Chapter 4.4: Ryan

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Jacky smelled like pot.

Or rather, his hoodie did. It had a smoky sweetness to it. Ryan had never smoked pot. His friends weren't much into that; Coach didn't often require drug testing, but someone had heard that traces of marijuana were in your hair for a month after the last time you smoked, so none of them did it. Alcohol was easier and cheaper to come by, anyway.

He wondered, as Jacky rolled to a stop in front of his house, if Jacky might be willing to sell him some pot.

Immediately he stomped that thought into the ground like a used cigarette. Jacky had only been sort of nice to him today. Most of the time he didn't seem to like Ryan at all.

Neither did any of his "friends," when it came down to it. They didn't actually like Ryan. They just liked that he was popular and a "good kid" and he knew they used him more to tell their parents, "Oh, that party? I'm going with Ryan Sullivan." When Ryan talked about anything other than football, his words were drowned out.

They didn't care. No one did.

"Thanks," he said to Jacky without looking at him.

He went inside, had a conversation with Mrs. Ross – her hand on his arm, "Oh, call me Betty!" - like he was reading a script. Hi, how are you, did she wake up? Weather's so nice for this time of year, thank you for the casserole, have a nice night! He never called her Betty, it didn't seem right. She was in her fifties. The way she always made sure to touch his arm grossed him out a little. And yet, if she pushed at him hard enough, he knew he'd probably let her do whatever she wanted to him. Gay or not, he didn't have it in him to keep pushing people away. Over the summer, he'd gotten pretty drunk and made out with Monica. Twice.

After Mrs. Ross left and he let out a breath of relief, he settled in to do his homework. Except he kept thinking about Jacky. The way he smelled. How, with his arms around him, Ryan had been able to feel each time Jacky took a breath. How, if he'd turned his head forward, Ryan would have been able to kiss the back of Jacky's neck.

Shaking his head, he pulled out an earbud, listened for the wheeze of the oxygen machine, back to homework.

He'd long since gotten over his crush on Alex Harrison. The guy had announced it as his goal one day in the locker room freshman year: "I'm gonna bang every one of those cheerleaders." And he had gone about doing just that, until he'd fallen for Peyton Demarco, who put him in his place. Luckily, Alex hadn't gotten around to schmoozing up Monica. Alex was a fun guy, and Ryan always had fun hanging out with him, but he definitely didn't agree with the way Alex treated girls. Even with Peyton to keep him on a tight leash.

Since Alex, Ryan hadn't really found himself attracted to anyone else. Not even Tyler Gomez, who was on the football team, who was also openly gay. That was what had happened to Billy Malone – he was dating Tyler. Ryan just wasn't really attracted to either of them. His only options, really.

Other than Jacky.

Ryan rubbed at his eyes. He didn't want to think about Jacky. Just because he was Ryan's only option didn't mean Ryan had to have any feelings about him one way or another. He was sure Jacky wasn't thinking about him.

Homework wasn't happening. He stood, joints creaking, from his desk and pulled out his earbuds, lay down on his bed. When he faced his windows lying down, bright fall leaves and the dimming sky were all he could see. His chest didn't seem to want to let him breathe, not even when he hugged himself tight.  

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