"We bumped into Ryan a couple minutes ago," Lance offered up, when Ryan said nothing.
"Sure," said Jacky. "Right. Sure."
"I was coming to meet you," Ryan said finally.
"Yeah, okay," said Jacky.
"Because it's almost five."
"Right, uh-huh. Sure," said Jacky.
"What's his problem?" Lukas whispered.
"What's my problem?" Jacky repeated, loudly. "Yeah, I guess my problem is that my friend here doesn't want to be seen with me in public. Yeah. That's all. No big deal."
"No wonder," said Matt.
Ryan stepped forward as Jacky whirled to unleash his fury on Matt. "Jacky, let's go."
"Yeah, no wonder!" Jacky called out, even as Ryan muscled him away. "Fuck you, Matt Welch!"
At that point, they were far enough away that Jacky knew it was a lost cause trying to pick a fight with Matt, and he turned and jerked his arm, with several shopping bags still looped over the wrist, out of Ryan's grasp. "Let go of me!"
"Jacky, come on. That's not what happened."
"No? You didn't see your friends and ditch me so they wouldn't see us together? Huh?"
"No!" Ryan said. He grabbed Jacky again, only because Jacky was plowing through the crowd and was going to end up hurting someone. "Jacky, no. I wanted to get you a present. I didn't see them until later."
Jacky still didn't look at him. But he did slow down. They walked the rest of the way to Macy's with Ryan holding Jacky's wrist loosely. He felt people watching them. Most of them totally ignored the two boys. He met the gaze of anyone whose eyes dropped to notice the how close they were walking. Yeah, I'm gay. So what? he silently dared them. Their eyes slid on by.
Mrs. Jennings wasn't outside of Macy's yet, so Ryan steered them toward the railing to wait. He kept his hand on Jacky's wrist. Lowered it and stroked at Jacky's fist with his thumb.
"You promise?" Jacky whispered. He had his head tucked down, his chin nearly on his chest. "You didn't ditch me to hang out with them?"
"I promise," Ryan said.
Later that night, in bed, Jacky curled in up Ryan's arms. Ryan was running his fingers through Jacky's hair and sometimes kissing his forehead. "Why do you even like me," Jacky mumbled, because as much as he liked Ryan's comfort, he didn't feel like he deserved it.
"Because you're not afraid to say exactly how you feel," Ryan said.
"So? That's not a reason to like someone."
"I think it is."
"What's a good reason then?"
All this time, Ryan kept combing his fingers along Jacky's scalp.
"I don't know, like, you think I'm really attractive. Or I'm a good person."
Ryan's lips smiled against Jacky's forehead. "I think both those things."
Squeezing his eyes shut, Jacky tried not cry. "But I'm not."
"I'm not a good person, Ryan." Jacky couldn't take it anymore. He rolled over and pulled the covers over his head. His breathing sounded so loud in this new cocoon.
"You can't tell me what I think." Even hearing Ryan's disembodied voice, Jacky could imagine the set of Ryan's jaw. "I think you're a good person. You just like to hide it."
"I'm mean. That's why I don't have any friends. I'm mean."
Gently Ryan's hand slid up under the covers and touched Jacky's bare back. He shivered.
"You know I'm right."
"Sometimes you lash out at people," Ryan conceded. "That doesn't mean you're a bad person."
"It doesn't make me a good person, either."
"Not all good people are nice to everybody."
The hot, dry surface of Ryan's palm circled Jacky's back. Jacky held his breath, waiting for Ryan to respond.
"I wish I wasn't so nice."
Now Jacky had to roll over again. "Why?"
"I used to... stand up for what I believed in. I used to step in if I saw someone getting bullied."
Remembering that day in the locker room, when Ryan had barely corrected Lance on calling him a freak, Jacky couldn't exactly disagree. "What changed?" he asked.
"I... I wanted my mom to be proud of me." Ryan's voice cracked. "She hated when I got into fights at school. But now... I think maybe... she would have rather I stood up for things rather than be nice."
"Your mom would be proud of you either way," Jacky said.
Ryan continued like Jacky hadn't said anything. "And now I think I've lost my nerve."
"What do you mean?" Jacky held his breath.
"I don't know how to even begin telling my other friends about you. Like, I can't imagine having that conversation with them." In the soft glow of the bedside lamp, they looked at each other. "How did you tell your friends?"
"It was a long time ago," Jacky said. He closed his eyes, it was hard to concentrate on talking when he and Ryan made eye contact. "I mean, I pretty much always knew. My sister's favorite movie was The Little Mermaid and we both had a crush on Prince Eric."
Ryan smiled and let out a quiet laugh. "He is rather dreamy."
"Yeah. And my parents were pretty cool with it. I remember when I was nine or ten, my Gramps started in on my dad about 'raising a little fairy.' My dad was like, He plays sports. He does well in school. He's a good kid. Who cares if he's gay? Of course my Gramps wasn't a fan of that but I remember hearing my dad say all that, and so it never really bothered me when kids at school said stuff like 'you're so gay.' I mean," Jacky swallowed, "there was a bad patch in middle school. Mostly because I told Simon Williams – you remember him? I think he went to some private high school. Anyway, I told him I thought he was hot. And he wasn't gay, so he told everybody."
"I guess that's one way to do it."
From the hopeless light in Ryan's eyes, Jacky knew he'd described Ryan's worst fear. "It wasn't that bad, I guess," Jacky said. "All my friends already knew. There were a bunch of kids who called me names. Jack Off Jennings, shit like that." Matt Welch had come up with that one. "I don't know, eventually people got bored or whatever."
"But you didn't have to tell your friends?"
Ryan considered this. "Because you always knew. You never pretended you weren't gay."
Snuggling closer, Jacky said, "Monica knows about us. She's okay with it. She thought it made sense. Remember? If your friends are really your friends, then they'll be okay with it too." Jacky winced. "If I didn't fuck all that up for you earlier."
Pulling Jacky's head to his chest, Ryan sighed. "I wish all this was easier."
YOU ARE READING
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...