Chapter 21: Jacky / Ryan

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Matt Welch. In his fucking house. This was not happening.

"Ryan's our friend," Matt said, a growl in his voice. "Fuck you, kid. He should be staying with one of us."

"Kid? We're in the same fucking grade," Jacky spat out.

If only he could just blurt out that Ryan was his boyfriend. If only. Jacky looked at Ryan, who looked like he wanted to disappear through the floor.

"Whoa, guys, let's not do this," said Lance, stepping between them.

"You taking his side?" Matt growled.

"Maybe you two should go outside," said Monica.

"This is my house!" Jacky yelled. God, please don't start crying, he told himself. He couldn't even get through the wall of jock to properly enter his own home. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to take a deep breath to calm himself. It helped, when he opened his eyes, to focus on Ryan.

Ryan didn't need his friends brawling. Jacky knew he'd made a mistake, storming in like he did, it was just that the sight of Matt's stupid car in his driveway had made him go red. Ryan looked like he wanted to be a part of the wall, and that made Jacky feel extra horrible about getting pissed at Monica and Matt, who were Ryan's friends and just wanted to help him, after all.

He took a step back, which meant the door was pressing into his spine. "I'm sorry," he said, still unable to look at any of them. "Ryan, I don't mind if your friends stay here. Or if—" His throat closed up a little, and he had a wait a second to finish saying, "If you want to go with them."

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They were all looking at him. He couldn't just tell them to go away, even if that's what he wanted to do. When he didn't answer, Monica touched his arm. "Let's just go sit down for a while," she said quietly. "Watch some TV or something."

Her slight touch led him to the couch. He sat down heavily in the middle, and then Monica sat on one side, while Lance sat on the other – not too close – and Matt sat in the armchair at Lance's end. Jacky sat down on the other armchair, at Monica's end, and after a second, pulled out his phone and texted someone.

Ryan watched him, wishing it was Jacky at his side rather than Lance. He didn't mind Monica. He would have wished for only Jacky, and then they could have sat next to each other on the couch and watched "Brokeback Mountain" again, only this time Ryan could put his arm around Jacky instead of sitting uncomfortably by his side, barely touching.

Although, even if Jacky was beside him right now, he couldn't have done any of that. Not in front of Matt and Lance. He knew Matt's anger at Jacky just now wasn't really Jacky's fault. No, Matt was already angry because Ryan hadn't told him about his mom. If Matt discovered that Ryan had hidden anything else from him, he'd have a meltdown. Which seemed unfair, because it wasn't like Matt was his best friend or anything.

Lance, on the other hand, had gotten quiet. Ryan knew Lance was hurt about the whole thing as well. And he felt really bad about that. He did call Lance his best friend.

"Wow, you can text really fast with one hand," said Matt.

Through the hair that had fallen into his face, Jacky glared. "Yeah. I'm super talented."

Was Ryan supposed to be the one making conversation here? He couldn't think of anything to say.

"Okay, so, does anyone want anything to drink?" Jacky stood up.

"I'll have some milk," said Lance. No one else said anything.

"O-kay," said Jacky, and left the room.

Beside him, Monica sighed. "I'm sorry, Ryan. I'm sorry about your mom. And I'm sorry if you don't want us here. I wish you would have texted me back. I was really worried."

Ryan moved his hand from between his knees over to her hand and held it. He opened his mouth to explain about how his phone was dead, but the words wouldn't come out. His throat felt too tight.

"My grandmother died of cancer," said Matt. "I guess you kind of have to look at it like, at least she's not in pain anymore."

"That's right," said Monica. "She's in a better place."

It was a surreal moment, hearing these platitudes, and knowing that his friends really meant them, and truly felt empathy for him, and all the while Ryan kept thinking about how his mother wasn't in a better place. She should have been here, with him, living the rest of a long and happy life. Not dead at thirty-eight years old. It wasn't right. And yeah, now she was out of pain, and he was glad for that. But why were these people telling him that he should be happy to be seventeen and alone?

Jacky hadn't said any of these things, Ryan remembered, as Jacky came back into the room with a big glass of milk for Lance. Jacky knew how it was. And it was worse for him, because people wouldn't have even said all that junk about pain. What happened to Jacky's dad, and his sister, was a terrible tragedy. What happened to Jacky was a terrible tragedy, too. At least Ryan still had both his arms.

He started to cry.

He'd gotten so good at crying quietly that all he had to do was slip his hand out of Monica's and sink his head down into his hands. He didn't make any of the awful sobbing sounds he'd made at the hospital. When Monica started rubbing his back, Ryan remembered how Jacky had just held him and said, "I'm here." Because he knew. There wasn't anything else he could say that would help.

Jacky was here, and so were Ryan's other friends, and no one knew that Ryan was really crying because he'd just made himself feel better by thinking of how worse off Jacky was. All this time, Jacky had been trying to take care of him and protect him, and Jacky was the one who needed it more. 


Happy New Year, everyone!  Thanks for continuing to read this story, we are at the halfway point, I hope you all don't mind this being so long... 

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