Chapter 31.1: Ryan

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Staying at Monica's wasn't nearly as awkward as Ryan had thought it might be

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Staying at Monica's wasn't nearly as awkward as Ryan had thought it might be.

After picking Ryan up from the group home, they dropped Monica and Ryan off at the house and headed off to spend a night at a hotel near a casino. "Call us if you need anything," Mrs. Johnston said.

"Your parents are cool with you having a party, and they're not even gonna be home?" Ryan asked as they drove away.

Monica shrugged. "They know we're responsible. I told them if things got out of control, I'd call the police myself. Also, you and I will be cleaning tomorrow before they get home."

"I see." Ryan laughed, despite the sudden wish he had told Allison or one of the group home staff that he'd rather have a visit with Jacky this weekend. At Jacky's house, it would have been low-key. Quiet. No cleaning.

Yet he also wanted to drink and listen to loud music, and not talk about his feelings and cry, both of which seemed to happen all the time with Jacky.

Monica was pulling out large serving bowls. "So I bought pretzels, cheese curls, and three different flavors of chips. Also tortilla chips, for the salsa. Do you think that's enough? I could probably order some pizzas."

"How many people did you invite?" Ryan asked.

"The usual crowd."

"Uhhh..." Ryan wasn't sure how to answer Monica's earlier question. "The usual crowd" meant the entire football team and all the cheerleaders, and usually also meant that at least fifty other people would show up.

"Well, you and I need to eat. Can't drink on an empty stomach. Should I order our usual?" Cell phone out and at the ready, Monica waited for his confirmation.

Our usual. That meant half-pepperoni, half-veggie. For some reason this whole exchange brought Ryan back in time, to when they'd been dating. "Um, yeah. Okay."

"I'll order, if you can bring up the keg?"

"You got a keg?" Ryan said.

"Yeah." She looked at him like this was no big deal.

"You know how heavy kegs are?"

"You're strong." Monica flashed him a smile. "It's a half keg, anyway. It's in the garage?" She dialed the phone and stuck it between her ear and shoulder so she could wrestle open a family-size bag of barbecue potato chips.

When he returned, hauling the half-keg and leaving it near the stove, Monica said, "Pizza will be here in half an hour. If we put the keg near the trash, then the cups can go on the counter right there, and that way people will know where the trash is, and not leave their cups all over the place."

"How did you get a keg, anyway? Did Alex hook you up?"

"No," Monica said. "My dad bought it."

Ryan nearly dropped the heavy metal cylinder on his foot. "He did?"

"Yeah. He'd rather have us drink legally than have us pay some drug dealer, or whatever. He locked up his liquor cabinet, though. His good stuff. There's still, like, vodka and rum and stuff we can drink."

"And the keg," said Ryan.

"It's not that big of a deal." Monica opened another bag of chips. "Lots of parties have kegs."

Ryan took a handful of chips. Maybe if he was eating, he wouldn't keep harping on Monica over this. "I don't really think it's legal for us to drink, whether your dad bought the beer or not."

Monica exhaled and faced him with a hand on her hip. "Ryan, it isn't like you've never had a drink before. Come on. This will be fun!"

He tried to believe her. Even as they "party-proofed" the house, hiding all breakables in Monica's parents' bedroom and putting signs on the doors that were off-limits, Ryan didn't have a good feeling.

Pizza, eaten in the newly cleared-out living room, felt weird. He kept remembering when they'd get a pizza before heading out to a party, and Mr. and Mrs. Johnston would stand around the kitchen and chat with them about their future. How their classes were going, what were they thinking about majoring in, would they be going to the upcoming dance? A constant interview.

"Are you going to ask Jacky to go to the winter formal with you?" Monica asked, and Ryan nearly choked on his pepperoni pizza.

"Um." He wiped sauce off his chin.

"Sorry. Sometimes I forget you haven't told anyone else yet. I guess you probably have to do that first?"

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea." Ryan folded his pizza and shoved it into his mouth.

"I don't mean to stick my nose into your business, but if you and Jacky are boyfriends, why don't you sit with him at lunch and stuff? Half the time he sits by himself. You could invite him to sit with us."

Ryan had his mouth full.

"I see you guys looking at each other at lunch. Like, it's super cute. Sometimes I wonder how no one else sees how you look at each other. It's totally obvious. Or maybe just obvious to me, because I know. How long have you guys been dating, anyway?"

Monica waited for him to answer, so he swallowed painfully. "Um, not very long. Since Halloween, that party at Alex's."

"Oh." Monica looked sad for a minute, then her face snapped into a smile. "So not very long."

Ryan wiped his mouth again. The pizza no longer looked very appetizing. "When's the winter formal?"

"January 16th," Monica answered without hesitation. "You have plenty of time."

Ryan calculated the weeks. Less than two months away.

He stared at his uneaten half of the pizza. He was imagining the gym decorated as it had been last year, the soft romantic glow of white Christmas lights strung up across the ceiling and white paper lanterns hanging down. Jacky would be in a suit, a dark blue shirt under the jacket, to match his eyes. He would take Jacky's hand and lead him onto the dance floor.

"I can help you plan it!" Monica was saying when Ryan tuned back in. "I know winter formal isn't prom, but it would be a big deal for both of you, you know?"

"What?" Ryan asked.

Monica looked at him. "Sorry, I like to plan things. You can ask him however you want."

In the quiet time waiting for the first people to arrive, Ryan thought about that. Asking Jacky. The idea made his body go cold and hot in flashes. He wanted to. He wanted to dance with Jacky in front of everyone, so Jacky didn't feel so alone.

"...make sure to keep Matt and Nina away from each other," Monica was telling him when the doorbell rang. 

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Oh, no, who could be at the door???

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