Chapter 25: Ryan

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It felt like the school day would never end. Ryan tried to focus, but he kept thinking about tomorrow. He had to do his laundry tonight. He would need to go back to his house either tonight or tomorrow to get his suit. He didn't want to go back to his house.

His classes were worse when Jacky wasn't in them. When Jacky was there he could latch on to that presence with his mind. Without him, and without Monica, all of Ryan's worries spun out before him uncontrolled. Lunch was a life raft he clung to, and once it arrived, he suddenly realized that he couldn't just go over and sit with Jacky, not when Lance had found him. He made sure to sit so he could see Jacky over there, all by himself, at least until Nina and Haylee and Cody showed up. Even then, Ryan could tell that Jacky was feeling lonely.

He wished he could sit with Jacky, alone at a table, and they could talk like they did last night. But then Ryan's friends wouldn't understand why Ryan left them. "Are you gay or something?" Matt might ask, and then how could Ryan answer? He didn't want to tell them. Oh, your mom had terminal cancer and died, and now you're gay, too? What else aren't you telling us? I feel like I don't know you at all, Ryan.

And then he would lose all those friends, and all he'd have left was Jacky, and what if Jacky decided Ryan was too sad all the time? Then Ryan would really be all alone.

"Is Monica out sick?" he asked the people around him.

"I haven't heard from her." Peyton was the only one who answered with more than a shrug. She pulled out her phone. "Here, let me text her and see."

No word from Monica by the end of lunch. Ryan hoped she wasn't sick. She had seemed fine yesterday.

By the time last period rolled around, Ryan asked his teacher for a pass to go down to guidance. He couldn't do it. He couldn't sit through another class trying to keep up this front.

"You seem like you're doing a little better today, Ryan," said Ms. May when he entered her office.

"I guess," Ryan told her. He sat down and pulled a pillow onto his lap.

"Is there anything in particular on your mind you want to talk about?"

He picked at a thread on the pillow. He'd noticed it yesterday, when he'd had his face inches away from it for several hours.

"Not really," Ryan said.

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