Chapter 16: Ryan

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"She's really mad at me," Matt kept saying

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"She's really mad at me," Matt kept saying. "I mean, I didn't even do anything."

Ryan couldn't help but point out, "You did go upstairs with Monica."

"I know, that was dumb," Matt agreed. "And if Nina wasn't up that one-armed freak's butt all night..."

"Hey," Ryan said sharply.

Matt hung his head. "Sorry. Like, it's not my fault Brayden called him Edward Scissorhands, you know? Ever since that happened she's been on my case. You know I'm not like that, right?"

Ryan kept his voice level. "Sure."

At this point he just wished Nina would break up with Matt already. He was starting to see why Jacky hated Matt so much. And why Nina was pissed at him. If Ryan had been in that car when Brayden called Jacky that, he probably would have gotten physical. At the very least he would have pulled the car over and made Brayden walk home. After making him apologize to Jacky.

If there had been anyway to skip school today, he would have. He was tired. His mother's monitors kept beeping last night, and even though the night nurse was there to take care of things, he still found himself waking up each time, listening, sometimes even getting up and checking to see what was going on. His eyes felt like sandpaper.

The thing was, no one would care if he had skipped school to stay home with his mom. Not anyone who knew the situation, anyway.

He dragged himself to class when the bell rang. Didn't even notice Jacky until Pre-Calculus. Like in English class, Jacky usually sat in the far back of the room. Normally Ryan barely registered anyone else in Pre-Calc. Ms. May didn't like any idle chatter from her students, and she lectured at rapid-fire speeds, so most of them were too busy scribbling down notes to talk or even make eye contact with another student. When the bell rang, Ryan usually felt like he'd just done suicide sprints. Test days were relaxing.

So when Ryan walked into class and saw Jacky in that leather jacket, he wanted to curse under his breath (he didn't, of course). He did make eye contact when he walked in, and smiled, and Jacky smiled back. Then it was note-taking sprints.

Lunch was more of Matt whining and when Ryan looked over at Jacky, Nina was sitting there with him and Cody Mitchell and some brown-haired girl Ryan had seen sitting with Jacky before. He felt a little twinge of jealousy. Did this girl like Jacky? Then he chastised himself. She was certainly barking up the wrong tree. He should feel bad for her, not jealous.

He barely noticed until English class started that Monica wasn't being as annoying as usual. Sure, she took her usual seat beside him, but she wasn't constantly asking him stuff or making plans for them. He hoped she wasn't expecting him to ask her to Homecoming. Last year they had been on the Homecoming Court – Alex and Peyton had been King and Queen. She hadn't seemed mad about the Halloween party at all. Girls could be so hard to read. He really hoped she wasn't being all passive-aggressive and wanting him to ask her without her having to nag.

Jacky. Leather. He found a few excuses to turn around – cracking his back, reaching down into his backpack for a pencil.

"Ryan?" said Mr. Dugan.

Ryan's head snapped up. He'd been so deep in his own thoughts – Jacky, leather – that he hadn't even noticed the classroom's visitor. She – Ryan vaguely recognized her as an underclassman - had a note, and both she and Mr. Dugan were looking at him.

"Yes?" he asked, even though he knew.

"You're to report to the principal's office." The words ran like fuzz through his brain. He stood up, gathered up his things.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Monica whispered, and he mostly ignored her. Mostly because his body was on autopilot as he left the classroom and headed to the office.

He knew.

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