Ryan didn't call Saturday night.
Ryan didn't call on Sunday. And when Jacky tried to call him, sometime around eight, it went straight to voicemail.
By Monday morning, Jacky would have been more worried, but he figured Ryan would be at school. He headed out a little earlier than usual, hoping he'd have a chance to talk to Ryan before class. As he rode headfirst into a biting November wind, Jacky talked himself down. Ryan was in a new place, with new people. Maybe there had been a lot going on at the group home, or some group activity, that meant Ryan didn't have the time to call him back. Or maybe Ryan wasn't allowed to have his cell phone there? The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Ryan's phone was probably on the same plan as his mother's, and maybe he'd had to switch it into his own name or something.
Jacky hung out by his locker as long as possible without feeling awkward. Monica saw him and waved a little, but she didn't come by to talk to him. Cody wasn't around – two Mondays in a row would have been a miracle. Eventually he couldn't shuffle his books around anymore, and he headed to his first class of the day, which unfortunately was not one he shared with Ryan, so he didn't know until third period that Ryan wasn't in school.
He stared at the empty seat until Monica walked in, and she saw him and saw the empty seat and mouthed, "Where's Ryan?" to him. He shrugged and mouthed, "I don't know," but Monica had gotten there just ahead of the bell, so they didn't have time to talk before Mr. Dugan started class.
Throughout English class Jacky worried and tried to come up with theories. Maybe the grief had finally hit Ryan, now that he was at the group home. That had to be it. Or Ryan could be sick, that was also possible. Luckily, Jacky had their group assignment and he could turn that in to save Wally from developing a stress ulcer, but after class Jacky hurried up to Monica. "Have you heard from Ryan?" he asked.
"No, you haven't either?" Monica asked. "Oh, no. I thought he was just mad at me. Oh, no."
They headed into the hallway together. "I tried calling him last night but it went straight to voicemail," Jacky said. "I haven't tried texting him. Maybe I should text him."
"Do you know where this group home is? My mom could probably drive us over after school. I have practice but this is way more important."
"I don't know the address," Jacky moaned. "It's probably confidential or something. My mom might have his social worker's phone number."
"Maybe we shouldn't panic." Monica held out her hands and took a deep breath. "It's only been a day."
"Right. Maybe he's just upset after the funeral and everything. I mean, he only took like two days off from school."
"Yes. Good thinking. He just needs some time."
"Or, I thought maybe he was sick. You know how sometimes when you're stressed out you get sick. He could be sick."
"Maybe." They came to an intersection in the hallway where they would need to part ways. "Okay, we won't panic. You can get in touch with his social worker, and tonight we'll both try calling and texting."
"Okay." Jacky snapped off a salute before heading to his history class.
Jacky followed the plan. He tried calling Ryan again when he got home from school – same as before, straight to voicemail. He left a message: "Hi Ryan, this is Jacky. I just wanted to see how you were doing... You weren't at school so I was a little worried. Call me back, okay?" He tried texting a little while later. Nothing.
"Mom, do you still have Allison's phone number? You know, Ryan's social worker?" Jacky asked as his mother walked through the door, arms laden with groceries.
"Jacky," she said breathlessly. "Do you think you could give me a hand with these before you bombard me with questions?"
"I can give you one hand," Jacky said, and took some of the bags off her arm.
"Your sarcasm is unnecessary," Mrs. Jennings huffed. She dropped the rest of the bags on the counter along with her purse. "I've had A Day."
Jacky muttered an apology and went outside to get the rest of the groceries out of the trunk. There were only a few more bags left and he closed the trunk and rejoined his mother inside. "So do you?" he asked her.
"Do I what?"
"Have Allison's number."
"Oh, for the love of God. Here." She dug through her purse, pulled out her phone, and handed it to Jacky. "What are you calling her for?"
"Ryan hasn't called me," Jacky said. "Or Monica. I just want to make sure he's okay."
"I'm sure he's fine."
"Then why hasn't he called me?"
Mrs. Jennings sighed. "I'm sure there's a very good reason."
Jacky ignored that and went into the living room before dialing Allison. The phone rang and rang, but no one picked up. Jacky left a voicemail anyway. "Hi Allison, this is Jacky Jennings, Ryan's friend. Ryan Sullivan. Um, anyway, he hasn't called me since he got to the group home and he wasn't in school and I wanted to make sure he was okay. If you call back this number it's my mom's cell phone." Jacky added his own cell phone number just in case. And the house phone.
All night Jacky waited. Waited for his phone to ring, or his mom's phone to ring, or a text or something from someone. He waited and did his homework and waited and ate dinner and helped his mom clean up and waited.
"I don't think she's going to call you back tonight," Mrs. Jennings said, appearing in Jacky's doorway around ten and finding him scrolling around on his phone. "Remember, she's responsible for Ryan. She'll make sure he's okay."
"If he's not calling me, then he's not okay!"
"Honey." She came in and Jacky sat up so she could sit down on his bed. "I know you care a lot about Ryan, but you have to give him some time. He has a lot of things going on in his life."
"I know," Jacky said. "But—"
"Sometimes other things are more important than being in a relationship."
"I know, Mom. But he hasn't talked to Monica either, and she's his best friend, basically."
"You told me he was mad at Monica."
Jacky looked down at the dark screen on his phone. "I don't think he's really mad at her. Maybe at her mom. I don't know." He rubbed his face. "He was acting so weird the whole day of the funeral. Like, he barely even said good-bye to me. And now he's all alone in that place and he told me he was going to still be at our school but he wasn't in school today."
He might have continued whining, but his mother wrapped her arms around him, covered in a plush robe that was soft against his face, and hugged him and said, "It's okay to be worried, honey."
"But what do I do?" he asked her shoulder.
"I think you've done everything you could. It's just a waiting game now. Hopefully Ryan or Allison will call you back. And if they don't... there's not much else you can do."
Author's Note: I've sent out 6 queries to literary agents for Waiting Room in the past 2 weeks... as of yet, still no rejections, so that's good, right? (I did get a rejection for Victim's Ball from a query I sent out 4 months ago...)
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Waiting RoomTeen Fiction
Everyone at school knows Andrew Jackson Jennings. Lost an arm in a car accident. Openly gay. Future school shooter. Everyone at school knows Ryan Sullivan. Football captain. Nice guy. Future valedictorian. When Andrew ends up in therapy after writin...