Dear Emma

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chapter 12 || ryder

“God, Kai, my hip hurts. I bet it’s already bruising,” I groan, rubbing the spot where I fell- correction; got pushed off and then fell- earlier.

“Quit being a baby, Ry. You can play soccer, you fall all the time.”

“Hey, just ’cause I play soccer doesn’t mean that I don’t bruise,” I remark back to her. I know how to take a fall but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.

We walk the rest of the way to the tree in silence, the realization of what we’re about to do fully hitting us at full speed.

Am I ready to share Emma with random strangers? Am I ready to finally get over her?

The mere thought of getting over Emma scares me. Once I get over her, I lose the only remaining part of her that I have. And I don’t know if I want to quite do that yet.

We sit by the tree, the others trickling in slowly. Callie, dressed in a pair of short shorts that show off her lean legs and Hayden wearing the same hoodie as yesterday while Zack in a loose t-shirt and athletic shorts that show how skinny he really is.

“Welcome back guys!” Jayden greets, walking into our half circle and sitting at the open spot left, holding his clipboard in one hand and a ball in the other. “Hope you all slept well and wrote a bit last night.” We all mumble yes’ and no’s in response.

“Well, that’s alright. First days are tough.” This dude is way too energetic for a grief camp. But I agree. First day’s for anything is hell. Always. First day of school? Icebreakers, getting to know you and your classmates. Soccer? Conditioning, seeing where you belong, how good you are.

This isn’t much different.

“Let me explain to you guys a little about what we do here. Anything you say in this circle in this group will never be shared with anyone. It’s a safe zone for you and your feelings, and I hope that each and everyone one of you will walk away from each session every day feeling like you’ve accomplished something, even if it’s small. For most people, sharing feeling’s isn’t easy, and there is no judgment in this circle.” From either side of me, I hear both Hayden and Kai scoff at the words spewing out of Jayden’s mouth.

I nudge Kai with my elbow slightly, signally her to not be rude. She shoots me a dirty look, almost as if she’s telling me that she can do whatever the hell she wants.

I love her to pieces but she’s never been quite polite. I guess it has to do with how she had to learn to stand up for herself. Especially in this day and age, you gotta have a tough exterior or people just hurt you. She’s experienced that first hand.

“What’s with the ball?” Hayden asks, jutting his chin to the marble blue ball. It looks like the ball I would play with in the backyard as a kid. It’s one of those balls you would get at Walmart in the giant bins for 5 dollars.

“Glad you asked. We’re going to play a little game.” As soon as he says that, groans escape from everyone’s mouth, which Jayden ignores. “It’s called thumb ball. There are a bunch of prompting questions written all over. Someone will throw the ball to you and you answer the question that’s underneath your thumb. Simple enough for a group of teenagers?” He rolls the ball in his hands, looking around for answers but receiving none. “Today’s subject is your loved one who died. Who wants to start us off?”

My eyes dart to the ground. Kai suddenly seems more interested in tying her already tied shoe and Hayden plays with the sleeve of his hoodie. Jayden looks around, trying to find someone who isn’t distracted all of a sudden. He lands his eyes on Callie, who’s the only one not looking down or away. Jayden whips the ball to her and she catches it easily.

“Favorite activity,” she reads, lifting her thumb off the ball.

“Before you begin, tell us who you lost,” Jayden interrupts briefly.

As if it wasn’t enough fun already.

“I lost my adoptive parents to a drunk driver.” Callie pauses, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath before looking at the question again.

“Every Friday night since I was placed in their house, we would have an intense game night. At first, I hated it, mainly because they were all so close with each other and I knew I would never stay anywhere long enough to have that. But I grew attached and when they adopted me, I was finally able to truly enjoy it.” A wide grin spreads across her face as she recalls the memory, which disappears as quick as it came. “I can’t look at the game closet without bursting into tears now.”

She throws the ball to Hayden, who is across from her, as if the ball was on fire.

“My twin sister died from cancer,” he mumbles after catching it, his head down the entire time.

Cancer itself sucks ass, but having it be your twin you not only had it but died from it? That’s really horrible.

“Last time we were together.” I hear a “fuck” muttered under his breath. “We were in the hospital and she just finished another round of chemo. We were watching her favorite movie, The Avengers. God, how Syd loved the entire Marvel franchise. She could watch all the movies over and over and never get bored of it. She told me to go home and get some sleep and I did. I told her how much I loved her and left. I just fucking left her there to die. Alone. She had no one there.”

He buries his face in his hands. Callie scoots over from her spot and rubs his back for a moment, handing him a tissue. He kicks the ball over to Zack after quietly saying something to Callie.

“You already know that my uncle died in a car crash so,” he picks up the ball in front of him and lifts his thumb to read what it says. “Favorite present. That’s easy. Last year for my 15th birthday, he got me an Xbox, along with Call of Duty Black Ops 3. I could’ve cared less about the Xbox itself now, but the day I got it, we spent over 5 hours just playing video games together. I always knew that my uncle was a video game nerd back when he was younger, but that was the first time that side of him came out ever since he got the responsibility of me.”

The ball rolls over to Kai, who takes a deep breath before picking it up. “My best friend killed herself,” she says, monotone before picking her thumb up.

“Characteristic you loved. Oh man, there’s so many. I guess my favorite would be how she always stood up for others, no matter what. When we were in 8th grade, these bullies were picking on this one weird kid. She stomped right up to them and told them off, making them run away scared. For such a tiny girl she was fierce,” Kai chuckles slightly, recalling the memory.

That sounds like my Emma.

Kai pushes the ball toward me, giving me a knowing look.

“My girlfriend, who was her best friend,” I nod toward Kai, “well, you already know but she killed herself.”

I lift my thumb up, reading the ink underneath it. “Favorite memory,” I breathe out the words, the anxiety of getting something tough lifted off my back. I can do this one without a problem.

“The summer before our sophomore year, me, Kai, and Emma drove up to this carnival upstate. We spent the night, despite our parent’s hesitancy about that, and we had so much fun. We didn’t need alcohol or drugs to get that natural high. It was without a doubt one of the best nights of my life. I think it was the last time we were all truly happy.” I glance over at Kai, who gives me a sad smile, most likely remembering the same night.

The night at the carnival was also when I realized I loved Emma. Everyone said I was too young and too stupid to know what love was, but I didn’t care. I knew that I wanted her in my life forever.

And despite her taking her own life, I do believe that she loved me too. But her demons were stronger.

“Thank you all for sharing. I know it was tough, but it will get easier. I think we can end here for our morning session,” Jayden says, breaking the intense silence.

We all rise instantly to get the hell out of here, but he keeps talking.

“You guys have about 30 minutes till lunch and an hour of free time after. We will be doing arts and crafts later today, so meet here at about 3:15.”

“Arts and crafts? Really?” Hayden grumbled.

“It sounds like fun!” Callie says, bumping her arm against his, the bright smile never leaving her face. He mumbles something that I don’t catch.

“Before you guys go, I need you all to join hands. It’s called a squeeze - creative name, I know - but we’ll do this at the end of each session. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone.”

We all shuffle around, grasping each other’s hands. Everyone shares a skeptical look. It sounds so stupid that it makes me want to barf and I have no doubt that Hayden and Kai would both agree with me.

“Squeeze it out guys. You’re going to be okay,” Jayden says in a calm voice which is almost soothing. Both Kai and Callie squeeze my hand and I squeeze back.

And for an instant, the pain is gone.

I look around the group; my group. Each and everyone one of us has lost someone close to our hearts. We’re all here for the same reason.

We’re here to heal.

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