Ryans bed, p.5
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       Ryan's Bed, p.5
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  broad shoulders, trim waist. Both of those dimples. Lean, but muscled. His shirt rode up once, and I saw the six-pack there.

  I’d noticed all this on day one.

  He was going to have girls after him. Of course.

  Willow would’ve been after him.

  I blinked a few times, shocked at that thought. Yes. She would’ve. And I would’ve done nothing. After seeing that she’d claimed him, I would’ve melted into the background, found my own group of friends, and I would’ve had no problem in school. All these issues—Cora and the ex—these would’ve been Willow’s battles.

  Was I taking her stuff on?

  “So, you know.” Cora had finished whatever she was saying.

  I cringed, but I had to ask. “Sorry. I spaced for a bit there.”

  “Oh.” She frowned. “You lost your sister, right?”

  I nodded.

  “Look, maybe it isn’t my place, and I know we just met, but people have been talking about you. They don’t know about your sister. I mean, I haven’t heard any of that. Ryan made us all promise not to say anything, and I’m guessing he threatened Peach too. She has a big mouth, so if it got out, it would be from her. But anyway, she told Erin you slept in Ryan’s bed when you were there, and Erin freaked.” She rolled her eyes. “Erin could be inside, which is why I’m saying all this to you now. Ryan doesn’t think things through sometimes. He doesn’t think Erin’s as bad as she is, but she’s evil incarnate. I swear.”

  “Does she come at you sideways or straight on?”


  I wasn’t a fighter, but an eerie calm settled over me. “I need to know how to fight her, so how does she fight? Usual catty-bitch way? You know, saying shit behind my back and verbal jabs. Or is she a face-on bully kind of girl? There are all different sorts now.”

  “Um . . .” Cora looked at the sky, her hands sliding inside her back pockets. “She has bleached blonde hair, and she’ll be surrounded by a whole bunch of girls. They all look the same. Glitter on their face, something pink. If she sees you inside, don’t go to the bathroom. She has a gang. They’ll come at you and try to hurt you but make it look like it was an accident.”

  She was the type to sic her friends on me. I nodded. “Got it.”


  I had turned to go but looked back.

  Cora seemed surprised. “Aren’t you scared?”

  An image of Willow lying on the floor, her blood pooling around her, flashed in my head. “Not a goddamn bit.”

  I started off. I was looking forward to this.

  I knew instantly which one was Erin.

  She was the tall drink of water trying to cling to Ryan as they waited in line for tickets. She kept putting her hand on his arm, and he’d move it out of the way, shrugging off her touch.

  It wasn’t working.

  He was irritated, and he wanted her away, but his scowl and the way he kept messing his hair up were having the opposite effect on her. The blonde could-be-a-model only stood closer each time he rebuffed her.

  Nick and Tom were already in line for snacks, along with a group of girls. I didn’t need two guesses to know they were Erin’s friends. Cora was right. They all looked the same—with tight jeans and different shades of pink sweaters, glitter all over their faces and necks.

  Cora came up next to me. “That’s her.”

  There was a mix of envy, fear, and caution in her voice. It hit me in the chest. This girl was reacting to the ex the same way she would’ve reacted to Willow. Willow was Erin. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. The way she was standing, the way she whispered in Ryan’s ear—that was how Willow had been with her last boyfriend, and how she’d intimidated his previous girlfriend. She’d been scared of Willow the same way Cora feared Erin.

  For some reason, that pissed me off.

  Then Ryan saw me, and with his wave, the beast saw me too.

  Her demeanor changed. Gone was the seductress. Her eyes grew cold, and her lips formed a sneer.

  Hello, cold-hearted bully.

  I fought against grinning. This girl was trying to intimidate me.

  It was working on Cora, who shied away from her place beside me. She actually took two steps away, and I looked at her, meeting her gaze so she knew I knew.

  I grunted. Well, screw it. I’d take Erin on alone.

  I turned back to regard the ex again.

  She was smug under a layer of frostiness. She assumed I would be afraid of her.

  Her mistake.

  Something came over me. It’d been itching at me since I heard about this Erin girl, but right then, it was like a blanket wrapped around me. It wasn’t a supporting or warm blanket. I wasn’t being enveloped like that. It was eagerness. It was anticipation. It was . . . I had a target.

  This girl wanted to make me the target, but no, honey. It wasn’t going to work that way. Even if she knew about my sister, I wouldn’t have cared. I was fast feeling the first peak of adrenaline.

  I had an outlet, and I went straight at her. No hesitation. No lagging. I wanted this fight, consequences be damned. I had nothing left to lose.

  Surprise flared in her eyes, but then the authoritative look returned to her face. She expected me to bow down to her.

  My lip curled. She had another thing coming.


  Even Ryan was cautious around this girl. I was beginning to wonder what powers she had tucked away for this reaction.

  “I got you a ticket,” he added. He glanced at Erin before handing it to me. “Here you go. I wasn’t sure if you had money or not.”

  I gestured behind me. “Give it to Cora.”

  If he was scared of this bitch, then fine. I’d buy my own ticket. He hadn’t asked me on a date. He’d asked if I wanted to go to the movies. But instead of pulling out some cash, I continued staring at Erin.

  She narrowed her eyes. “Do you have a staring problem?”

  “Move.” I loved that simple command, and I stepped even closer. I was almost in her personal space. “You’re in my way.”

  My voice was strong and clear. No break. No trembling. No softness. And I wasn’t being aggressive. I wasn’t tense. She was in the way. The ticket guy was right behind her.

  “Oh.” She moved aside, but only barely. Folding her arms over her chest, she was still in the way. There was enough space for me to move forward, but I’d have to hunch to the side, stand awkwardly, and feel her breathing down my neck to get the ticket.

  Fuck that.

  I stepped right up to the counter, my arm jabbing into her.

  She cried out.

  I turned to look her right in the eye, our faces inches apart. “Then fucking move.”

  She gasped, but I ignored her and bought my movie ticket.

  After I pocketed my ticket, I turned to her. I was an inch taller, but I had to give her credit. Cora said Erin could’ve been a model, and she was right. The funny thing was—so could I and so could have Willow.

  I’d never cared for our height. Sometimes I hated it during soccer, but I almost reveled in it while I stood toe to toe with Erin.

  There were other people behind us, waiting to get their tickets, but I wasn’t going to be the first to move. No way. I couldn’t. She’d made this a pissing contest, and I wasn’t going to be the one to falter.

  So there we were, standing ridiculously close, staring at each other. Her eyes were heated, her sneer reinforced, and I was dead inside. I had no problem showing her that.

  You can’t battle someone who’s lost everything.

  Erin broke first. She whipped around and left, her hair flicking over her shoulder.

  As soon as she did, I moved to the side so the next person could get a ticket. Her friends flanked her immediately, and she paused to glare at me. I stared back. I couldn’t look away first. She had to do that too. This was her home turf. Not mine. I had to win both battles to have even footing.

  Cora moved beside me. Ryan was off to the side, frownin

  “That was unexpected,” Cora said, moving closer. “No one’s been able to out-Erin Erin before.”

  She was impressed. I felt nothing inside.

  Tom and Nick headed our way, their hands full of soda and popcorn.

  “What’d we miss?” Tom sounded damn chipper.

  Ryan studied me a moment before glancing to where Erin had disappeared, but all he said was, “Are we ready for the movie?”

  “Let me take one of those.” Cora took a soda, leaving with Tom for the theater. Nick held back, giving Ryan and me a look before turning, popping a kernel of popcorn in his mouth, and following at a more sedate pace.

  Ryan stayed with me. As soon as they were out of earshot he said, “I’m sorry about Erin.” I felt him move a little closer, his arm brushing against mine.

  I waved that off. I didn’t even care about his ex-girlfriend. “It isn’t a problem,” I assured him. “Really.”

  “I knew she could be a bitch, but I haven’t seen it like that in a long while. I can talk to her—”

  “No!” I grabbed his shirt, and my hand formed a fist in it. “Don’t.”

  He frowned. “She can’t be a bitch. It isn’t right.”

  Was he clueless about how girls worked? I shook my head. “Let it go. I can handle myself, but word to the wise.” I nodded in the direction his friends had gone. “I’ve got a feeling she’s been a bitch behind your back to Cora.”

  His head moved back a centimeter. “You serious?” His mouth pressed in a hard, flat line.

  Good. I liked that he cared about his friend.

  It was good that he cared, and that look told me so much.

  He’d do something about it.

  He was like Willow in that regard. If she saw an injustice, she did something. Unless she was the injustice.

  My stomach twisted.

  I had been that friend, the one who wouldn’t do anything. I never had to. Willow fought our fights for us.

  I felt nauseated thinking about that, and I suddenly, didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to think at all anymore. I didn’t want to have memories in my head, making me feel things I couldn’t handle.

  I was ashamed. I should’ve been this person before . . .

  No. Stop thinking. Stop feeling. “Let’s go watch the movie.”

  Ryan gazed at me a moment longer and then nodded. “Okay.”

  Once we sat, once the lights turned off, once the move started, I let the first tear fall.

  I passed on the party after the movie. No one protested when Nick took me back to my house, and I suppose it was partly because they all had the same survival instinct as I did. No shock there. Heads would roll if I went to that party, and I wasn’t sure if it’d be mine or Erin’s first.

  Ryan crawled out right behind me, and I turned around. “Wha—”

  He ignored me, shutting the door, and tapped twice on top of the car.

  Nick rolled his window down, but before he said anything, Ryan leaned close and smirked. “Don’t be reckless, kids. Use safe drinking protocols. You know, lick the salt before you shoot the tequila. And no backwashing.”

  Nick flashed us two fingers. “Peace.” His eyes slid me up and down. “Use a condom, children.”

  Tom started laughing, and the car shot forward.

  Cora was in the back, her face resembling a sad owl’s as she watched us until they turned onto the next street.

  “That one is Tom’s house.” Ryan pointed to the house to the left of mine. A lamp was still on inside. “We were all out at Nick’s, and Tom told me about his new neighbor, asked if you were the same girl who’d crawled in my bed.” His hands slid into his pockets, and he hunched his shoulders forward. His shirt strained against his form, showing off those muscles again. “I’m glad you came to the movie. I thought it was a shot in the dark.”

  I was glad he’d texted too. And I was surprised at that, but I was. Even dealing with the ex was a good distraction.

  I tilted my head to the side. “Did you really not know how mean your ex is? She seems like the resident bully.”

  He hesitated before letting loose a long sigh. “Guys don’t see that stuff. I’m not using that as an excuse, but we usually focus on the good stuff about chicks. Boobs, you know. Other stuff.” He gave me a half-grin. “I’ve heard rumors, and Peach told me a few things, but seeing how she was with you tonight—and how you handled it—that was eye opening.” He chuckled softly. “It’s the same with girls, you know. You don’t see the shit guys do to each other.”

  “Is that supposed to make it better?”

  He shrugged. “No. Just the way it is. And for what it’s worth, I feel like an asshole for not knowing how bad Erin is.”

  A brief flicker of anger had sparked, but it fanned out, and I shrugged. “I think I was spoiling for a fight. I can’t take it out on my parents like a normal teenager. They’re in this thing called mourning.”

  I bit back a grin, but Ryan saw it. His right dimple showed.

  “Did you want to come in?” I gestured to my house. It was completely silent and dark.

  The other dimple winked at me. “I was hoping. If you don’t want to go in right away, we could sneak into Tom’s house. His parents are in San Diego, and he’s staying at Nick’s tonight.”

  I eyed Tom’s house. “He’s okay with you sneaking in there?”

  “Yeah. We’ve done it before, use someone’s house if it’s empty, you know.”

  I suddenly didn’t want to know any more. “You know how to get in there?”

  He nodded, watching me. He was waiting.

  The thought of going somewhere that was not my home had my mouth watering. And that place was empty. No parents. No Peach to stare at me weirdly. No crazy ex girlfriend. No little brother in the room where my sister wasn’t. No worrying if he’d hear me crying when I couldn’t sleep at night.

  “Let’s go.” Decision made.

  “Yeah?” he asked.

  I nodded.

  “Sounds good. We should go to the back. It’s easier not to set off the alarm there.”

  Ryan led me to the backyard and pulled the hidden key from under a plant. Unlocking the door, he keyed in the code and returned the key a second later. I slipped inside, and he turned the system back on.

  I rolled my eyes. “Tom’s parents must be geniuses.”

  “Eh. They’re no Robbie Malcolm, but I’m sure they do okay.” He gestured to a picture where a couple stood with one of the older living former presidents. “They go golfing with that guy.”

  And I was reminded that Portside was not Schilling, Arizona. Cripe’s sakes. They knew one of the presidents.

  Yeah. So not Schilling, Arizona.

  Ryan chuckled. “We aren’t any better. We use the fake frog, though the alarm system is the real backup.”

  “Yeah.” I joked. “Remind me tomorrow to tell my parents to install infrared security system. I’m thinking we could use a handprint machine. Fuck the fake frog.”

  He laughed, leading the way inside.

  As we walked toward the kitchen, a different feeling settled over me. We were alone. I’d wanted to get away, but maybe I hadn’t thought this through.

  I hadn’t been thinking anything through, not for a whole month.

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