Chapter 18.1: Ryan / Jacky / Ryan

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In the morning Ryan rubbed his eyes and peeled his face from Jacky's leather jacket

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In the morning Ryan rubbed his eyes and peeled his face from Jacky's leather jacket. There was a bit of drool. He was wiping it off when Jacky cracked his eyes open. "Hey," Jacky said, his voice croaking.

Ryan tried to smile. His face felt wooden.

Jacky pushed himself up. "I'll just go call my mom, if you want." He winced on the word "mom."

Ryan nodded and looked down at the floor.

He felt so empty.


By the time Jacky got back to Ryan, a girl was sitting there with him

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By the time Jacky got back to Ryan, a girl was sitting there with him. Brown hair pulled back into a messy bun, red glasses, and a sweater with a reindeer pattern on it. Ryan was listening to her and nodding and mumbling.

"Hi," Jacky said, since Ryan was just watching him approach.

"Oh, hi!" The girl stood up, and now Jacky could see she had a name tag. He could also see that she wasn't as young as he had originally thought. Mid-twenties, maybe. "I'm Allison, Ryan's social worker."

Jacky shook her hand, and he caught her eye drift over to his arm. "Hi," he said again.

Allison turned back to Ryan. "It's totally up to you," she said.

Unsure of what was happening, Jacky picked up his bags and looked at Ryan, who stared back at him. "What's going on?" he asked quietly.

"There's an open bed at a group home," Ryan said, his voice flat. "So I would stay there until they find a foster family for me. If they find a foster family."

"My mom said you could stay with us." Technically, she had only said for a night. Now that Jacky had heard Ryan's options, though, he couldn't stand the thought of Ryan going to a group home. "I just called her," he explained to Allison. "She's coming to pick us up."

"Here's the deal," Allison said, pushing her bangs out of her face. They flopped back into her eyes. "If Ryan decides to take your mom up on her offer, I will still need to talk to her first, and check out your house to make sure it's compliant. Ha ha, I'm sure it is, but we have to do it, you know. But, it might be better for Ryan to get right into the group home environment. He'll have 24/7 support, crisis counselors right there in case he needs them, and he'll be with other kids going through similar situations."

Jacky clenched his jaw. I went through the same thing, Jacky wanted to say. But he hadn't gone through the same thing. He still had a parent left after his dad. "Okay," he said finally.

He waited for Ryan to say he'd rather stay with Jacky, but Ryan just stared at the floor. Ryan didn't seem to be in a talkative mood. Rather, he looked like he wanted go to bed and not get up for a hundred years. 


Ryan shuffled after Allison and Jacky down to the lobby to wait for Jacky's mom

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Ryan shuffled after Allison and Jacky down to the lobby to wait for Jacky's mom. He kept his hands firmly in his pockets, even when Jacky tried to reach out. Jacky's fingers circled his wrist for a brief moment before withdrawing. They walked the rest of the way to the lobby, each of them with his hands shoved in his own pockets.

Ryan knew that if he held Jacky's hand, he'd be tempted to crush Jacky into a hug and break down again. He felt too exhausted to cry anymore.

He was only vaguely aware of Mrs. Jennings arriving, and a discussion with Allison. "You're welcome to stay with us," Mrs. Jennings said. "At least until the funeral."

The floor tiles didn't have a pattern. At first he had thought they did. Three off-white tiles, then one gray tile, with a row of white in between, and the next row had the gray tiles staggered to the first row, but then there were a few gray tiles that didn't fit the pattern. And the grain of the tiles had no pattern at all. They were up and down and side to side with no rhyme or reason that he could see.

"Ryan, what do you want to do?" Allison asked.

He didn't know. He didn't know anything. Why couldn't someone just make this decision for him?

Part of him wanted to go to a group home. There nothing would be expected of him. No one would know him. He might have a chance to be invisible.

But if he did that, he knew it wouldn't be so simple. There would be paperwork. There would be new people he would have to meet. He would probably have to talk. He would probably have to share a room. He would not be left alone.

He felt Jacky's hand creeping around his wrist again. "Ryan?" Jacky whispered. He let Jacky tug his hand out of his pocket, and just like that, he was clinging to that hand like a life raft.

He found his voice, though it was a hoarse whisper. "I'll stay with Jacky."

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