Chapter 40

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F O R T Y

      I FINGERED MY necklace nervously.

      My hangover was long gone, but my stomach still twisted with nausea at the thought of seeing Cyrus' mother again.

      It wasn't like I was afraid of her, or that she was a terrible person; I just feared her judgement. I wanted her to like me because she was such an important part of both Cyrus' and Jay's lives, and even had her own important role in Ryder's and Tyler's.

      "Everybody ready?" Jay asked as he adjusted the collar of his button up. At all of our nods, he grinned. "Okay."

      We all stood on the porch, waiting for Cyrus to unlock the door and let us in. Jay looked calm as could be, and the only indication that Ryder was nervous was his inattentiveness to his surroundings. He was trying really hard to stay focused and keep a stony expression, but I knew this visit was important to him, too.

      My eyes shifted down from his face to take in the black button up, nearly identical to Jay's white one. They both wore a pair of light jeans and nice shoes, and I wondered if Ryder borrowed his from Jay's closet. I was immediately reminded of the time I'd noticed Ryder's lack of a wallet like the rest of his friends, who all had reasonably wealthy parents.

      Cyrus had on a gray polo shirt with a V-neck and long sleeves, his jeans dark above black shoes. Selena stood at his side in a small sundress that did her curves justice, but passed as casual with the nude heels she wore with it. As she glanced back at her surroundings, I was slightly relieved to see she was just as nervous as I was.

      I was even more surprised when she locked eyes with me and sent a small, encouraging smile my way. I sent one back, but the moment quickly ended as she returned her attention to the now opening door.

      What just happened?

      I shook the thought away and made a mental reminder to ask Cyrus about it later. With a deep breath, I started through the doorway. Ryder's hand quickly made residence at my lower back as he guided me gently to the kitchen table, and I felt poorly under dressed in comparison to the wealthy teenagers in the room.

      I had on a white, sleeveless crop top with a high waisted skirt that ended at the knees, revealing only a thin sliver of my stomach. The flats I wore were black to match the skirt.

      The misses stepped into the room, a smile lighting up her pale face at the sight of all of us. A bandana wrapped beautifully around her head, and her eyebrows had thinned since the last time I'd seen her. I assumed the chemo was effecting her, if the frail and weak state was anything to go by. Even still, she looked as happy and vibrant as ever.

      "Hi, Miss Ross," Selena greeted.

      She pulled Selena into a gentle hug. "Please, all of you call me Cierra." Selena nodded as Cierra stepped away and turned towards me. "It's been a while since I've seen you, girly."

      I smiled. "Hi."

      "Oh, quit with the awkwardness," she instructed and pulled me into a hug. "I won't bite."

      I laughed lightly and hugged her back. "I know."

      Light conversation ensued after that, most of it consisting of catching up with the buys and asking us girls about our lives. Neither Selena or myself shared much on the subject, but Cierra didn't press.

      By the time the food was ready, we all started towards the table. Cyrus sat down in the middle with his mother's designated seat on his right, Selena on his left. I sat on the opposite side with Jay on my left and Ryder on my right.

      Cyrus ushered his mother to sit down and relax when she tried to get us all food, instead piling heaps of Cierra's homemade Lasagna onto each of our plates before handing them out one by one. Jay offered to help, but Cyrus simply waved him away and said he didn't mind. Needless to say, no one else bothered offering after that.

      It was an amazing dinner, full of active conversation and old memories from everyone's childhood. Cierra told stories about Jay and Cyrus as little kids, and only then did I realize just how close the two of them were. They'd grown up together and simply downgraded their sibling-like tendencies around everyone else. They were inseparable.

      "It's not so bad, right?"

      I glanced over to Jay as he spoke to both Selena and I. "I didn't think it would be," I answered.

      "I worried a bit," Selena admitted shyly. "It's been so long since if seen Cierra, I wasn't sure how this would go."

      Jay shrugged. "She's a sweet woman. Give her some credit and she won't bite." He shot a hand out towards me when he said 'bite' and I jumped.

      He laughed as I smacked his arm, whisper-yelling, "You're such an ass!"

      He leaned over and nudged me with his elbow. "Come on, you've gotta admit it was pretty funny."

      "I'll show you something funny," I threatened.

      Selena's amused chuckle brought me back to the table as mine and Jay's attention shot over to her. "You two are funny."

      Jay shrugged. "She tries—ow!"

      I grinned as he rubbed his arm. "'She tries' my ass. I'm a natural at this shit."

      "You're a natural at being violent," he muttered, Selena snickering endlessly and trying to hide her amusement.

      The two of them immediately started to bicker as I zoned out of the conversation. I tried to ignore the feeling of hopefulness at Selena's light attitude towards me and absentmindedly watched the others around the table. Cierra leaned over to whisper something in Cyrus' ear and nodded in acknowledgment when he shook his head to whatever she'd said. When my eyes shifted to Ryder, I didn't miss the way he tensed up. Whatever they'd been talking about, Ryder definitely didn't like it.

      "Isn't that right, Skye."

      I shifted my head around to see Jay with his arms crossed stubbornly over his chest. Selena was trying to hide a smile and look frustrated at whatever had happened. I blinked. "What?"

      Jay rolled his eyes and sighed as he seemed to lose whatever argument he'd started with Selena. "Never mind, she zoned out."

      My cheeks heat up in embarrassment. "Sorry."

      "Is everybody finished," Cierra asked, successfully grabbing the attention of the entire table's population. At out nods, she started to gather the plates.

      "I've got it," I said quickly and stood to my feet. Jay stared disapproving at me for trying to help after I'd already cleaned up all of Tyler's house, but I ignored the look.

      Cierra tried to wave my hands away as I started gathering the plates. "No, dear, it's fine. I don't mind."

      "You cooked for all of us," I insisted. "Let me help you."

      At this, she nodded her head and gently sat back down. I gathered the plates and started over towards the kitchen, completely aware of Ryder's intense gaze on me. I couldn't read it for once, and that made me extremely nervous. He was blocking himself off.

      Not only did he hate whatever he heard between Cyrus and his mother, but it had something to do with me.

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