Chapter 7: Ryan

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When they exited the car at Monica's house, Jacky shut the door and muttered, "I don't think I've ever seen anyone kiss that much ass before."

"I was just thanking her for the ride."

"Now I know why all the teachers love you."

They shuffled up to the door, with Jacky letting Ryan take the lead. "Thanks for... at the house..."

"Don't mention it," Jacky said, not looking at him.

The door opened and Monica stood there, smiling. "Ryan! I was getting worried about you!" Her smile disappeared when she saw who stood behind him. "Oh, hi, Jacky. Did you guys... come here together?"

"Yeah, Jacky's mom gave me a ride," Ryan said.

Jacky glared at Monica until she stepped aside and let them in. Ryan nudged Jacky with his elbow and hissed, "Be nice."

In the living room, Wally sat on the couch, looking super awkward. There was a plate of cookies and glasses of milk set out on the coffee table. Ryan settled himself in and grabbed a handful of cookies.

"Okay, so I took the liberty of writing up a few notes," Wally said, pulling out a folder with a sheaf of pages covered in his neat, straight up-and-down handwriting. "A first draft. I just wanted to make sure we covered all of the relevant themes."

Jacky slumped onto the floor. "Well, I brought my markers." He pulled a set of markers out of his backpack and tossed it onto the table, wrinkling Wally's papers and knocking into a glass of milk.

With a huge sigh, Monica said, "Okay, then. Let's get to work."

Over the course of two hours, Ryan sketched out a rough draft of their graphic novel, using mostly the work Wally had already done. Jacky picked at his shoes, checked his phone, doodled on a blank piece of paper. A few times, Ryan specifically asked Jacky for his opinion, just so he didn't feel left out. Monica and Wally seemed intent on doing exactly that. Or at least, Monica did. Wally seemed mostly concerned with making this "comic book" (said like a dirty word) as scholarly as possible.

Finally they had a good enough rough draft that Ryan could then draw a final draft for Jacky to color. "See? He didn't really have to be here," Monica whispered as they were all getting ready to leave. Jacky had already texted his mom and was waiting outside.

"You could have made him feel more included," Ryan said. "He's not a bad guy. He's in an honors class; he's just as smart as everyone else."

"Whatever. He's rude." Monica finished putting the cookies away. "Do you want to stay for dinner tonight?"

"I gotta get back." Ryan edged toward the door. "Jacky's mom is giving me a ride."

"Ryan." Then it happened, exactly what he was trying to avoid: Monica hugging him. Pushing at him. Wanting more from him than he could give. "Please don't push me away. I care about you. I can help you, if you let me."

"I know," Ryan choked out. He really did want to push her away. He couldn't tell how much of that had to do with trying to keep his emotional walls up, and how much had to do with feeling like Monica was using this whole situation as an excuse to come on to him.

He put his hands on her shoulders gently extracted himself. "I'll call you later," he said, and quickly walked outside to wait with Jacky.

Blinking, head down, he came to stand at Jacky's side.

"She's pushy, huh?"

"Yeah," Ryan said, his voice mostly back to normal. "Uh, so, I was thinking, if you wanted to get together and color some pages while I'm drawing them, it might be good, you know?"

When Jacky looked up at him through that unfamiliar shock of black hair, his eyes looked so, so blue. "Yeah. Okay."

It only took Ryan a few moments to realize that the quirk of Jacky's lips was meant to be a smile.

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