Chapter 29.1: Ryan

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When Ryan's phone rang, the staff were all over him

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When Ryan's phone rang, the staff were all over him. "Who's calling you?" asked Darren.

"My friend Jacky," Ryan said. He hadn't even answered the call yet.

"Jacky who?" Hope had what Ryan had come to know as The Log already open, pen in hand.

"Jennings. I stayed with him and his mom before I came here," Ryan said as fast as he could. "Can I answer it?"

Darren nodded.

Ryan pressed the green "Accept" button. "Hi, Jacky?" He was already standing and ready to go up to his room.

"Stay down here," warned Darren.

Ryan sat down at the dining table so he wouldn't bother any of kids watching TV. Almost everyone was down here, even Pete with his headphones on.

"Hi," said Jacky.

"Are you okay?" Ryan asked. "How come you were in the nurse's office so long? You missed history class."

"I'm okay."

"Okay," said Ryan. He glanced over at everyone else, who appeared to be engrossed in the television. He was sure the staff were listening.

"How come..." Jacky started, then sighed. He didn't finish.

"How come what?"

Jacky exhaled into the phone. "How come you didn't stick up for me today?"

"I picked you for my team in gym class." When Jacky didn't say anything, Ryan added, "And I would have gone with you to the nurse's office, but Mac volunteered before I had a chance."

Jacky mumbled something.

"What?"

"I meant before," Jacky said. "When Lance called me a freak."

On the other end of the line, Jacky made a soft sound, like he might be crying.

Ryan remembered that moment with a sudden new perspective. At the time, he'd thought he was being assertive. But Lance's whole question about Ryan and Jacky's relationship had thrown him off.

Now he heard it all again, the way Jacky would have heard it, and he felt like a terrible person. Not only a terrible friend, but an even more terrible boyfriend.

"I'm sorry." Ryan stared down at the table. "He's mad because he thought he was my best friend, so I didn't want to yell at him."

"And you didn't think I would know about it, so who cares, right?" Jacky's voice was sharp. "You didn't even tell him we were friends. I know you're not going to tell anyone I'm your boyfriend, but couldn't you have at least told him we're friends?"

Ryan's voice was thick when he answered, "Yeah." He turned away from the other kids so no one would see how close he was to crying.

Jacky sighed. "I miss you. Already. Do you think you can come over? Like, on the weekend?"

"I don't know," Ryan said. "I have to ask."

"And maybe you can come over for Thanksgiving. My grandparents are coming over."

Last Thanksgiving his mom had still been in the hospital. He and his mom had eaten some of the Thanksgiving buffet the nurses had put together. She had been able to eat solid food then, even though she didn't eat much and threw up later. That night he had gone home to a dark, empty house.

"Hello?" Jacky asked.

"I'm here. Sorry, what did you say?"

"Nothing much, I guess. So you'll ask about this weekend?"

"What about this weekend?"

"About coming over to my house this weekend." Now Jacky sounded mad again. "Unless you don't want to."

"I want to," Ryan said automatically. "I'll ask. Sorry."

Jacky was quiet. Now what? He hoped he hadn't done something else wrong. He replayed every interaction between him and Jacky over and over in his head. Should he have invited Jacky to sit with him at lunch? Or gone over to Jacky's table? It had barely been over a week since they had kissed each other for the first time. Ryan pushed his fist into his eye. He felt like he had aged years since then.

"I miss you," Jacky said finally.

Oh. Ryan's chest tightened, because he missed Jacky too, especially at night. He lowered his voice and turned his back to the living room area. "I miss you too."

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