Chapter 20 - Alive (Pearl Jam ; 1991)

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"I probably won't even make it to the end of the year."

I was stunned; absolutely stunned. I think though, more than that, I was angry; absolutely angry.

"The end of the year," I said, standing up from the stool at the island, almost shoving it backwards. "The end of the fucking year, Dad? You didn't think to tell me this at any other point sooner? Even just a couple months ago would've been nice!"

"Ryan, watch your tone," my dad said sternly, standing to my level. "We decided to keep this from you in order to protect you."

"Oh, that's bullshit," I deadpanned. "What would have happened when I got the news that you fucking died? What would have been protecting me then?!"

"Watch your tone, George!" I shook my head as my father's finger wavered in my face. I walked over to the front hall tabled and grabbed the car keys and my coat before storming out of the house. I only had one plan in my mind for where I was going, and only one person I wanted to see.

I climbed in my mother's car and sped off toward the center of town where the small building sat, wedged between two taller buildings. I parked across the street and sat just looking up at the neon sign hanging above the entrance. I sighed as I turned off the car and exited it, crossing the street slowly before reaching the old, wooden front doors. I raised my fist and knocked softly on the door, before stepping back from it slightly.

"We're closed," the voice on the other side said loudly, causing a grin to etch its way onto my face.

"C-Can you make an exception f-for a trouble maker," I asked, raising my voice loud enough so she could hear me.

I then heard footsteps rapidly approaching the door and I looked up just in time to see the door open and a pair of wide, brown eyes looking back at me. "My, my," Z said as she pulled me into a hug. "Ryan Ross. I thought my ears had deceived me for a moment, there. Get your skinny ass in here and I'll make you a drink, Trouble Maker. Still drinking Kentucky Dry, right?"

"Y-Yeah," I said as I closed the door behind me and shrugged off my coat. "C-Could really use one of those right n-now."

Z was one of the only adults I had known since I was a child who had always given me a reason to show her respect. She even started serving Spencer and I drinks when we were sixteen, though it wasn't like anyone cared one way or another. Also, she was one of the only people I didn't have to come out to because, in her words, she had some kind of "gay radar" that started going off when I hit my teenage years. Women's intuition, I guess.

"What's gotcha down, sugar," she asked as she made my drink behind the bar.

I felt my mood deflate as she slid my glass to me and brought it up to my lips, taking a sip from it. "M-My parents," I said flatly. "D-Didn't think I'd s-see the d-day when they'd l-lie to me."

I watched as Z ducked her head softly, nodding along with what I was saying. "I'm guessing you found out about your dad, huh," she said in a voice so soft that it pained me to hear it coming from someone else.

I took another long drink from the alcohol, letting it burn my throat as it went down. "Y-Yeah," was all I said to answer her.

She let out a soft sigh and leaned over the bar so her face was level with mine. "Ry, honey, look at me." I did as she said and looked up to see her smiling sympathetically at me. "Sugar, I'm sorry about your papa," she said in a sweet voice, "but you gotta see this from his and your mom's perspective: their child - their only child, I might add - had just gone to a college he'd be anticipating getting into for years. You were so happy, happier than any of us around here had ever seen you. The last thing they wanted to do was tell you something that would make you want to let go of that."

"I-I would've come home the m-moment I found out," I said, my empty glass forgotten beside me.

"I'm sure you would've," Z said in an obvious tone. "And I'm sure they knew that as well, which is probably why they chose to not tell you. Ryan, you have so much potential in you, and you have every thing in you to make them both so proud of you, why would they let you throw that away?"

I had to admit, what Z was saying was making a lot of sense. At this point now, I wasn't as angry as I initially was, I was just sad and, above all, scared. "I d-don't want to lose m-my d-dad, Z," I basically choked out, my fingertips tapping the wooden bar.

I felt her hand reach across the bar and rest over mine gently. "I know, honey," she said in a soft, sweet voice. "I know you're scared, but you have to come to terms with it. Make the most you can with him now, and when the time comes, then you can mourn. Don't waste your mourning on the living."

I smiled softly, sniffling a bit as I wiped under my eyes. "You're r-right," I said softly, wiping my hands on my jeans gently. "I g-guess what they say about o-old women is t-true," I said with a soft chuckle. "Y-You're all wise."

I earned a playful glare from her for that, including a slap on the arm. "I am not old, Ryan Ross," she said as she took my glass from me and poured me another drink. "I'm only twenty-nine."

"Yeah," I said as she slid my glass back to me. "Old."

We both laughed gently before a knock resonated on the door. "We're closed," both Z and I yelled back.

"Ryan," the voice said, "it's Brendon. Are you in there? Your mom said this is where I would probably find you."

I smiled softly and walked over to the door, opening it to reveal Brendon's worried eyes. "H-Hi," I whispered gently before taking my boyfriend into my arms, feeling his wrap around my neck as well.

"I was worried about you," he whimpered quietly into the crook of my neck. "Don't scare me like that again, please."

I nodded gently as I pulled away, slipping my hand into his. "Agreed," I said before pulling him inside the building. I led him over to the wooden bar and sat him down beside my seat, leaning back across the bar to meet Z's expectant glance.

"O-Oh," I said softly, a blush coating my cheeks. "Brendon, t-this is Z. She's like a b-big sister to me; or an aunt, w-whatever way you want to s-see it, I guess. Z, this is my b-boyfriend, Brendon."

Z's eyes widened excitedly as she put her hand up to her chest. "Boyfriend, aye," she said animatedly before reaching behind her and grabbing another glass and the bottle of whiskey. "Well, this calls for a goddamn celebration if you ask me!"

"Oh dear God," was all I could say as I shook my head, my hand still locked with my boyfriend's who was laughing at my expense.

Yeah. This was okay.

For now.

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