Ember Morrissey sat on her bed, staring down at an old photograph in a picture frame.
Today she would be graduating from high school. Unfortunately, like so many other things in the past two years, her childhood friend wouldn’t be there to cheer her on.
She missed him, missed him so much. She missed his hugs and the way he made her laugh when she was sad. She missed the way she could tell him anything, and he never judged her. She gave a huffing laugh. She just missed him, period.
Laying the picture aside and staring out her window, she took a deep breath. No use to cry over it though, what was done was done. She still saw Ryker around sometimes, at school and in town. He never spoke to her, though, and would quickly head in the other direction when he saw her.
Picking the picture back up, Ember circled his face in the picture. Ryker Hollington, just the sound of his name, made her sigh with longing. He was two years younger than her, but it had never mattered to either of them. As soon as he’d been able to play with her, he had been her best friend and playmate. When they’d gotten older, they’d become each other’s confidant. They knew things about each other nobody else knew, and she missed the feeling of trust they’d always had for each other.
Now she had no one.
“Ember! Come on; we’re going to be late!” Emerson yelled up the stairs.
Sighing, she put the picture of Emerson, her, and Ryker back on her dresser. Then she kissed her fingertip before pressing it to his sweet face.
“Wish you were still my friend so you’d be there for me today.” She whispered before quickly leaving her room.
“I swear, Ember, the older you get, the slower you move!” Emerson growled at her as she came down the stairs.
Rolling her eyes, she growled back. “If I want anything out of you, I’ll rattle your cage!”
Emerson was her twin brother and had inherited the alpha gene from their mom. When they’d turned sixteen, he’d started trying to use it on her. Why? Because she’d inherited her dad’s omega gene. Emerson figured that meant she was twice as weak. You know, her being a GIRL and all, but she wasn’t. No, Ember gave as good as she got, well, at least with Emerson, she did. When others messed with her, she tended to bow down.
Anyway, her not standing down to his demands only increased his anger. Which, honestly, she found funny most of the time.
“Don’t get smart with me, Ember!” Emerson yelled next.
“Children, that is enough now. Come eat your breakfast and try to be civil to each other,” Dad suggested from the kitchen.
Ember just sighed and followed her brother. She missed her brother from before they were sixteen; she didn’t like this new grumpy version.
Dad says it’s because Emerson hasn’t found his mate. She figured the alpha in him made him more aggressive, and a mate was needed to calm him. Regardless, it didn’t make it any easier to live with, whatever the reason.
“Ember, did you invite anyone besides Deanna to your party in two weeks?” Dad asked as he sat a plate in front of her.
Ember looked down. “No, Dad. I don’t have anyone to invite.”
She was a bit of a loner and found it challenging to make friends because she was the less outgoing twin. Maybe it was because of her omega gene, or perhaps it was just her personality. Whatever it was, she had two friends… well, one friend now, and that was pretty much it.
“Aren’t you going to at least ask Ryker?” Dad asked her softly.
Ember shook her head, not bothering to look up. Dad didn’t know why Ryker had stopped coming over suddenly. So, when something important to Ember happened, he always asked if she’d told Ryker.
Ember didn’t really know what had happened to make him leave her either. The only thing she could think of was the conversation Ryker had had with Emerson. After talking to her brother, he’d pulled a disappearing act and hadn’t spoken to her since.
“Your dad makes the best cake, Ember!” Thirteen-year-old Ryker exclaimed as he licked his lips.
The two of them were now sitting in the porch swing after finishing their slice of birthday cake.
“Yeah, he does,” Ember agreed as she snuggled sleepily into his side.
It was strange, but today when Ryker had come for her and Emerson’s sixteenth birthday party, Ember felt something was different about him. For one thing, when she’d hugged him, she’d had a hard time letting him go. Then it had upset her when he smiled at her friend Deanna. Now she just wanted to stay next to him and monopolize his time.
Ember didn’t know what was happening to her. It wasn’t a mate thing because she felt no tingles, and his scent hadn’t changed. She’d had a bit of a crush on him for a while now, so maybe that’s all it was. Her teenage hormones were kicking in and all that. She wouldn’t act on her crush since they could both end up hurt whenever one of them found their mate.
“Hey, Ryker, come here a minute,” Emerson called. “I need to talk to ya.”
Ember almost whined when Ryker moved.
“Hush, lazy! You shouldn’t be sleeping at your birthday party anyway,” Ryker had teased as he flicked the end of her nose.
“Whatever,” Ember grumbled at him as she watched him leave. She then lay down in the swing and closed her eyes. However, she was no longer sleepy, just cold and lonely. Confusion filled her as she tried to puzzle out why she was feeling that way.
“What is wrong with me?” Ember grumbled as she finally got up and went inside thirty minutes later. “Mom, have you seen Ryker?”
“He left probably twenty minutes ago. I thought you knew that?” Mom answered.
Pulling out her phone, she had tried calling him, but all her calls went to voicemail. Then she’d texted, but he never answered those either. He avoided her the rest of the summer, and when school started back, he ignored her there too.
After that, she gave up on him and their friendship.
Hearing a throat clear, Ember pulled herself from her memories to find Emerson frowning across the table at her. She ignored him and turned to Dad, who was watching them closely.
“It’s so sad how your friendship ended. The three of you use to be so close,” Dad commented, a knowing look in his eyes.
Ember didn’t know how to make him understand what she didn’t even understand. So, she shrugged and said nothing.
“That was a long time ago,” Emerson bit out angrily.
“Friendship like that doesn’t just go away, son. It must be thrown away. The question is, which one of you three threw it?” Dad asked. Then with one last ‘, I know more than you think’ look, he left.
Emerson growled before he stood and stomped off.
Ember sighed. That is a question I’d like the answer to also. Unfortunately, Ryker isn’t talking to me, and the relationship between Emerson and me has deteriorated to the point I can’t ask him.
“Come on, kids,” Mom called. “Don’t want to be late for your graduation.”
Ember stood up and straightened her blue sleeveless dress before she headed for the door. You might as well get this over with.
It wasn’t that she’d miss school, but she would miss the glimpses of Ryker that going to school gave her. Ryker’s birthday was two weeks after hers and, since he’d just be turning sixteen, he still has two years of school left.
Ember missed his friendship and figured she always would. In her heart, she still had hope that one day they would be friends again, and somedays that was what kept her going.
“Come on, Ember,” Emerson growled loudly from where he stood next to the car.
Ember growled back as she hurried down the walkway to the car. Once she got in, Dad cranked it, and away, they went.