Ryker Hollington stood in the shadows at the back of the school gym, watching the graduation. He almost hadn’t come today, but he figured if Emerson didn’t see him, he’d be alright.
As he watched, Ember gracefully walked across the stage after her name was called. She shook the principal’s hand before turning to smile so her parents could take her picture. Watching her smile for the camera, he saw the falseness of it. He frowned because she looked so unhappy.
He sighed because now that he thought about it, she hardly ever looked happy anymore. He saw her in the hallways sometimes with her friend Deanna and notice she hardly ever smiled. Sometimes she would look up and see him, and for just a moment, her face would light up. He would quickly hurry away, though, not wanting her brother to catch him.
Yeah, that’s right, he’d been warned to stay away from Ember. Why? That part was a bit unclear. It had something to do about her having a crush on him, and it would only end up hurting her when he met his mate. That’s what Emerson had told him. At thirteen, this had confused him because Ember had never shown any signs of being anything but his friend.
What about when she met her mate? After all, she was older and would meet hers first. When Ryker had said as much to Emerson, the older boy had shrugged. Then Emerson noted that as an omega, it might take longer for Ember to find her mate.
So, Emerson was worried about Ember being hurt… he guessed…? Wasn’t it up to Ryker and Ember, though, to decide how their friendship continued or ended?
Ryker shrugged. It made no difference now because the older boy had put the fear in his thirteen-year-old self with a few threats. So, tucking tail, he’d turned and left that day. Whether that had been the right decision or not, it was too late to cry over it now.
Seeing the graduation was now over, Ryker slipped out the door and made his way home.
“Where’d you slip off to?” Ryker’s mom asked as he walked in their front door.
“I went to the graduation.”
Mom lay her knitting down. “I had forgotten about that being today. Well, your brother Benson was looking for you, something about a tree?”
“Yeah, he got some kind of tree at his club meeting. He asked if I’d help him plant it,” Ryker explained to her. “I’ll go find him now.”
He turned to face her.
“Why would you go to graduation? Did you speak to the twins, makeup with them?” Mom asked.
Ryker looked away. “I don’t know why I went, and no. Emerson hated me then, and Ember probably hates me now. So why bother.”
Mom had been the one to hold him when he’d come home crying from the birthday party two years ago. He’d begged her not to tell dad, but he knew she had. Dad hadn’t said anything, just squeezed Ryker’s shoulder the next day and said he loved him. He knew it was his dad’s way of letting Ryker know he was there if he needed him.
“Come here, Ryker,” Mom commanded softly.
Walking over, he sat down, and she wrapped loving arms around him as she kissed his head. “I love you, son, and so does your father. I don’t know exactly what happened because you won’t tell me, but I know it hurt you a lot. I also know that as close as you were to Emerson, you were even closer to Ember.”
Ryker gave an almost humorless laugh. “Yeah, and look where it got me.”
Mom sighed and sat back as he pulled away from her. “I don’t know if I ever told you this, but Minnie came and helped me for a couple of days after you were born. Being the firstborn of an enforcer, you were a big baby, a baby I ended up having in the woods instead of in a hospital. The fact that I’m human didn’t exactly help, so recuperating took a while.”
Ryker leaned back so he could look at her as she talked.
“Minnie brought the twins with her to fetch and carry she said. They, of course, had just turned two, and she said it would be good for them. Anyway, Emerson pretty much ignored you…” Mom gave a slight giggle as she shook her head, “…but Ember, she was fascinated. She’d been so excited about me having you, and once you were here… well, she couldn’t get enough of you,” Mom said with a chuckle. “She was so cute, asking questions and telling me every time you twitched. It was quite amusing to watch, really.”
“Isn’t nurturing a sign of being an omega or something?” Ryker asked.
Mom shrugged. “I don’t know about that. All I know is that Minnie commented that day that has stuck with me.”
“What did she say?”
“You had begun to cry after I lay down for a nap, and Minnie went to get you. Ember beat her there, though, and had already snuggled up to you on the mat you lay on. She told me how you had gone quiet as Ember rubbed your chest. Then she heard Ember tell you, ‘you are a pretty baby Ryker, and I love you already. We is gonna be the best of friends when you gets old enough’. Minnie told me then that she knew the two of you would be close to the point it might cause problems later.”
“Mate problems, son,” a voice said from the doorway.
Turning, Ryker found his father standing there.
“A bond that strong, forged in early childhood, would surely come between mates because you would be torn between your loyalty to your friend and the love of your mate,” Dad continued.
“So, maybe Emerson was right in telling me to stay away from her,” Ryker stated sadly.
“No, son, if that’s what he did, then he was wrong. He didn’t have the right to throw away the friendship you shared with Ember because it wasn’t his to throw. If he no longer wished to be friends with you, then that was his right, but he didn’t have the right to make that choice for her.”
“I agree, it was her right, and hers alone, to break her friendship with you,” Mom said.
“Well, it doesn’t matter; what’s done is done,” Ryker told them.
“Are you sure about that, son? It’s never too late to mend fences,” Dad argued.
Ryker stood up. “I’m sure, Dad. For weeks, she tried to call and text. Then she tried talking to me at school. I’m pretty sure by ignoring her for two years, I’ve shattered our friendship beyond repair.” Ryker told them as he walked out of the room.
He missed the sad look his parents gave him as he left the room and his dad’s comment of, “A friendship of thirteen years. He needs to mend that fence, more than he realizes.”