I didn't sleep that night. I tossed and I turned and sleep didn't come. I couldn't stop thinking about Monika, and Ryder, and the results of their paternity test.
I ended up getting up from the couch and going to make myself some tea. After I had a steaming cup in hand, I escaped outside for some air. The hammock had been broken and fixed quite often since it had first collapsed, and was thus deemed untrustworthy by everyone in the household. I reserved my opinions until I tried it for myself.
I patted and pressed some weight down on its familiar white ropes, and then finally settled into it. I let a foot over the side to rock myself gently under a nicely moonlit sky. Everything became quiet, and thoughts, at last, fell peaceful. This place would always feel the most like home to me, no matter the turmoil that went on within.
The front door opened some minutes later, and Ryder appeared, limping out with cane in hand. He had a cup in his other hand, of coffee, I wagered, poured into one of my own mugs. He made no gesture that he saw me near, and he bent down to sit onto a porch step.
I stopped moving for fear he would notice me. I watched him as he lit a cigarette and took a deep breath of it.
"Couldn't sleep either, huh?" he asked me, without even looking my way.
I shook my head sadly, forgetting he wasn't looking at me and thus couldn't see me shake my head in reply.
Ryder peered up at the moon with squinting eyes, as if it was as bright as the sun. From experience I knew this was his 'thinking face', but it still reminded me of a creepy Clint Eastwood.
"I haven't slept well in ages," Ryder confessed sorrowfully.
I nodded this time, in agreement.
"Me either," I admitted aloud.
Ryder took another lungful of cigarette, blowing out the smoke in a rough stream, as if frustrated. I could only imagine what torment his mind was going through, from the obvious problems, like Monika, and most likely me, not to mention becoming a father, how he was going to not become his own father, etc.
He finally looked at me, his eyes saddened, longing, and visibly grateful to have a chance alone with me.
"I'm sorry about everything," Ryder spoke so softly I had to crane an ear to catch it.
"You have nothing to be sorry about anymore, Ry," I smiled gently back, but he could tell it was only skin deep. I was never any good at keeping my feelings to myself.
"But…?" he pressed me onward. "I know you have something more you want to say, and considering this might be the last moment we have alone together… before, uh…"
"Before you move out with Monika?" I finished for him. He immediately looked elsewhere, which only confirmed my suspicions.
I winced in pain and turned my head to hide the look on my face. I wished it was morally right to say everything I wanted to say before he left the dorm house for good. I thought heavily about bringing up the paternity test, but I knew it wasn't my business. I let my shoulders fall in a soft sigh, and kept my thoughts to myself.
"It's just…" It slipped out before I could give it a second thought. "I know I said I wasn't going to wait for you, but…"
Ryder immediately knew what I was trying to say, and hid his face from me, taking an exasperated sigh.
"…Well, you did say you were going to wait for me," I finished. "And on all our phone conversations, all the flirting and the, you know, the marriage talk… It kinda gave me this hope… I was just wondering when it was exactly that you changed your mind about me, that's all."
"Jons," he shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Do you really think I could possibly change my mind about you? Really? Do you even know me at all?"
I didn't know if that was a rhetorical question or not but I assumed it was. I was too speechless to think of an answer anyway. I watched as his frustration fumed. His guilt was apparent for his confessions. I watched as he hung his head and kept his eyes on anything but me.
"In all truth," he went on at length. His voice fell harsh and angry as he glared at the cigarette in his hand but didn't inhale it again. "I was just depressed and alone, it just drove me to find a substitute to fill the gaping void you left in my chest. Not to mention you sounded pretty done with me when you left."
His growling tone and obvious bitterness hurt me deeply. I had done this to him. This person I loved so much. He must think I abandoned him, even after all our happy conversations that ensued afterwards.
"And that's just it, though, Jonnie," he continued. "Here we are again. Right here, together, just me and you… And I sit here with you, and I'm still so…"
"…Hung up on you," I finished for him. He looked at me and we shared a moment of silence. I could see the longing in his eyes, the wishful thinking, but I knew he still felt held back. After a moment, he looked away again, and I could plainly see the inward battle going on in his mind, as he shook his head again, probably scolding himself for his confessions. His cigarette had gone out with all the talking, and he lit it up again to take another pained breath of it for relief of his screaming emotions. I was overwhelmed with a sense of protectiveness over him, a sense of fairness, and an intense curiosity, to the point of where I couldn't hold in my information in any longer.
"It's not your kid, Ryder!" I burst out suddenly. "Don't you see? She's lying! She's taking advantage of you and I can't let her do that."
Ryder seemed strangely calm to this news.
"Funny, because you just gave her the means to."
I was taken aback.
"I don't get what you're saying."
"You give me so little credit," Ryder retorted. "You thought I didn't know? Sure, it took me a bit to catch on, but she had to know I'd get wise sooner or later."
"I still don't get what you're saying."
Ryder ran a now very shaky hand through his hair, sniffing and hissing in deeply as if trying hard to not let his emotions get the better of him.
"Jons, Monika wasn't the one that hid the envelope in her shoe," Ryder explained. "I put it there myself. It was the only proof I had to show Snake and the others that it wasn't mine."
Suddenly, I got it. It came over me in a sudden wave, and I gasped.
"Yeah," Ryder agreed.
"And I put the shoe right to her own two-- Oh my God, Ryder, I'm so sorry!"
"Forget it," he grumbled flicking the cigarette off into the distance. "It's not like I can't get another one. But Monika and I will be moved out by then. And you're happy with Trent now, so…"
There was a biting sting of spite in his voice, and it brought tears to my eyes. He got up and made to leave me behind.
"Ryder," I sniffed. "It doesn't have to be like this."
My words stopped him from moving, almost as if he welcomed the excuse. It egged me to go onward. I got up to go to him, putting a soft hand to his shoulder and coaxing him to turn around and face me. He fought my promptings, so instead I leaned close to his ear. I felt his muscles tense at my close proximity, and heard a breath that went sharply into his lungs and stayed there. I could feel the electricity charge through my stomach, through my heart and into the tips of my fingers.
"Ryder," I whispered shakily. "Please… I'm right here. You just have to tell me to be with you… and I will…"
Ryder turned to face me at last. The space between us was getting smaller. His intense blue eyes bore into my soul. I ached to feel his mouth on mine, and I leaned close to give him that hint. I felt his struggle to hold back, fighting his obvious desire for me. His traumatized nerves made his hands vibrate, even as he put them up to my cheeks. They directed my head to bow, so he could properly put his lips to my forehead in a sweet farewell.
"You…" he said airily. "You will be the death of me."
He very suddenly let me go, in a rough gesture that bordered violence.
"Please, don't tempt me again," he shook his head in almost disbelief. "Just leave me alone."
Then he turned around and escaped into his refuge of the house.
I heard a distinct growl of frustration from beyond the door, and I felt a sudden rush of guilt and pity come over me for what I had done to him. And I admired him all the more for his nobility to stay true to his current girlfriend. Even though he knew she was lying, he also knew she needed him more than he could allow himself need me.
I took a moment to get over my shock of it all, running through all the words that were just exchanged to catch where I went wrong. I had put myself out there to be vulnerable, and had been very much denied. His decision was clear, and I had no choice but to accept and respect it.
This realization made me crumble onto the patio floor in soft sobs. I just couldn't digest how he could deny what he knew in his heart was love… unless it all was a lie? It just didn't add up.
So, just in case I had any hopes left for sleep that night, it was all long gone by now. I sighed and tried to get my composure back before a neighbor complained or worse, I woke another one of the boys up. I started to replace my shattered muscles one by one, and using my strong willpower to lift myself up off the floor.
I felt crushed. I somehow gotten it into my head somewhere that Ryder would be the only boy I would ever love. That I was done searching, and he was 'it' for me.
It was all…
"You know…" I heard a voice come from nowhere. For some reason, I looked up at the sky to find who it belonged to and I felt like a doofus as soon as I did. "If there is one thing I've learned… It's that there is always more fish in the sea… Just saying."
I finally put two and two together that the front door was closest to Trent's bedroom window. I didn't even face him, but somehow I felt he just knew I was fighting a smile.
"God?" I asked into oblivion as a joke, wiping the tears from my eyes.
"God says you look like you could use a hug…" he went on. "Just saying."