chapter 14 || ryder
We had another group therapy session today and well, it fucking sucked. Most of us started to sob, so there’s that.
But it made me realize something today.
I didn’t kill you, and neither did Kai. We didn’t force a bottle of pills down your throat; you did that. That’s on you.
It wasn’t only me that failed you, but you failed us.
Ok, that sounds really mean but Kai and I were always there for you. We battled your depression once and we sure as hell could’ve done it again. So why didn’t you come to us? You knew we wouldn’t have cared. We rather have helped you again than completely losing you.
Losing you made me lose a part of myself too. I can’t remember the last time I was really happy without you there.
But Em, you gotta know much guilt I have trapped inside me. For the first time, I acknowledged that guilt and it feels like this weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
I could’ve been a better boyfriend, I know that. But I can’t keep blaming myself.
I don’t think I want to.
I shut the notebook and toss it over to my side, letting my head rest against the tree. I turn my music louder, trying to drown out all the thoughts running through my head at top speed as if they’re marathon runners.
The song that’s currently blasting through my eardrums is one of our many songs. It’s the song we had our first dance too during winter formal that first year we started dating, and whenever we heard this song, we’d both drop whatever we were doing and sing with each other.
All of our friends always made fun of us; calling us an old married couple. I never did mind though. I didn’t care about being made fun of because of my relationship. Nothing mattered except Emma.
I close my eyes, taking in the cool breeze with the faint smell of the lake.
“For as long as I live and as long as I love, I will never not think about you, you, mmm, I will never not think about you, from the moment I loved, I knew you were the one,” I sing softly, memory after memory rushing through my head and leaving as quickly as they came.
The first time I met her. Homecoming. The carnival. Winter formal. Our first date. Our last date.
Each memory more painful than the last.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, so I turn off my music and remove my earbuds before turning around to greet the person who pulled me out of my mind.
“Hey there,” Callie smiles, clutching a notebook to her chest. “Can I sit?”
I move my notebook away, making space for her to sit. “Sure.”
She tosses her own notebook to the side before taking a seat next to me. “That was some pretty intense shit back there, huh?” She draws her knees to her chest, hugging them tightly, mirroring Kai’s signature position.
“Yeah, it was.” I twist my body to face her. “I’m sorry about your parents.”
To never have parents for most of your life and when you finally do they get taken away? That’s like God saying, “Screw you, you’ll never have parents.” I don’t know what I’d do without my family. In spite of everything, they are my rock. Hell, I’ve kept an open mind about this camp for Alex. If it wasn’t for her fear of losing me, I would never have come.
“Thanks, Ryder.” She gives me a sad smile as if she’s heard it enough times. “I’m sorry about your girlfriend.”
We sit in silence, looking over the lake and into the horizon. What do you say after that? Great weather we’re having? And talking about death more is just, ironically, depressing.
“Did you love her?” Callie asks suddenly, breaking the silence.
“I did, yeah. This is gonna sound stupid, but I imagined us growing old together and getting married and having kids. I’m young, I know that, but I really loved her,” I say without hesitation. My soccer friends always told me that I was whipped for her, but to me, it wasn’t about me being whipped. It was me finding my person.
“I’m sure she loved you too, despite what happened.” She puts her hand over mine, turning to look right into my eyes. “And you’ll heal eventually. You’ll fall in love again one day.”
“I know, but in a way, it feels like I’m betraying her memory when I even think about kissing another girl, much less dating another one. But then, when she died, all I did was drink and party till I was completely blackout wasted, making out with every girl within sights, and I just felt so guilty. I stopped going to parties and started drinking alone or with Kai, not that it’s any better.” I run my hand over my face, being hit with the guilt all over again.
At first, it was about finding a release. That’s why I went to all those parties. I got so wasted that I don’t even remember kissing other girls, but my friends would bring it up the next day. The cycle repeated itself for a couple of months, and by then, Kai figured out how to get her own alcohol so she wouldn’t have to deal with other people. She offered it to me and one thing led to another to the point where I started sneaking home my own bottles.
I just wanted to forget my reality. The reality that Emma really was gone and she’s never coming back.
Callie rubs her thumb back and forth my hand. “You were grieving, Ryder. That doesn’t make you a bad person. And I’m sure Emma would understand,” she comforts. “If it makes you feel any better, I got into multiple fights after my parents died, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
I let out a throaty laugh. “You?” I ask, not believing that she would get into a fight. “You’re so tiny though!” I say, commenting on her tiny figure. She can’t be much taller than 5′5 at the least, but she’s so skinny that it makes her look even smaller.
“Hey! Just because I’m tiny doesn’t mean I can’t throw a punch. I knocked a dude your size to his ass,” Callie defends, slapping my shoulder.
“Oh man. I would’ve loved to see the dude fall on his ass,” I say, remembering the time Kai punched the dick on a stick named Jack. Man, did he deserved that. I only wish that it was me who knocked him to the ground.
“Oh, I bet you would’ve, you assgoblin.”
“Assgoblin?” I question between laughs. “What the fuck is an assgoblin?”
“You are!” Callie laughs, gasping for air. Her blonde hair covers her face, and I gently push it away, admiring her glowing face.
Seeing her face after making her laugh reminds me of Emma’s. How her smile would reach her eyes and how her eyes would crinkle. The wheezing sound she made when she laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe.
I would give anything just to see her laugh one more time.
“Thanks for this,” I say with a smile once we’ve both sobered up a bit. “It was really nice to laugh this hard with someone for once.”
“What, you don’t laugh this hard with Kai?” She asks, tilting her head to the side.
“No, not recently. Not since Emma.” I somber at the thought of the 3 of us laughing till we cried. Nowadays, it’s just been crying, not a laughing build up.
“Well, I’m happy to help you. And hey, if you ever need to go from a somber to insane seal laughing, call me,” Callie offers, shrugging her shoulders before looking to the side. She grabs her notebook that she came with and pulls out the pencil that was stuck in the spiral. Her hands move rapidly across the page, sketching out something that resembles a face.
“Who you drawing?” I ask, tilting my head slightly to see if I recognize them.
“You,” she simply states.
“Some people use photographs to capture their moments. But since I grew up in foster care, I never had a camera, so that left me with drawing. There’s something special when someone glows, and I want to capture those happy moments in life. You were glowing when you laughed and I wanted to capture that,” she says, never stopping her pencil.
“Well, damn. That’s some talent there.”
I just wish I could’ve captured Emma the last time she was truly happy.
Before our worlds changed forever.