Ryans bed, p.32
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       Ryan's Bed, p.32


  beautiful than you.”

  I—was shocked, and I couldn’t talk for a second.

  “And if I do win prom queen, I won’t dance with Ryan. I’ll dance with Kirk, so you don’t have to worry about that.” She darted toward me, hugging me and kissing my cheek. “I’ll be downstairs.” And then she was gone.

  I felt Ryan’s presence and without looking, I knew he was in the doorway. “You heard all that?”

  “Yeah. Now you don’t have to worry about the king and queen dance.”

  I grinned.

  He took me in. He looked at my hair, my dress, and lingered on my lips. “She didn’t lie. You look really beautiful, Mac.”

  That nickname.

  I’d been in his arms just two hours ago, but a whole new wave of want came over me. I yearned to be in his arms again, to be held by him, to be kissed by him. And there was a whole host of other emotions intertwined there. I thought back to Cora’s question, and no. There was no way I could’ve even considered regretting being with Ryan.

  We went fast, but I had a feeling we went exactly the way we were supposed to. Either way, he was staring at me as if I were the most stunning creature he’d ever seen, and my entire body filled up with tingles. My knees were melting too, and my stomach flipped over, but in the good way. I had butterflies in there.

  “Thank you.”

  I wore a shimmering pink dress, one that almost perfectly matched the one I’d seen Willow in. When I saw it at the store, the hairs on my neck had stood on end. Maybe she led me there. I’d been shopping with our mom, and I teared up when I saw it. We bought it immediately, and, like the last night I’d seen her, I put my hair up in a braided crown.

  Cora’s color was lilac tonight. I knew Peach was wearing yellow, and Erin was supposed to go silver. Not me.

  I was pink. It was the most quintessential girl color there was, and it wasn’t even my most favorite color, but it was Willow’s.

  I loved this feeling, seeing how I affected Ryan, but I hadn’t dressed for him. I hadn’t dressed for myself either.

  I’d dressed for Willow.

  And with everything feeling all sorts of right, Ryan came forward, his hand curving around the back of my neck as he bent to kiss me. His lips were soft against mine, and I closed my eyes, letting myself get lost in his embrace.

  And then we went to prom.

  More pieces fit together inside me, but I stopped counting. I didn’t need to anymore.


  I walked into Naomi’s office and sat in the same chair I’d been using for the last ten months. I didn’t want to do these sessions. I never even wanted to admit that I was doing them, but there I was. I’d promised six sessions to my parents, and this was my tenth. Go me. Pin a star on my file.

  I nodded in greeting, folding my hands over each other in my lap.

  Naomi took a second, probably evaluating my posture, and she leaned back in her seat. “What’s going on?”

  I knew what she was referring to, but I still played dumb. I didn’t know why. I could’ve gotten a gold star in stall tactics too. “What do you mean?”

  She smiled briefly, nodding at me. “You know.”

  There was our relationship, right there. She knew I knew. I knew she knew that I knew, and yet I still played the game. And she just called me on it.

  I never wanted these sessions, but I’d dropped my wall slowly over the last ten months, even going after I didn’t have to. But today was the day. It would be the day I clued everyone in on what was going on with me, because until then, it’d been another stall tactic of mine.

  “Okay.” She let out a sigh, leaning back in her seat. “For real, what is going on with you?”

  I never wanted to talk about Willow.

  She’d been the reason my parents wanted me to come to these things—because I’d walked in and found her body first. I hadn’t known she was feeling like that. There’d been warning signs, but I didn’t know how to read them. I knew that, but it wasn’t the same for everyone. I knew that too.

  I coughed, clearing my throat. “She had mood swings.”

  Naomi leaned forward.

  “That’s one of the warnings signs, right?” I looked away.

  “Yes.” I saw her nodding from the corner of my eye. “You looked up the signs, or are you guessing?”

  I didn’t have to guess. “She would go on these tangents, just raging about everything. I thought it was because we were moving.”

  “Yeah. I can see why you’d be confused.”

  But I wasn’t done. “She withdrew from everyone too.”

  “Yeah. You mentioned that one time.”

  “She and Duke broke up, but I thought that was because of the move too. Later, Serena told me she’d stopped talking to her too.”

  “Serena was Willow’s . . .”

  “Best friend,” I supplied. “I didn’t know about that, but Serena told me when they came here a few months ago.”

  “Right. You mentioned their visit.”

  I wanted to laugh at that, but no sound came to me. I’d never told Naomi about the night with Stephanie Witts—not to keep it away from her, but because it wasn’t something I needed to process. Stephanie Witts never hurt me. She actually helped, and I didn’t want to give her any more time in my mind.

  “She was sleeping a lot too, and then some nights . . .” Some nights she would be working out. Some days she slept two hours, and some days she slept twelve hours.

  “Some nights?”

  I shook my head. “I thought she had an eating disorder. I didn’t know she was suicidal. She never . . .” My throat was burning again. “Feeling hopeless, thinking about wanting to die, feeling trapped, feeling like being a burden, unbearable pain . . .”

  I kept listing the symptoms. The checklist had been engraved in my memory since June thirtieth, last summer.

  “I just thought she had an eating disorder, and I didn’t take it seriously. I thought they would help her. I just thought . . .”

  How do you do this? How do you talk about how it was missed in one person, but it shouldn’t have been for another?

  Naomi sat forward, leaning down so her arms were resting on her legs. “Mackenzie, I’m confused.” Her voice was quiet. It was always quiet. She paused as if she was unsure of what to say, but I knew that couldn’t be true. Counselors knew what to say. They understood things the rest of us didn’t. They understood us even when we didn’t understand ourselves.


  Then Naomi spoke again, her voice still soft and delicate, as if she were trying to trick me into opening up to her. “I haven’t pushed about your sister’s suicide note, but I know you read it. Your parents told me. It was right next to her when she, when you . . .” Another awkward cough. “When you found her. Your mother told me it was in your hands, but you won’t talk about it and acknowledge it. I think . . .”

  Yes, Naomi. Tell me what you think. Tell me how I’m supposed to process and grieve, and more importantly, tell me how I’m supposed to tell the truth about the worst day of my life. Tell me, please.

  I raged at her in my head, but not one of those words passed my lips. I was a statue, my head turned away, my usual stony expression firmly in place.

  Yes, there were cracks. Yes, some of the cuts had healed. Yes, I had a new layer on the outside. My life had changed. It wasn’t exactly better. There was no world where I would say it was better without my sister, but it was different.

  There were days I felt good. There were days I was convinced I’d already gotten my happily ever after. There were days I felt stronger than before. But then there were days I missed Willow so much I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry. There were days the hole inside me ached so much that I was convinced I’d actually lost a lung or my liver or half my heart. Those were the days when I understood the unbearable pain she must’ve been in.

  But there was still something no one knew. Only Willow.

  It was something that tricked
me at times—into thinking I was in an alternate universe. If I thought about it, a crack in my foundation would open completely, and everything would fall in. And I didn’t know how I would survive if that happened, but I had to talk about it today.

  Ten months of counseling. Almost a year since Willow died.

  I had healed. I had gotten stronger. I had persevered, but this one thing still haunted me. Maybe this was the real reason Willow haunted me? She wasn’t around as much, but I still felt her, and I always knew she wanted me to tell the truth, but it scared me.

  My voice would leave me, literally, in those times. It was as if I were too scared to talk about it because I was too ashamed.

  “Mackenzie?” Naomi had scooted her chair even closer. “What’s going on with you?” Her hand came down on mine. “You’re trembling.”

  “I’m getting better.”

  “I know you are.” I heard the pride in her voice. Her hand squeezed mine. “You and Ryan are good?”

  I nodded.

  “You went to prom together? I saw pictures in the local paper. I didn’t realize they did that, but I guess when it’s Ryan Jensen, anything goes, huh?”

  “He was prom king.”

  She lifted her hand and sat back. She was getting comfortable again. “Were you prom queen?”

  I shook my head. “Cora was.”

  “And you were happy for her?”

  I moved my head in the other direction, up and down this time. “Yes. She deserved it. She’s one of the most popular girls now.”

  “If I’m remembering correctly, you had a part in that, didn’t you? You took her under your wing, like Willow did with you. Am I right?”

  God. My throat was searing.

  It was never going to go away. I realized it then.

  I looked at her, meeting her gaze, and the words choked out of me. “I’m never going to fully heal, am I?”

  The sadness in her eyes answered me, but she said, “Losing a twin is like losing a mother, or a father, or a soul mate. I can only imagine that it would be worse in some ways. So no, Mackenzie. I think it’s a hole you’ll feel for the rest of your life.” Her lips pressed together, and she scooted close again, leaning down so she was almost touching my knees. “I don’t think this last year was about you healing or getting over Willow’s death. I think it was about learning to cope, and I think you’ve done a remarkable job.”

  But she didn’t know.

  No one knew.

  Except Willow.

  “You wanted to talk about Willow’s suicide note?”

  Her eyes widened in surprise. I had brought it up, not her. That wasn’t how this went.

  “Yeah. I wanted to talk to you about it at our last few sessions, but you seemed so much better when you came in, so I didn’t push.” Her head inclined toward me. “Do you want to talk about it today?”

  No. But I had to. “Willow never talked about feeling trapped or hopeless. She never talked about suicide, but those are some of the signs.”

  “There are others, but yes. The list you mentioned are some of the warning signs, if people are looking for them, but sometimes, it’s really hard to see everything the way it is, or for what it is. Your parents were worried about your sister, but they were worried about you too. Moving right before your senior year can be upsetting for any teenage girl. But Mackenzie, you can’t beat yourself up for not seeing the signs.”

  I shook my head. “Willow never talked about that.”

  “Maybe not, but it was what she was feeling. She talked about being invisible, feeling worthless, of not being able to compare to her siblings. I can tell you that even if she didn’t say the words, she was feeling all of those things.”

  Naomi’s tone shifted, and she frowned, looking at the ground for a moment. “I’m confused about the direction of this conversation. It seems as if you don’t believe your sister’s feelings. It was all in the suicide note.” She took my hand again. There was usually a no-contact policy with Naomi. She didn’t even like hugs, which I was fine with. I liked touching Ryan, and I liked hugging Robbie, but that was it. No matter my progress over the year, I still held back with my parents and everyone else. It wasn’t that I didn’t love them or like them; it was just me. It’d been me since Willow died.

  I changed that day.

  Everything I had been before June twenty-ninth was wiped clean. When I lay down beside Willow, it was as if she took my pain; she took my burdens.

  I felt it pressing on me. I knew I would share, but before I did, I needed to make sure Naomi understood.

  I murmured again, “She never said anything. Not about that.”

  She scooted even closer. “But you are talking. You are saying something.”

  Yeah . . .

  “I’m fine,” I told her.

  “No, I know—”

  She didn’t. I had to make sure she did. “Willow died, and I lived. I laugh. I love. I feel happiness, but this year was so hard. I wanted to be with her at times, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had Robbie depending on me. My parents needed me. And I have Ryan. I love him, and I know we’ll be fine. We’ll be happy. I mean, yeah, we’ll have problems, and we’ll struggle. Everyone does. Every relationship has ups and down, but we’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”

  “I know.” But she still frowned, struggling to figure out what I was telling her.

  “I’m not arguing with you about what Willow felt. I know she was hurting. I just didn’t know how much she was hurting, and I wish—”

  My voice broke. It went back to not working, and I had to wait a moment. One breath, two, three, and then I could speak again. “I wish I had seen more than I had. I wish I had talked to her, but I was wrapped up in myself. I could only see what I was dealing with, and I never thought—”

  My voice stopped again. I had to wait longer this time. Thirty seconds, and then, I tried again. “It wasn’t supposed to be her. I wasn’t supposed to be the one to go on and shine. That was always her role.” I repeated again, “She never talked. I am talking now.”

  Naomi sat up, a look of horror on her face, but I grabbed her hands before she could sit back in her seat, and I finally told her what I’d been hiding from everyone else.

  “I don’t know how she found it. I don’t know why she had it with her, but she didn’t write that note. I didn’t read Willow’s suicide note because it wasn’t hers.” I let go of Naomi’s hands and sat back, finally, finally feeling some peace as I shared my last secret.

  “It was mine.”


  Dear Reader:

  I have never written a book that changed me.

  There were books in my past that changed a part of my life, where they moved my career forward, etc. That’s happened. I’ve had books be so loved by readers, and I’ve also written books that seemed like a grimace, but I’m always proud of every single novel I write. I grew or learned some lesson with each one.

  But Ryan’s Bed is different.

  I began writing Mackenzie’s story when I would travel for book signings, and I think there’s something so lonely about hotel rooms that it crept into me and then through Mackenzie. I remember writing some chapters and thinking in the back of my head, “Where am I going with this? What am I doing?” And that’s how I felt for the first eight chapters, but I didn’t want to take the book into a path that I didn’t feel was right. I didn’t want to be careless with this book because there was something more with Mackenzie and Willow.

  I’m glad I waited.

  When I started writing it again, I felt Willow wanting a voice and I don’t know if she would’ve had one in the beginning if I just
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