Chapter 26: Ryan/Jacky

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Then suddenly it was four o'clock on Saturday afternoon and Ryan had no idea how it had happened

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Then suddenly it was four o'clock on Saturday afternoon and Ryan had no idea how it had happened.

The morning had been a blur. Laundry. A trip back to his house to get his suit, which hadn't been as emotional as he had expected. Later, collapsing in the shower, with the running water washing away his tears, and emerging with all evidence of that erased.

The ride to the church had seemed like he was shuttling through space. The blur of passing trees and buildings was only interrupted by the feel of Jacky's clammy hand gripped tight around his. Then he was there, at his mother's funeral, and he blanked out. Just as well. The wooden box at the front of the church didn't look like anything, most certainly not something his mother would be lying inside. It was just a box. The blown-up photograph on top of the coffin was just a photograph, one he'd seen a thousand times. It had been taken at his eighth grade graduation. Ryan had been cropped out.

He knew he was expected to sit in the front pew. His hands were empty; Jacky had let go as they got out of the car. Now Lance was there at his side. Ryan hadn't realized what a good friend Lance was. Ryan also hadn't realized that without Lance on his one side, and Jacky on his other, that he would have been alone in that front pew. No relatives, and though his mother had many friends and coworkers, none knew Ryan well enough to assume that they should be one to stand up there. Monica and her parents sat in the other front pew, on the other side of the aisle. Ryan didn't look at her. Alison sat near the back of the church. Ryan didn't look at her either.

He felt like a husk of himself, sitting there, the words of the pastor blowing past his ears without meaning, and afterwards, everyone shaking his hand or hugging him and saying they were so sorry, so sorry for his loss, and he nodded and thanked and hugged and the reception was more of the same, and now it was four o'clock and Alison was there and she was asking him if he was ready.

No, he was not.

"Is Ryan mad at me?" Monica asked, at what was possibly the most crucial moment of the day

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"Is Ryan mad at me?" Monica asked, at what was possibly the most crucial moment of the day.

Alison was over there, talking to Ryan, probably getting ready to take him away, and Jacky was stuck talking to Monica.

Jacky had watched Monica out of the corner of his eye through most of the funeral. He had no doubt her grief was real; she'd been Ryan's "girlfriend" for years, so she definitely knew his mother. She blew her nose into tissue after wadded up tissue (at one point, Mrs. Johnston gave her a look and Monica scrambled to shove all her tissue balls into her purse, and Jacky wished he'd slapped that phone out of her hand a little harder). It made Jacky wonder if maybe Monica should have been at Ryan's side instead of him. He'd only met Mrs. Sullivan once.

And the one time he had reached for Ryan's hand, Ryan had jerked away. After that, Jacky had left a good amount of distance between them.

After last night, Ryan's distance hurt. Jacky thought it had been good, Ryan talking about his feelings like that. But maybe it had just been the magic of nighttime, how the dark made it easy to confess things, throwing words out into a void like they were mere thoughts. All morning Ryan had been quiet and as emotional as a wooden block.

The one time Jacky had touched him had been in the car, and for the most part it had felt like Ryan wasn't even aware that Jacky had his hand in a death grip while he had a minor panic attack. When they'd arrived at the church, Jacky's mom had pulled out some tissues and hugged him and mopped the sweat from his face while Ryan drifted toward the church. He had pushed her away with an, "I'm fine, Mom," but then when he saw Ryan walking away like he hadn't even noticed what Jacky was going through, Jacky turned back to his mom and hugged her and whispered, "Thank you."

And then there was the moment in the church. Jacky knew he shouldn't have even tried. Ryan had made that very clear yesterday, but Jacky had thought Ryan was doing that thing where he bottled everything up and if he just had someone to cling to, he would open up and actually grieve for his mother. But no. And Lance had given him a look that said he didn't think Jacky should have been standing where he was, either. Jacky hadn't been Ryan's friend for years and years.

"I don't know," Jacky told Monica finally. "He's been... not in a good place, all day. I don't think he's mad at you, though, if my opinion matters at all."

Monica was wringing her hands and watching Ryan talk to Allison. "Okay. I just—I thought he'd be happy about it, you know? Having a place to live. I don't know. I feel terrible about this whole thing." Monica devolved into sobs again. "I feel like, if I hadn't been trying so hard to get him to want me, maybe he would have told me about his mom, and then he'd be coming to live at my house and he wouldn't be going off to some... some... place."

"I'm sure it's not a bad place," Jacky offered. It was looking like the only way to fix this particular situation was going to be hugging Monica. "I mean, we'll still see him at school. He's not going to disappear."

"But he could have lived with meeee..." Monica wailed.

So Jacky hugged her.

This at least gave him something to do that didn't earn weird looks from Ryan's friends. It also gave him a chance to really see who was here. Of course the football team, which meant Tyler Gomez (not Billy, though, thank god) and Matt Welch. Jacky wasn't sure why he thought Cody should have been there, since he hadn't mentioned the funeral to him, but then saw a familiar redhead. Of course, because the cheerleaders were all here too.

Why hadn't Nina come over and talked to him after the funeral? Jacky wondered, watching her fill a Styrofoam cup with coffee. Then he had his answer. She headed straight for Matt.

Of course. It had been less than a week since Nina and Matt had broken up. It was not out of the realm of possibility that Nina had needed a break to think about her feelings for Matt and now decided it would be a good time to get back together with him. Fuck. Cody was going to kill him.

And now Allison had her arm around Ryan and was guiding him over to Jacky's mother, and then Jacky's mom was looking for him and making eye contact that said, Ryan is leaving, he's getting his stuff out of the car, come say good-bye.

"I, uh, I have to go to the bathroom," Jacky said.

"O-oh, okay, uh, sorry," Monica blubbered. She wandered off into the receptive arms of Peyton Demarco.

He made it outside as his mother was popping the trunk. "Are you leaving now?" Jacky asked. His voiced sounded whiny and plaintive and he hated it, especially when Ryan gave no hint of feeling one way or another about leaving.

"Yeah," Ryan said.

Jacky shifted from foot to foot as Ryan slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and grabbed his bookbag and another bag. "Can you call me tonight? Or text me?" When Ryan didn't answer, he redirected the question to Allison. "Can he?"

Allison's answer was noncommittal. "We'll see. It might be late by the time he's all checked in."

"I'll still be awake. I'll wake up." He reached out and grabbed Ryan's arm when Ryan started to walk past him.

Ryan shook him off, and extended his hand. A handshake? Jacky stared at it, his face heating up, until the moment went on a little too long and he grabbed that hand and shook it.

Then Ryan was gone, going away, and Jacky couldn't do anything but watch him go. "Bye," he managed to say.

Ryan gave no indication that he had heard.

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