Chapter 8: Ryan

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"Hi," Ryan said to Jacky when Jacky shuffled into English class. His eyes were red. Pot, probably, Ryan figured. Once again he wondered if Jacky could get him some.

Jacky didn't say hi back. Just looked at Ryan as he walked by. Ryan had expected to see bloodshot, tired eyes – instead Jacky had those same intense blue eyes Ryan had noticed yesterday, hot and angry. Wasn't pot supposed to make you mellow and happy?

Ryan felt stupid for even saying hi. So what if Jacky had given him a ride? He probably just felt sorry for Ryan, like everyone else who knew about his mom. It had probably been Mrs. Jennings's whole idea to give Ryan a ride to Monica's, and Jacky was just doing whatever his mom told him to.

A burn crept up the back of his neck as he remembered his panic attack and how he'd ended up with his face on Jacky's chest. He'd thought about that moment last night. All night. He had tried to imagine his pillowcase as Jacky's sweatshirt, and then...

But there was no way Jacky could know that. So stupid, to think that moment had meant anything. Jacky probably thought he was a freak. Like Jacky would ever have a panic attack.

Then again, Jacky had also saved him from Mrs. Ross.

No, it was stupid. He was stupid. He buried his face in his hands and rubbed at his eyes. Stupid for thinking Jacky might actually like him as a person.

"Hey Ryan. Are you okay?" Monica's hand on his shoulder.

"I'm fine," he said, lifting his head and slipping on that practiced smile.

"So, I didn't get a chance to ask you on Sunday... did you still want to do Bonnie and Clyde with me? I asked around and Peyton has a fedora you can borrow."

Alex's party again. Ryan took a deep breath. "Sure. It's Friday night?"

Monica gave him a look. "No, it's Saturday night. Friday night we have a game. Remember?"

"Oh, yeah," he said.

Leaning in, she whispered, "Are you okay? Like, really okay?"

"Yes," he said wearily. "I'm just tired."

She rubbed his back. "Maybe you just need to relax."

"Kinda hard to do, when I have practice every day this week."

"You know what I could do?" Monica whispered, because the bell was about to ring and Mr. Dugan had started writing on the board. "After practice today? I could come over your house. Give you a massage."

Oh, god, that was the last thing he wanted. He felt all his muscles clench up a little bit and hoped she couldn't feel that. "Uh, I gotta do my homework."

"Yeah, me too. But wouldn't that feel nice? To have a massage before we study?"

Ryan swallowed and looked up at Mr. Dugan, willing his teacher to start class early. "I don't know." A massage would feel nice. Maybe if someone else were giving it. Like if Alex would come over and straddle his back and rub his muscles... Or Jacky...

Jacky? Ryan rubbed his face again and shrugged his shoulders. The guy only had one arm, it wouldn't exactly be fair to ask Jacky to do that. Geez, like Jacky would do that. He needed to get his head out of Jacky's sweatshirt and think realistically. Jacky didn't like him like that. He had dealt with Ryan's panic attack without making fun of him. And given him a ride home on his bike. That was it. Jacky didn't like Ryan. Not really. And definitely not in that way. Jacky didn't even know Ryan was gay.

The bell rang. Thank god.

Monica moved away. "We'll talk later," she whispered.

Throughout class, Ryan felt Jacky's presence behind him. He wished he could turn around and see if Jacky was looking at him. It felt like Jacky's eyes were boring holes in the back of his neck. Ryan's body felt hot, his jeans so tight even when he shifted his weight, making the chair creak.

The last time he had felt like this was in eighth grade, when he had realized he had a crush on Alex Harrison.

They used to sit next to each other at lunch all the time. Joked around, like guys do. Then Ryan had a wet dream. About Alex. Alex looking at him at lunch, and smiling, and putting his hand on Ryan's leg under the table. Because it was a dream, everyone else kind of faded away, and then they were actually sitting up on the bleachers at the high school football field, all alone, and Alex asked if he could put his hand down Ryan's pants. Dream Alex had barely gotten Ryan's pants unbuttoned before Ryan woke up from the dream with a start, the front of his boxer shorts and stomach wet.

After that dream, Ryan had barely been able to look at Alex. He was afraid that if Alex smiled at him, he'd pop a boner, and then everyone would think Ryan was gay. Over the next couple of months, Ryan came to realize that he was gay. It took about that long to figure out how to act normal around Alex. To not constantly blush and get flustered and feel self-conscious about every move he made, sure that Alex would see and think Ryan was a nerd.

Even as Ryan took notes on the class discussion, he began to realize, uncomfortably, that he now felt the same way about Jacky.

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