Ryans bed, p.7
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       Ryan's Bed, p.7


  “Was this stupid?” A normal girl might’ve had that thought in her head. But my head? There wasn’t enough room for second thoughts in there. I gestured to his house. “Should I go home?”

  “No.” He’d hunched over a little but straightened and shook his head. “No. It’s fine. Seriously.” He went back to eyeing my luggage. “I thought you were joking about the airport. I could’ve picked you up.”

  “Oh.” That meant a lot. “No, this is fine. Simple. No fuss. That’s how I roll these days.”

  He fought back a grin. “Except when we break into my buddy’s house to spend the night, right?”

  I laughed. “Except for that.”

  “Come on.” He jerked his head toward the house before reaching for my suitcase. “My mom has book club tonight, which is aka wine night, and Peach is at Erin’s house.”

  “Your dad?” I had to admit it felt nice as I stepped inside, warm and cozy. I hadn’t known how cold I was until then.

  Ryan closed the door behind me, locking it. “He’s downstairs watching the baseball game. He DVR-ed it, and trust me, by the time it’s done, he’ll be a full case in. He’ll either sleep down there or head straight to bed. I’ve had friends over before when it’s a baseball night for him, and he had no clue.” He stepped around me, moving quietly. “You want something before heading up?”

  I fought back the smile this time. “Going right to it, huh?”

  He glanced back, and his eyes darkened. “You know what I mean.”

  “I do.” I shook my head. “And I’m good.” My stomach rumbled, which makes Ryan’s eyebrows rise. “You sure? Your stomach says otherwise.”

  Thinking about it, I didn’t know when I’d last eaten.

  I ate breakfast Thursday morning. My mom drove me to the airport two hours later. There was a meal offered on the plane, but I didn’t eat it. Gianna’s mom picked me up, and we went to a pizza place. I picked at a slice, but I couldn’t bring myself to chew it and digest it.

  Zoe and Gianna had eaten popcorn that night while we watched movies. They’d laughed. I’d curled in a blanket and tried to sleep.

  Then this morning, I had orange juice and coffee. That was right. Zoe and Gianna went to the coffee shop and brought back bagels and lattes. I had one of the lattes. Lunch was licorice for them, which Gianna’s mom didn’t approve of. She made a big salad, and the other two nibbled on it, but they were too full from licorice.

  And this afternoon they’d left me.

  I hadn’t eaten on the plane again, so it had been almost two days.

  I shrugged. “Maybe a drink?”

  He clipped his head in a nod. “Got it.” We went upstairs first, and he stowed my luggage in his room before returning to the kitchen. I went into his bathroom, grateful it was attached to his room, and by the time I’d cleaned up and felt a little refreshed, he was back, carrying a glass in each hand and a bag of chips in his mouth.

  “Here.” I started to take the bag, but he shook his head and held up one of the glasses. I took that instead, and as soon as I did, he opened his mouth.

  The bag of chips fell to the bed and he took a sip from his own glass. “Mmmm . . .” He winked. “Rum and Coke. Good stuff, right?” He clinked his glass to mine and then settled on his bed, moving back to rest against the wall. The chips went on the stand next to him, along with his drink after a second good sip.

  He had a loveseat against the other wall in his room, and I perched there. Fuck. This drink was good. I craned my head back, staring at it. “I could down this whole thing in two seconds.”

  “So do it.” He opened the chips and popped a couple in his mouth. Grinning at me, he added, “Not to tread where you might not want me, but I’d think you’d want to pass this year in a drunken haze. I would.”

  Yeah. I drank a third of it before leaning back against the couch. “It isn’t my style.”

  It would’ve been Willow’s, though. She would’ve drank, partied, and become a nympho if I’d been the one . . .

  My throat burned, and I took another long drink. Shit. This really was good. Two more sips, and I’d need a refill.

  I eyed Ryan over the top. “You aren’t the type to take advantage of me, are you?”

  He chuckled. “Nah.” He winked. “But I might graze the side of your boob when we’re sleeping later.”

  I laughed and stopped immediately.

  Shit. The last time I’d laughed, the last time I’d smiled, had been with him—not my old friends—or ex friends—and not anyone else. Just Ryan.

  “Does it get better?” The question was out before I could take it back.

  Ryan was quiet, holding my gaze across the room, and then he sighed. “I think it has to, at some point.”

  God. I hoped so.

  Pain I didn’t want to feel or acknowledge rose in my throat. It threatened to choke me, but I sat there. I waited, and it passed. I could breathe again a second later.

  I finished my drink.

  Ryan scooted forward, handing his glass over. “Here, take mine.”

  “It’s yours.”

  He shrugged, eating more chips. “I’ll down a beer later, maybe. Trust me. It’s fine.”

  I took the glass, feeling his fingers on mine for a moment, and a warm and cozy sensation settled over me. It was the same tingle I’d felt when I had stepped into his home. Everything else was flat, black and white, gray, dull, cold, and then I went to him, and it felt like color was turned on.

  I could feel hunger again, thirst again. I remembered it was normal to feel warmth.

  Feeling the choking come back up my throat, I turned off my thoughts. Life was easier that way.

  “You’re staying here tonight, right?” Ryan asked.

  “Hmmm?” My shoulders sagged in relief. Thank you, Distraction.

  He gazed around his room. “You’re sleeping here. That’s why you came, right?”

  I nodded. “If that’s okay with you?”

  A slow and wicked grin spread over his face. His eyes darkened, falling to my lips. “I’m a nice guy and all, but I’m not that nice, and especially lately, so trust me when I say this. You can sleep here any time you want.” His head leaned forward, his eyes almost digging into me. “That offer doesn’t go to anyone except you.”

  The back of my neck warmed. I almost felt tongue-tied. “Thank you, and yes, that’s the plan.”

  “But what about your folks? Won’t your friends or their parents say something when they realize you skipped town?”

  I shook my head, feeling the booze loosening me up. “I left a note for Gi’s parents, but that was it. I doubt they’ll even notice till tomorrow morning.”

  “You serious?”

  I nodded. I should’ve felt sad about that. I felt relief.

  “Gi and Zoe didn’t want me there. I knew it. They knew it. The parents didn’t care, but my friends have moved on. They have new lives.”

  “That’s bullshit.”

  Maybe. I drank half of Ryan’s drink instead of caring. “They loved Willow too. They were my best friends, but Willow and I were a package deal. I was friends with her friends.” I gestured to my face. “You weren’t at the funeral. It’s easier to forget Willow than to mourn her.” I remembered the disgust I saw on Duke’s face. “Her boyfriend couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He had his hands all over Serena, Willow’s best friend.”

  “Yeah. Well . . .” Ryan balled up the bag of chips and tossed it across the room. It landed on the desk next to me. “People suck. Trust me. I get it.” He stood, pointing to my glass. “I’ll bring the ingredients. We can mix drinks till we pass out, huh?”

  He left, so he didn’t see my response.

  I was smiling so damn hard, and I wasn’t even sure why. All I knew was that I was happy when he came back. I could relax in this room with him, and I laughed until we did exactly what he said.

  We passed out around three in the morning, after I drank myself into oblivion.

  It was the best night I’d
had in a long while.

  I woke the next morning around eight.

  I would’ve freaked, but Ryan rolled over, put his arm over me, and tugged me in for a side-hug. “No one’s here,” he murmured. “Trust me. We’re good.”

  He was right. Even two hours later, the latest I allowed us to sleep, no one was around.

  “My dad golfs on Saturdays.”

  “What about your mom? Peach?”

  He yawned, raking a hand through his hair as he padded to the bathroom. “Mom’s probably sleeping. Her book club doesn’t mess around. When they drink, they drink.” I heard the shower turn on, and he yelled over it, “And gossip. They wine hard and gossip hard.”

  I stood, edging to the opened door. I almost gulped, but he didn’t seem to care. This was a different level of intimacy. Then again, maybe it was because we’d slept together. Yeah. That was it. Either way, I was feeling nerves and flutters in my stomach that I didn’t recognize. I’d never felt like that. Ever.

  “What about your sister?” I asked, not moving inside the bathroom.

  Ryan looked over, his hair getting mashed down from the water, and he gave me a side-grin.

  God. A whole new level of flutters exploded in my gut at that sight.

  The shower doors were frosted, so I couldn’t see anything from his chest down. But I could see the silhouette of his body, and I think that was enough. My whole neck and face were getting warm now.

  “She won’t be back till this afternoon, or even tonight,” he drawled. “She might stay till tomorrow too. We could hang out all day, if you wanted.”

  I perked up at that suggestion—no home, no angry or absent parents. But also no brother who I knew needed me.

  I shook my head. “I can’t.” But wait—I remembered a conversation. Robbie was going somewhere today. “Wait. Maybe I can.”

  “Yeah?” He was shampooing his hair, and I tried not to watch as the suds fell down his body, his nice lean body, the body that felt so strong when he held me.

  I tore my gaze away. Was I becoming like Willow? Was that what was going on? I couldn’t see her, talk to her, be with her, and so I was starting to become her?

  I grabbed my phone and sent a text.

  The shower turned off, and I kept my head down as Ryan stepped out and began toweling off. He came back to the bedroom, going to his closet as my phone pinged a response.

  Robbie: Mom and Dad are taking me to a school. I thought you knew? Where are you?

  “What?” I typed back a response.

  Me: What school? I’m coming back early.

  “What’s wrong?” Ryan came to sit next to me. He had jeans on and bent over to pull on socks and shoes. He was close enough that I felt the brush of his shirt before he sat up and leaned backward on his bed.

  “Robbie’s going to some school today.”

  “Oh.” Ryan snapped his fingers, pointing at my phone. “There’s a private place not far from here. All sorts of gifted and smart kids go there.”

  I twisted around to face him square. “You’re joking.” My stomach took a nosedive. I wanted him to be joking. This school was made up, a figment of his imagination.


  He wasn’t. This had become my new nightmare. My phone pinged another response from Robbie, but it almost fell from my hands.

  They were taking him away. I knew it. I could feel it.

  Willow had left, and they were taking away Robbie.

  Who was next?

  “What’s wrong?” Ryan leaned forward again, his voice soft. He took the phone from me, reading Robbie’s message aloud. “It’s fine. I want to go. I’ll see you tonight. Love you, sis.”

  He handed my phone back, but I almost didn’t want it. And seeing that, he put the phone on the bed, tossing it by his pillow.

  His shoulder nudged mine gently. “You okay?”

  No. I was so not fine. I didn’t know if I ever would be again.

  But all I said was, “I’m down to hang out today.”

  Sometime between grabbing an early lunch—where Ryan ordered food for me and didn’t give me a say in the matter—and returning to the house, our plans changed.

  We walked in and heard shouts and laughter coming from the backyard.

  “What?” Ryan frowned, tossing our bag of food onto the counter and going to the back door.

  Peach ran in, opening and shutting the door behind her. She didn’t see me but greeted Ryan with a wide smile. “I call pool party today!”

  “What? No.”

  “What?” She mocked him, fluttering her eyelashes. “Yes. And get ready, douchebag. Your friends are coming over. I called ’em. And some people from your grade. Stephanie Witts and her friends are already here.”

  “Mom and Dad okay this?”

  Peach didn’t answer. She’d spotted me, and I watched the life drain out of her. “Oh. You.”

  I rolled my eyes, but Ryan beat me, saying, “She’s a friend. Back the fuck off, Peach.”

  Her mouth snapped shut. His growl worked wonders.

  The doorbell rang, and the door opened. “Yo, Ryan!”

  Tom, Nick, and another guy barreled in. They stopped short when they saw me.

  They didn’t give Peach a second look. It shouldn’t have pleased me, but it did.

  Tom’s eyes went wide. “Hey, Mackenzie. I didn’t know you’d be here.”

  Nick added, “Yeah, long time no see. You ditched us after movie night.”

  The third guy pointed to me. “This her?”

  The back of my neck got hot. “Are you asking about my sister?”

  “Sister?” the guy echoed.

  “No. Erin, man,” Tom told me. “You took her down. You’re infamous.”

  Nick rolled his eyes. “He means you’re a big deal in our group. At least among the girls.” His eyes went to Peach then, who still stood watching the exchange. “Hey, Ryan’s little sister.” He tossed a smirk at Tom, who seemed flustered.

  Tom went into the kitchen, and Nick lounged back against the wall, his eyes sliding from Peach to the rest of us.

  Ryan ignored all of it, asking around a clenched jaw, “You guys knew about this?” He nodded to the backyard, and I turned to inspect what was happening.

  A bunch of girls stood around the pool, clad in bikinis, and there were a few other guys with them. I recognized Erin and assumed those were her friends, but there was a separation out there. Some girls were in the pool and playing a game with a bunch of guys while Erin and her friends stood on the sidelines.

  “Yeah. Your sis put the word out. Pool party at the Jensen household. Everyone’s coming.” Nick was still salivating over Peach’s uncomfortableness.

  She looked down at her fingers, picking a nail.

  I felt Ryan’s gaze and looked over, meeting his eyes. I saw the apology there and knew our hangout had been replaced with a party
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