Ryans bed, p.8
with a bunch of his friends. I shrugged, trying to give him a small smile to let him know I was okay.
I didn’t want to be there with them, but I wanted to be there with him. I’d take it how I could get it. This was better than an empty house, and I wasn’t going to turn my phone on. An hour ago, Gianna had sent me a text asking why I left, but she was almost twenty-four hours too late for me to respond.
“So,” Nick said. His grin was wicked. “Peach. Do anything fun last night?”
She turned and fled.
As soon as she closed the patio door, Tom was across the room and punching Nick in the arm. “You’re such an ass!”
“What?” Nick laughed, rubbing at his arm as he moved down the wall, closer to where Ryan and I stood. “It isn’t my fault you were texting with your buddy’s little sister.”
Ryan’s eyes clamped shut, and his hands moved through his hair. He pulled them out, leaving his hair sticking up in an adorable mess. Swinging stormy eyes over his friends, he grabbed Tom and shoved him against the wall. “You’re into my sister?”
Nick snorted. Even I knew that protest was too much.
Tom’s shoulders slumped down. “I don’t know. We were texting last night. She asked where you were, if you were hanging with us, and it kept going from there.”
“He texted with her for three hours. I heard the damn phone beeping the whole fucking game.”
Tom shot Nick a glare. “There’s no way you could hear my phone. We went to the summer league basketball game. The entire gym was loud as hell.”
Nick shrugged, his wicked grin still there. “I stand by what I say.” His eyes were hard. “It’s wrong, and you know it.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Whatever.” He pushed Tom back against the wall again, but there wasn’t much heat in the action. “Don’t fuck with Peach unless you’re going to marry her. Got it?” He tapped Tom’s cheek and then swung his gaze my way.
The third friend grunted, his hand in the air. “Uh . . .” He cleared his throat. “You’re insanely hot.”
Tom and Nick grinned, and the tense moment was gone.
“Hands off. Ryan laid claim long ago,” Nick said.
Ryan pointed between the newcomer and me. “Pete, Mackenzie. Mackenzie, Pete.” He added, “Pete’s Nick’s cousin. He visits when he wants to get high.”
“Yeah,” Nick drawled, throwing his arm around his cousin’s shoulder. “He comes to the cool table then.”
Pete shrugged off his arm. “Hate to break it to you, cousin, but Ryan’s the cool table. He’s the basketball star. Not you. You aren’t good enough”—he began edging backward, his arms already in the air as if to ward off a hit—“at anything!”
“Shut it.” Nick went after him, delivering two quick punches to Pete’s side. The two wrestled before Nick ended up pinning Pete. Only then he flicked him the forehead and got up. “Loser.”
“Asshole.” But Pete was grinning.
They were both grinning, and when both were on their feet, I waved to Pete.
“Nice to meet you.”
“You too, and I go to Frisberg. It’s a few hours away, so I’m not around that much, but if I do show up, it isn’t just to get high, Ryan.”
Ryan only grunted in response. He didn’t seem to care too much.
Nick added, “We call him Peepee sometimes. Feel free.”
Peepee rounded on Nick, and soon insults were flying back and forth. But Nick eased up on the jabs at Tom.
After everyone raided Ryan’s kitchen, we headed upstairs, drinks and snacks in our arms. I was thankful we’d made the bed before leaving, and I was doubly glad I hadn’t left anything behind, putting my suitcase in Ryan’s truck, where it still was. No questions, just the way I liked it. And finally, I was glad the guys continued giving each other shit as they sat to play Warcraft.
They weren’t watching me because of Willow, and unlike the movie night, as I sat in Ryan’s room and listened to his friends joke, I felt normal. It was small. And I knew it’d be gone soon, but I felt it, and I savored it.
“Hey! Fuck no, man!”
Tom and Nick had the video controllers, and as Tom bent to the side, trying to get his car to turn all the way left, Nick jumped up and down. He bit his lip. His eyebrows were furrowed in concentration, and I knew at any moment the room would explode in cheers or curses—probably both.
I glanced to the door and saw Ryan watching me. He gestured with his head to follow him out, and I scooted off the bed as Nick won the race.
He dropped the controller and thrust his arms in the air in victory. “YES!”
“NO!” Tom shook his head.
Pete stuffed a handful of chips in his mouth and reached for Tom’s controller. He mumbled around a mouthful, “My turn.”
I slipped out of the room.
Ryan waited at the end of the hallway, nodding for me to keep following him.
I trailed behind. He led me down a back way to the basement. We could hear footsteps above, along with giggling.
I arched an eyebrow. “Let me guess, the female brigade is above us?”
Ryan ducked his head as he opened a refrigerator. “We’re out of drinks in the room, and I know my parents keep more booze down here. The guys will want more to drink. Peach and her friends can have the main floor.”
I gazed around, noting the more casual-looking décor. It was one large room with a living area on one side and a kitchen on the other. There was a pool table in the back, along with a basketball game, two couches, and three super-sized beanbags in front of a large television screen. Two wooden tables sat in the kitchen area.
It looked like every teenager’s dream apartment. The only things missing were a movie projector, a popcorn machine, and maybe a stage for karaoke.
Willow would’ve salivated over the room.
Ryan pulled out some more rum, and I slid onto one of the barstools.
“Is this where you guys really hang out?”
He nodded. “Tom’s too.” He looked at me. “Well, you know that.”
“Is Cora coming over?”
Ryan was done with the drinks. He moved to the cupboard and pulled out bags of chips and cookies. Then he slid some Cheetos toward me.
“That’s a negative on Cora.”
My eyebrows went up. “What do you mean?”
“She tends to avoid anywhere Erin might be.” He paused and amended, “Usually.”
Ah. I nodded. “Doesn’t want to get thrown to the wolves, huh?”
He pressed his lips together, closing the cupboard and leaning against the counter. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “Cora’s never liked to go anywhere Erin is. We didn’t know why. I knew it had to do with Erin, but Cora never explained it. I did shoot her a text, though.” He pulled out his phone from his pocket and showed me her response.
Cora: If Erin is there, hell no.
“She’s never said it so clearly like that before.” His eyes seemed to soften. “I think it’s because of what you did. I would’ve listened to her before. She just never thought I would.”
“You seemed oblivious to Erin’s bullying, so I don’t blame Cora.”
“I know.” His hands gripped the counter. “Erin and I didn’t really have a relationship. We just fooled around during a time last year, but it’s on me. I should’ve paid more attention.”
Well, that made me feel bad. I shrugged. “Give yourself a break.”
His hands relaxed.
“Most guys are idiots,” I added. “They don’t see past the boobs and smile.”
He groaned, his eyes sparking. “Thanks for that.” He began to gather the drinks and snacks.
I took what was left and slid off the stool. “No problem. I believe in realism. I like to keep my friends grounded. The more realistic they are, the more humble they seem to be.”
“You mean you squash their egos into the floor.”
As we headed back, Ryan turned around to use his back to open the door. Our eyes met and held, and I felt an instant sensation. It was us. No sister problems. No exes. No bullying. Nothing. Just him and me, and I let out a soft sigh before I realized it.
His eyes warmed.
I’d had this feeling before, but it was stronger this time.
I coughed, lifting my foot. “You caught me at a disadvantage today. I like to really grind my friends’ egos into the ground with heels. The sharper the better.”
He grinned, shifting back a step. “Thanks for that. I needed it.”
“Always here for you. Call me Ego Crusher.”
He barked out a laugh, and his hand touched the small of my back.
It was a tiny gesture, a silent touch, but it wiped away my amusement. I’d started to laugh, and then it was gone, transformed into something else. My body warmed like it had last night, and the feeling intensified, as if it were supposed to be the two of us, as if everyone else was the outsider and not wanted.
I suddenly didn’t want to leave that basement, didn’t want to deal with everything that lay beyond these walls. My breath caught in my throat, and my eyes watered. I blinked rapidly. A surge of grief rose up, but I stuffed it down. It was too strong, too threatening. I couldn’t handle it.
I never would be again. Didn’t he know?
I sighed. “You’re having a pool party. You ready to par-tay?”
He shook his head. “That’s right.”
The guys decided they should be “social” after another hour of playing video games. Should be. Yes. Because they wanted to be polite not because they wanted to drool over girls in bikinis. It had nothing to do with all the bare skin running around Ryan’s backyard.
I joined, but I was the non-social one. I was fine to pop in my music and hang on my own. The booze had simmered me out. Ryan checked on me a few times, but I reassured him I was good, and he finally went over to his friends, laughing and doing what was expected of him. Erin was there too, her friends in tow. They all basked before her, as if they were trying to catch whatever sunglow she had in excess. Peach kept shooting her nervous looks.
From my vantage point—on a lounge chair in the corner—I saw again what I’d noticed earlier. There were two groups of girls—Erin’s group and another clique. I assumed they belonged to the infamous Stephanie Witts. A couple of them were in the water with some other guys, playing a new game of dunk basketball.
As I watched, one of the girls caught the basketball but turned and glared at Erin.
One of the girls from that group walked by me, and I asked her, “What grade are you?”
She stopped, seeming surprised by my question. “Senior.” Then her lip curved up and she sneered at me.
Silly me. She was a popular senior. Who was I to talk to her?
I ignored my desire to flick her my middle finger and lay back down. With my sunglasses in place, I resumed the antisocial role.
I plugged my earbuds back in and “Glory” from Dermot Kennedy filled my ears. I filled my lungs. Sitting there, with all these strangers around me, in a social scene I didn’t care about, I was having a come-to-Willow moment.
What was I doing there?
This wasn’t my scene, not even if Willow had been with me.
I would’ve been home. I would’ve been with my soccer friends, and if they’d wanted to go and scrimmage, I would’ve tried to talk them out of it. Seriously. Netflix and junk food were way more appealing.
This was Willow’s scene.
She cared about popular girls, about popular guys. She would’ve already scoped out who to maim, who to kill, whose ass to kiss, and who to fuck.
Her world whirled around me.
Their laughter sounded like kids playing on a playground as it filtered through the music. I was in a self-assigned tornado, and everyone else seemed fine.
Why couldn’t I be normal?
Why didn’t I even want to try?
I felt tears fall from my eyes, trickling down behind my sunglasses, and I didn’t care. I never moved. I didn’t wipe my eyes. I wasn’t going to stop them, but I also wasn’t going to keel over in sobbing hiccups. That wasn’t me either.
I didn’t even remember the last time I’d cried before Willow.
She was the sobbing, melodramatic twin. Everything was ending if she got dumped, if she did the dumping. If a friend betrayed her, God forbid, her life was over . . .
Bad choice of words there.
I thumbed over to the music, hitting the next one. I needed a change of tempo if I was going to stick with socially appropriate behavior.
“I Need My Girl” by The National was next.
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
I hit forward again.
“Sleep Baby Sleep” by Broods.
I should hit it again, and my thumb lingered over the button, but I couldn’t.
The words made me remember that night.
She had been on the floor. Her eyes had been vacant, open. The blood had pooled around her.
I had laid down, my head next to hers, my hands in the same position. Her blood surrounded me, and it had felt like mine.
We would lay together. She would tell me a secret. I would pretend to be excited to hear it.
That’s what we did before, and I pretended that’s what was happening that night as I had lain there..
My tears had tripled into a steady flow, and though I hadn’t moved, I knew people would eventually notice.
Letting my music blast, I got up and went inside.
The world was better this way. Having tunes in my ears, I could handle the looks, the questions, the vibes people sent my way. The music protected me. I was in my own world. I didn’t have to feel their shit, whatever it was. It was me and the music—and somehow Willow.
I felt her everywhere.
I’d planned to go upstairs to Ryan’s room, but I glanced back.
He and his friends were in the pool playing with the others. That same girl who’d sneered at me was hanging on Ryan, attempting to dislodge the ball from his hand. Erin’s group watched from the lounge chairs I’d vacated. Their heads were bent together as they glared at the other girls. Still others were tanning and or laughing on the sidelines.
They were all normal.
I was not.
And I felt her with me.
Suddenly, like she had pulled me there, a blast of anger rose in me.
Ryan's Bed by Tijan / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes