chapter 10 || ryder
When I walked into my cabin earlier, neither Zack nor Hayden spoke to me. They each claimed their own beds and went straight to unpacking. Because unpacking doesn’t last long, Zack pulled out a book and Hayden walked out.
If this is how the next couple weeks are gonna be, it’s gonna be tough.
I saunter into the dining hall, scanning the room to find Kai. If all was going to be shit, at least I would have Kai.
Kai is my best friend. No doubt about it. All my soccer team friends give me constant shit for being friends with a girl, but if it comes to her or them, I would always choose her. Sure, I still hang out with the guys, not as much as I used to before, but it was always an artificial friendship. We never really talked about anything other than soccer, parties, or girls.
Even after Emma came into my life, Kai was my go-to girl. She helped me with the biggest and smallest problems in my life. She listened to me and she talked shit about other people with me. Emma may have been my girlfriend- and don’t get me wrong I loved Emma with every part of me- but Kai? She was just... there. I don’t know what I’d do without her in my life.
“Hey,” a voice says, startling me. I turn my head toward the voice, meeting Kai’s gaze. “You okay? You seem out of it.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just looking for you.” I nod my head toward the table where the rest of our group was sitting. Kai seems to understand the gesture, grabbing my arm and pulling me slightly.
“Hey, guys!” Callie says, smiling brightly. I wonder why she’s here at the camp. She doesn’t act like she lost anyone in her life. I don’t think people who are grieving would be that bubbly.
“Hey Callie,” I respond. If she’s here then she must have a reason to be here. She’ll tell us eventually what it is.
“Ryder, right?” she asks, glancing over at Kai, a mischevious look across her face. I look at Kai, trying to understand what’s happening but catching her mid-eye roll.
“Yeah,” I say hesitantly, still unsure of what happened.
“Hey, guys!” Jayden says enthusiastically, walking up to our table. “They’re going to be doing some karaoke after dinner for the little ones, but don’t be afraid to go up there and sing a bit!”
As soon as Jayden said karaoke, Kai and I share a look. I could carry a tune, but that was the extent of my ability. Even if I was decent, that doesn’t mean that I’m going in front of everyone to sing.
“That would be so fun!” Callie claps her hands together in excitement. I resist the urge to look at her like she’s crazy, but each to their own, right? “Kai, duet with me?” she giggles at her own joke. I chuckle slightly at her attempt to be funny.
“Uh, me? Sing? Funny,” Kai scoffs. “Also, pun noted. Not the best.”
“Oh come on Kai! Be more fun!”
Kai shakes her head rapidly. “Me singing is like mixing vinegar and baking soda. Not good.”
“You can’t be that bad,” Callie disagrees. I snort, finding her naiveness amusing.
“Kai’s right. She can’t sing for shit. One time, me, Kai, and Emma were driving uptown for this carnival and those 2 had a karaoke session in the car. Someone rolled down their window while we were at the stoplight to ask if everything was okay ’cause it sounded like someone was dying,” I recall, telling Callie the story. It was the summer between freshmen and sophomore year and I had driven us up, excited because I had just gotten my license.
I guess you could call it the last summer that we were all truly happy. The last summer she was truly happy.
I tune back into the conversation at hand, which happens to be Callie trying to convince Kai to sing with her. Callie was trying her best puppy dog eyes on Kai, which Kai refused to look at. I gotta admit, she looked adorable when she did that.
I glance over at Hayden, who’s staring at the girls, a small smirk playing on his lips. “Hayden, right?”
His head snaps toward mine. “Yeah?”
“You said earlier that you play football. What position?” I ask, trying to make conversation. Hayden might not want to socialize with me, but if I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks living with him, I might as well try. Same with Zack, but he’s busy talking to Jayden about something.
“Quarterback,” he replies, before tugging on the sleeves of his hoodie and diverting his attention back to the girls.
Okay then. Not in the mood for socializing. I go back to listening to the girl’s conversation, which turned into an intense debate about the freshness of Mcdonalds’ chicken nuggets.
I smile to myself, glad to see Kai happily talking to someone other than me for a change. After Emma died, the only person our age she would talk to willingly was me. She disconnected herself from any other friend she had besides Emma.
“Hey, wanna get out of here?” I whisper into Kai’s ear once the younger kids had started karaoke with the adults.
“Finally! I thought you were really about to put me through this torture.”
I step out of my cabin, dialing home, breathing in the night air.
“Ryder!” I chuckle slightly, glad to know that she’s missed me.
“Hey, turtle. Miss me yet?”
“Not a bit, butthead.” I can almost hear her smiling through the phone. “So, how’s camp going?”
“Well, turtle, it’s not bad. I miss home though.” I can honestly say that I missed home. I missed my tree and my bed. I missed my family the most.
“It’s only been a day, Ry. At least wait a couple more days before being a baby,” Alex says, calling me out. She’s only 11 years old, but I swear she’s smarter than everyone I know. I wonder when she became so grown up.
“I, my little sister, am very, very, hurt by that,” I joke. It feels nice to be able to joke around with my little sister as if nothing is wrong. It feels normal.
“Good. Then that means my job here is done.”
“Very funny, Al.” There are a few moments of silence between us over the phone. “I really do miss you guys though.”
“We miss you too, Ry. But at least you’re gonna get better, right?” Alex questions. I wish I could tell her that everything will be okay, but I can’t. I can’t promise her that, no matter how much I want to.
It’s just not possible.
Not without breaking her heart.
“I really hope so, turtle. But enough about me, how are you?” I switch the subject.
“God, Ry, how did you live without me for 6 years? Mom is insufferable!” I hear Alex flop on her bed, something she does when she says something dramatic but doesn’t really mean it.
“What are you talking about? Those were the best years of my life!” I tease. “Nah, but I get it. Mom’s just being mom. It’s her job.”
“Wise words, brother. But still,” she whines.
“Hey, if she’s really bugging ya that much, go over to Reece’s house. I’m sure the Steeles’ won’t mind you spending the night,” I offer. I used to do that all the time when I was her age. The Steeles’ treated me like one of their own, never letting me feel left out.
“Smart idea. Thanks, big bro.” I hear someone, most likely my mom, shouting for Alex. “Crap, Mom needs me. I gotta go,” Alex says, disappointment lacing her voice.
“I’ll call you soon, okay turtle?”
“Okay. Love you, bye!”
“Love you more,” I reply, hanging up right away. I stare at the black screen, wondering when if Alex was okay. Obviously, Emma was my girlfriend, but Alex loved her too. Emma was always so kind to her, always there to play with her. Of course, she also had Kai, but Kai wasn’t a girly girl. She wasn’t very approachable either. Emma was her go-to girl for girl problems.
Emma was always everyone’s go-to girl.
She was loved by everyone.
So why’d she feel the need to kill herself?
I settle into my bed, grabbing my notebook. Jayden said we had to write something every day, whether or not we shared it. He said we could write anything we wanted; from our deepest, darkest, secrets, to what we ate that day.
“Ryder?” a quiet voice asks. I doubt it’s Hayden. He doesn’t seem to be the type of person to be so vulnerable sounding.
“Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if that person wouldn’t have died?” Zack asks, still in the fragile voice.
Do I wonder what my life would be like if Emma was still here? How she would laugh at my bad jokes and how she would cry when a dog died in a movie? How she’d spend her weekends not at a party but at home curled up with a book? How one day, when I asked her to marry me, how she’d say yes, and we’d both be emotional messes on the floor?
“Yeah. All the time.”
Zack doesn’t say a word, sniffling quietly.
I turn my focus back onto the blank lined paper in front of me. Within seconds, everything comes pouring out of me.
Why? Why’d you do it? Why wasn’t I enough for you? What made you kill yourself? What made you take the fucking bottle of random pills and shove them down your throat?
Why’d you leave me like this? Not even a proper goodbye? Didn’t I deserve that much at least?
Sorry Em. I’m just so fucking mad at you. You had the option to live, to get help, but you threw that all away.
You know I would’ve been there for you. You know that Kai would’ve been there for you too. We all would’ve. So I don’t understand why you felt like dying was the only option you had left. I know your mom died and your dad left and you fell into a spiraling depression, but Emma, you were doing better.
You were smiling and happy and I just don’t get it.
I miss you, Em. I miss you so goddamn much that it hurts. The pain of losing you is swallowing me whole. It’s like my insides are folding in on themselves. No amount of alcohol or partying or kissing random girls while I’m blackout wasted can fill the hole that you left me with.
I wish you were here Em. Every time I hear a joke you’d like, I think to myself I can’t wait to tell this to Emma, and then it hits me: I can’t. Cause you’re not here anymore.
I’m at this place which is supposed to help me grieve you better. That’s why I’m writing this. I’m writing this to you as if you could read it. And wherever you are, I hope you can read this. That’s the only reason I’m writing this.
Emma Grace Baker, I love you. And I will always love you. I miss you. And I will always miss you.
Love always, Ry