Chapter 16.2: Ryan

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Ryan woke up around noon with a massive hangover

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Ryan woke up around noon with a massive hangover. He groaned, looked over at his clock, and bolted out of bed. Too fast – he had to stop and stand there for a long minute, swaying.

The night nurse wouldn't have woken him – she had been staying overnight the past few nights, because his mother kept having problems breathing. She would have just waited for the day nurse to arrive, pass on information, and leave. But the day nurse ought to have woken him. Unless...

He groaned again. Mrs. Ross was probably sitting in the living room, watching one of her Hallmark movies and knitting. Going to his dresser, he fished out a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, then slipped out of his room and across the hall into the bathroom to see the damage.

Despite how he felt, he didn't look half-bad. Hair needed combing. It was only when he went to wash his face that he remembered kissing Jacky.

Hands down on the sink to steady himself. Had he really done that? At a party, where anyone might have seen them? He vaguely remembered closing a door and locking it. Good. He remembered very clearly Jacky's costume. Why hadn't they done more than kiss? Grinning a little, he laughed silently to himself. He should call Jacky. After he got rid of Mrs. Ross.

"My, my, you certainly slept in!" the older woman called out when Ryan headed down the hall and into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and stared into its depths, willing himself to have an appetite. Nope. He poured himself a glass of water. "Not that you don't deserve to do that every once in a while. You work so hard."

That last came out as a purr and Ryan suppressed a shudder. Mrs. Ross stood in the doorway to the kitchen now. He turned himself sideways and gulped down some water.

"Yeah, I can't believe I slept so late," Ryan said. "I guess I was really tired." Mrs. Ross wouldn't have known that Ryan had been out until something like three a.m., right?

"Well, boys will be boys." Mrs. Ross was just standing there, watching him.

"Yep. Well, I've got loads of homework, that should keep me awake all afternoon. How's Mom?"

"You know, honey, I hate to be the bearer of bad news."

Until now, he'd been avoiding looking at her. Now he found himself searching her face. "What?"

"Paula – that's the day nurse? – she said she doesn't think it will be long."

Ryan blinked hard and looked away.

"Oh, honey, I don't mean to upset you." The floor creaked as Mrs. Ross approached, and Ryan tried not to cringe away as she put a hand on his arm. "I just don't want you to be caught off-guard, that's all."

"I'm fine," he said automatically.

"Ryan, dear, you can't bottle away your emotions like this."

Something inside of him snapped. "Thank you, Mrs. Ross. I really appreciate everything you do. I have to go do my homework now."

"You can always talk to me," Mrs. Ross said, plucking at his t-shirt as he hurried away.

"I have a therapist," he called over his shoulder.

Originally he had headed for his room, but he quickly took a detour into his mother's room and closed the door. Sagged against it. Closed his eyes. Reminded himself to breathe.

"Ryan..." His mother's croaked voice woke him back up. Unlike Mrs. Ross's voice, his mother's voice didn't needle into his hungover brain. He rushed to the bedside and took up her hand. The skin of her palm felt dry and paper-thin.

"What do you need, Mom?" he asked.

But she didn't say anything more. She only coughed a little, and he checked her oxygen tank and the different monitors. In the precious moments she was awake, she squeezed Ryan's hand and the way she looked at him told him everything he needed to know.

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