Chapter 1.2: Ryan

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When Ryan got home, he pulled out his textbooks and opened his laptop, then plugged in his headphones and tried to block out the sound of his mother's breathing machines in the other room

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When Ryan got home, he pulled out his textbooks and opened his laptop, then plugged in his headphones and tried to block out the sound of his mother's breathing machines in the other room. Even though he didn't want to hear it, he kept stopping to pull out one earbud and listen for that sound, the sound that meant she was still alive.

He also found himself going on Facebook, looking for Jacky Jennings.

Andrew Jennings, he corrected, after that particular search got him zero results.

There seemed to be a million people with the name Andrew Jennings in the U.S., but none of them were Jacky. He had some vague memories of shit the other guys on the team had said in the locker room on the first day of school. It had been hard to miss Jacky in the locker room before gym class, with that short sleeve shirt with no arm coming out of it. A lot of the guys had stared, not in a mean way. "The fuck are you looking at," Jacky had said to Matt when the big guy had walked by, openly gawking.

Matt Welch wasn't the kind of guy you wanted to fuck with. Most of the time he was your average science nerd, if you ignored his size: kind of shy, super smart. But his temper had a hair trigger. "Just wondering if your right hand gets tired," Matt had sneered, and the other guys thought that was hilarious.

"Let's go, ladies!" Coach Ward had called, and they'd all hustled to the gym, all except Jacky, who never came out of the locker room, wasn't there when they returned after class, and never showed up again.

"That was mean," Ryan had said to Matt as they walked out.

Matt was still in a mood, and all he said was, "Fuck you."

Ryan may have been captain of the football team, but it was mostly because he was the quarterback and good at remembering plays. He wasn't really close to any of the guys on the team. Lance Turner was his closest friend, but their friendship was more about playing video games and being wingmen at parties than anything else.

Ryan hadn't even told Lance about his mom. Hadn't told anyone at school.

Definitely hadn't told any of them about going to see a shrink.

Most definitely hadn't breathed a word about being gay.

He finished his math homework and then went into the kitchen and heated up one of the many casseroles in the fridge. Back up in his room, he ate while he finished his chemistry homework, then brought his dirty plate back to the kitchen, washed it, and heated up some soup. This he carefully carried to his mother's room.

The cancer that was slowly killing her made it impossible for her to get out of bed, or even sit up without help. It still shocked Ryan to see the big hospital bed in place of the antique wooden one that had once been his grandmother's. Now that bed was dismantled and sitting down in the basement. Ryan had hauled it down there himself.

"Hi, Mom," he said softly, and her eyes fluttered open.

She smiled. Talking wasn't something she did much of anymore.

"I'm just going to sit you up a bit." The bed whirred.

There was a day nurse who came in while Ryan was at school; the night nurse didn't come in until seven and was only there for a couple of hours. The rest of the time, his mother's care fell on his shoulders. He was lucky, he supposed as he spooned soup into his mother's mouth, that Sarah Sullivan had been so active in the church. This was football season, and there was a whole network of nice church ladies who didn't mind coming over and knitting for a while, or baking casseroles. His mother had plenty of friends and coworkers too. He didn't have to worry about cooking or cleaning or leaving his mother alone.

He didn't want to think about what would happen to him after she was gone.

She fell asleep while he was feeding her. He wiped her face and laid her down, then put the soup in a container for later. When he shut off the light in the kitchen, it seemed like the whole house was dark. He hadn't sat in the living room in months. He'd canceled cable while his mother was still in the hospital. Before she'd decided to come home to die.

English homework was next, the only homework he had where he didn't feel like a mindless robot, regurgitating information. He'd figured out the best way to write a paper, laying down a thesis and supporting evidence, so that he could think as little as possible.

By the time he was finished – his English paper that was due in two weeks finished, several chapters ahead in his reading, he heard the night nurse come in, and that was when he got up, put his books away, brushed his teeth and washed his face, and went to bed.

He was so tired, but in the end, he just lay there, unable to sleep.

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