Allison was running a little late, and then she insisted on stopping at the Dunkin Donuts drive-through for a coffee. "I was up half the night, got a call at two a.m. I've had, oh, about four hours of sleep," she said. She also bought him a coffee too. "You want cream or sugar or anything?"
"Just black," he said. "A small."
It hadn't been until he had buckled his seatbelt in the driveway of the group home that Ryan had remembered Jacky.
He vaguely remembered Jacky holding his hand in the car on the way to the church, and how his hand had been super sweaty and he had been gripping Ryan's hand so tight. At the time, Ryan remembered feeling annoyed, because he hadn't wanted anyone touching him. He had wanted to fade right out of this world.
Now, however, he realized that Jacky hadn't been trying to be clingy. Jacky was afraid of even riding in cars. He'd said he had panic attacks all the time. Jacky had probably been having a panic attack then, and was trying to hold it together so he didn't upset Ryan, and then Ryan had gotten out of the car and just walked away. Left Jacky there alone to pull himself back together.
And hadn't Jacky said something to him as he was leaving with Allison? Something about how Ryan should call him? Well, that wasn't really Ryan's fault. His phone had been taken away. But he could have asked to use the house phone to call Jacky... if he had even had one thought about Jacky this whole time.
He choked down a few sips of the bitter black coffee, feeling like he deserved the nasty taste in his mouth.
Allison seemed relieved later when he said he didn't feel like going to the movies.
"Now Ryan, remember, if you're not up for going to school tomorrow, you don't have to. The school will excuse up to a week's absence, and you've only used three days."
Leigh, the pink-haired staff person, came out as Allison brought Ryan inside. "Anything new?" she asked.
He shook his head, but Allison had a whole list of new things. "We picked up some things from home, and there's some new toiletries and stuff."
"Any new medications?" Leigh clarified, as she pulled out the inventory sheets again.
Apparently that necessitated a heated discussion in the staff office with the door closed, like that meant Ryan couldn't hear. "...don't think he needs something? Came in here with pills..."
"...environmental stressors, grief is a natural emotion and he needs to experience it, not have it dulled by medication!"
"And how are we supposed to... with that here? The reality is that we need him to follow the structure. We're not staffed for a kid on suicide watch!"
"Medication is a last resort..."
Ryan waited on the couch in the living room. Outside, Sean, Dave, and Ricky were playing basketball. The couch had an unidentifiable stain right in the middle of the cushion beside him. Ryan tried to flip the cushion and found a similar stain on the other side. It looked suspiciously like someone had peed on it. Twice.
A sort of rage started burning in his chest. Who was Leigh to think she knew everything about Ryan, that she could diagnose him in five minutes and decide he should be on medication? His cheeks grew hot. He probably should have been on some kind of antidepressant this whole time. But he had managed to keep it together. He could keep it together now. Even if it was just to prove Leigh wrong. Besides, he'd only been here two days, and he hadn't caused any problems. He hadn't complained about not being able to have all his stuff, or about having to do chores.
He supposed they weren't staffed for him to stay home from school, either.
"Are you just.... sitting here?"
Ryan looked up at Pete. "Yeah."
"You're not even listening to music," Pete said. After a beat, he asked, "Dude, do you even have an iPod? Or even one of those cheapie mp3 players? A Walkman, maybe?"
"I have a phone," Ryan said. "An iPhone."
"Do you have any music on it?"
Ryan shook his head.
"Dude." Pete stood with his hands on his hips, looking away. Finally he stepped forward and removed the headphones from around his neck. "Here."
"What?" Only two days and Ryan knew this was big. "I can't take your headphones."
"Come on." Pete went to sit down next to him, but saw the stained cushion and sat on the other one. "You got earbuds?"
"In the office."
"Then here. Take them."
"But what are you gonna do?"
Pete made a duck face and squinted into middle distance. "Blow your mind."
Author's Note: SO - I have received my first rejection on Waiting Room, but then Wednesday I received an email from a different agent who wanted to read the first chapter! Fingers crossed!
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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...