Chapter 12: Andrew

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Andrew couldn't stop smiling. The only damper was that he had to hold his bike up with his one hand, so he couldn't hold Ryan's hand as they walked. That was okay, though.

When they got to his house, Andrew could ditch the bike, but then his hands were full of lasagna and he had his bag, too. "Now I just made this," his mom said, placing the lasagna pan, in a quilted holder, into Andrew's arm. "It's spinach lasagna. Meatless. But spinach has plenty of protein, don't you worry about that! You boys want some bread to go with it? Here, let me cut you up some bread."

Andrew saw the way his mother kept looking from him to Ryan and back. He tried to bite back on his smile. It was almost impossible. Ryan liked him, and they were going to have dinner together.

When they left the house, Ryan immediately took the lasagna pan from him. "I can carry it," Andrew said.

"I want to," said Ryan, and fit his free hand into Andrew's.

All the way to Ryan's house, Andrew could only think about how big Ryan's hand was, how it gripped his firmly, like he wasn't worried about anyone seeing. Who would see, really, unless Matt drove by? Andrew tried not to grip back too hard, in case Ryan needed to pull his hand away.

Ryan didn't.

And Ryan held his hand like he meant it, like he never wanted to let it go. It made Andrew feel warm all over, and excited to get to Ryan's house. He wanted to kiss Ryan's big stupid face, or at least hug him for a while. Ryan's huge bicep pressed up against his felt like it would give a really good hug.

By the time they got to Ryan's house, Andrew's face kind of hurt from all the smiling. Ryan let go of his hand so he could open the door, and Andrew gave the car in the driveway a look. He hoped it wasn't the same creepy lady who had shown up the other day, when Ryan had almost fainted on him.

Then he heard her voice and knew it was.

"Ryan! I'm glad you're back. Your mother's been..." Mrs. Ross broke off and peered at Andrew. "Oh, hello."

"What's going on with Mom?" Ryan asked. He strode into the house, leaving Andrew standing awkwardly at the door. Dropping the lasagna on the counter, Ryan headed down the hall without waiting for Mrs. Ross.

"Oh--" Mrs. Ross hurried after him. "She seemed to be having some trouble breathing..."

Andrew felt his heart hammering. He dumped his bag near the coffee table and edged down the hall. He didn't want to intrude, but he wanted to know if this was something serious.

"Did you check her oxygen tank?" Ryan asked.

Mrs. Ross's hands fluttered around. Andrew wasn't listening to her anymore.

Mrs. Sullivan was in a hospital bed, flanked by machines. It took Andrew a minute to focus on Mrs. Sullivan herself: she was so thin and frail, dwarfed by the colorful afghan on the bed and the machines and the tubes, that she seemed almost to fade into the sheets. Through the doorway Andrew watched Ryan check the tank, and change it out with another tank, and look at the machines and then he looked down at his mother and touched her face.

Ryan spoke so quietly Andrew couldn't even hear him over Mrs. Ross's fretting.

There was something so gentle and soft in the way Ryan talked to his mother that Andrew felt like a voyeur. When he bumped up against the wall he suddenly realized he had been backing away. He wanted to give Ryan some privacy, and he was about to turn and wait in the living room when Ryan looked up.

"Jacky," he said softly. "Come meet my mom."

Mrs. Ross was talking about how she had baked some cookies for him and had left a shepherd's pie in the fridge for him to eat and how she'd be back tomorrow. Andrew walked around her and stepped into the room.

Inside, Andrew could see a bit more of Mrs. Sullivan' personality. The walls were painted bright yellow, and lacy curtains hung over the windows. A braided rug covered most of the polished hardwood floor. Books were stacked everywhere, and scrapbooks, and photographs took up any empty space left. The room smelled like a hospital. Like what Andrew imagined Death smelled like.

"It's okay," Ryan whispered.

Andrew looked up at him. He hadn't realized how much he'd been hanging back and avoiding looking at the person in the bed.

Touching him on the shoulder, since Andrew was coming around the bed and his left shoulder was the nearest, Ryan turned to his mother. "Mom, this is Jacky. The boy I told you about."

Now Andrew had to look at Mrs. Sullivan. She had only a few wisps of hair poking out from under a brightly patterned scarf, and her eyes were warm and brown in her pale face. Andrew felt like she was smiling, though her face didn't move.

"Hi, Jacky." Her lips formed the words, but if there was a voice behind them, he couldn't hear it.

"Nice to meet you," Andrew said. He didn't know what else to say. He didn't know what Ryan had told her. By his choice of words, Andrew figured Ryan had told her how he felt, which made him feel warm all over again.

"Um, I'm just going to sit with her for a while, to make sure she's breathing okay?" Ryan said. "If you want to go home, I don't mind."

"How about I heat up the lasagna?" Andrew said. He didn't want to go home. Even though this all felt really weird, and he was already backing out of the room.

He found himself in the kitchen, looking through unfamiliar cabinets until he located plates, and glasses, and forks, and he figured out the oven and stuck the lasagna inside. It was still pretty warm, but he didn't know how long Ryan might be. At least it wasn't serious. He hated that the thought even entered his mind: it looked serious. It looked like Mrs. Sullivan had only days or weeks left. He gripped the edge of the counter and swallowed hard.

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Author's Note: Okay guys, I hate to leave you here but I'm going on vacation (to Greece!!) for a week and I won't be able to update for a while.  HOWEVER---

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