dragon in one hand and the purple ribbon in the other. Her trophy was next to her, and she was so proud. She was beaming. Then the video skipped ahead to her nuzzling noses with Duke. Then I saw her and her friends, all in their cheerleading uniforms. Then older pictures of Willow—her school pictures when she was in third grade, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, all the way up to what should have been this year’s picture.

  They showed her senior picture.

  I felt tears sliding down my face, but I didn’t care.

  So many pieces, one after another, connected, and they were strong. Twenty-five. Goddamn twenty-five, and I felt them in me. They were pulsating. They were buzzing. They were firm, cement, and more were coming.

  “You guys had your pictures taken right before you moved,” Duke murmured, coming closer. “She mailed that back to me. I got it a week after . . .”

  She’d sent it before she killed herself.

  I didn’t respond to him. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to yet. The video kept going.

  Pictures of Willow and me: she was smiling, I was rolling my eyes.

  Pictures of her in her track uniform and me in my soccer uniform.

  Pictures of us hugging each other.

  Pictures taken of us at school lunch one day. I had a bag of Cheetos, and she was eating a carrot. A goddamn carrot.

  Pictures of us before school: Willow was in a dress. I was in jeans.

  Willow wore a skirt, and I had holes in my shirt. Willow’s hair was always perfectly styled, and mine was pulled into a messy ponytail.

  I got the message Stephanie wanted to send, and I looked at her, wiping some of my tears away. “What? Are you going to follow this presentation with your decision that she shouldn’t have killed herself, and I should’ve? That she was the twin who shined, and I wasn’t? That I’m drab, and dull, and boring? And she excelled at almost everything?”

  I had crossed the living room so my shadow hit the projector. Images of my sister continued to play over my face, but I kept staring right at Stephanie.

  “Do you think I don’t think of that every day since I found her?” I whispered. “Do you think I’m not haunted by her? By the thought that if I had—maybe she wouldn’t have?

  My voice broke at the end.

  Someone sniffled behind me.

  I heard another whisper.

  And I felt a presence at my back. I thought it was Willow at first until a hand—a real live hand—touched mine. It was Ryan. He didn’t pull me back, though. He was just there for me.

  I latched on to him, lacing our fingers together, and he moved a step closer so I could feel his heat against my back. His other hand rested on my hip.

  Stephanie’s malice had started to wane, and her forehead wrinkled as she began to frown. “I mean, come on.” She glanced around for support.

  There was none.

  I didn’t look, but I could feel the somberness creeping over the room. Anyone who had thought this was going to be funny didn’t seem to anymore, and if it wasn’t because of me, it probably had to do with Ryan, and the whole group that stood behind us.

  “It’s obvious your sister was popular, and you’re . . .” She tried to sneer at me. And like everything else, that too failed.

  “I’m what?” I raised my chin higher. “Mourning such a deep loss that I hope even you will never feel anything like it? Healing? Trying to keep going? Forcing myself to go forward because my family needs me? Because I’ve found people here who love me and support me, and I need to keep going for them? Is that what I am?” I raised my voice, grating out, “Does that somehow make me less than you? Less than anyone else in this room? Or maybe, just maybe, that makes me stronger than you? That makes me a goddamn survivor, when trust me, the thought of joining my sister is sometimes easier than breathing.”

  I was letting everyone see my insides.

  All these months of not talking, and it was spilling out.

  I could feel their surprise. It was in the way Ryan tightened his hold on my hand before letting it relax. The way the whole crowd seemed to waver, and the way Stephanie’s eyes widened, and the blood drained, finally, from her face.

  I turned to my two ex-friends and burned them with the same look of hatred I had for Stephanie. “How dare you come here. How dare you bring that video to a party. How dare you befriend someone you knew wasn’t reaching out with my best interest at heart.”

  Zoe and Gianna blanched, but their mouths opened. I didn’t let them speak. I kept going.

  “How dare you turn your back on me? How dare you—just, how dare you?”

  I didn’t care why Duke or Serena were there, but I turned to them anyway. “Willow would hate you for this, and you know it.”

  Serena hung her head, but Duke surged forward again. “It isn’t like that. I mean . . .” He gestured to Stephanie. “She said she was your friend.”

  Zoe and Gianna stepped forward, right behind him.

  Zoe tried to smile at me. “We felt bad after you left, Kenz.”

  “And what Duke said is right. She reached out to us, saying she was your friend.” Gianna glanced at Stephanie. “You haven’t been on social media. I’ve been sending you messages almost since you left, but you haven’t been getting them.”

  Because I was using Willow’s account.

  “We didn’t know who you were friends with. Honestly, we had no idea. We aren’t here to hurt you.” Zoe started crying. “We really aren’t.”

  I shook my head.

  Ryan spoke over my head, “You thought showing a video of her sister at a high school party was a good thing?” His tone was hard, biting. “How the fuck do you make that right in your head?”

  “We didn’t—” Duke started.

  “The laughter should’ve been the first clue!” Ryan cut him off, moving ahead of me. “Her face should’ve been the second.” He jabbed a finger in the air toward Stephanie. “She looked goddamn evil when we first came in. If the other stuff hadn’t sunk in, that look should’ve had you scrambling to turn the goddamn machine off!”


  Zoe interrupted Gianna, her shoulders sinking down. “We weren’t thinking. You’re right. We weren’t thinking.”

  “I was hoping it’d all be okay,” Duke said. “That’s what I was hoping. But I swear, Mackenzie, we didn’t come to hurt you. We came to apologize.” He glanced to the others before placing his hand to his chest. “Or I came to apologize. You tried to talk to me after the memorial service, and I blew you off.” He gestured to Willow’s ex-friend. “Serena and I both did.”

  “It’s just hard—”

  I nodded, speaking before Serena could say more. “To see her when you look at me? To hear her when you talk to me? Trust me. I get it.”

  “You didn’t expect her to stay, did you?” Erin stepped out of the crowd and folded her arms. She looked right at Stephanie, who had tried to blend in with her friends. “You thought she’d come in, see them, see the video, hear the laughter, and then run away crying? That was what you thought would happen, wasn’t it?”

  Stephanie’s friends melted away, leaving her standing alone. She glared at them before facing Erin and then me. “To be honest, I was going to say everything Mackenzie guessed. That the wrong sister died, that Willow seemed like the better of the two. It’s obvious from the pictures. So yeah.” She jerked her head higher. “I was going to use the weapon she gave me, and destroy her with it.”

  She turned to me. “Imagine my surprise when I found out you hadn’t been talking to your friends from home, and that Willow’s boyfriend and best friend were dating. I mean, you were asking for it.” Her eyes trailed to Ryan, pausing a beat before looking away.

  “Because of him?” I dropped his hand, moving around him.

  “Yeah!” Her head flared up again. “He’s ours! He should be dating one of us, not you! Not someone who . . . you’re mental! I’ve heard you talking to yourself in the bathroom. You freak out in the classrooms like you’re nuts or something.” Her hands went to the sides of her head. “You don’t deserve him. You . . .”

  My head tilted to the side. “I what?”

  “You . . .” She gulped and then shrugged. “You aren’t good enough for him.”

  Her words should’ve struck me at the core.

  They didn’t. Not this time.

  “You’re too late to make that stick. A week ago, I would’ve agreed with you.” A hollow laugh left me. “I wouldn’t have left him since I’m selfish enough to need him, but now I think you’re wrong.” I glanced up, seeing my shadow over my projected self. Willow was laughing, and when I leaned back, moving my shadow and letting the full picture hit the wall, there I was, laughing every bit as hard as she was.

  “You’re the strong one, Kenz,” said Robbie’s voice.

  “You were the superstar in everything,” Willow said. “You just didn’t know.”

  “You were what we needed. You were our anchor.”

  “You’re wrong.” I looked right at her. “I am good enough; I’m better than you’ll ever be.”

  And taking Ryan’s hand again, I left the room. He followed. As did Erin. Cora. Tom. Kirk. Pete. Nick.

  I was told later that almost everyone followed us out.

  Stephanie Witt never had the same clout after that party.

  She still had friends, but she wasn’t popular anymore.

  Erin became more of a friend to me, and somehow she almost took
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up