Chapter 12: Ryan

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When Ryan left his mom, now sleeping again and breathing normally, he found Jacky staring out the window over the sink. He touched Jacky's shoulder, and Jacky flinched against the counter.

"Sorry." Jacky raked his hand through his hair. "Uh, the lasagna should be ready. I also warmed up the bread."

"Okay," Ryan said, and he slipped on some oven mitts to pull the glass pan out of the oven. Jacky was quiet as he sat down, and Ryan thought he knew why. "So, that's my mom."

Jacky cleared his throat. "I... didn't expect... that she was so... sick."

"Yeah." Ryan slopped some of the pasta onto his plate, then served Jacky, who held his fork and didn't start eating.

"Are you worried?" Jacky asked.

Ryan didn't answer for a while. He just pushed food into his mouth. Mrs. Jennings was a better cook than most of the church ladies – of course, this was fresh, and not frozen.

"I mean, about after."

Swallowing, Ryan almost just nodded. That wasn't a fair answer. Maybe for one of the church ladies, or for Monica. But not for Jacky. "Yeah," he said, and with that word he felt his face start to do that thing that meant he was going to cry.

He didn't want to do this. Not today. Why had he agreed for Jacky to come over? He knew why. He had wanted Jacky to help keep Mrs. Ross from being so handsy. He had wanted his mom to meet Jacky, at least once. He had wanted to share this part of his life with someone who might understand. Jacky had lost a parent, too.

Still, he didn't want to cry. So he set down his fork and put his knuckles in his eyes and willed the tears away.

He wasn't ready to pull his fists away when he heard Jacky's chair scrape back. His knuckles were wet. And he definitely wasn't ready when Jacky threaded his arm into the space between his neck and his arms and wrapped around. It startled him enough to pull his hands away. Jacky couldn't just put his arm around Ryan's shoulders: it was the wrong direction, and Jacky's didn't have an arm on that side. Jacky pushed his way in, and it was so easy to wrap his arms around Jacky. The only problem was that now he had no way to push the tears back in, and they all came out in a gasping rush.

It felt good to let it out. He hadn't, not in Dr. Burns's office, not even when he was alone in his room. He held Jacky's imperfect body against his and it made him know both that there were worse things than his mother dying, and that he could survive this.

He could survive this. So often his thoughts turned to stopping the pain, of letting his mother go and then letting himself go, but here was Jacky in his arms and he wanted this, this, and he gripped Jacky so tight that Jacky couldn't stay standing up. He tried, but then Jacky was easing into his lap and curling his arm tight around Ryan's neck, and that was one more reason to keep on going.

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