At this point, he barely even felt the tears that ran down his nose and dripped onto his sleeve and the couch cushions. His head hurt, a narrow point between his eyebrows, stabbing into his brain. He wiped off his eyes and rolled onto his side as best he could, folding his legs up and facing the back of the little couch. Staring at the weave of fabric, he did his best not to think, not about the future or the past or even the right now.

The walls of Ms. May's office were thin, and he could hear almost everything going on a few feet away. He could hear students arriving, some in tears, some needing to discuss college applications, and others who were just running errands for the office or a teacher. He heard someone who sounded like Matt Welch mutter something about an appointment, but he couldn't be sure, as he'd never heard Matt sound so quiet and unsure.

The commotion had a nice rhythm and flow to it, lulls and waves, an ambient noise between the bells that marked the end of each class and the beginning of the next. Ryan didn't really know how long he'd been laying there, in Ms. May's office.

"Why can't you tell me?" Jacky's voice cut through his stupor.

He couldn't hear the secretary's response.

"So you can't even tell me if he's down here? I just want to make sure he's okay. He's my friend."

Ryan still couldn't quite hear the secretary. The only word he could make out was "confidentiality." He struggled to get up off the couch.

"Yeah, I know what that word means," Jacky snapped. "If you'd listen to me, you'd know that my mom is basically his legal guardian right now, and he's living at my house, and if he needs to leave school, I can call—"

Jacky stopped talking, because Ryan had opened the door to Ms. May's office, and Jacky saw him. With a nasty look back at the secretary, Jacky approached him. "Are you okay?"

Ryan stepped back so Jacky could come into the office with him.

"You can't go in there," the secretary said, as Ryan closed the door.

"God, I can't even deal with people," Jacky said, then took a deep breath and asked, "Are you okay? Are you hungry?"

For a minute Ryan thought about that. Was he hungry? He shrugged.

"Ryan," was all Jacky could say before Ryan wrapped him up and pulled him down to the couch with him. "Ryan," Jacky tried again, "you know it's lunch time?"

"Okay," Ryan said.

Despite Ryan's arms holding him close, Jacky maneuvered his bag open and pulled out a lunch sack and proceeded to pop open a few Tupperware containers.

"That's what you bring for lunch?" Ryan asked. When he'd thought of lunch, he had only considered sandwiches or pizza, and the thought of those things made him feel queasy. What Jacky had wasn't going to make him feel full, and it wasn't going to sit heavy in his stomach. He picked up a baby carrot and pushed it through the hummus before popping it into his mouth. The crunch was satisfying.

"I'm sure my mom packed you something too." Jacky took a carrot and ate it after watching Ryan devour a few. And when Ryan was done with the carrots, Jacky took a fork out of his lunch bag and handed it over so Ryan could shovel the eggs and, "What is this green stuff, spinach?" into his mouth.

"I was worried, when you weren't in class," Jacky said finally.

"I thought I could do this." Ryan knew it wasn't an apology. He set the fork down in the empty container on his lap and squeezed Jacky tight. "I thought it would help."

"Maybe it did help," Jacky said. "You're eating. That's good."

Ryan nodded, and swallowed down the nausea that followed. He rested his head on Jacky's shoulder, and Jacky rested his head on Ryan's head.

"How long did it take before you felt normal again?" Ryan asked.

He felt Jacky stiffen a little against him. "I... never really felt normal again."

It took Ryan longer than it should have to understand Jacky's response. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. Another tightening of the hug. "I forgot."

Jacky exhaled a little laugh. "Well, I guess I feel kinda normal right now."

"I guess I meant more about your dad," Ryan mumbled. "I didn't think about... everything."

"I don't know. Sometimes I feel like it's never going to be normal, ever. I'm always going to wish he was around. And Becca. Like, my mom wouldn't be up my butt so much if he was around. He was the one I always talked to about my problems, because he was so... calm, and he let me figure things out on my own." Jacky sighed. "My mom likes to try to control everything."

"She seems pretty cool to me," Ryan said.

"Seems. That's the operative word."

"Well, not everybody's mom would let their son's boyfriend—" Ryan's voice dropped to a whisper for that word, "live with them. I mean, she's only met me a couple of times."

"According to Monica, everybody's parents would love to have you live with them."

He didn't want to talk about Monica. "So what does your mother try to control?"

Jacky moved a little, got himself comfortable. He sighed. "She keeps trying to take me driving."


Rolling his head, Jacky gave Ryan a look. "My dad and my sister died in a car accident. I lost my fucking arm in a car accident."

"Oh. Right." Jacky kept looking at him, and that was when Ryan remembered, through the fog of grief, Jacky's behavior when Mrs. Jennings had driven them home from the hospital. And how that was the only time he'd ever seen Jacky inside of a moving vehicle. "Are you... scared... of being in cars?"

Now Jacky rolled his head away, and twitched his shoulders to shrug. "I keep having panic attacks."

Ryan didn't know what to say. He couldn't imagine having a panic attack over something as routine as being in a car. All he could do was hug Jacky even tighter, until Jacky laughed and said, "You're gonna break my ribs!"

Ms. May chose that moment to return to her office. Ryan released Jacky, who fell over and scrambled to keep all the lunch Tupperware from falling off his lap.

"Well, it seems you have a visitor," Ms. May commented. "I trust that means you're feeling better?"

Ryan pressed the lid shut on the last container and handed it over to Jacky. "I, uh... I guess, a little."

"Let me write you a pass, then." Ms. May pulled out a notepad. "What's your fifth period class?"

"Gym," Jacky answered for him.

Ms. May examined him over the tops of her glasses. "And who might you be?"

"Andrew Jennings. Ryan's staying at my house. Until the funeral." Under Ms. May's unsettling gaze, Jacky couldn't seem to stop talking. "I wanted to make sure Ryan ate lunch."

"I see." She handed the slip of paper to Ryan, and wrote out another. "And what's your fifth period class?"

"Same as Ryan's."

Silently, Ms. May handed Jacky his pass, and Jacky stood up. "You sure you're okay?" he asked Ryan. "Do you want me to call my mom?"

What Ryan wanted was to sit on the couch with Jacky. And hug Jacky. Once he hit the school hallways, he knew he couldn't do that.

Or, he could hold hands with Jacky, or put his arm around Jacky's shoulder, but then everyone would have questions, and he couldn't deal with that, either.

Waiting RoomRead this story for FREE!