He didn’t come back. He was gone.
His words replaying repeatedly in my head. I holed myself up in the room refusing to come out. Brandon has knocked every hour since morning but nothing around me mattered.
“Ryleigh, you really need to open this door,” Brandon said for the ninth time.
I hugged my body closer as if it will protect me from the pain that was radiating throughout my body. I missed him. I missed him so much it hurts. I miss falling asleep next to him. My eyes landed on George and Raina and the lump in my throat grew.
Tears ran down my cheeks as I remembered the day he got Raina for me. The look on his face. It was too much. My vision blurred.
“Ryleigh, please, open the door.” Brandon pleaded.
“Leave me alone.”
“The dinner is starting in an hour. You need to get ready and be down there.”
“I don’t want to.” I cried.
“Ryleigh, mom will come up here. Do you want it to be her or me?” He asked.
I know my mother. She will force her way in. She’ll call security. She’ll break through those doors faster than I can blink.
Sniffling, I stood up and wiped my tears, but they just keep running. I walked to the front door and pressed my forehead against it.
“Can’t you tell her I am sick?” I told him.
“I think everybody knows that it is not true. They heard you guys last night in the lobby.” Brandon replied.
I feel empty. I remember the look in Axel’s eyes. He was hurt. I hurt him. I was the one who inflicted pain when all he was trying to do was make me understand.
“Ryleigh...” Brandon started again.
“I’ll be down. Just leave me alone for now.” I said quietly.
There was silence and a few minutes later his footsteps leading away from the door. I swallowed the lump in my throat and walked to the bathroom. I washed my face but saw how swollen my eyes were. I didn’t get any sleep at all last night after Axel left.
I took a quick shower, dried my hair, and slipped on Axel’s t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. I tied my hair up into a bun and sullenly walked down to the conference room where everybody was.
The second my mother saw me, her eyes narrowed, and her lips pursed. She made her way towards me.
“What the hell are you wearing?” She glared at me.
“I don’t have time for this.” I shrugged her off and headed for the table. She grabbed my elbow and brought me back to look at her.
“Ryleigh, this is a dinner before the wedding. You should dress-”
“You know what, mom? I don’t give a shit. I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. I don’t fucking care if I am wearing sweats and a t-shirt. ” I glared back at her, pinning her with my eyes.
She recoiled as if I slapped her. The look of shock apparent on her face.
“Do not take that tone with me, young lady-”
I rolled my eyes, “All my fucking life, I’ve tried to be the daughter you always wanted but all I get from you is ‘you’re too fat’ and ‘you need to lose the weight’. I’m sick of it. This is me! This is what I am.” I said louder.
The voices in the room died down. Everyone stopped to stare at us. My mother shifted uneasily from foot to foot.
“We will finish this after dinner.”
I shook my head, “No, we will finish this now. I’m done, mom. I’m done trying to be the perfect daughter.”
Tears running down my cheeks and I wiped at them furiously. Angry at myself from showing them a sign of vulnerability but also strangely relieved. I am exhausted mentally and physically. I feel like everyone had beat me down internally and there are no bruises to show. No one sees what their words do to me. Everyone attacks my image and I let them.
“Stop!” I screamed at him. My eyes also pinned on him. He clamped his mouth shut.
“I’m sick of everyone. I’m sick of all your fucking words. I’m sick of the way you all treat me. I don’t deserve this! I am human just like all of you! I am not an animal. I don’t live in a cage where you can ridicule every day! I have feelings! I get hurt!” I growled, fisting my hands at my sides. I glared at everyone that was before me.
“Ryleigh, stop.” My mother tried interrupting.
“I want you to love me for who I am.” I cried harder. “But all you do is hurt me. I am your daughter. You should love me. You should encourage me. You should not be one of them. You shouldn’t beat me down. You shouldn’t kill me slowly. Your words mean more than theirs, yet you are the one that hurt me the most.”
My mother looked like I slapped her in the face. Guilt flashed in her eyes.
It seems like my whole life was crumbling down. I was falling apart but this is the truth. This was everything I have been holding back for years. This was what was killing me.
“Ryleigh, this is my wedding. Can we do-”
“Shut up!” I snapped, glaring at Emery. “I’m repeatedly reminded that this is your wedding.”
I laughed, it was fake but internally I was dying inside, “You think you have a degree and a rich husband and that means you are better than me, but you are what you are and that is a transparent and selfish bitch. All my life, I’ve competed against you even when I didn’t want to. I was forced to.”
Emery didn’t say anything. She only looked at me, but I was too far gone to embarrass. If I am going to let loose now, might as well say it all.
Distantly, I heard Christina laughing and rage boiled underneath my skin. I pinned her with my eyes and her eyes widening slightly. Everyone turned to face her.
“Axel is mine!” I took a step towards her. Brandon wrapped an arm around my waist to stop me from attacking the woman. The woman smirked, and I made another move to attack her.
“You bitch. He didn’t want you, yet you pushed your plastic body onto him.” I sneered and attempted to remove my brother’s hold.
“You make yourself all high and mighty talking shit about me, but your beauty is a cover up for what’s underneath! You are a spineless bitch!” I growled, letting all my frustration out through those two last words.
“Ryleigh!” My mother snapped. “You will return to your room!”
I clenched my jaw, pinning everyone with an angry glare before I retracted. Brandon slowly let me go. I turned around before I decided that I had one more thing to say.
I turned back to face what I thought was family.
“I’m leaving and I’m never looking back. If this is what family is, then I do not want a part of it. You are supposed to stand next to me. You are supposed to be what holds me strong when I am breaking apart but now I know you that I can’t rely on you. I know that I need to do this for myself.” Tears ran down my cheek.
“Ryleigh...” My brother said softly but I couldn’t. I couldn’t look at him.
I walked out of the room. Out of the people that I thought was my family. The people that should make me feel like a person, not a thing. The very people who beat me down every day.
When I got up to my room, I started packing. I wasn’t going to stay here another second. If I did, I’ll tear Christina’s fake wig off her head and possibly break a plastic nose or two. I shoved all my clothes into my luggage before my eyes landed on George and Raina. My broken heart seemed to be in endless pain.
I pulled them close and exited the room. Brandon was waiting for me in the lobby. A small smile on his face.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I can’t stay here.”
He smirked, “I know, and I understand. I am proud of you.”
I looked up at him, tears still in my eyes. He cupped my cheeks.
“You fought for yourself today. You didn’t let them tear you down. You fought back, Ryleigh. I have never been prouder.”
I cried and threw myself into his arms. He held me close.
“You are beautiful...inside and out. I have never thought otherwise. I am just happy that this time you fought back.” He whispered and placed a kiss on my head.
He was right. For me to be able to move on and be the person that I know I can be. I needed to fight for myself. I will never be perfect, I know that now. I am bruised and scarred but this is me. This is who I am. I was born to be this person and I’ll be damn if I let anyone tell me anything else.
“Let me take you back to the airport.” He offered, and I nodded.
It was a rough ride back home but when I finally made it. It was late, and I am exhausted from crying. My eyes were so swollen I can barely see. I sullenly made my way up the stairs to my apartment door. My eyes landing on Axel’s door.
It was closed. I wondered if he was in there. A part of me wanted to rush over and knock, demand that he opened up but I was ashamed of what I did to him back in Spain.
I opened my apartment door and entered. I took in the familiarity of my apartment and all I could see was what Axel and I did together in here. How he and I first met. Him airing out my apartment because I burned the food I was cooking. The way he cooked food for me. How he left me food every day. The nights we watched movies together.
I didn’t think I could cry anymore but the tears that were running down my cheeks were clear signs that I was wrong. It hurt so much.