Chapter 22: Jacky

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On Thursday morning, Jacky awoke with a start. Shit. He was still in Ryan's bed.

He had heard his mother heading downstairs. Since he usually slept with his bedroom door closed, she would have seen that it was open. Which meant that Jacky would be in trouble.

Maybe not. She hadn't said anything about him skipping school yesterday, probably because Ryan had been glued to his side all evening. And she'd never specifically told him he couldn't sleep with Ryan. It wasn't like Jacky and Ryan had been doing anything other than sleeping. They hadn't even kissed.

Jacky smiled a little, and lifted his chin so he could kiss Ryan's chin.

Ryan's eyes cracked open. Instead of stretching out like a normal person, Ryan gripped Jacky so hard he couldn't breathe. "Ryan!" he wheezed.

Reluctantly, Ryan loosened his grip. He did not, however, allow Jacky out of his arms. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Jacky said. "I have to get up. Get ready for school."

Ryan's face took on a far-off expression.

"I guess I could ask my mom if I can stay home again. Probably she'll say no. Especially after I skipped yesterday."

Ryan looked at him. "Maybe I should just go back to school."

"What?" Jacky wriggled until he could prop himself up on his elbow and look at Ryan properly. "You really think that's a good idea?"

Without looking at Jacky, Ryan said, "It's probably better for me to just get on with my life."

"But..." Jacky didn't know what else to say. When half his family had died, Jacky had been in the hospital for several months. For him, there hadn't been a way to just "get on with his life." Everything about his life had changed. Except that he'd still had a home, and a mother. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," said Ryan.

With that decided, Ryan allowed Jacky to get up, although he followed close at Jacky's back as they went down to the kitchen.

"Morning," Jacky said.

Mrs. Jennings looked up from her smoothie and the magazine she was reading. "Good... morning. Ryan, you're up."

"Ryan said he wants to go to school today," Jacky told her, and glanced back at Ryan. When he reached up to get two bowls for cereal, Ryan was right behind him, taking the bowls out of his hand. Jacky looked back at his mom.

He wanted her to decide. For her to say Ryan wasn't ready or something. But she looked just as unsure as Jacky felt.

"It's up to you, Ryan," she said finally. "I would like if you could call your social worker and let her know. I was a little surprised she didn't get in touch yesterday. I don't know if you can text her or something."

"My phone's dead," Ryan said.

The word dead hung heavy in the air.

"You can use the house phone. Do you need a charger?"

Ryan looked at Jacky. "Can I borrow yours?"

At least Ryan was communicating, Jacky told himself, as they ate and got dressed for school. "Just remember, you can go down and visit the guidance counselor at any time," Mrs. Jennings told Ryan. "Or you can call me or your social worker to come pick you up."

This was going to be okay, Jacky had to keep reminding himself. The November morning had brought a frost, and they both walked with their hands in their pockets. Jacky wished he'd worn his puffy winter coat instead of the leather jacket.

But as they drew closer to school, he felt Ryan pull away from him. Just a little bit. Enough so that Jacky noticed the space between them, and Ryan's friends would, too.

He still remembered Ryan words, from before: "I can't do it now."

Jacky tried to let it go. It got harder, when they entered the school hallways and Peyton saw him and ran right over and hugged him. "Ryan, I'm so sorry!" she said. And Ryan hugged her back. And then Alex Harrison was sauntering over, and then Matt and Lance and Monica arrived and Jacky had to step aside to make room.

"Dude!" Cody yelped at him, and pulled him off to the side. "You hangin' with the jocks now?"

"No," said Jacky.

"Man, did you skip yesterday? I looked for you at lunch. I had to sit with both Haylee and Nina by myself."

"Yeah. I felt bad for leaving Ryan home alone."

"God, Monica Johnston is so dumb, making you feel bad for that. Like it was your fault or something."

Jacky just shrugged. "It's fine." He didn't feel like defending Monica and he didn't feel like bitching about her, so he changed the subject. "How did lunch go, then?"

"Like, they're becoming friends. I think. But, like, scary ninja assassin friends who could totally take me down in a fight."

Leave it to Cody to provide exactly the kind of distraction Jacky needed. "Ninja assassins?" he repeated, laughing.

"Yeah, dude. Haylee's dad apparently collects guns. And she takes fuckin' archery classes. And then Nina started talking about how her dad collects knives and how he taught her how to throw them. Haylee invited us both over to her house after school today so she could show us. Can you believe she knows how to shoot a gun?"

Jacky tried to imagine preppy Haylee Bishop shooting a gun. Scarily enough, he could, and he imagined she would shoot it with the same precision with which she put together her outfits for school every day.

"You wanna come along? Should be interesting."

"I have therapy," Jacky said, feeling his mood downshift. Today he and his mom were going to hash it out with Dr. Greene. That should be super awesome.

"It's kinda weird, having two girls fighting over me." Cody didn't sound like he thought it was weird at all. He sounded like he thought it was cool. Jacky had to smile at that, but found himself looking over toward Ryan. He was completely surrounded by all his friends now. Jacky could barely see Ryan's blond hair poking up over the other jocks.

"Yo, you hear me?" Cody asked, snapping his fingers in front of Jacky's face.

Ryan had his friends now. He didn't need Jacky there to complicate things. "Yeah, I'm listening," Jacky said.

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